TikTok sports over 170 million users and 7 million businesses in the United States alone. And, more importantly, on average, users spend a movie’s worth of time watching content daily, making it a treasure trove for marketers and advertisers. Users from every generation and background are highly engaged on the platform—both for entertainment, as well as education and search. That’s led to tremendous growth in advertising revenue, reaching tens of billions of dollars.

How can agencies leverage TikTok on behalf of their clients? And how is the platform helping advertisers demonstrate their expertise and land more deals?

That’s exactly what Mark Wallrapp is going to talk to us about. Listen to the entire episode of The MarTech Show, hosted by Agorapulse chief storyteller, Mike Allton, below or read on for the full transcript.

Mark is currently a team lead on the SMB agency team at TikTok, where he leverages his experience in team building, negotiations, and marketing strategy to manage a high-performing team out of Culver City, California. Previously, he served as the principal of the deal desk at Reddit, overseeing global deal structuring and policy development, and contributed over 360 million in revenue to the company through annual agreements. His tenure at Meta (that’s formerly Facebook) as an industry manager further highlighted his ability to lead digital media-focused sales teams within a dynamic organization.

The State of TikTok (And What Agencies Should Do)

Mike Allton: Let’s start with the big picture.

How should small and medium-sized agencies and their clients approach TikTok within this broader digital media landscape that we have in front of us?

Mark Wallrapp: Before we jump in, I’d like to anchor the discussion and hope you could provide your best guess on the approximate number of small businesses here in the U.S.

Mike Allton: Oh, gosh, in the U.S.? I’m thinking 20-25 million, maybe?

Mark Wallrapp: Close, close, but not quite. The SBA (the Small Business Association) documented just last year that there are over 33 million small businesses in America. And they’re defining small businesses as independent companies with fewer than 500 employees.

These businesses—many of which our teams work with every day—include a wide range of industries from realtors to automobile dealerships, home repair, doctors, dog walkers, and restaurants. So these businesses are not only essential to our business here at TikTok but also to the US economy.

A quick point of reference is: Within this total addressable market, there are approximately 10,000 companies that classify as an agency or marketing consultancy if you will. And so this is the team that my team services.

You mentioned in the lead that TikTok is a place where over 170 million Americans are spending sizable amounts of their discretionary time. We take pride in the fact that we’re just one of a few places online where agencies, small businesses, and their clients can connect with the people, the prospects, and ultimately the customers that matter to them.

Also, in many cases, our audiences are unduplicated. And so when marketers are trying to find net new customers that are not on other platforms, they’re coming over to our site. So, yeah, high level—that’s just a few of the ways to think about TikTok within the SMB segment here in the U.S.

What are some other ways that TikTok differentiates itself from other digital platforms that we’ve hinted at?

Mark Wallrapp: As unlikely as it may seem, we still see ourselves as emerging.

For context, Big Blue has a 12-year head start on the business, and Google is a 25-year-old company. We only launched in 2016, and the ad stack went live in … I believe it was early 2018. So, we’re still emerging. [We] still feel like there’s a lot to do and a lot to build.

Secondarily, TikTok is not social and definitely not a search. The way we identify is primarily as a video-first content platform, as opposed to the traditional social graph.

What that means is when we optimize the user experience instead of optimizing for your friends and family, we’re optimizing and surfacing videos that are intended to be most meaningful to you and our unique users. For example, our For You page is like nothing else online. It’s super-compelling.

It’s immersive. It’s a fun place for users to discover all the content that matters to them. And also happens to be the place where full-screen, in-feed ads blend in with that organic content. Those, I’d say, are just a few of how we try to differentiate the platform from others.

Mike Allton: That makes a lot of sense.

Even though we’ve had folks on this show and other shows talking about TikTok and other platforms, I think you’re the first one who specifically said that TikTok doesn’t necessarily view itself as a social network akin to some of the other ones. I’ve heard that from Pinterest, for instance. They say that they’re not a social network. They’re a search engine more than anything else. But it’s interesting for you to make that distinction. I appreciate that.

Common Misconceptions About TikTok

What are some common misperceptions that businesses should probably be aware of when they’re thinking about leveraging TikTok for themselves?

Mark Wallrapp: The first, I would say, is that the content is unpolished and full of just trendy challenges only suitable for younger audiences. On the contrary, TikTok—while initially gaining popularity with those younger audiences—the fastest-growing audiences look like you and I, Mike. It’s [the] ages 35 to 54.

