TikTok ads for lead generation, with Haley Nininger

May 11, 2022


TikTok is growing in popularity among marketerse as a platform with both great organic reach as well as advertising potential. Haley Nininger and her team have successfully generated leads and enrollments for an alternative education provider using TikTok. She joins the show to share her experience testing different approaches on the platform. In this episode, we cover:

  • Firsthand experience as a user on the platform
  • Experience testing TikTok ads for an alternative education provider
  • Where TikTok fits in the platform mix and the marketing funnel
  • Why you might soon see TikTok videos in Google search results
  • How TikTok compares to other platforms like SnapChat
  • Which industries may benefit from investing in TikTok ads

Connect with Haley on LinkedIn.

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John Tyreman:  Hi, gang. Welcome to Episode 51, of the Digital Marketing Troop where we talk with marketing leaders and practitioners to help you learn more about digital marketing. I’m your host, John Tyreman. And I am joined today by Haley Nininger, Senior Paid Media Manager at Silverback Strategies. And we’re here to talk about TikTok ads. Haley, how are you doing?

Haley Nininger:  I’m doing awesome. Thanks for having me, John. 

John Tyreman:  Absolutely. It’s been a while – you’re a recurring guest. But it’s been a while since you’ve been on the podcast. So I’m really excited to chat with you.

Haley Nininger:  Yeah, I’m excited as well.  TikTok is going to be an exciting one. I’m very excited to kind of be an early adopter here and excited to chat with you about it today.

John Tyreman:  It’s a hot topic among marketing circles. So I think our listeners will get a lot of value out of this. But before we get into that topic, I’m really impressed by the digital marketing program at James Madison University. Go Dukes, right? And I saw on LinkedIn a few weeks ago, you volunteered your time to help mentor students at JMU in a digital marketing networking event. Can you share a little bit about that event?

Haley Nininger:  Yeah, absolutely. So that event was with Delta Mu Sigma, which is a JMU digital marketing honor society that actually had the pleasure to co-found with another group of students and faculties there. And we really just kind of aim to get increased recognition and visibility for some of the department’s top digital students who are really looking to pursue a career in digital. So I took some time to just chat with them about what I wish I had known, kind of going into the agency life and my experiences with interviewing and things like that. So it was just really an awesome experience. I love connecting with the students and it was a really great time just to give back to the department.

John Tyreman:  Yeah, that’s so awesome. I love giving back to my alma mater, and Radford too. So what do you think about… I’ve noticed that JMU seems to produce a lot of really talented digital marketers. What about that program do you think helps to do that?

Haley Nininger:  Yeah, that program has been through a few iterations. And I think it’s so powerful, because it really gives probably the closest darn thing that you could get to a real life experience as a paid media analyst, or maybe even some inklings of SEO in there as well. You get to work in the platforms that I typically work in day to day, in my career, now. You get to work with clients directly, you get to kind of go through the whole gamut, while providing some guidance to make sure that you’re achieving those results. But I think because it’s so close to real life, and kind of what we’re doing on a day to day basis in the industry, it sets students up really well to have things to talk through either in interviews, and then when they get the job, things start clicking a lot faster. They’re able to kind of resonate with the concepts they learned and be able to share experiences that way.

John Tyreman:  Yeah, it seems like it’ll be less of a trial by fire once those students land a job.

Haley Nininger:  Exactly, exactly. They always say you do most of the learning on the job. But in this case, they set you up pretty nicely to come in with a successful background at least.

John Tyreman:  Well, that’s awesome. Go Dukes again. So well, let’s shift our focus to our topic at hand, Haley, TikTok. And before we get into the ads part of it – from different marketers that I’ve talked to, there seems to be this common thread that TikTok has massive potential, both from an ad standpoint, but also on the organic side. I’m curious, do you use the platform? I’d love to get your experience as a user.

Haley Nininger:  Yeah, honestly, I was a bit reluctant for a while, just honestly, because everybody I knew was completely addicted to it. But after a while, I decided to give in and you know, if I was going to be running ads for clients on the platform, I really wanted to be well acquainted with all of its capabilities, understand my way around, and how to really leverage it from an advertising standpoint. And so yeah, now I would say I’m definitely thinking probably like five hours a day on TikTok, so it’s pretty aggressive now. Yeah, so in terms of some of the things that I like about it:  I have a very short attention span, I like content that is really easy to consume, It doesn’t take a lot of brain power, something I can just kind of leisurely scroll through after work and something that gets to the point. And that’s essentially TikTok. That’s what TikTok revolves around. And that’s one side of it. The second side is that it’s been really kind of this amazing source of information. And it’s not that you necessarily want to write a research paper based off of TikTok sources or anything, but you can learn anything, you can go on there to learn about self care, new recipes, money saving tips, makeup, even ways to fold clothes, something like that. So there’s a lot of really interesting and new content to be found on there.

John Tyreman:  That’s really cool. Is there anything that you like, totally, don’t like about it?

Haley Nininger:  Yeah, honestly, there’s also a lot of fluff content. So when I say fluff content, think about all of the, dare I say, kind of cringy dance videos or maybe lip syncers on the platform. I get like secondhand embarrassment about them. But when I see that type of content, I feel a little bit out of place as like a mid 20s, like working professional. I think that, you know, when I was a bit younger, I probably would have really liked participating in all of the newest trends. But now I kind of find myself like scrolling through most of it to kind of get to the informational side of things and get to kind of the other side of TikTok.

John Tyreman:  Yeah, I was looking at… HootSuite has a great blog post about TikTok advertising. And one of the stats that really jumped out at me was that about 40% of their user base on TikTok is between 18 and 24 years old. So in the future, once that demographic moves and has a little bit more purchasing power, which isn’t too far off, I mean, we’re talking about an audience that you can definitely advertise to.

Haley Nininger:  It’s even kind of going to be interesting to see how the content on TikTok shifts, you know, with that age group, as they kind of move into, you know, the 25, 34 range or maybe a little bit older, are we going to kind of see a difference in the content that’s there. So definitely some potential for for TikTok to shift a little bit in the targeting too.

John Tyreman:  Yeah, that’s really interesting. Well, you know, let’s talk about that a little bit. So Haley, you’ve been working with a client who’s been running ads on TikTok, I’d love to dig into your experience about that. So can you give our listeners an overview? Like what kind of business are you helping and what are their goals for the platform?

Haley Nininger:  The experience I’ve had so far with a business that is essentially an online schooling program, or kind of, maybe better classified as an alternative to traditional community college. So right now, we are really targeting either high school students, maybe gig workers, or we’ve also kind of experimented with students who maybe are attending school already, but could be looking to transfer from their current institution or, you know, the the kind of general theme across all of these targets would be somebody looking for a more cost effective option to go get an education through a program online. So currently, we’re leveraging TikTok, pretty much solely as a lead generation tool, we’re encouraging requests for information to reach out and learn more. But we’re actively working on building this out to be a bit more full funnel. So we’ve currently, you know, we’re testing in platform lead generation forms, we’re testing on site submissions, learning what works best from that kind of standpoint. And we’ve actually found a lot of success on both, but particularly the in platform lead generation forms. So we’ve seen a lot of success there. And we’re also experimenting with some of the different but unique targeting options that exist for audiences on Tiktok, such as, you know, creator categories, hashtag targeting, things like that. So I was honestly a little bit skeptical about running TikTok, especially for such a lead generation focused goal. But it turns out this channel is actually one of our top drivers of down funnel success. So when we have visibility down the line, TikTok is generating those leads in platform and they’re turning into actual enrollments on a very frequent basis. So that’s been really cool to see.

John Tyreman:  That is really cool to see. And, you know, I bet there’s a lot of skeptical marketers out there, that wouldn’t say that would be the case. And that is really cool to see. So you’ve seen empirically that TikTok is driving leads, that’s amazing.

Haley Nininger:  Yeah, actually, I think I’m right there with you. I’m one of the marketers that was pretty skeptical. And I was like, you know, we’re just, we’re not gonna see it. But TikTok is actually right behind Google in terms of the intent and in terms of, you know, down funnel success. So when you think of Google search, being obviously the ultimate driver of intent, and then TikTok to stack up second to that, that’s pretty impressive, from a down funnel success point.

John Tyreman:  And do you think that’s mostly because of the age demographics of the users on that platform?

