At GDC 2022 last week, Innersloth's community director Victoria Tran gave a talk outlining good practices on TikTok.
The presentation was based on her experience running accounts on the social platform over the years, including Among Us, but also the Unpacking and Kitfox Games TikTok profiles before that.
"TikTokers are 1.5 times more likely to immediately go out and buy something, or wishlist something they discovered on the platform, compared to other platform users," she said in her introduction, highlighting a study conducted by Material for TikTok. "And this is the big [reason] why everyone keeps talking about TikTok, it's just that the discoverability [compared to] other social media platforms is quite good. That's a huge part of it."
TikTok's popularity has boomed over the past couple of years. The GamesIndustry.biz Academy previously dedicated a couple of guides to the platform's use for games marketing, including tips from a conversation between Simon Carless and Jenny Windom of Wholesome Games and advice from successful titles such as Sea of Thieves and Fall Guys. But the platform is still a mystery to some developers who haven't made the jump.
Tran first gave an overview of the Among Us account to give an idea of what growth and success can look like on TikTok.
The Among Us profile was launched in December 2020 and "got a ton of followers within the first six months," Tran said -- at the time of writing, it has 2.9 million followers. She added that this type of fast growth is actually rare on TikTok. Of course, Among Us was already extremely popular by the time the account was created and had an extensive playerbase, which helped tremendously, she said.
"But you will often see that the amount of followers that you get on an account does exceed the rate you would see on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram," she added.
Tran does a minimum of one video per week for Among Us, same as she did while running the Unpacking account. When she was handling the Kitfox Games profile, which focused on several games instead of one title, she was trying to do two videos per week "if [she] could swing it."
"I honestly consider the effort that you have to put into TikTok quite high," she said. "Creation for me takes around 15 minutes to one hour per video, depending on how magnificent you want it to be and how much editing you're doing.
"The trends can take one to two hours per week in order just to scroll through it and read and watch all the things that are going on. I also put in an hour per week on engagement, so that could be going through other videos and liking them and commenting on them, or going through our own comments and commenting through them. Personality and cultural understanding of TikTok has to be on point. It is quite a high effort social media platform."
Building a brand identifier on TikTok
The first thing you need to think about when launching a TikTok account is what your goal is and how you want to be recognised, Tran said.
"A lot of people think creating a brand voice really matters, especially if you're an indie, and it does. According to the Sprout Social Index, some of the reasons why brands stood out more than others, according to consumers, were things like memorable content, distinct personality and compelling storytelling.
"With social media, we're not gunning for a one-hit viral thing, we're really aiming for sustainable, practical community engagement"
"A lot of times with social media, we're not gunning for a one-hit viral thing, we're really aiming for sustainable, practical community engagement, and we can create content that is memorable and keeps us at top of minds."
In order to achieve this, she identified five good practices to build your brand identifier:
- Style and tone: "How do you want to sound on TikTok: do you want to be quirky, wholesome, relatable, calming, competitive? I usually pick three big adjectives that will describe the overall content and then everything trickles down from there; what lighting you will use, how polished things look, what kind of content you create. How do you want your audience to understand you?"
- Consistency: "Go for consistent brand elements. Having a distinct face, someone you can immediately associate with your TikTok account, really helps people identify your content easily. If you don't want to use your face, just use consistent elements. You can have certain lighting, a distinctive mark, an object, a colour palette, a video game character."
- Hook: "The first one to three seconds of a video are extremely important. You do really want to frontload your video with the most interesting thing possible and it doesn't even need to be visual. Pose an idea and use the rest of the video to expand on it."
- Trends: "Trends [are] a beautiful way to keep engagement. TikTok is known for its viral trends and hopping onto that in a timely manner is really nice. Because if you can't think of anything, or if you want people to stick around for something, they'll tend to do it if there is a trend that they know has a hook or some punchline coming."
The five main content types on TikTok
Tran then highlighted five content types she has identified on TikTok, what they're composed of, and how successful they tend to be:
- Game updates (ongoing updates about the game, whether it's bug fixes or announcements)
- Personality-based TikToks (videos hopping on trends or having fun with the community)
- Behind the scenes videos (shows off more developer-focused looks at the game and what goes into making it)
- Gameplay (videos that focus on game content that is already out)
- Miscellaneous things (reactions, merchandise, and so on)
"Game updates by far get the highest engagement and sharing for Among Us," she said. "This isn't really a shock. The difficulty here is really to make a game update interesting sometimes, but I do try to keep these as short as possible. Generally, people always recommend to keep any TikTok as short as possible, just because the looping is really good for the algorithm, but it all varies."
