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The ultimate guide to TikTok for travel brands

Published on By Tara Schwenk

TikTok for travel brands: why you should do it, and how to NAIL IT

Picture this.

It’s a windy Monday morning at Travel Brand X, where the marketing and leadership team is gathered for their weekly huddle. After talking about the weekend, griping about traffic, and wishing for Friday to roll around once again, ideas begin to flow around the room.

And that’s when the words come out.

“We should really be doing TikTok marketing”, says the Marketing Manager.

“Hmm, yeah, that’s a good idea”, the COO replies, ”my eldest is constantly on that! And it’s nearly her gap year”.

And then, everyone looks over to the Social Media Manager. Gazes burrowing deep. Here she is – knowing that there’s zero plan, content, or resource.

And she’s right to worry. Remember, folks – videos aren’t “content”. TikTok, YouTube, Instagram – these aren’t “content” either.

Video is just a format of content. Social media is just a platform for delivery.

The content is the stuff that happens, or gets explained, or makes people pay attention, or solves the problem, or entertains – basically, it’s the hard part!

Travel brands should approach “doing TikTok” in the same way they would any other marketing channel: with a plan. And good plans always start with goals.

Basically, before trying to answer “how?” – ask “why?”.

Why TikTok? Think “AUDIENCE”

It’s largely the same anywhere in the world, but in the UK at least, Instagram users are predominantly millennials. On the other hand, TikTok users are much younger, and generation Z makes up the vast majority of the user base.

It’s not too hard to understand why that is. Instagram is an ageing platform – and its users are ageing with it. The app launched in 2010, and while that may seem like last week to some of us, it’s practically ancient in app-years.

Every new platform starts young, but as users age with it, the platform matures. Parents and grandparents eventually join in. Parents become grandparents during the app’s lifetime.

This is true of any social media platform, like Facebook. Facebook users, at least in the western world, are much older than those on TikTok; from elder millennials, to Gen-X, through to baby boomers. On Twitter, more than a third of users are over 35, and the largest age bracket is 25-34, at 39%.

Twitter and Facebook launched in the naughties, when the internet for most people was still coming of age. Just like its users.

By the time TikTok launched worldwide, in 2018, Instagram had slowly grown to 1 billion users.

But in just two years, TikTok had surpassed 2 billion mobile downloads worldwide.

The scale and speed of adoption are a sign of the times; lockdowns + young people with nothing to do = scrolling. But what’s just as interesting as the user base is the platform’s influencers.

The combination of a younger user base and unique influencers makes TikTok a powerful tool for reaching new people.

And therein lies the “why”: TikTok reaches Generation Z in a way that other channels can’t.

So before launching into TikTok activity as a travel brand ask yourself first: are Gen Z (born between 1997 -2012) a consumer group that is critical NOW to the success of my travel brand. If yes, go for it – but have a content plan and allocate the resources to it. Properly! If they are not critical NOW but in three years’ time then also go for it (because to grow a following on an emerging platform is so much easier than on an established one). If, however, you feel that this group is not integral to your growth strategy for a couple of years at least then it’s best to stick with channels you are already active on such as Instagram or FB. As with most things in life: better to do one or two things well than try and do everything by halves!

Influencer profiles prove it: their content is uniquely suited to TikTok

Just about every TikToker is on Instagram, too. But there are very few creators whose work translates successfully across to other platforms. Many have a fraction of the following on Insta compared to their TikTok audience.

These are some of the most popular TikTok travel influencer accounts, compared with their Instagram accounts:

It’s pretty stark. An influencer on one platform isn’t necessarily an influencer on all. The moral of the story?

Don’t be too quick to write off an Instagrammer as a potential partner before you check them out on TikTok!

Of course, this huge disparity could also be down to focused effort – but Instagram Reels are essentially the same as TikTok, and the content is almost like for like. Why would it work on TikTok, and not on Reels or YouTube Shorts?

The plain and simple fact is; the content just doesn’t land as well with the audiences on other platforms. That’s due to audience tastes – and the way TikTok works.

How the TikTok algorithm works

Without doubt, algorithm differences between TikTok and Instagram affect how content spreads and how influencers are made.

The TikTok algorithm is a recommendation system. It chooses which videos appear on the For You page. Everybody has a different For You page, and the videos they see are likely to change over time, based on viewing preferences.

The algorithm values:

- User interactions – likes, follows, interests, comments and overall engagement
- Metadata in the videos most watched and liked – captions, sounds, hashtags
- User device and location – to serve local content in the right format

The algorithm does NOT value:

- Duplicated content
- Content already seen
- Content the algorithm flags as spam
- Potentially upsetting content

The best part is – TikTok’s algorithm doesn’t care how many followers or hit videos a creator has. Instead, TikTok seems to favour long-tail content – i.e. lots of niche content – over a few big hitters with mass appeal.

Duplicate content, even within its own platform, isn’t much liked. Plus, TikTok prefers not to regurgitate what has already proven popular on another platform – which makes sense from an audience shaping perspective.

And this fresh, young audience is where TikTok has an advantage. Influencer marketing on TikTok is relatively fertile ground when compared with established channels like Instagram and YouTube. The input of new, exciting stars with a unique audience makes it an attractive opportunity for travel and adventure brands looking to work with influencers in a new space.