Haley Nininger:  I do, I do. I think that this is going to be kind of a game changer for this demographic. And just thinking of some of the things we’ve talked about, of just you know, how the age demographic might change and kind of the behavior of those individuals and how they interact with different content and media on different platforms. I definitely think that that could be something in our future for sure.

John Tyreman:  Yeah. And it sounds like the client that you’re working with is a little bit more of an alternative to higher education, but it seems like higher education institutions, just kind of in a broad sense, would really benefit from having a visible presence on TikTok.

Haley Nininger:  Yeah, absolutely. I think so. I think you know, especially when you think of like the early college years and you’re kind of feeling it out and deciding whether or not this is for you. That’s definitely you know, some people would like that in person experience at higher ed, some people you know, there’s definitely a lot of ways that you can play that but that age demographic in general, I think is a great money spot for TikTok.

John Tyreman:  It seems like you know, that’s just one channel, right? So ,you were talking about how Google is another channel that this client is using. And it seems that Google and TikTok are some of the leading platforms. What other platforms are they using in their mix? And what role does TikTok play in kind of the overall ecosystem?

Haley Nininger:  Yeah, we actually have a nice presence, a rather robust presence across kind of the whole gamut. So we talked about Google and we talked about TikTok, we’ve also pursued a strategy on Facebook, we’ve also pursued a strategy on LinkedIn, as well as some of the additional channels within the Google ecosystem such as YouTube, display, things like that. And we also dabbled a little bit with Snapchat. But like I’ve mentioned, TikTok is really kind of proven on some of the, you know, down funnel analysis we’ve done, as one of the more successful marketing drivers. That being said, you know, it definitely, I think, plays its part in tandem with the remaining channels that we’re using in our mix. I think that we’re leveraging some cross channel strategies, we’re leveraging some remarketing to, you know, some of the other touch points that we’ve got in the strategy. So TikTok is super powerful for us. But I think it’s important to remember that it is one piece of the marketing mix. And there’s a lot of different levers that we can pull across kind of the whole gamut.

John Tyreman:  Well, while it’s one piece of the marketing mix, testing half a dozen channels and TikTok coming out on top, that’s pretty impressive. Yeah, it is. So obviously, TikTok is more of a video based platform. How are TikTok ads different than ad types on other platforms?

Haley Nininger:  Yeah, I think one of the things we’ve noticed the most is that TikTok absolutely warrants its own creative. So we’re not going to be able to repurpose creative from Facebook or YouTube or maybe some of the other channels that we’ve tested. And that’s something maybe you could kind of get away with on some of the other channels. We’ve tested more brand focused creative on TikTok, and you know, something that you may more often see on Facebook or YouTube. And it just really didn’t stack up to genuine creator based, like one to one sort of interaction that we see. Like somebody speaking to an audience who looks like them, somebody who’s young, maybe ready to start a career, we’ve seen just much more success with kind of that genuine, authentic interaction.

John Tyreman:  So that tells me that companies who want to advertise on TikTok, they really need to understand their audience so that they can come up with a creative strategy that works well on the platform.

Haley Nininger:  Exactly. Right. Exactly. Right.

John Tyreman:  Yeah. And that’s, that’s hard to do. Without really, like I said, understanding your audience. So it sounds like companies will really need to go out and really talk to these 18 to 24 year olds, if that’s the demographic that they’re targeting on the platform, and understand, you know, what they’re doing and why they’re on there and what they’re looking for.

Haley Nininger:  Exactly, yeah, that’ll be a pivotal moment. And I think it’ll grow in importance with platforms like Tiktok, or some other channels that use kind of more of that… more creator based one to one interaction creative strategy.

John Tyreman:  Yeah. And it sounds like user generated content could be a really big tool in the marketers toolkit here.

Haley Nininger:  Absolutely. Yeah, I definitely see that as a big piece of our future with TikTok.

John Tyreman:  So you mentioned Google, as being a channel that you’re using for this one particular client as well as TikTok. And you know, it’s funny, I’ve heard stories of TikTok being a platform that people use to search. And, you know, it seems like it’s kind of competing with Google a little bit for like the younger demographic market share. And I’ve only recently downloaded the TikTok app and dabbled in it much like you, to just kind of get a feel for it. I can really see how people can go down rabbit holes. I like the search results feature. But I was curious, like, if I’m hearing these stories about users going there and searching, and how that’s such a big part of the platform, I didn’t see any ads in the search results feature. Am I missing something?

