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How Brands Are Using TikTok to Find Super-Fan Content Creators

TikTok is becoming a hub for brands to find their next content creators. 

As the short-form video app’s popularity has exploded, so too have the number of brands turning to TikTok to find their next cadre of creators.

Brands like Disney, Chipotle, MLB, and Gatorade have all taken to TikTok to find customers-turned-content-makers through competitions and hashtag challenges. The campaigns have been a way for brands to engage with their audiences on TikTok, while also giving super-fans an opportunity to identify themselves as brand ambassadors.

These influencer teams are being dubbed by some brands as “creator classes.” These creators span the country and bring a different personality or creative aspect to the brand’s social content. 

“It’s no longer about trying to get that one creator with a giant following to mention your brand once,” said Ali Fazal, VP of marketing at Grin, an influencer-management platform.

“These classes allow brands to integrate the creator into their overall marketing strategy. Sort of like the opposite of a Cameo, they want these creators to be an extension of their marketing teams.”

That idea has helped brands find influencers who organically love the brand, and is giving fans a huge boost in becoming creators.

For example, the influencers in the MLB’s creator class show different facets of their love for baseball.

“One is an esports player, one is more comedic,” said Kathryn Buckles, director of brand and content marketing at MLB, of the league’s first class. “We also have someone who focuses on youth baseball, and a food creator that likes to replicate ballpark dishes.”

The MLB revealed the 11 members of its creator class earlier this month after it announced its search back in June. “We saw all these baseball creators and wanted to give them a chance to spotlight themselves as brand ambassadors,” said Buckles. “This is our inaugural class, so we want to help support these creators. They’ll have a wide scope of content that they can make.” The hashtag #mlbcreatorclass racked up over 53 million views on TikTok.

Related Read: 10 Ideas for Getting More User-Generated Content 

MLB creator class members will get to work with MLB on content strategies that highlight league players and teams both on and off the field. Creators will get access to MLB merchandise, the opportunity to attend games, and visit the MLB offices.

MLB tapped its fans to help select the members of the creator class. “We had folks pumping up our class entrants and tagging us a lot to show who they liked,” Buckles said. Even though only 11 creators make up the inaugural class, the process allowed the MLB to identify other fans who they could potentially work with in the future. 

The impact of influencers has grown since the pandemic, and brands are taking note.

U.S. influencer marketing spending will reach $3.69 billion in 2021, up 33% from last year, according to an August report by eMarketer, and it’s expected to approach $5 billion by 2023.

Earlier this year, Gatorade set out to find its creator class, dubbed the Social Squad, via “tryouts.” TikTokers could submit videos to be part of the sports drink’s creator team. Gatorade received 1,500 submissions, according to Carolyn Braff, head of brand strategy. The hashtag #gatoradetryouts got 56 million views on TikTok.

“TikTok is a leading platform for the brand’s core audience, and we knew that with the right idea, we’d have the opportunity to engage these consumers authentically,” Braff said via email. “From freestyle to football, these athletes showcase a diverse representation of sports and have been creating TikTok content that is fun and highly engaging.”

Gatorade ultimately selected nine athlete influencers who will be making content for Gatorade’s TikTok through November. Creators include Clifford Taylor IV, a former walk-on for the Florida Gators; Jaylin Reed, known for his basketball trickshots; and Caitlyn Schrepfer, a professional soccer freestyler.

“Brands have realized that influencers aren’t just media channels,” Joshua von Scheiner, CEO of A Different Story, a marketing agency, said via email.

“The reason influencers have a following is that they’re awesome storytellers and people care about what they have to say. These creator classes are harnessing the passions influencers have for brands to fuel better brand storytelling.”

Chipotle also launched a search for a new group of creators earlier this month, using TikTok to build out a 15-person creator class. The final and most recent addition to the class was Wyatt Moss from Alpharetta, Georgia, with his video showing Moss and his friends eating Chipotle in all 50 states.

The creator class will meet with Chipotle up to three times a year to share content ideas and strategies. They’ll also be eligible for up to 50 free entrees from Chipotle, catering, merch, and a visit to the Chipotle test kitchen. Creators will also get priority consideration for future paid campaigns, and will be given promo codes to share with their followers.

“Through this process, we’ve been able to identify super fans that are also talented creators who post about Chipotle organically,” Tressie Lieberman, VP of digital marketing and off-premise at Chipotle, said in an email. The hashtag #chipotlecreator has over 10 million views on TikTok.

Chipotle has utilized TikTok before, tapping the app’s resume feature back in July to allow job candidates to submit videos of why they wanted to work at Chipotle, rather than using a traditional resume.

“Typical influencer programs start with looking at reach and engagement metrics as a base, leading to a more transactional relationship,” wrote Schneider. “These brands are identifying their passionate base of fans first before other considerations.” Those fans might have smaller followings, but marketers have seen that those smaller influencers have more engaged followings.

For brands looking to put a call out for a creator class, first they should make sure they already have a strong TikTok following.

“Putting out a call for a creator class when your brand doesn’t already have strong creators voicing their loyalty will not allow for longevity with the ambassadors you end up with,” Amber Kazalbash, senior strategies at R/GA in Austin, said in an email.

And if your TikTok following isn’t especially large, partnering with a personality with a bigger following is one solution. 

While hot sauce brand Frank’s RedHot has just 75,000 TikTok followers, it’s tapping supermodel Coco Rocha, who has 1.2 million followers, to find an official hand model. 

Entrants can make a video showing off their hand modeling and hot-saucing capabilities using the hashtag #FranksSweepstakes and tagging @FranksRedHot. Videos will be judged by Rocha and Frank’s RedHot, and each Sunday, a finalist for that week will be featured on Rocha’s TikTok. There will be three finalists total, with the winner announced on Oct. 17. They’ll be the official “hand” in Frank’s RedHot videos and featured in their 2022 campaign.

But perhaps the most important thing to look for in a creator class is diversity. “If you are using this call out to reach new audiences or debunk misconceptions about your brand and its consumer base, ensure that your call to action encourages everyone who has a personal connection to your brand to put their name in the ring,” Kazalbash said. 

This article was written by Erika Wheless from Ad Age and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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