- Game updates and announcements
When it comes to announcing game updates on TikTok, Tran said the key is to keep things focused. Don't detail every single thing happening, just break it apart into small pieces.
"For example, we had an update on June 30th that introduced a bunch of new things, but the one standout thing was we had a new task that was vent cleaning," Tran explained. "Part of really understanding your community and knowing what makes them tick is to know what they talk about. So a lot of people talked about vent cleaning being a joke task in Among Us, or a joke excuse, and we actually implemented it.
"And so when I put it into the TikTok, that was the only thing that I focused on and I didn't talk about any of the other things that we had. That made it more interesting than just a casual update full of fixes."
Announcing bad news can be a tricky one. For instance, Tran recalled a game update that just broke the game.
"The hard thing on TikTok -- especially if you have a big community on it -- is to really communicate, 'Hey, we're working on bug fixes', because you can't just do a quick status update.
"So, for this, I hopped onto a trending meme at the time, which was a song, and I really made fun of the fact that we completely broke the game, which people took really well, and we got a lot of software developers relating to the video too, and it really successfully conveyed information about keeping the game updated and that we were aware of the problems that people had."
- Personality-based TikToks
Personality-based TikToks can take various forms, and their role is to anchor the style and tone you previously defined.
"These are super varied in terms of virality, but that's okay, the point of these TikToks isn't necessarily to get big numbers, but to solidify our tone with the community and create that connection as an indie studio," Tran said. "These videos can often be longer."
When the Among Us TikTok was created, she recalled that the same questions were asked over and over, mainly about when the new maps were going to be launched. So she made a funny TikTok out of it, embracing the community's concern, demonstrating self-awareness and creating a connection with players.
"You can be 'Oh God, everyone keeps asking me when the release date is, everyone keeps asking me if it's coming out of mobile', that sort of thing and, hopping onto a trend, really not being afraid to be honest with your community. It's one of the things that they just love the most, even more so than a lot of other social media platforms. They've really latched onto that kind of self awareness."
- Behind the scenes
While other indie studios have had success with this theme, Tran explained that, in her case, behind-the-scenes TikToks were "the poorest performing" videos for Among Us, adding that she felt like she maybe wasn't "very good at them."
"Generally, keep any TikTok as short as possible, just because the looping is really good for the algorithm"
"It could also be because the majority of our community really cares about new items and not really old ones, but that's okay. The videos here tend to be longer and aren't necessarily a target for their 'For You' page [TikTok's personalised feed], for me anyway, they're usually more just to get the community engaged.
"So for example, you can answer questions from TikTok comments, and that could be a way that you talk about more behind the scenes stuff."
- Gameplay videos
As the name implies, gameplay TikTok videos focus on game content that is already available to players.
"It takes content straight from the game, and pops it into a fun little video," Tran said. "And these tend to do relatively well, but they definitely vary due to the fact gameplay can cover anything from difficult tasks, gameplay styles, or looking at game details. And again, it's really important to really hone in on one part of the gameplay aspect."
- Misc (merch, reactions)
The last category gathers everything that doesn't fit in the other four, whether that's reacting to the content of another TikTok video, unveiling merch, or something else.
"Among Us has plenty of other things to talk about and you may too, so whether it's duetting videos or showing off new merchandise, I find it just really fun to be able to talk about it," Tran said.
"One of the things that I will say is that it does much better than I thought, but you have to be very careful about not straight up being like, 'Buy this thing'. Because I feel like the algorithm, or TikTok on the backend, doesn't really like the whole 'Buy, buy, buy!' thing.
"Make an effort to be a part of the community that you post in, understand and pay attention to how the community interacts in the space"
"So instead what I usually do is just literally show off the product -- don't even say where you can get it. You can put a website in the comments, or respond to people [if they ask], but otherwise people just really like looking at cool stuff, and merch for sure is one of those things that is big on TikTok."
Concluding her talk, Tran advised to keep track of what works and what doesn't work on your TikTok account. Measuring success on the platform depends on what your goals are -- are you hoping to get wishlists, do you want people to share your content, are you looking for engagement?
She also highlighted that you should expect some negativity, as with any social media platform. But always take the time to analyse it, understand where it comes from and, when responding, don't punch down.
"Make an effort to be a part of the community that you post in, understand and pay attention to how the community interacts in the space," she added. "Because it's not just about going viral, it really is about building a sustainable, long-term community for your studio."
More GamesIndustry.biz Academy guides to Selling Games
Our guides to making money from video games cover various aspects of the publishing and marketing processes, whether you're a young game developer about to start a new project or an industry veteran: