TikToking From 0 to 300k Followers in 60 Days
Turning downtime into uptime and growing your social media presence fast on an app that just passed 2 billion downloads.
Yep, I thought TikTok was an app for dancing kids also. Initially…
Like many comedians at present I have too much free time on my hands and am facing a very uncertain future in the face of COVID19. Wanting to do something productive with all the downtime I tried an experiment. Could I fix my much neglected social media following on a platform that is still new to many, and could I do it fast? The results were crazy and I think you can do it too.
*Note: This guide is for standup comedians but the same principles can be applied to most content.
There were waves of opportunity that came and went for social media and I somehow sat on the shore and missed them all. Night after night I, like most comedians, worked creating content that I one day hoped to sell rather than share myself. The downside of this strategy was building any social media following. Waves of platform growth came and went, Facebook, Instagram, something called Snapchat (that I still don’t understand) and I was not early enough to any of them. TikTok is that latest wave for standup comedy and although I didn’t get on early, I did get on, and you probably should consider doing so too. Here is some info to help you do it:
As a Comedian for you TikTok>Instagram & Facebook
Why? There is high demand for comedy, a shortage of high quality comedy, and more than 10–100X the potential for views when compared to other platforms right now. Chances are you have the extra time on your hands now to grow your following fast. To take maximum advantage of this you likely need to be a good few years into comedy and have some good quality audio and video.
I initially planned to do this for one month (with Irish themed clips for Paddy’s Day/Month) but then changed it to two. I blame lockdown. The results were definitely better earlier (and with better content) but very strong results are still possible and I’ve seen multiple new accounts get big, fast.
I started on March 1st and it took me about ninety minutes per day. If I had pre cut all the clips, captioned them and pre written the comments to post it could have been a lot less (more on that below). Not counting of course the many years of trial and error to create and film this content.
My numbers in 60 days
5 million likes.
22.6 million video views.
David Nihill Comedy on TikTok
David Nihill Comedy(@davidnihill) on TikTok | 5.1M Likes. 309.3K Fans. Irish comedian in America ☘️ Comedy Special…
For comparison I cross posted a few of the same videos to TikTok and Instagram and these are the numbers within 24 hours.
Video 1: Instagram: 1221 views. TikTok: 321,000
Video 2: Instagram 622 views. TikTok 32,333
Video 3: Instagram 604 views. TikTok 42,655
Cumulatively that’s 2447 vs 395,988 or a multiple of 161. If you factor in the size of the group posted to it still should be high enough to get your interest at least. The rate of user and content growth is so fast with this app that if I had started in December these results could have been at least twice that.
What does this tell us?
Other than folks like my first video a lot more than my others, TikTok can give you a serious multiple of views and help build a following faster right now than any other platform. The added benefit is that you can link to your Youtube Channel and Instagram from your TikTok profile and you will get followers crossing over. By nowhere as much as a multiple but still decent. When I started posting on TikTok I had 721 followers on Instagram which was always stupidly set to private as I always felt embarrassed about posting on social media. Especially with content I worked so hard to create. Now I have 2307 followers. Still not so good but at least it’s a multiple of the not so good that it used to be :). The biggest mistake I made was not linking to a Youtube channel. This is one way many users are currently making money from TiktTok, using it to capture new followers and sending them to view longer content on YouTube and generating money from ad revenue.
How to do get going on TikTok
-The obvious. You need some good quality video and content. Well shot from a smart phone will work but as more people join you will see better content prevailing, mostly. If you have recorded anything for any of the leading mediums it might be worth asking them can you also post content they are posting and tag their account. That way you are both growing your audience and chances are they might not have the bandwidth or staff at present to take advantage of this initial wave of new users.
-Your first 5 videos seem to count the most to determine if the algorithm likes you. Use some of your best content first. If you already have an account that’s not performing as well as you would have hoped consider deleting underperforming videos (or better yet setting them to private), posting better formatted versions of the same content (& deleting the previous video(s) when the view count passes previous numbers) or starting again with a second account.
-Format and caption video specifically for Tiktok. This means a different sizing ration to Instagram and having your captions in a higher place on the screen.
-Cut any long set up and use the captions and title to get folks to the joke faster. Consider cutting long bits into multiple separate clips.
-Know how the app drives views and shares your content. Sign up to their free pro account so you have access to analytics. This shows you when your audience is most active. Post at these times. For me it tends to be around 5pm PST but posting around 8am PST has also worked well.
-Interact with viewers and be the king or queen of your comments.
-Watch some of this guys content which you will find helpful.
Here are the steps as you would run through them in sharing content:
Editing and looking like content native to the platform
I have no editing skills whatsoever and am able to do it so I’m sure you can too and there are a few things you need to know.