When you think about the number of one out of two Americans or 170 million folks frequenting the platform on a monthly basis, we humbly check the box on most demographics. I’d also note that the quality has gone up over time since we refined our broad set of Creator tools and also raised the ceiling.

These days, you can post up to 10 minutes on videos. Just like the user demos, the content is also quite diverse. It ranges from entertainment to inspiration, news, education, self-help, and all the niches in between.

Another myth that we wrestle with is, “Well, we need to go viral for our ads to be effective.” Certainly, virality can boost exposure, but it’s not a strategy. In fact, only a small number of ads actually do go viral. What we’ve seen is that virality is pretty fickle actually. Most of the time, the ads or the content that goes viral is the least contrived, and the non-polished ads, or content that gains mass popularity.

Thirdly, TikTok is a branding-only upper funnel platform.

Many of our agencies will approach us and think it’s just about awareness. We take pride in the fact that we host millions of advertisers around the world who also focus on mid and lower-funnel objectives as well. And then, coincidentally, the most sophisticated of our marketing partners are leaning into what we call “brandforemance”—and that’s the bundling of both branding and conversion to make both of those better together.

Mike Allton: I’d love for you to extrapolate on “brandforemance” and maybe share an example of what that means—but I also want to underline something you made. In fact, I’m going to take this out as a clip. You said virality is not a strategy, and I want everybody to listen to that segment again. Play it back. [Read it again!]

Reality is not a strategy. Appreciate you for saying that. I also appreciate that you shared that the demographics of TikTok are much broader than what either they were or what people perceived them to be. That’s definitely a misperception.


Talk to us a little bit more about brandforemance. I’ve never heard that phrase before.

Mark Wallrapp: Typically, when you start a campaign, you start with the end in mind and what’s the objective. Oftentimes, it’s a singular objective, but ultimately brands are looking to drive outcomes. And so—if you can start with brand awareness, capture your audience, re-target folks that have opted into your messages along the way, and then re-message them throughout the funnel—there’s a great opportunity to drive the cost per leads, CPAs, clicks, whatever the type of lower funnel outcomes that you’re looking to drive.

And so we have seen that by, planning campaigns concurrent with both brand and performance you’re able to drive the best amount of or the most amount of outcomes.

Advertising on TikTok

Mike Allton: You talked about advertising. Let’s talk about that for a little bit longer because I want to know how agencies and smaller businesses can actually be effective with their advertising on TikTok.

Many of the people watching [or reading!] today, they’re probably more familiar with Facebook ads or maybe even LinkedIn ads. Probably, that’s about it. I imagine TikTok’s very different, and you’ve got a lot of different kinds of opportunities for them.

Mark Wallrapp: I’ll start with the straightforward.

Agencies can leverage the ad opportunities by first just genuinely engaging with their audience and our full suite of tools, right? That’s table stakes. Additionally, what we like to do is talk to our clients and prospects about test and learn frameworks, right? We live in an evidence-based world, and that also ratchets to campaign management. We also like to encourage our clients to experiment with the various ad formats that range from web ads to spark ads to in-feed ads.

As I referenced earlier, we offer lead gen ads and video shopping ads. These are just a few of the ad units that map back to specific campaign objectives. Also, businesses that integrate these strategies and others, of course, and then reference our publicly available resources through either the Agency Business Center or TikTok for Business. These are the clients that are achieving the most amount of sustained success.

Mike Allton: Now you mentioned a couple of ad types that are unique to TikTok, like Spark ads.

Could you share a little more about what the different advertising options are available on TikTok?

And I know you’ve got a tool, an advertising manager, that helps with those. If you could share a little bit more about that, I think that’ll help set our audience’s minds at ease a little bit. Maybe they’ve got a little bit of PTSD after having worked with some of the competitors’ advertising managers, who probably aren’t as intuitive.

Mark Wallrapp: Well, yeah, interestingly, ad managers in general are always evolving.

And so because it’s a moving target, folks with hands-on keyboards can definitely get frustrated sometimes as it relates to Spark ads. It’s an ad that we use to spark organic content. As you’re engaging your community, and you want to continue the momentum, we have a specific product called Spark, which again will allow you to drive that additional momentum.

Let’s zoom out for a second because when I first think about the optionality on TikTok, there are two ways to keep up, with platform enhancements. You’re either a managed client, or you’re a self-service client.

