Its over! What I learned from shooting 30 TikToks in 30 days (and what I’d do differently next time)
30 days ago I set out to understand TikTok better by actively participating. I challenged myself to shoot 30 videos in 30 days and to reflect on what I learned in weekly blog posts. I aimed for 1000 followers and got 26 — this will be fun!
Uff, it’s done — the challenge is over! Even though it ended with surprisingly high viewership, I feel like after a festival: It was a remarkable experience but I’m kinda relieved it’s not happening again so soon.
If you are curious to find out why I started this challenge, please start with “Why I TikTok (and how it’s going)”. In this final report I will:
- Give you a brief overview of what content I produced last week,
- Shortly dip into path dependece of the TikTok algo,
- Assess if my initial assumptions held true,
- Discuss key learnings of the whole challenge,
- Translate my learnings into guidelines in case I want to approach TikTok more seriously, and
- Share some insight how challenging the challenge was for me.
Let’s get to it!
Week 4 Content
To my surprise, the last three videos I released got around 10x more views on their first and second day, but more on that later. Here are the videos:
- Day Twenty-Two (0:14) Orinoco’s Tacos One of the best places in CDMX to have tacos — and one of the worst videos I made. Forgot about the sound so you can hear a friend of mine japping away…
- Day Twenty-Three (0:26) The magical dog I met a dog with pink ears (the cutest shit I’ve seen in a while) and decided to soulmate and do the same. Unfortunately, the pink didnt last very long :(
- Day Twenty-Four (0:22) A trip to La Paz A few friends and I spent an extended weekend in La Paz, this is day 1.
- Day Twenty-Five (0:11) The angry granny This women caught my attention by trying to honk a car out of her way. I found it quite funny how she wrote “Fuck your mom” and “Idiot” with her finger on the car.
- Day Twenty-Six (0:20) From Los Cabos to La Paz We spent a night in Los Cabos (not recommended) but had a few very cold bears on very nice beaches on our way to La Paz (recommended).
- Day Twenty-Seven (0:20) A Boat Trip in La Paz We took a boat trip to swim with seals and snorkel around a small reef. The freshly hand-made ceviche at the beach was dang, check it out!
- Day Twenty-Eight(0:02) My cartwheel🤸 I noticed that I was lacking a video and chose a chill-at-the-beach-compliant way to catch up. Who ever texted with me knows about my inflatious use of the 🤸-emoji: this is the real world version.
- Day Twenty-Eight(B)(0:21) Balandra Beach It’s one of the most beautiful beaches around, a very well protected area for conservation of nature. Surprisingly, this video got much more views than all the other La Paz videos. I’ll dip into that next.
- Day Twenty-Nine (0:47) The best Gringas in town At El Vilsito you get insanely yummy Gringas (a form of Taco Al Pastor with cheese). It’s a must-go when you like mexican food and are in CDMX. This is the most performant video I made in 30 days!
- Day Thirty (0:24) Poppin Tags at aThrift Market I went to a thrift market with a friend and snapped some shots. This video again got significantly more views within oneday than almost all previous videos. Why?
What’s noteworthy and what I make of it
The last three videos got around 100 views on their first and second day after releasing them. Previously, the better performing videos got around 60 views over a week — why is that?
(I am not taking the very first video of the challenge into account because a friend with 6k Instagram followers shared it in his Insta Story.)
After the La Paz videos were among the lowest performers of the month hitting less than 20 views, things changed dramatically after posting the video about Balandra Beach. This video, despite being of the same production style to the previous videos, hit 10x more views on the first day and 5x more total views. What happened? Here are a few assumptions:
- TikTok rewards you for being persistant
After 27 days of posting, the algorithm felt pity with this ridiculous purple-haired dude and gave his videos more exposure. Jokes aside, it seems to pay off to keep posting every day.
- People got hooked on the song and stuck around
People liked the music & beach vibe and watched the whole video to have a 20-second-pseudo-vacation at Balandra Beach. To be fair, Mi Negrita by Devendra Banhart is an super chill song but with a total of 339 videos on TikTok, it’s far from popular (compare to 8.500.000 videos using STAY).