Haley Nininger:  No, actually, that is coming. It is in beta right now. So it’s been recently announced that TikTok will be rolling out search ads, search result ads, ads in the search results. So TikTok will be rolling out that kind of model where what will happen is in platform, you’ll go to the search bar to search for makeup tutorials, and then beauty products or merchandisers could run ads on that term. And then what will be really interesting for marketers specifically is that when that interaction happens, you’ll actually be able to pull the search term report for those ads just like you can on Google right now. Find out what ads or what terms converted and then use those search terms maybe later on, in like your headline, or your messaging on your TikTok ad to help improve performance there. So we’ll be able to get some messaging insights similarly to how we get them on Google right now.

John Tyreman:  Do you think, maybe I’m just… forgive me if I don’t know, but do you think that some of these TikTok videos could be indexed and show up on Google search results? Do you think that we’ll start to see that happen?

Haley Nininger:  I do. I think, you know, Google was actually in talks right now with Instagram and Tiktok, to get, you know, Instagram’s offering of reels, and TikToks, within search results. So I am, I like to talk about this bit, because it’s interesting to think, you know, is Google wanting to share in that growth? You know, if Google was in these kind of talks with Instagram and TikTok to index these videos, maybe, you know, are we gonna see a world where these TikTok creators or like, these videos are showing up in auction insight reports or search terms reports for us, you know, at some point, but on the other hand, I think it’s interesting that Google was wanting to get involved because, you know, it’s safe to have a little bit of healthy skepticism around the fact that Google, of course, owns YouTube, which competes for the same audience of short form video viewers, and it’s really understandable, you know, that maybe Instagram and Tiktok are a little bit more hesitant to kind of go that route with Google, given you know, they’re such a behemoth already, and I think it was by 2024. TikTok is set to either be at or greater in ad revenue than what YouTube ads is currently at.

John Tyreman:  Whoa, that’s a… I didn’t realize that. That’s impressive, because YouTube is just a giant. You know, it’s funny that we;’re having this conversation. And we landed here, coming from more of like an advertisement  line of thought. I was talking with Geoff Kerbis the other day about, like, the role of audio/video content and the future of SEO and the future of search. And it seems like we’re starting to come to this intersection of paid media and search engine optimization in terms of video. I think it was like in 2019, Google announced that they have the ability to index the spoken word. And so they can crawl your videos, listen to the… not just read a transcript, but listen to your voice and index it and search. It’s just so wild how this stuff is evolving.

Haley Nininger:  It is you know, and Google is, you know, taking the stance of, we want to make content as accessible as possible for anybody who is looking. Right? That is kind of the mission and stance that they’ve taken. Again, I think gets met with a bit of healthy skepticism around what that might look like, you know, when we get a little bit, our feet in the water there, but I think having all these different options, you know, there’s of course, the voice element, there’s obviously the search term element. There’s also imagery elements that are rolling out, most recently in a kind of hybrid form where you can search with text and imagery. So you know, if that continues to evolve, potentially, there’s something where you have a text search, that also is going to be combined with a TikTok. Or there’s something that wil,l you know, resonate to get you that answer on how to make dinner or whatever it is you’re looking for.

John Tyreman:  So fascinating to theorize about this, not only theorize it but to see it all in action and to see the evolution kind of firsthand. We’ve got a front row seat to this.

Haley Nininger:  Exactly, exactly. We’re riding the rocket ship

John Tyreman:  Riding the rocket ship. Yep. Exactly. Well, hey, Haley, there’s… I wanted to… there’s one more piece that I wanted to ask you about, in your experience with TikTok ads. You mentioned Snapchat as another platform that you’re testing. And maybe there’s… I’m just…it’s naive of me to think of this, but I think of Snapchat and Tiktok as very similar platforms. Can you just kind of give me a peek behind the curtain? What’s the difference between the ads that are run on TikTok versus Snapchat?