-Native to the platform means make it look like other well performing video on TikTok and not like you filmed it for another medium and reposted it. This doesn't mean dancing and karaoke but it does mean up close, full screen, well shot and lit footage with good audio.
-There are many options to edit. I cut clips in iMovie and bleep out any bad language, export to my phone, format and add subtitles via *InShot’s free app (watch their 5 second add before downloading to get it branding free) or an alternate like Videoleap, and then load into TikTok.*Using InShot does lower video quality somewhat as they compress your file.
-Clips can be anything from 0–60 seconds. Both long and short can do very well. I’ve tested both and there seems no real difference for comedy, as long as folks make it to the end, or better yet are compelled to watch a second time.
-Joke title cover text: If you want to title your video it’s best to use TikToks features to do it. I tested both having this and not and there doesn’t seem any great difference. It does seem to have an impact if the video is of lower quality to add a joke title, eg adding the bit premise as cover text “Adapting to America” which within TikTok you can easily set to appear and disappear after 1–2 seconds at the start. I tend to set it to 1.7 seconds.
-Sizing: I use 4:5 (and stretch it to fit best) rather than the TikTok specific canvas as it tends to work better with horizontal shot stand up clips that I have, but if you can make your clip work for their standard TikTok size of 9:16 then you should. The difference between looking native or not on the platform is a big. Instagram sizing will work if you are stuck but it doesn’t look as good as you can see from the below via their search screen. The Instagram formatted video is top left.
-If you use your Instagram or Facebook formatted videos with any branding or text at the top and bottom you no longer look like native content on TikTok. Here is an example of great content from Nate Bargatze that gets less views than it should because of the way it’s formatted. Contrast that to Taylor Tomlinson below. Also great content but importantly her content looks native to TikTok. No harm that it’s shot with some high quality Netflix production value either, but you will see this difference with any video.
-Caption your videos and be sure to put them about ⅓ up the page from the bottom. If you don’t you can’t read them as the hashtags and caption you add will take up this space. Think 5 words per line max and up to two lines per screen. Try not to repost videos you have already captioned and sized for Instagram. Get the raw footage and reformat. I caption videos in InShot and it takes me about 10 minutes for every 60 second clip. Some people have had big view numbers with no captions but they tend to be already recognisable celebrities. Captions will give you more views. No need to write applause, laughter or crowd goes wild. It will save you some time and doesn’t seem to make much of a difference.
-Note the captions location in the image below (and the scary face).
-Clean clips that are shot face on and where you are large on their phone screen tend to work best as shown below here via the canvas selection tool on InShot. Ideally the audience are not visible as their visible reactions are just a distraction (unless it’s a nice second camera angle crowd shot or they are all going wild in unison!).
-Go to your discover page and look at what hashtags are trending. Try and link your clip to at least one or two of these. This will help get extra views from their algorithm. Eg. you see than #moreyouknow is tending so add that to your video description. You will often see #fyp added into the hope of getting featured in peoples recommended videos to watch feed but simply adding this hashtag doesn’t seem to make much difference.
-Prepare clips in batches. Pre do this and avoid waiting until the day of and think “what should I post today?”. Take a day to cut, caption and prepare clips and pre load them into your drafts folder on TikTok. That way you just have to click to post. This seems small but doing this one thing will greatly multiply your chances of sticking to this and having a positive outcome.
-Be the king or queen of your comments. Their algorithm rates not just videos views and likes but also comments/engagement. If you comment and respond people are less likely to write anything negative and more likely to interact with you. The upside is the more you interact, the more engaged and supportive your followers will be. Outside the occasional lunatic of course.
-Add tag lines, background information, trivia, anything at all that relate to the content. It helps a lot and I have got some new jokes lines and angles I never thought of from doing this.
-Stay active for the first 30 minutes or so after posting. Comment and like all and any comments/reactions, within reason.
-Comments are restricted to a character limit of 150 so it might be helpful to use a free tool like this to write them in advance of posting, then copy and paste them in rapid fire as soon as you post.
-Address any possible negative reactions to your joke in the comments in a funny way. That way when your potentially offended person comes to comment negatively they see you have already addressed it and hold their spontaneous unfiltered wisdom within.
-I have found overall the comments have been way way more positive than negative and you never know who might be watching your videos. I just found this comment on a video I posted making fun of cycling a few weeks back. It’s from one of the world’s most famous cyclists, 4 time Tour de France winner Chris Froome. You never know who’s watching and commenting until you look.
Getting to the For You Page
Viewers and followers tend to discover new content via their For You Page (#fyp) and typically via your profile page. When a piece of content does well it gets pushed to peoples FYP. There seems no system here I can figure out exactly. Typically my videos that do well will be approximately 1 like for every 3 to 4 views and a lot of comments. Your analytics will give you a full report on this (once you sign up to a free TikTik pro account) and where your views are coming from. Here in the example below you can see my video getting to the FYP page drove 88% of my traffic.