- #playa or #balandra are magical hashtags
Maybe there is more search volume on either of these hashtags which caused more people to find the video. Given that most views are driven by the For You page, I don’t think this is very likely.
Since the challenge is over, I am not sure if I will validate any of these assumptions soon — I’m happy to hear your thoughts! But one thing I can say for sure:
There is “path dependence” for reach
If you made one video with a good reach the subsequent videos will reach more people too. It’s pretty safe to say that the TikTok algorithm assumes that popular content follows popular content and honors that with more exposure.
To some extent that is pretty cool, because once you are on a run, you are inclined to keep going. On the other hand, it’s a manipulative way to trap content creators in a hamster wheel of producing content to not lose their winning streak. This plays very much into my hunge that TikTok is designed make the content creators and not only the users dopamine-sucking lab mice, but this is a topic for another blogpost.
Did my initial assumptions hold true?
I aimed for 1000 followers, I got 26. This is a beautiful sign for how naive I approached this challenge. As I wrote after the first week, I imagined it to be much easier to reach people on Tiktok. I absolutely think it’s possible to reach 1000 followers in 30 days, many people proved that, but you either need a better plan, be a hot lady, be willing to dance or get lucky.
Assumption: TikTok lacks longer story archs ❌
On TikTok you don’t really find people telling stories over a sequence of videos. Almost all videos don’t need context to work, they are self-sufficient. Initially, I planned to take people on my learning journey but quickly discarded the plan to do what others do to increase my chances of success.
I still see a lot of potential for a gifted storyteller to try something new on TikTok and break the law of being entertaining within single clips.
Assumption: Spanglish is a good idea ❌
I thought that content appealing to a cohort of people who speak both English and Spanish is a good idea. For me it didn’t work, for three reasons:
- It takes quite a lot of effort to add all subtitles and text elements in both languages. I often wasn’t willing to do that.
- It’s more difficult for the algo to determine your audience when you switch between languages. TikTok checks where you are and which language setup you use on your phone; there is no clear data point for bilinguality.
- Thirdly, I introduced the risk of someone swiping away my video because they simply did not understand it. This makes the algo think it’s a bad video even though it might not have been. This risk is mitigated when you stick to one language.
Assumption: Purple hair creates buzz ✅
Let’s talk about the purple hair: The idea was to bridge the online and offline worlds with purple hair. Apart from a few compliments from random people on the street, noone came running to me shouting: “Oh my gawwwd, eres el tipo de Tiktok!” On top of that, here in Mexico City every other person has some kind of color in their hair, purple hair is actually not thaaaaat special. So it didn’t really work.
I still give this assumption a tick just because it was so much fun to run around with purple and pink hair. If you ever have a chance to do it, do it 💜
How about the “growth hack” ideas ?
Apart from the assumptions I had three ideas on how to grow my following. As you likely guessed (26 followers), they didn’t work very well.
- Crowdsourcing Mexicanness
Didn’t work as my following and viewership was too little. You need a critical mass of people watching your stuff to find the handful of people who are willing to comment and provide help. Could’ve known before hand, should’ve critically challenged my thinking.
- Make mistakes and ask for help
That actually worked, but not as intended. In the first few videos I added a few CTAs to help me understand what Jaime aka the Juice Guy said. A few people helped me translate but almost all of them were people I knew before and all of them sent their translations in a private messages.
- Be a guest on other channels
I simply didn’t try it, felt too much like an imposter with my two followers.
Overall, it is pretty fair to say that I had a few high-level ideas but didn’t sweat the details enough. I decided to take action instead of pondering too long over the details which is generally a good approach. Too much pondering often leads to inaction as doubts come up etc. However, it’s understandably frustrating if things don’t play out as planned / dreamed up.
What I would do differently when approaching TikTok seriously
Now we get to the most fun part of the challenge: Translating the learnings into actionable steps to do better next time. If there will be a comeback on TikTok, it will be in a more professional setting. Here is what I would do differently:
- Embed my TikTok activities in a bigger plan
I don’t genuinely enjoy making videos for TikTok; I rather not do it, if I don’t have to. To create this sense of necessity and stay persistant I need a bigger goal for my channel than growing a following. This bigger plan will probably include a clear way to monetize the attention down the line.
