Trends are the lifeblood of TikTok — and they’re not just for individual content creators.
Brands must also latch onto TikTok trends because they’re an essential step to breaking out on the platform.
So if you want your brand wants to be successful on TikTok — which is now the most downloaded app worldwide — you need to interpret these trends in your own unique way through brand content or by working with creators.
Here’s a guide to understanding TikTok trends, identifying them, and creating your own authentic and engaging videos.
What are TikTok trends?
Trends are essentially “memes 2.0,” according to Evan Horowitz, CEO of Movers+Shakers and the mind behind the most viral campaign in TikTok history, which his agency created on behalf of e.l.f. Cosmetics.
“I’d say over half, maybe the vast majority, of TikTok content follows a trend,” he says.
Trends are part of an ongoing conversation on TikTok, and people express themselves through their various interpretations of them. Brands that want to join this conversation need to understand them, so they can engage with users in an organic way.
The brands that do this well are able to seamlessly join users’ feeds, becoming part of the community without coming across overly salesy and off-putting.
“When people are going through their feeds and your [brand’s] video comes up, it’s like, ‘Oh, that was really funny how that brand hopped on that trend and worked their product or their message or whatever in just a fun way,’” Horowitz says. “It makes your brand just be much more relevant in the conversation.”
Why following TikTok trends matters
Participating in TikTok trends isn’t only about engaging with users and showcasing your brand’s own take on the latest challenge. Creating videos around these trends is also a proven way for brands to jump-start their presence on the platform.
Following trends expands your brand’s reach.
TikTok’s algorithm gives preference to trending videos, so you’ll get more views — and engagement — when you jump on a trend.
Plus, users enjoy exploring various interpretations of trends and will often watch video after video, which can lead to organic discovery of your brand.
“Trends are so important for brands who are looking to increase their relevance on TikTok, because it gives them that extra viewership,” Horowitz says. “You tap into the algorithm, and also, it gives you that credibility, like you get the conversation on TikTok, and your brand fits in really natively.”
Following trends makes brands relevant, relatable, and “cool.”
Having a brand channel on TikTok and participating in trends is all about reaching your audience where they are. It demonstrates that your brand understands the platform and can engage with users and have fun with trends. In other words, it’s top-of-funnel awareness marketing.
While it’s difficult to drive click-throughs on TikTok, it’s easy for brands to derive a “cool factor” from it, according to Horowitz.
“A lot of brands are trying to figure out how they fit into the TikTok conversation in a native way,” Horowitz says. “If you want to have a successful TikTok presence as a brand, trends [are] just a super amazing hack to grow your audience faster and increase your engagement.”
5 types of TikTok trends
There’s no limit to what kind of video content can trend on TikTok, but there are certain types of videos that are surefire ways to make it to the top of the charts.
When you think of a TikTok trend, dance is probably the first thing that comes to mind. These trends involve a specific type of choreography that everyone is doing and interpreting in their own way.
Had to do the #savageremix outside in this beautiful weather 💜😩💜😂 the neighbors was looking at me like I was crazy lol
For example, the viral #SavageChallenge features a dance created by user @keke.janajah set to Megan Thee Stallion’s song “Savage.” Videos with the hashtag have received more than 960 million views.
Challenges are a huge part of TikTok. While some are a question of “Can you do this?” others are more about storytelling.
In the Wipe It Down challenge, a swipe of the mirror set to BMW Kenny’s “Wipe It Down” results in an entirely new look — and endless cosplay opportunities.
Recently, Ellen DeGeneres partnered with Love Beauty and Planet to launch the #recycletrickshotcontest, which challenges TikTok users to toss a recyclable item into a bin in a creative way.
Numerous songs have gone viral on TikTok. In fact, Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” now holds the record for longest run in the number one spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 list, thanks to the app. But while the music is definitely important, the specific way a user tells a story to that song is arguably just as significant.
For example, you’ll find countless videos that feature “Stunnin,” by Curtis Waters. And, not surprisingly, videos set to Curtis Roach’s “Bored in the House” took off alongside quarantine.
The trending videos in this category are less about a specific song, and more about a particular sound or spoken word and how these features can be uniquely worked into a video.
All the fat comments hurt my big baby… 🥺￼
For example, take a look at the various ways users have integrated sound from the “She is very gorgeous to me” meme, which showcases how one person’s object of dislike can be another’s object of delight.
These TikTok trends involve filters and editing tools unique to the app.
TikTok’s freeze-frame effect is used to manipulate images to appear larger and to freeze them on the screen so users can then interact with the frozen images.
However, a TikTok video doesn’t have to stick to just one trend. Often, you’ll see multiple types of TikTok trends appearing in single videos.