So for agencies that are committed to our team and investing in the platform consistently, we assign them an APM or an agency partner manager. And this person is essentially a consultant on their behalf. These folks are trained on all the latest and greatest best practices and work with clients to provide, SVAs (strategic value ads) ranging from betas to custom reporting, quarterly business reviews, and in some cases, we even offer in-person immersion days.

But back to TTAM for a second. This is pretty much the central command where you can plan, traffic, launch, and measure your campaign. And as I referenced, it’s a pretty dynamic tool. Products, features, and services are always evolving. Be on the lookout for that as we move forward.

Let’s Tik-Talk Tools

Given the crucial role that creative content has in driving success on TikTok, what tools and support does the platform provide to agencies and their clients to navigate that part of the process?

Mark Wallrapp: Well, if I haven’t mentioned creativity as an important lever already, I am now.

There is no single variable a marketer can control with more influence than creativity. Mike, we were talking about this prior to the call.

One of the main concepts you wrote about in the Ultimate Guide to Social Media Marketing was how tailoring specific creative strategies to your target audience, to your platform audience is a key pillar to any campaign success.

We have three things that I can reference [as] resources:

  1. The first is our TikTok Creative Center. It’s a one-stop destination that allows our partners to level up knowledge. We provide a ton of resources, insights into the latest trends, and views into the best-performing ads.
  2. Next is a resource for partners who don’t have the time to create creative. And so what we do is we offer what’s called TikTok Creative Challenge (TTCC). So, TTCC is where a brand can submit a brief, and we offer access to 50,000 pre-vetted creators who will literally compete, for that business. They’re going to produce content, cost-effective, and tailored to the specific needs of that client. Generally, they can turn around 10 pieces of creative in seven days. This is a product that completely lowers the barrier to entry for clients who bump up against some of those creative challenges.
  3. The third resource I’ll reference is what we call TikTok Creative Assistant. This is an AI-powered tool within the Creative Center. We had ChatGPT train on all of our insights data to offer up guidance around trending content, and we also assisted with some more specific things like brainstorming and script-writing, as that industry evolves this tool will certainly evolve as well.

On our three main creative tools and resources, identifying creative as a key pillar to any campaign and building creative for the platform first is probably the key takeaway I’d like for you guys to take from that.

get a free trial of agorapulse

Mike Allton: Let’s talk about trends. Everyone wants to know about trends.

Perhaps a little bit different than what we might think of when it comes to trends on TikTok. I’d love your input.

Mark Wallrapp: The mega trend that we all face is that the digital media landscape is exploding with content associated with the popular large language models.

I read recently that according to some of the credible cloud providers, the world’s data is currently doubling every two years, which is mind-blowing. And what’s interesting is that IBM also mentioned that—because of the Internet—eventually, the proliferation of data will be every 12 hours.

In this world of accelerating information, I think people, users of these platforms, are going to want to turn to the places that they know and trust, as they seek the truth. And so we believe that TikTok’s going to continue to be a clean, well-lit environment with a high standard around our community guidelines, and [we are] confident that we’re going to continue to be a place where we can help programmatically cut through the clutter—not only with the content that we serve up but also with the ads that we serve.

Some of the other platform-specific trends marketers should be mindful of are that agencies and brands are increasingly leveraging UGC to create content that’s just more relatable to their core audience. I would also mention that social commerce is on the up-and-up.

TikTok Shop, which was rolled out earlier this year, in the U.S. is emerging as a potential game changer. This is where users can essentially purchase without even leaving the app. Many of our early adopters within [the] shop are already seeing meaningful outcomes and leaning into features like shoppable ads, personalized product discovery, and seamless checkout experiences.

Finally, we’re hearing from companies that they just want to diversify over dependency from some of the more developed platforms. This is primarily to identify new audiences in different formats.

Mike Allton: I’m glad you mentioned the shop. That’s a huge feature for a large segment of our audience.

(In fact, we’ve done essentially two shows on shopping and retail and the shop feature, on our retail podcast, the Social Pulse Podcast: Retail Edition. So if those of you are working with e-commerce clients, check that podcast out. There’s an entire episode on TikTok there with Wave Wyld. And then I’ve got an episode from Feedonomics talking about how to keep that shop in sync with what you already have on your website.)

Make Your TikTok Ads More Effective

Now, what can you recommend to help advertisers maximize the effectiveness of their investment in TikTok?

Mark Wallrapp: Like, all platforms are authentic, right?