- Preproduce content
To take off the edge of daily content production I would preproduce videos for the whole week. I would seperate the different steps (ideation, script writing, production, post production) to speed it up and spare myself the struggle of sitting in my room at 10pm stressing to make a video.
- Carefully plan the hook, value delivery and ending
Hooking the audience in the first seconds, keeping them engaged and converting them to followers isn’t easy. Scripting videos out beforehand will make it more likely to produce sticky content. Additionally, it allows for testing different approaches over the weeks and months.
- Stick with a plan for a while
I jumped around different formats and languages to test out what works. In a more professional setting I would target a niche more precisely by analysing what succesful people do and how I can make something similar with the lowest production effort possible. Making this plan is one thing, sticking with it for at least 60 days is another.
- Show my face (and speak a language I’m comfortable with)
Showing my face has worked well, speaking Spanish not so much. I am not yet conversational which made it quite akward to speak Spanish in front of the camera and, I assume, to watch me speaking it too. English is fine.
- Leverage the video editor on TikTok as much as possible
Having wrestled with Adobe Premiere and After Effects in the past, I continue to be amazed by what the TikTok editor makes possible. To create native content, I’d levarge the editor as much as possible.
How challenging was my challenge?
There were a few things which made this challenge challenging.
Flop 1 🐻 Motivation
First and foremost, my motivation dropped quite early as my expectations were so far off. The For You page makes it seem that it’s so easy to get thousands of views and likes. Additionally, I met someone here who accumulated 150k followers in four months with videos where he eats mexican street food. Another guy I met in a club has 2M followers with comedy content which I deem not super funny. How difficult can it be, I thought, to do as good as them?
Well, quite difficult.
Flop 2 🐻 Priorities
I always prioritized TikTok down, when other things came up. My daily Spanish practice was more important, freelancing was more important, doing a Viral Growth Sprint was more important, traveling and partying was more important. I often found myself in the last hours of the day having to make a video, which can be exhausting. I often did not put a lot of effort into the videos and you can see that.
Flop 3 🐻 Choice of language
Producing content in a language I am not conversational in introduced another layer of complication. My exposure to Spanish is limited to a five-week journey through Colombia in 2018 and around 20 hours of online lessons before coming to Mexico. Wanting to make content in Spanish was, let’s say, ambitious.
Flop 4 🐻 Videographers
I made a content plan with 30 different ideas before getting started but for almost all of them I would’ve needed someone to film me. In the first week, people are supportive but its not so easy to have my handful of friends here carve out an hour every day to film me approaching strangers on the street.
Flop 5 🐻 The Influencer Curse
I wrote about that in “Should I become an influencer?”: The feeling of having to record any moment which is fun or cool within your group of friends is pretty annoying. It’s a dilemma: Either you enjoy the moment and feel that you missed an opportunity to share something cool on TikTok or you pull out your phone and kinda ruin the authenticity of the moment…
Top 1🐂 Humbling experience
I generally think that I can do things, which is good to get started. However, it’s valuable to make a humbling experience like this one to understand that success from the outside looks easy but from the inside almost always is a struggle. Experiences like this help me set my expectations for future projects right to remain persistant.
Top 2 🐂 Frequent writing is fun
Reflecting on and writing up what I learned is insightful. And it’s a good practice for writing. Since I think about using written content as a reputation builder to sneak my way into cool web3 founding team, I appreciate the opportunity to write regularly.
Top 3🐂 Public commitment works
Giving myself a time frame of 30 days and publicly commiting to it helped a lot to persevere. When I was tired or stressed or drunk and I didn’t want to do a video it helped to stay disciplined.
Top 4 🐂 30 video memories
Its pretty cool to now have 30 snippets of my first weeks here in Mexico. It’s much more likely that I will browse through them from time to time than browsing through the photos I took (I rarely do that in general). So on a personal level, the struggles paid of too.
Would I do it again?
No, not in this format. Will I come back to TikTok? I might, as short-form video attracts so much attention these days (YouTube Shorts, Insta Reels).
Would I challenge myself again?
Very likely. A challenge like this feels like a mini-startup going from idea to implementation, iteration and assessment within just 30 days.
Until then, thanks for sticking around! As always, super happy to hear your thoughts and challenge my thinking 💡