Circles of exposure
-Your well performing video seems to be fed to circles of exposure. Ie, first to 6–10k or so, then 30k, then sometimes it can just stop growing at 30K for a while or get pushed out to a much much larger circle. This is where video views and your comments and notifications seem to grow at a rate you can’t keep track of. I’ve had this happen with 8 videos and this is where all the real explosive growth comes from. It can mean adding followers at a rate of 10k per day or more and more notifications than you’ve ever seen.
-Once you get some traction it’s not uncommon to add hundreds to about 2k per day, even on days you don’t post anything.
-Once you pass about 50K views it can trigger a more thorough review of your content so if you have a great clip but it has some dirty words or is potentially offensive material this is where it sometimes dies off or can get censored.
-If a video you think should do well does not do well, delete it and try reposting a few days later. Try and do this sparingly as apparently their algorithm doesn’t like seeing deleted content too often.
-Under performing videos with some traction: Rather than delete these set them to private. That way you still keep the likes and view counts and don’t trigger any negative aspects of their algorithm.
-Blocked or censored videos: This does happen and often for no reason at all. You will get a notification that says your video has been muted for violating community guidelines. The video will stay posted but without sound which sucks. This has happened to me with four very clean videos. I have no idea why and there seems no way to appeal their decision, but in each case deleting, writing off the initial traction and reposting the same clip has worked. You could also change the censored video to private and repost the same clip with a different title and description. If you get a copyright violation see here.
-Check the analytics to see what’s working, what’s not, to who, when and where.
Give videos a chance to grow. As if by magic sometimes videos with low view counts can trigger the algorithm and get pushed out to peoples For You Page and add a big view count very fast.
People sharing and downloading your content
If you do not change this under “Privacy and Safety” in your account settings users are able to download and repost your video without you ever knowing. Turning this off or on doesn’t seem to affect your video numbers from my own trials, although not turning it off initially did lead to some random lad using my audio and his head acting out one of my jokes. It’s hard to decide between annoyance or flattery :)
Get your profile in order
-Try giving people a reason to follow you. Eg I used: “Follow for a new funny video everyday of March”, then “Follow for a new funny video everyday of lockdown”. Now it should say follow me, I haven’t many videos left :)
-The most common question I get is about future shows so I have made a trackable bitly link to address this and redirect them to this page with a message saying no shows for now, here’s how you can support me.
-TikTok has formatted icon images for Instagram and YouTube that will display on your profile if you link them. If you have these accounts be sure to do so. I don’t have a Youtube account but you can see the Instagram icon below.
-Getting verified on TikTok is a bit of a mystery. Basically you need to know somebody there, be verified on other mediums and get some press, or just keep posting and hope for the best. The process is explained further here. If you can get it, it will certainly help. I gave up on social media verification to prove I’m me back when Twitter verified me under a made up username, then when I changed my name to my actual name they said, no more. You can’t be you…with your name, and we left it at that.
Treat it like a digital land grab
-I posted many throw away bits, first time bits, crowd work. Bits that were in no way ready for release. 30% of the content I used was from hosting sets but it was all I had. The aim was to treat this like an early stage digital land grab and ride the wave of early users. Get as many followers as possible, then go back and delete the videos, or set them to private, only leaving on the page the ones I want out there.
-I posted pretty much only standup but you can easily mix sketches and stand up or anything really.
- Check out some accounts who do it well: Taylor Tomlinson, Cam Bertrand
- For mainly sketches but also some standup see: Trevor Wallace.
Reposting well performing videos
If most people visit your content via the FYP page and not your profile you can assume that it’s new content to most but sadly not to Tiktok. Their algorithm seems to have a way of tracking this and the same high performing videos don’t do as well the second time around. Ie, treating this like a TBT on Instagram and posting the same thing twice. By way of example currently my first and last video are pretty much the same clip with the same like and comment ratios. One has 2M views, the other 46k.
Set a target number
You could be chasing the next likes and followers here forever with not much happiness. Set a target number and milestones along the way and try not to worry about what results other people are getting. If you get any multiple of your existing social channels then that is a big win. My goal was 100K which then got revised to 300K. Now I can hopefully stop refreshing my numbers, involuntarily watching dance videos and start having a good laugh watching more great comedy on there.
That’s about all I have learned the hard way from people smarter and funnier than me. I hope it helps you get started and please comment below if you have any questions or anything that I should have included or got wrong. I think TikTok is ready for more great comedy content and we could all use the extra laughs about now. Best of luck with it.
PS. Please ignore any typos. I’m dyslexic and can’t spell for ship.
P.P.S. I’m just reporting my experience here and it’s up to you whether or not you use this app. It has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months and US lawmakers have accused TikTok of being a threat to national security in between recommending people drink bleach.