TikTok users value genuine and relatable content. Oftentimes, we’ll see videos that are repurposed for our platform from other digital marketing platforms, and they just seem to fail to resonate with our audience. Platform-specific creative is one key thing I’d be mindful of.

Second, leverage trends, right? We offer resources to help agencies align campaigns with trends. We also give guidance around aligning with seasonal and cultural moments, right? We have the Olympics coming up this summer, and a lot of our agencies are aligning their brands with the Olympics to ride that flow of awareness.

Test and learn, test, learn, iterate, test, learn, iterate, scale. Understanding that these types of frameworks are mission critical to success.

And then, as most of you in the industry know, there is this delicate combo of art and science to any best practices.

Then finally, I’d say, engage with your community, engage with your audience. We encourage interaction through comments, likes, shares, and responding to user interactions is a great way to build community. And, as I mentioned earlier, you can utilize the Spark ads to create additional momentum there.

Mike Allton: Test, learn, iterate, scale, terrific advice, no matter what we’re talking about in marketing, but certainly as it applies to advertising where you’re putting funds into it.

Certified TikTok Shopper

Mark, I want to hear about this new certification that you guys have going on at TikTok. Share with us what that is, who’s eligible to sign up, [and] what benefits we’ll gain from completing that program.

Mark Wallrapp: We’re really excited. This is a media-buying certification designed specifically for media buyers and marketing professionals who want to deepen their understanding of our ads ecosystem.

Anyone with an interest in obtaining accreditation can sign up for the certification. There are many prereqs—but we do recommend that candidates have at least one or more years of experience working with an agency or performing some media buying function. It’s been highly requested for quite some time and is pretty comparable to some of the other industry certifications.

We also know that professionals are utilizing this in the industry to boost their credibility attract their own clients and grow their own businesses. Upon passing the test, you receive an email from a credentialing partner. That’s your official publicly shareable certificate.

We know that folks are sharing this on their resumes, on LinkedIn, on X, and on other online networks as a badge of honor. And finally, the certificate remains valid for two years, from the date of passing. And then you’d have to re-up.

Mike Allton: Can you give us a little more details?

What about the certification process?

What’s the duration, the cost, and what topics are covered in the exam? Anything else that you might be able to add?

Mark Wallrapp: The cert covers best practices, all things campaign planning and management.

Advanced targeting and analytics go into reporting and measurement. So it’s the full gamut of not just our platform, but also industry-wide hot topics, like I measured, especially in measurement.

The exam [is] a proctored test exam. It can be taken either online or at a testing center. It’s $200 to take the exam, plus fees. It has 60 questions consisting of single and multi-select questions. There’s a time limit of two hours to complete the test. If someone happens to fail, you’re locked out of the system for 14 days and then can retake the exam. And yeah, all in all, we want those that are committed to succeed.

We’ve provided a comprehensive study guide. Some candidates can also lean into a bunch of, engagement, practice tests that will be hosted on the link as well.

Mike Allton: I love that you’ve made that commitment, but I also love that the test itself. It’s not easy. It’s not free. It’s not something that somebody can just take online for a few minutes.

It’s serious, which is going to tell me and anybody else who’s seeing somebody else that’s certified that’s achieved that, okay, they were serious about this themselves. They had to go through that process. They had to invest in it. We all know people aren’t necessarily going to take seriously things that they don’t really invest in.

Final PSAs from Mark

Before we wrap up, do you have any final thoughts or insights that you’d like to share with our audience?

Mark Wallrapp: It’s a couple of quick PSAs. We’re currently working on revamping the learning content within TikTok Academy, so be on the lookout for that coming soon. The certification that we just referenced is the first in a series of official exams. We’re eventually going to be offering exams for creative experts and also performance-based experts as well.

And for agencies and clients that are just beginning their journey on the platform, our team’s going to be presenting at the Agorapulse Agency Summit on agency fundamentals. So be sure to join that session.

In closing, the partners that choose to invest, innovate, and grow with us will be the ones that are going to gain a competitive edge on the platform, and in the market, there really are no cheat codes or shortcuts to success on TikTok.

We see that the businesses that are willing to dedicate the time and the resources and are committed to continuous improvement are the ones that solidify their position as thought leaders on TikTok and as industry leaders overall. I appreciate the time and thoughtful questions.

If you want to make sure you’re part of our audience during live weekly broadcasts, take a look at our calendar or click the subscribe button in your email once you register for any of these events. 

Exploring TikTok’s Advertising Platform & Certification Options