How TikTok’s Global Business Marketing Manager Brings Inclusiveness Into the Platform
It’s no exaggeration to say that TikTok is the fastest growing social media platform ever. In September, the organization announced that it had surpassed one billion monthly active users, reaching that milestone years earlier than its predecessors Facebook and Instagram. In response, marketing departments are shifting more money to the platform, especially after a recent study found that users are 92% more likely to make a purchase based on something they saw on TikTok.
At the heart of this growth is one of TikTok’s most influential executives, Sofia Hernandez. A veteran of the advertising industry, she was recently promoted to Global Head of Business Marketing, which means she spends a great deal of her time helping marketers find new, original and creative ways to connect brands to. the growing user base of the platform. I spoke to Hernandez about the explosive growth of TikTok, how marketers can get the most out of the platform, and how it promotes inclusiveness across the board, updates from products to corporate culture.
Amy Shoenthal: You just got a pretty big promotion, congratulations! Now that you’re the Global Business Marketing Manager at TikTok (his previous role was focused solely on North America), what do you hope to accomplish?
Sofia Hernandez: One of the most exciting things about taking this role is bringing this amazing platform to life on a global scale. Creators are the lifeblood of TikTok and starting to showcase them in places like Asia and the Middle East excites me the most.
I notice that some creators are already international, like Khaby. There are so many other Khabys out there, or someone like Anger reactions, who says nice things to the camera while shouting, which is this unexpected juxtaposition. How are people going to welcome him around the world?
Shoenthal: TikTok just hit one billion monthly users, with over 100 million in the United States alone. Why do you think the platform’s growth has continued to skyrocket since its launch?
Hernandez: There is nothing like TikTok. People don’t check it, they watch it. It’s more entertainment than social media. People spend the length of one movie per day on our platform. It opened the door for ordinary people to show up and get creative, whether they send a message, paint a portrait, or do a magic trick. It’s not very produced, it’s very raw and very real.
We are at a stage in society where people want the real. It’s not about the luxury car and the FOMO. It is about connection and co-creation. It’s the foundation of how people engage with TikTok.
Shoenthal: Facebook and Instagram have recently come under fire for the mental health impact their content can have on body image, especially among teenage girls. How do you approach this on TikTok?
Hernandez: I can talk about how we push brands to have these conversations. Clinic has a campaign called “Zit is coming“, which was a very real and raw exposure to women accepting their skin as it is. Obviously they want to take care of it and improve it but it’s not about having clear skin or having a perfectly smooth skin.I love that brands look at the reality of the platform.
Koho is a Canadian financial institution that has partnered with Kyne, a Filipino drag queen, to talk about financial health. It’s these unexpected partnerships and pairings that I think can only happen on TikTok. It forces brands to present themselves in a truly authentic way, similar to that of the creators.
For some it is a challenge, for some it is an opportunity.
Shoenthal: Tell me about last month TikTok World Event. Have you had some pretty important announcements, the ones you are particularly passionate about?
Hernandez: Brands are hungry for more e-commerce capabilities. I always have to remind brands that we are only two years old! That said, we are actively and enthusiastically developing products that will help brands find ways to make entertainment purchasable.
92% of TikTokers said they took action after watching a TikTok video, whether it’s buying, researching, or further researching. People will say, I watched something, I learned something, I laughed. We speak to people’s hearts, not just their minds. The heart guides the mind.
Shoenthal: Your colleagues describe you as “someone who empathically leads and empowers women not only in their careers, but also in their personal lives”. Are there any specific examples or general principles that illustrate how you do this so the rest of us can follow suit?
Hernandez: I could talk about it forever because it’s what fascinates me deep inside me. I started working in Corporate America in the early 2000s and have never seen someone who looks like me in leadership positions. When I did, I always felt like they weren’t really at the table like themselves, but played a role.
For the first half of my career, I did the same. I thought that was how you worked your way up the ranks. And it sucks not to be yourself. Eventually I started to challenge myself by deciding to be more of a defender. I was very authentic in the way I behaved as a leader and how I presented myself as a female leader. I have spent most of my career in advertising. The advertising industry is still struggling to be a diverse environment.
Now I’m telling all of my team you need to be fully involved and you don’t have to change any code. The more we do this, the more these environments will begin to change. I meet every person on my team and tell them it’s an environment where people can be themselves.
Shoenthal: How many people make up your team?
Hernandez: There are 220 people in my current team. So far, I have met 140 of them and I am planning one-on-one interviews with the others.
Shoenthal: TikTok is best known for the way it elevates creators. You recently launched the creators market. Can you explain what it is exactly and how it differs from what other social platforms have done?
Hernandez: The designer market has been around for a while, but over the past year we’ve been focusing on improving the experience. It’s a self-service platform where brands can connect with creators. One of the things I’m really proud of is that 60% of the designers we recommend are diverse. It’s our way of encouraging and inspiring marketers to think bigger. Comcast just completed a #TeamofTomorrow challenge where they teamed up with the Rollette, a group of women in wheelchairs doing some really cool dance routines.
In the past, influencer marketing has been, “Here is a script, here is a can of coke, please read the script and hold the can in front of the screen.” The best partnerships are when brands allow designers to do their thing. It is so important that we integrate these capabilities into the platform so that it is easier for marketers to collaborate. A marketer can search for videos that mention their brand, which is a great way to find designers who love their products. This is also a victory for the creators, because they all have brands that they love and adore. Being able to do their thing for the brands they love is magic.
Shoenthal: At this point, a recent blog post following TikTok World said, “When brands join TikTok, we tell them to think like marketers and act like creators.” Could you clarify this? What about small brands without big marketing budgets?
Hernandez: I think it goes back to what makes TikTok TikTok. Traders care about their bottom line. But we’ve come so far in data-driven ROI and programming that it’s time to get back to creativity. This is essentially the goal of the creators. We don’t want brands to talk to people. We want them to engage with people. Get in the comments. There is an amazing way to humanize brands on this platform by behaving like creators behave.
Shoenthal: What is the thing that surprised you when you started in your current role?
Hernandez: I’m so impressed with how TikTok truly reflects its mission to inspire people from platform to product to our corporate culture. It is a beautiful thing to feel like the place where you work and the product you put out in the world inspires creativity and joy.
Shoenthal: What are you working on right now and what are you most passionate about?
Hernandez: I am so excited about this new program called Cultural factors. I wanted to educate marketers in a really fun TikTok way on how to partner with creators. We highlight 14 partnerships between marketers and creators in a visual series shot by Carlos “Kaito” Araujo. Marketers and creators came together to talk about the challenges they went through or how they chose each other as partners. It is very authentic and very real. You might hear things like, “We were afraid to contact this designer because we didn’t know if he would match our branding.” And the creators will say how, when they saw the first draft of the script, they weren’t sure because it felt forced.
It really answers these questions in the minds of marketers and creators about how to partner up on this new thing called TikTok in such an amazing and inspiring way.