No one knows how to TikTok Story

Yes, TikTok's the latest to add Stories. Let's talk about why it's a smart move and how you could use them.
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Francis Scialabba

· 6 min read

Instagram Stories, Snapchat Stories, Twitter Stories (err, Fleets) (RIP), LinkedIn Stories (LOL) (also RIP)—every platform under the sun has at one point offered users the ability to post casual, day-in-the-life content. While several versions have been sunsetted, it should come as no surprise that the rising star known as TikTok has its own version, called (big surprise) TikTok Stories.

Here’s what’s strange, though: 10 months into TikTok Stories, users, brands, and even creators aren’t quite sure what to do with them.

Take a look at these tweets from Dave Jorgenson, the brilliant mind behind the Washington Post’s award-winning TikTok account:

That is not great for TikTok, especially considering it gave Stories prime real estate on both the recording screen and the edit-draft moment. Yet no one seems to…actually use them.

Confusion aside, I actually do think TikTok Stories could play an important role in turning lurkers into casual creators.

TikTok’s caught the old Instagram issue

Think back to 2016. Us social folks had all used Instagram for six years by that point, growing our personal visions along the journey until tastes coalesced into a recognizable Instagram Aesthetic. Unedited pics became faux pas. Now the Instagram addicts had to ensure every image proved itself “grid-worthy.” Our Instagram profiles went from day-in-the-life snapshots to greatest hits. So when the company introduced Stories to the platform in August, it was a revelation—for both users and marketers!

It turns out, if users know their content is only going to last 24 hours, they’ll feel incentivized to live in the moment by posting content from every moment. In 2021, Insta’s Adam Mosseri said that posting “a couple of feeds a week, a couple Stories per day” can help creators grow their accounts. That ephemeral impetus has resulted in 500 million daily Instagram Stories users as of January 2022.

TikTok secretly has a similar issue.

Creators meticulously craft their TikToks to feed the platform’s algorithm. Many perfectly blend personal artistry with social media best practices to earn exponential views. Brands, on the other hand, can be so precious about their average engagement that experimentation can feel dangerous. If they’re already getting views, why fix what’s not broken?

This brings us full circle to the Instagram aesthetic all over again. Preciousness for a specific format or feel of content limits how brands and creators use TikTok. You can hear TikTok worrying about it in its official language introducing Stories:

“This new tool is designed to support deeper engagement between you and your audience through a real and authentic look into your daily life. Stories will provide a home for existing relationships to flourish on TikTok, offering your friends and followers a more familiar lens into your world. Therefore, Stories on TikTok bring the creative expression true to platform without thinking too much about content strategy.”

TikTok is quite literally asking users to not think about strategy. Which makes sense.

TikTok wants everyone posting more, whether you’re a normie, a creator, or a brand. Instagram and every other platform have demonstrated that Stories encourage more casual content creation. The platform’s hoping we stop trying to game the algorithm, stop taking our Toks so seriously, and just create for fun.

A Social Media Newsletter by Jack Appleby

Hopefully, casual TikTokers do exactly that. For all of us with bosses and clients, we need to consider strategy always and forever.

Let’s get back to basics.

What are the basics of TikTok Stories?

  • Content-wise: The creation process looks a whole lot like Instagram. Vertical, up to 15 seconds.
  • Consumption-wise: Again, similar to Instagram, when someone’s posted a Story, a blue ring appears around their avatar both on the content stream and their profile. Stories also surface within the For You page now, a recent change.

Should your brand make TikTok Stories?

Probably. The unofficial rule of new social network features: Platforms give preference to accounts that use the new feature. Instagram’s especially guilty of this, between Reels and Carousels. Good luck getting any engagement nowadays with a regular ol’ photo or video. So, yeah, brands should probably all give TikTok Stories a go.

What kinda TikTok Stories should your brand make?

Good question. For creators, it’s worth mimicking your Instagram Stories strategy. Use Stories as a way to be more candid with your audience away from your primary content.

For brands, it’s a little trickier. As the Washington Post’s Jorgenson established, no true best practice has emerged. Not one of the first-page Google results for “TikTok Stories strategy” returns anything helpful. Welcome to the most fun part of Future Social: when we go full Joan Callamezzo and speculate wildly.

The most common consumption journey seems to be:

  1. User sees your TikTok in their FYP or Following feed.
  2. User notices that pretty blue ring around your picture.
  3. User clicks that pretty blue ring to see your most recent Story.

That supports Jorgenson’s “making of” strategy: You watch a Washington Post TikTok, then click through to see bloopers of the same TikTok. That’s a natural flow that makes sense, especially for their audience.

Stories do seem to reach the For You page, but it feels pretty rare, and mostly directed toward an account’s followers instead of the wider TikTok world. Thinking back to the above consumption journey, TikTok Stories do present an interesting opportunity for you to keep your viewers interested in you before they thumb to the next TikTok.

Here’s a few ways in:

  • Post-credits scene: In the same manner that Marvel tosses in reveals after movies end, what Story could you post that’s an intriguing “post-credits scene” to your most recent TikTok?
  • On the next episode: Use TikTok Stories to share what’s coming up in your TikTok calendar, Arrested Development style.
  • Develop a brand personality: Want to dive into creating a parasocial personality for your brand? You could soft launch by introducing a real face via Stories, be it your community manager or star talent.
  • A Stories-only series: If you want to go all in, build a content series that’s only on Stories. Give people a reason to keep coming back, be it a narrative or a specific style of content.
  • Stories-exclusive promos: Lightning deals expire soon. What better place to feature them than in expiring content streams.

As always, there’s no one answer to social, we should all experiment. And, if you’re experimenting, @ me with what you’re trying. I’d love to feature some successful examples here in Future Social.

A Social Media Newsletter by Jack Appleby