How Iconic Brands Use TikTok To Engage With Fans: SXSW 2021 Edition

How To Use TikTok

Written by Ashley Friedman


I wasn’t for it at first. Months later, I’m finding myself scrolling through endless videos on the platform and it’s addicting to say the least.

Technology revolutionized the way we communicated during the COVID-19 pandemic [and at warp speed]. For some, it brought people closer together and at times, it tore the best of us apart.


If there’s one thing I’ve noticed since the growth of TikTok, it’s the idea & mindset of imperfections being okay, that your relatableness will strike with someone else who tends to act or think the same way or is in a relatable situation.

It’s Nathan, the man skateboarding with cranberry juice in hand, vibing to Fleetwood Mac’s classic hit, “Dreams” or Curtis Roach’s iconic “Bored In The House,” song that he made up during isolation because… a lot of us were bored in the house and we were in the house bored.

Regardless, the platform allows people everywhere to express whatever they’re feeling and collaborate and interact with other people, even if they are on the other side of the world.

During this year’s SXSW Conference, there was one session that really stood out to me, and that was “Driving Culture Through Content,” led by Sandie Hawkins, General Manager of Global Business Solutions at TikTok. Amongst Sandie were panelist members, Deborah von Kutzleben VP, Brand Strategy, Advertising and Menu at Arby’s, AJ Curry, Senior Manager, Social Content at National Football League (NFL), Melanie DiBiasio, Senior Manager, Digital Precision Marketing at Ocean Spray.

During the discussion “listening to the conversation” is mentioned more than anything. As a lot of the panelist members put it, it’s all about catching that one moment where you can fit your brand in effortlessly.

As Hawkins puts it, “It’s about finding your personality and your ethos and not trying to be something that you’re not.”

As of 2021, the age range for users has shifted slightly since last year, but not by much according to statista, with nearly 50% of users under the age of 30.

At one point in the session, there is a discussion around nostalgia and how TikTok helps connect generations in many different ways whether it’s bringing back a classic song or replaying old sports highlights.

Curry comments, “I think probably the most recent example for us was our work with the Football Bros… It’s just two kids playing football in the backyard, it’s a slow-mo catch and it’s to the song, “Just the Two of Us.” She goes on to say that her and the team over at the NFL, along with a lot of their clubs, jumped into the comments section. “It was very clear… as it kept growing that nostalgia was really the driving factor for its success.”

And nostalgia was also found in Nathan Apodaca’s skateboarding video as he sipped Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice and jammed out to the classic Fleetwood Mac song, “Dreams.”

“When the video came out… people were starting to feel COVID fatigue and really looking for something to make them feel good, just the feel-good sensation of Nathan riding the skateboard with that song that people brought them back was really nice,” comments DiBiasio. “and it ties into who we are as a brand, just we are a 90 year old cooperative.”

I think that the thing that stood out the most to me was Hawkins wrap up of the entirety of that nostalgic feeling and that was, “you have to be able to respond to [moments] in a timely manner because they can happen at a moment’s notice and being able to maintain the realness of those moments is really what drives the community to be involved, and that really takes brands being able to and willing to take risks to jump on these trends.”

All of this is important for musicians and for brands like Elicit who have yet to dive into and take the risk of jumping into these “moments.”

Curry mentions that the NFL has found a way to, “Speak to our audience instead of speaking at them, and one of the best ways to do that is to engage in conversation.” Again, making it known that the NFL enjoys jumping into the comments section.

After today’s discussion, there are a few key takeaways from the panel on how to make a TikTok and “jump into a conversation authentically” as Curry puts it.

Always look through a positive lens of how to take advantage of a moment. “When you see something it may not directly tie to your business or your brand, but if you can find a link that’s credible and can be organic, take advantage of it,” says Kutzleben.

Don’t just post on TikToks just for the sake of posting on TikTok. “I think the best way to stand out as a brand on TikTok is to fit into the TikTok community and use it as an opportunity to make a different type of content that can just strengthen your relationship with more and more of your fans,” says Curry.

It’s important to test out different techniques and learn as you go. “Just be willing to take the risk

because if you’re not, you’re not going to get the benefit out of it and you’re not going be able to move forward as a brand into a new audience, a new generation, a new culture,” says DiBiasio.