Read more – the importance of diversifying your travel brand’s consumer audiences

But what if you want to start your own creatorship – and become the sensation of the day on TikTok? You’ll have to do more than just sign up for an account and churn out posts.

So we spoke to Dani Rose to get some insider knowledge from a successful travel brand, making amazing gains on TikTok – Zambian Ground Handlers.

Three simple rules for making killer TikTok content

Dani Rose, who runs @zambiangroundhandlers on TikTok. Her work on the platform is stunning – and so are the results.

Zambian Ground Handlers was established in 2009, before TikTok or Instagram were even a glimmer. They offer custom safari itineraries for adventure travel lovers, operating solely in Zambia. The proximity, variety and uniqueness of the natural beauty available to the brand is certainly an advantage – but Dani’s work has propelled their posts to millions of views.

She told us about the travel brand’s incredible TikTok marketing, by giving us some insight into how the content hooks and engages the audience. These are her top tips that travel brands can use to propel their own content on the platform.

1. Keep your videos short and sweet

Attention spans are short. And Dani knows this. “Keep video footage about 20-30 seconds long”, she advises. “Any longer, people will scroll past.”

Some of the most viewed videos from Zambian Ground Handlers are quickfire edits, just a few seconds long:

And there’s wider industry evidence for this. Although TikTok allows videos of up to 60 seconds in length, the most popular time range is 9-15 seconds.

“When we jumped on trends, our videos reached larger audiences and as a result, we gained more followers”, says Dani. “Jumping on trends can be done by making the most of viral sounds, challenges and hashtags.”

TikTok actually shows what is trending in your area – and if you want to find out go to this page of popular TikTok sounds.

This requires speed; seizing an opportunityand either creating content, or repurposing old content to fit. It’s fast-paced and creative, with a chance to win more followers. And don’t forget that in addition to hashtags and sounds, captions and effects can make an impact, too.

3. Keep the engagement flowing

Once you’ve got a hit (even a minor one) on your hands, you need to keep one-time viewers interested and engaged. Remember the TikTok algorithm we talked about earlier?

Well, although TikTok doesn’t base recommendations on follower count or on previous high-performing videos, it does use engagement to propel videos into the For You page.

If you have a video that starts to gain some traction, it’s essential that you follow up. Repost, respond and create additional videos as follow ups.

This responsiveness applies to keeping the conversation flowing in the comments section, too.

“Engagement speed and variety is vital on TikTok, so it’s important to respond”, Dani told us. “It will help push a video further.”

Finding your audience, making a plan – and measuring results

Even with these great tips, you always need a strategy for your marketing efforts. Once you know your goal – say, to hit X followers on TikTok by the end of the year – you need to formulate a plan to achieve it.

First, you need to find the initial audience. And you’ll have to go fishing upstream; finding them based on what content they like. Don’t focus on who you want to attract at this stage, focus on effective bait, so to speak.

Research the travel content that’s exploded on the platform, in detail. Explore the culture and subcultures around travel and the content about it. Explore hashtags and search topics in TikTok’s search bar. Find out everything you possibly can.

Look beyond competitors and influencers – and try to get a feel for the aesthetic of the content you find. What do popular posts tend to look and sound like? Can you match, emulate, or exceed the audience’s expectation with your own content?

Once you have a feel, create a content calendar and posting schedule that’s maybe a third free space, for off-the-cuff creative content, responses, and audience engagement. This way, you can account for jumping on trends and challenges, but you still have a framework to post from. Try as best you can to decide what assets you’ll need ahead of time, so these can be made in advance.

Always keep the goals you’ve set in mind.

Once you start posting, you’ll get data on interactions and post engagement, and be able to define your true audience more clearly. This data can be found in TikTok’s Analytics, where you can measure your results, and refine future posts to align with your audience’s preferences (basically, making more of the stuff they like and less of what they don’t).

One more thing… think about how it’ll help search and PR

Digital PR, social media marketing and SEO are all linked. Each one informs the other.

TikTok itself is a powerful search engine, and highly-engaging content on the platform becomes more searchable, more visible – and can even break into the mainstream on news websites. Your search visibility on Google can be directly tied to popularity, relevance, and news exposure. This can build your brand image in the public, prompting more searches, prompting more TikTok views, building your brand image…

See the cycle?

Your best TikTok content can even be used for digital PR – landing your brand coverage, and winning links to your website. This will help support a long-term SEO strategy that holds strength over years – by helping users discover your brand in searches for the travel experiences they want to have.

Read more – Digital PR vs Traditional PR

Nailing TikTok isn’t just about posting videos and hoping for the best. It’s got to be a part of an overall marketing strategy that wants to get results.

And to do that, you’ve got to give the audience what it wants.

Nail TikTok – with pitch-perfect influencer marketing

Lemongrass Marketing is a specialist PR, Digital PR and content marketing agency for travel brands. Our work with travel influencers – from global celebrities to rising creative stars – has given our clients huge ROI and audience awareness.

Want to do the same?

Let’s start a project – call +44 (0)1865 237 990 or email