The Chicago Bulls found building a brand on TikToK has a steep learning curve.

Since it debuted on the social platform last month, the Chicago Bulls content team has posted 15 videos, a third of which have surpassed 1 million views, said Kamil Strycharz, digital content coordinator at the Chicago Bulls. Two of those videos have clocked in over 4 million views, double the 2.7 million and 2.2 million views that were the team’s most-watched online videos last season, which were published on Facebook. Whereas those Facebook videos focused on the feats of past and former players, TikTok’s videos feature team mascot Benny the Bull as a way to slide the team into the new, quirky subculture emerging around the latest social media darling.

“This is where young people are online now,” said Strycharz.

As of July 2019, TikTok has over 500 million installs on the Google Play Store. The mascot’s account has grown to more than 225,000 followers, which is three times more than what it has on Twitter, said Strycharz. Some of that growth can be pegged to the sizeable presence the NBA has built on TikTok, which covers 3.8 million fans who receive five to six posts a day.  

Much of TikTok’s culture cache stems from the mix of memes and trends that come and go on the social network — from comedy skits and dance routines to lip-synching and pranks. The majority of content on the site revolves around funny videos, all of which are tailored to a feed based on previous viewing. In many ways, it’s like a souped-up version of Vine, the six-second video app Twitter axed in 2016. That’s not an easy place for a sports team like the Chicago Bulls to exist without having done some reconnaissance, said Strycharz. By going with the mascot over the team itself first on TikTok, Strycharz plans spend the off-season learning how to go viral on TikTok.

Still, their mindset appears to be working for now. Some posts, like a 15-second video featuring Benny the Bull dancing with former Chicago Bulls player Ben Wallace, are being watched all the way through multiple times, said Strycharz. Those watch times don’t often happen on other platforms like Facebook and Twitter, he added, where there’s a significant drop-off in viewers for similar length videos after three seconds. Videos are posted every two to three days as the content team tries to riff on what’s going viral on the social network.

But there are instances where those attempts have backfired.

When Strycharz and his team tried to jump on the rise of clown memes on TikTok, they found that people on the social network thought the sight of a mascot dressed as a clown was more creepy than funny.

“I think people thought the video was creepy and so it was one of our worst-performing videos,” said Strycharz. For other videos, it’s been harder to know why they’ve not been popular. One of the first videos the team posted on TikTok had Benny the Bull dancing with the mascot for hockey team the Philadelphia Flyers. It ended with Benny the Bull falling to the floor mid-dance, which was meant to be funny. “It didn’t work because it looked like Benny was hurt, which he wasn’t,” said Strycharz.

Being able to navigate the vagaries of a platform will come in handy next month when the NBA season starts. From then on, the TikTok page for the Chicago Bulls team will have a more active presence. As it stands, there are two videos on the team’s profile page on TikTok, which launched five weeks ago. “We’re going to delete those videos and make it a much more formal launch,” said Strycharz. “Right now, we’re just posting to show people that we’re active. The more we can practice shooting things with Benny the Bull, the easier it will be with the players.”

With organic marketing all but dead on Facebook, brands like the Chicago Bulls have been on the lookout for a replacement, so TikTok will be used as a platform for the Chicago Bulls’ organic marketing. All the followers gained by both the Chicago Bulls mascot and the team on TikTok have come without any paid promotions. Some brands have bought ads on Twitter as a way to drive up their follower counts for Vine. There are no plans to do the same at the Chicago Bulls. But the content team is closely watching how TikTok’s nascent ad offering matures over the coming months.

“If TikTok open up a self-serve ad platform, then we’ll definitely take a look because it’s where the attention is for younger audiences,” said Strycharz.

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