Haley Nininger:  Yeah, absolutely. So we dabbled a little bit with TikTok and Snapchat at the very beginning. We kind of had an inkling that they’d perform rather similarly, that we would kind of see both of these channels really find their success at the top of funnel. What we found is very quickly, we were able to capitalize a lot more from you know, the lead generation space than we were thinking with Tiktok. That trend was not replicated with Snapchat. So we did see that Snapchat worked a little bit better at the top of the funnel. So it was interesting though, because with Snapchat, you know, you’re really building out that top of funnel presence and you’re really focusing more on like awareness and just getting people to engage with you, getting people to know more about you. Whereas Tiktok ,you’re able to find that success a little bit more down funnel. So I think that the two still work really well hand in hand as part of an overarching marketing strategy because In some cases, you’re kind of tapping into the same user, if from an audience standpoint. There’s a lot of the similar targeting options available in TikTok as well as Snapchat. So there’s some triggers that you can pull to kind of, you know, capture them on one platform, and then really get the intent on a different platform. So I would say like, we’ve still found the most success from Tiktok, we’re working on prioritizing a full funnel there so that we can work to nurture that flow even more than we have. But I would say Snapchat still has a great spot just a little bit higher up in the funnel.

John Tyreman:  Got it. Okay. Well, that’s an important difference. And it’s very interesting that you found that distinction of the role that each of those platforms play in the marketing funnel. We talked a little bit about the education space. I’m curious, from your perspective, are there any other industries that off the top of your head, you can think of that may benefit from TikTok ads?

Haley Nininger:  Yeah, I think that there are several, you know, I think that there’s a big market for people who have, you know, either… anybody in e-commerce honestly. If you think about, like beauty products, or you know, people just go online to watch video vloggers about makeup, anybody who’s looking for like a tutorial service thing, you know, it could be a food delivery, it could be anything that you want to know more about. Those How To videos are the perfect kind of bread and butter environment to kind of spur into several other industries. So when you think of kind of the doubling down on the intent here, it’s important to consider, you know, who is your audience, and most was more specifically, their age range. If it skews a little bit younger, you’re probably going to be a little bit safer on TikTok. And then if you think about, you know, what is your product or service offering, and who are you trying to service with that? With the client that we were mentioning earlier, we’re looking at a perfect combination of people looking to maybe learn a little bit more about saving money, learning to kind of start their career, both of those things are great environments to learn a little bit more from others experiences, and people will post about that on TikTok. So when you think about influencers, and where those individuals primarily live in the beauty space, in the food space, and kind of, you know, figuring out what makes sense, I think figuring out those one to one connections, matching that with your audience, and just spanning that across a variety of industries, there’s a ton of power there in how you could go about your strategy.

John Tyreman:  It seems like the products and services that have a little bit more of a considered purchase decision, there’s a little bit more thought put into the purchase, kind of lend themselves a little bit to the more educational kind of content. But it also seems that some of the more transactional services benefit from more of like the entertainment side where you know, you can use humor, and some of your advertisements and that makes them a little bit more sticky.

Haley Nininger:  Yeah, absolutely. Like I get ads on my feed all the time about things that are looking to help you feel, you know, either more energized during the day, I’m a hu,ge coffee drinker. So they know that they, they look for anything that will come up on my feed to say, you know, look at look at this product, you know, we definitely can help you get a little bit more pep in your step for the day. So there’s definitely a wide array of products, services, industries, that could definitely find their niche on Tiktok.

John Tyreman:  Well, that’s, that’s awesome. I know that there’s, you know, a lot more to come with TikTok, and we’re gonna be monitoring this. I’m sure this won’t be the last time that we talk about TikTok on this podcast, Haley.

Haley Nininger:  Exactly, exactly. Part two coming.

John Tyreman:  Part two coming soon. Exactly. Well, if folks wanted to connect with you and learn more, where can they find you?

Haley Nininger:  Yeah, LinkedIn. Definitely connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m always excited to have a chat about TikTok or anything else as well. So you can find me at just Haley Nininger on LinkedIn.

John Tyreman:  Well, Haley, thank you so much for coming on the show, sharing your insights and I look forward to talking more about TikTok with you.

Haley Nininger:  Thanks, John. Appreciate it.