How TikTok creators and brands have virtually collaborated amid the pandemic

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In March of 2020, Jorge Soto started making TikToks in his room out of what he calls “quarantine boredom.” Over the next few months, the 19-year-old Rhode Island-based creator started to slowly amass an audience — he now has 2.1 million followers on TikTok with his account @horchata_soto — as he finished up his senior year of high school.

Soto is one of a number of TikTok creators who’ve found an audience on the platform during the pandemic as people have spent more time on the app while at home. While the need to social distance has likely helped creators build their followings, it’s also meant finding new ways to collaborate with brands as well as fellow creators. With the latest surge of the virus due to the delta variant, creators may now opt to lean on virtual collaboration once again. 

As for Soto, he started to collaborate virtually in June of 2020 with fellow creators based in states like Texas and California to make skits. “We made our parts separately,” he said. “We tried to be creative about it, [using] phone calls [in the skits] so we wouldn’t have to be in the same place, so we could make it as if Covid wasn’t the barrier, even though it was one.” 

Hopping on Zoom or FaceTime to brainstorm possible collaborations with other creators or brands has become the norm for TikTokers who’ve found success during the pandemic as brands and agencies have prioritized influencer campaigns on the platform. Finding ways to make sketches, commercials or other collaborations work despite not being in the same place or on set has been easier to do when making a TikTok, according to creators and agency execs, as the viral content on the platform doesn’t often have a highly produced quality to it, especially compared to Instagram. 

“There’s this level of authenticity to TikTok that’s different from other platforms,” said Sarah Steele, a TikTok creator based in Arkansas with nearly 300,000 followers who goes by @thecorporatemama. You can be impactful “no matter your production level — you could just literally be on your phone sitting at your desk telling your story and that could hit more than some really well-produced Instagram videos that brands have so I think brands are starting to see the value of that.”  

Brands looking to collaborate with creators have tried to tap into the laid-back nature of TikTok content, according to agency execs. “TikTok users and the platform itself favors raw, creative and entertaining content and as a result, those attributes are necessary for brands who want to participate,” said Melissa Hochman, vice president of digital strategy, Saatchi & Saatchi.

Katy Wellhousen, account director of social and influence 160over90, a cultural marketing agency owned by Endeavor, echoed that sentiment: “On TikTok, there’s less of an expectation that you need to have the perfectly manicured aesthetic that major cities provide to content on platforms like Instagram. That coupled with the simple fact that it has been harder to get to NYC or LA, gave rise to creators in all areas of the U.S.”

That said, working with creators to collaborate solely over Zoom or FaceTime can be difficult for creators and brands. “This can get very lonely if you’re just in your room by yourself,” said Soto. “So talking to other people who have the same mentality, same mindset, it can be refreshing.” 

“Building a sense of community amongst creators with long-term brand relationships is incredibly important, and it’s admittedly harder to do over Zoom than bringing them together IRL,” said Wellhousen.

Some creators have started to meet in person after getting vaccinated. “I just met with my first ever TikTok friend a few weeks ago,” said Miranda Rae, a TikTok creator with 4.2 million followers under account name @mirandaalol. “Now that I have my vaccine I feel more comfortable meeting up with people.”

That said, Rae isn’t meeting with other TikTokers solely to collaborate on content now that she’s more comfortable meeting up in person. “I want to form friendships first before I film with them,” said Rae. “I don’t want it to be just a business. I want to form a bond.”

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