Real Talk: Please read this if you want to onboard your business to TikTok. So that I don’t need to have this conversation another hundred times.

In November, I was hired by a social media company to pitch, plan, produce, and execute a TikTok campaign for one of their clients, a non-profit organization that had received a small amount of funding to “experiment” with the app. I won the work and the company gave me the project to run with.

I’ve been on TikTok for 18 months and I have more followers on the app than on my Instagram, with over 45,000 likes for my content and 634,500 views.

I’m going to share with you some of what I’ve learned, in hopes that as the app continues to grow, more professionals over the age of 25 will better understand how to onboard their business to TikTok without making fools of themselves.

a) Just download the app and use it.

I’m shocked by how many people have reached out to me and said they want to be on TikTok for their business, but they don’t use the app because “my sixteen-year-old daughter has it”. That’s an actual quote from a potential client (who’s work I turned down).

If you are looking at your teenage daughter’s For You page and you think that is TikTok, then you and I are so far away from having a mutual understanding about the app that there’s no point in even talking about it. It would be a lot easier for me, and anyone else who you want to work with on TikTok, if you just download the app and use it for 2-3 hours a day for a week and then see how you feel about the whole thing. I have over 1,500 hours logged, surely you can manage 15.

b) Get a phone.

In the beginning, my client and the non-profit underestimated me and their own potential success on the platform, unfortunately. I explained that it would be best for someone, other than me, to get a phone for the campaign to download, set up, and manage the account. Otherwise, at the end of the campaign, I would need to delete their TikTok account from my app and send them their data files. The latter is what they chose to do.

What happened? The campaign went off like gangbusters and, of course, they wanted to keep their account active and run a second campaign. However – back to my first point – their TikTok account was set up in my app on my phone and I had no choice but to delete it once the campaign ended because you can only have three active profiles on TikTok at one time and I needed to make room for other projects. If you were to set up a TikTok account for yourself, you would also know this.

c) TikTok isn’t YouTube.

Please don’t send me your big-budget infomercial that you made for something else to post on your TikTok account. I’m telling you now: it won’t get plays, nobody will follow you, and it will be a big waste of time for everyone. It doesn’t mean you can’t repurpose video footage you already have, but TikTok isn’t YouTube. You need to create original content for TikTok for your account to be successful. I know that’s hard for you to hear, I’m sorry, but I don’t make the rules.

d) TikTok isn’t Instagram.

Think about TikTok vs. Instagram like movies vs. TV. Would you go to a movie theatre to watch a TV show? No. Just like you wouldn’t go to TikTok hoping to watch Instagram content. However, true to the analogy, movies are sometimes broadcast on TV. Do you notice how half your Instagram feed is now full of TikToks disguised as posts, stories, or reels? Oh wait, you’re not on TikTok so how would you know?

e) The word “Influencer” is gross.

As a content creator, I’ve had free offers for products and collaborations in return for promotion in my videos. This is the influencer game and that’s not what TikTok is about. I don’t want to intersperse your advertising in my content. My strategy is a reality-based, educational model and that is my focus; I don’t use hashtags and I don’t pay for advertising or to promote posts. I’ve come up with a formula that makes it easy for me to capture footage in the moment and share it as it happens, and my audience appreciates that. I don’t want to ruin my relationship with them by pretending to use your brand of air freshener in my shot while I’m cleaning up dog poop on the floor.

Plus, you’re undermining the entire TikTok audience if you think passive advertising is going to work. I will try things people give me and if I like them and they find their way into my content, I will give you a shout-out, but I’m not bargaining my audience’s time for money. Instead, I’m in talks to offer workshops, write a children’s book, and to produce my first TV show. All because I simply make great content, for free, at no cost. I’d rather do those things and be a content creator than an influencer.

f) Talent comes at a price.

“We want you to just manage our TikTok account.” This is a real statement from another potential client (again, who’s work I turned down) who had no intention of making their own videos, collaborating to create content, or contributing a “face” to deliver their message.

I understand that because I was the face in the TikToks for the non-profit campaign, people who saw that and contacted me might think that’s what I do. But, I’ll say it here: I invested in myself to be the talent in the campaign – there was no line item for talent in the budget – because I knew that’s what would make the strategy successful.

Not only did I buy my own equipment and film in every room in my home (at Christmas time – don’t ask how many times I had to move my tree to block shots), I pulled non-logo garments from my wardrobe, did my own make-up, paid to have my nails done, my hair done, and my teeth cleaned (yup!) because I have a background in film and television production and casting talent and I know that these things matter.

TikTok is a place where genuine content thrives. Unless you want to hire me personally to represent your company on social media, the “face” of your campaign needs to be figured out, not faked. Talent comes at a price, and if you chose to go in that direction, it’s a price you should pay.

g) The analytics provided by TikTok are far superior to Instagram or Facebook.

TikTok puts Instagram and Facebook to shame when it comes to data analytics, and you don’t need to pay to promote posts to find out more insights. The client who hired me and the non-profit didn’t know the extent of what the app offers so they declined a final report and opted for a final meeting to re-cap instead. I went ahead and spent the better part of an entire week (including one all-nighter) compiling data and exploring inferences to illustrate their success on the app. The non-profit said the report was “phenomenal”, it went far beyond their expectations, just like the campaign.

Oddly enough, the social media company tried to steal my documents digitally by changing my settings on their Google drive from edit to read only for the final report. I can only think they wanted to plagiarize my work for future projects, and I was angry at first, but now I keep in my mind that “imitation is the best form of flattery” and I’m accepting it as a compliment. Thankfully, I do have backups.

I’m not going to go into details about the analytics because if you create a TikTok business or creator account, you can see them for yourself.

h) I don’t want to talk about numbers for ROI.

I understand you run a business and you want to see a return on your investment in the form of money. Think of it this way: if social media was a marketing department with divisions, Facebook is your sales and advertising people, Twitter is communications, Instagram is graphic design, and then TikTok is your public relations.

I can send your press release to 100 media outlets but I cannot promise you that your story will be picked up. Your publicist isn’t responsible for selling your product, but if you happen to get sales because their strategy is very good, then you can all celebrate.

i) Follow me on TikTok @apollo.stella and IG @kristakeough

Because the campaign with my (former) client and the non-profit ended on a sour note, it left a bad taste in my mouth every time I shared the work I did with others, and I’m not waiting for another RFP to bid on to show off what I can do. So, I’ve taken matters into my own hands.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve created an IGTV docuseries called “Apollo & Stella Selena’s World Tour” to document, from the very beginning, my foster fail journey. It’s pure, wholesome, PG content on the daily that I make from my home with my two dogs who have fallen in love @kristakeough. Tomorrow we’re celebrating 20,000 views with our friends. In the next week, we’ll be introducing ourselves to TikTok @apollo.stella and you’ll see how I’m straddling the two apps using my video footage. I’ve also written The Story of Joy and shared it on my website to help you follow along (see my next post!).

Thank you for watching!