For example, videos posted with the hashtag #TrembleChallenge fall into two categories: challenges and sounds.
How to identify TikTok trends
Some TikTok trends are immediately obvious, but others can be tricky to recognize. Here are some techniques to help you sharpen your trend-spotting skills and identify the next big thing.
Spend time on the platform.
The best — and certainly the most fun — way to begin to identify a TikTok trend is to simply use the app.
Scroll through your home page, explore the Discover tab, and pay attention to what you’re seeing — and hearing.
Take into account everything on the screen. From the angle of the camera to the specific sounds and effects the creator used, all are moving parts that give you the opportunity to spot TikTok trends.
Look outside your lane.
TikTok’s algorithm does a phenomenal job of giving users exactly the kind of video content they want, so it can very quickly funnel you into a very narrow content lane. “Part of the reason why TikTok is so popular is because it very quickly gets you, and it will put you into a lane of content on things that you love and you engage with,” Horowitz says.
You can discover content outside your own feed by doing the following:
- Use someone else’s TikTok app to stumble upon videos you’d never encounter on your own.
- Explore the Discover page often.
- Click on a sound, and see what people are doing with it.
- Use the search box to find topics and hashtags relevant to your brand, products, and customers.
Focus on the music.
Scroll through your For You page on TikTok and you’ll likely hear the same song again and again. This is because TikTok is built for music, and these trends provide a wealth of opportunities for users to create their own remixes and interpretations.
While individual users can integrate songs and sounds into their videos without much concern for copyright issues, Horowitz cautions brands to refer to their legal teams before publishing. Brands may have to acquire a license in some instances.
“When it’s just on your organic page, it’s definitely a legal gray zone,” he says.
See how pop culture and current events play a role.
TikTok creators are quick to respond to what’s happening in the world, so brands that want to remain relevant should do the same — when it’s applicable.
For example, right now, you’ll see a lot of content related to Black Lives Matter and the upcoming election. During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, countless TikTok trends emerged around handwashing and quarantine life.
Exploring current events certainly won’t apply to every brand, but it’s a natural fit for some. For example, the Washington Post does an impressive job of exploring breaking news and implementing humor and unique TikTok features to tell stories.
Consider the trend life cycle.
While some TikTok trends have more staying power than others, the topics and themes of top videos change quickly.
“Trends are going week to week, and sometimes day to day,” Horowitz says. “Some of them last for a month or a few months, and there’s a few that are eternal (such as the #SavageChallenge), just like the best of. But mostly they’re in, they’re out. You really have to be close to it to understand what’s happening.”
How to make TikTok trends your own
Participating in trends, especially as a brand, involves inserting your own personality into the video while still making it clear which trend you’re taking part in. Here’s how to do just that.
Identify your unique take.
When considering a trend, look for ways your brand can interpret it within its own voice.
There are countless TikTok trends out there, but think about which ones are relevant to your brand and how your brand wants to appear.
For example, while at first glance, you may not expect e.l.f. Cosmetics to post a video set to the lyrics, “Somebody come get her, she’s dancin’ like a stripper,” the brand did just that. It jumped on board with the challenge of users employing the freeze-frame effect to create a pole to dance on. And it did so cleverly and on brand by using a stick of eyeliner as the “pole.”
Determine your own look and feel.
Brands can take part in TikTok trends while still maintaining a consistent look and feel. It’s all about identifying your brand’s point of view.
“There’s lots of things to think about here,” Horowitz says. “Some brands show up with a certain color palette, a certain level of zoom. Some brands do a lot of product close-ups. Other brands, it’s really about the people. Some brands are about dancing. Some brands are not about dancing.“
TikTok can certainly be an effective platform to showcase your products and introduce them to potential customers. But creating engaging content for the app is about authenticity.
“It’s just about like jumping in and having fun with it,” Horowitz says. “That’s what TikTok responds to. Having someone on your team or an influencer you work with or whatever jump on the trend — even if it’s not a good dance. It doesn’t matter. It’s more about throwing in, just having fun with it. That’s what people respond to.”
Create your own trends.
Once you develop an understanding of TikTok trends, your brand can begin to create its own trends.
For example, cold medicine Mucinex may not seem like the type of brand to be engaging on TikTok, but it had great success with its #TooSickToBeSick challenge.
How to measure your brand’s TikTok success
That’s because, as we noted before, building brand channels and jumping on trends is a top-of-funnel activity, and there’s little opportunity to organically click out to your brand’s website or product pages.
So Horowitz recommends that brands looking to make their mark on TikTok focus instead on engagement, views, likes, and channel growth.
Now, get out there and start creating!