Last week I gained 24k TikTok followers in 2 days. 🤯
Sooooo backstory, I’ve been getting increasingly frustrated with Instagram lately. Engagement is so fickle, sponsored posts are tanking, and we’re being asked to, like, create Instagram Shops so people buy things on Instagram? Like, um, what the heck??
And it seems I’m not the only one who’s disenchanted by Instagram. I recently read this article (which you guys have to read) and pretty much everyone at Instagram is freaking out because its executives are behaving erratically, making decisions that don’t make much sense, and are alienating a lot of people on the app.
Naturally, I’ve been thinking about what this means for the future of food photography. I’ve written about it here and here, and have been having a lot of conversations with creatives both in and beyond the food industry. And what I’ve learned is that everyone is a bit freaked out about Instagram being so volatile.
So two weeks ago I bit the bullet and decided to put my all into TikTok. I created 3 videos in an afternoon and decided to post them one by one.
The first video was a simple recipe how-to: making my husband’s (and my) fave cookies from my blog. And it blew. Up.
So I gave it a few hours, then I posted another heavy-hitter. This video was on how temperature and chill time can affect cookies. It got even more views. And the followers started ROLLING in.
Within a day, I went from 11.2k followers to 18k followers.
The following day, I posted a third video I thought would kill it: How to make French Onion Soup in under an hour. And by the end of day 2, I had 35k TikTok followers.
Now that’s cool and all, but the point of this video is not to tell you that this happened, it’s to tell you how this happened. Here’s what I think:
First, I think it’s important to understand the culture of TikTok. I’ve been an avid TikTok watcher for all of quarantine, and what I’ve come to see is that a lot of TikTok is about:
- 01. Authenticity: It’s not about looking or projecting perfection. It’s about turning on your phone camera and hitting record without thinking too hard about it. There’s a casual feel to TikTok. Conversely, overly produced, edited, and curated videos don’t tend to do as well, as they feel less real and raw.
- 02. Imperfectness: Keeping bloopers in like dropping onions or coughing because you got sugar dust in your mouth is not just accepted on TikTok, it’s celebrated. I would surmise this is because in many ways TikTok is a counter-culture to Instagram. A lot of people are over a heavily-curated, “Instagram versus reality” world. And with TikTok, you get to see people being arguably more “themselves.”
- 03. Entertainment: TikTok is very much an escape from reality. It’s designed for you to get lost in scrolling endlessly for hours (not that I’ve ever done that, no way, José 😛 ). So keeping people entertained in whatever you put out, whether that’s through up close shots of batter being stirred or ASMR-style videos, is sure to stand out.
- 04. Niching down: On TikTok, you want to niche down as much as possible. Try to do just one thing. One style of video, one type of recipe, one lighting look, etc. You don’t need to invent the wheel every time you post. Many of the biggest creators out there are repeating notes on a theme (A few who come to mind: the “Greg” kid, Charlie Puth and his perfect pitch, the girl who imitates types of people who live in Manhattan, Corporate Natalie, or the girl who explains the difference between French and American culture).
- 05. Appealing to a wide denominator: With that said, you still want one of your major goals to be appealing to the widest possible denominator within that niche. So like… with me for example, within the baking niche I’m keeping my recipes really, really basic things that almost everyone loves: cookies, brownies, mac and cheese, etc.
Now for specifics on how to make great videos:
STEP ONE: I’ve noticed a lot of popular TikToks tend to captivate people within the first 2 seconds. You can do this through:
- 01. Having major movement in your first frame
- 02. Saying something “hook-y” that grabs people’s attention (think: Buzzfeed headlines or dropping a mildly controversial statement!)
- 03. Showing the most attractive frame of the TikTok first
STEP TWO: Once you’ve captivated people, take the rest of the video to do your thing! If you’re making a recipe, make the recipe! If you’re showing a tip, show the tip! In this section of your video, I’ve found it’s best to:
- 01. Keep your video frames varied: The ol’ “Hands In Pans-style” videos where there’s a camera overhead and it stays stationary throughout the entire video…that doesn’t work. People have short attention spans and need ways to stay interested. So move your camera around, use different angles, and give them variety!
- 02. Utilize natural sound: I’ve been keeping naturally occurring sounds in my videos, such as the chop of chocolate or the rainfall-esque sound of oats hitting a pan.
- 03. Keep your frames short: again, the short-attention-span thing! I’ve found keeping my video frames between 1-2 seconds is just long enough for a shot to feel established while keeping the video from dragging.
STEP THREE: the ending. A few ways to end:
- 01. The Money Shot: Give them that delicious drip of dark chocolate, beautiful break of a crackly croissant, or a perfect pull of melted cheese. You want people to leave the video feeling satisfied, and the best way to do that is by showing them that end product!
- 02. Take a bite! On TikTok, selfies rule. The more you can show your face, the better, as people are able to form a connection with you. A great way to do this is by showing you enjoying what you just created!
- 03. Give a CTA: Give people a Call To Action at the end of your video is a great way to get them to do something with the video they just learned. Tell people they can find the recipe they just watched in the comments, or suggest they follow you for more tips and tricks is a great way to engage and capture your viewers and turn them into your audience.
Phew! So, there’s obviously a lot to think about when it comes to making viral TikToks and, to be honest, I’m still learning too.
Now, you might be thinking “how does this relate to food photography?” or “isn’t this more videography than photography?” Well, it has EVERYTHING to do with food photography! Food photography is a large word that encompasses a lot of different parts of the digital industry. To me, videography falls under this umbrella. And understanding how to utilize video? It ties directly into composition, light, color stories, editing, branding, marketing… literally everything you learn by learning food photography.
So just know that by learning and understanding food photography, you’re setting yourself up for a wide career path — one that can include videography, if you so choose.
And a career path that is *not* beholden to Instagram to have it’s sh*t together. XD