In August 2018, Musical.ly, the lip-syncing app popular with teens, became Tik Tok. By the end of November 2018, Tik Tok was starting to blow up. Seventy percent of people using Tik Tok were between the ages of twelve and seventeen. Tweets and Instagram posts sharing some of the “cringiest” videos on Tik Tok were becoming increasingly popular with twenty to thirty year olds.
As a website designed to make the rental process easier, Flip had no reason to target the age group that saturated Tik Tok, but I still knew that we could benefit from being a part of the conversation. I had an idea for a way to get Flip-branded content in front of the twenty to thirty year olds who weren’t actively using Tik Tok but were getting a lot of enjoyment out of observing the strange behaviors of younger people sharing videos there.
My background as a creative writer came in handy here. On November 29, 2018, I thought of, wrote, designed images for, and published a blog post called My Roommate’s Tik Tok Fame Made My Life Hell. The story it told was detailed, juicy, and not entirely true.
Having written reported pieces for news outlets in the past, I knew that I could create a narrative piece of branded content that sounded real but may not have necessarily happened without coming under fire for violating “journalistic standards.” I knew it was possible that people would question the validity of the story. I also knew that any public discussion about whether it was true or not would only get more traffic to our website. I knew that people would suspect the story was manufactured specifically to gain Flip new users. I also knew that some people would find that strategy smart and respectable. The piece was written from an anonymous perspective, about living with an unnamed Tik Tok celebrity. I knew that any discussion on social media about the identity of the article’s Tik Tok celebrity would also increase traffic.
I tweeted the blog post from the Flip Twitter account, which had less than 1,000 followers at the time, and posted a story with a link to it on our Instagram account, where we had about 20,000 followers. I designed an enticing Instagram story-sized video with a juicy quote from the piece and texted a friend, S, who runs several Instagram accounts with over 6 million followers between them. I texted a person in my professional network who manages influencers and asked what the rate was for a specific influencer he manages, T, to retweet the link to the blog post. I chose T because she had been sharing and engaging with the “cringey” Tik Tok content that had recently become so viral. She had 1.2 million Twitter followers.
I left the office for the night and heard back from both S and T’s manager. Because we’re old friends, S offered me a discounted rate to post the promotional video I’d created on his popular account’s Instagram story, with a swipe up link to the blog post. T’s manager gave me her rate. I allocated $1000 from our marketing budget to pay for both of these influencer promotions and approved them to go live. As I was eating dinner about an hour later, I was tagged in a Slack message from Flip’s cofounder. 190 people were on the Flip site, 172 of them on the Tik Tok blog post. I opened Google Analytics and watched that number increase, topping out at 325.
The story went viral on Twitter. Reading peoples’ reactions, it was validating to see that this piece, combined with the hyper-popular Instagram ads I’d designed for Flip, were keeping the brand top of mind.
For the next month, traffic remained steady, and I watched as people who came to Flip to read the piece converted into registered users, posting their apartments on the site and moving into new homes on the site. I was pleased to see that the blog post would continue to drive new users to Flip for the rest of my time at Flip - sixteen months at the time of writing this. As brands increasingly spend more and more on customer acquisition costs (CAC is the new rent, after all), it was deeply gratifying to see this piece, which we spent only $1000 to market the day it went live, continue to drive more and more new users to Flip.
In February 2019, Eugene Wei linked to the blog post on his website, in a long piece about social status, social networks, and social capital. April 2019, the piece was posted and discussed on Hacker News, and my predictions that some people would identify it as an ad but find it smart and respectable came true.
These links combined drove 17,600 new visitors to the site, exceeding the best month for traffic to the blog post by over 5,000. An average of 3,000 new users have visited Flip every month for the past year after landing on the blog post. In the past week, 716 people have clicked on the blog post. Four of those people created an account on Flip, and so far, one has listed their home for rent on Flip.
As of March 2020, Flip has experienced increased brand awareness for sixteen months straight, and all it took was my talents, my strategy, and $1000.