To Succeed on TikTok, Brands Must Become Publishers


Lyft gains traction after adopting this strategy alongside content studio Fallen Media

Chao Williams knows how to turn conversations into ads. The creator approaches strangers on the streets of New York to ask questions like “Where are you going?” “What drives you in life?” and “What would make today a 5-star day?” And if Williams didn’t have a branded microphone in his hand, you probably wouldn’t know he was on the clock.

“I know how to get people to come out of their comfort zone,” said Williams, who is the co-host of Lyft’s branded TikTok series. “When I speak freely with them, they get comfortable with me and then we come up with magic.”

Lyft’s social media team has learned that low-fi, creator-centric content that is probably shot on an iPhone is what makes the cut on TikTok. In an episode of Fallen Media’s show “What’s Poppin with Davis,” the host asks a stranger what their Uber rating is, and they bluntly respond that they only ride with Lyft. After Lyft’s social media team noticed this organic mention, the brand reached out to the content studio in hopes of starting its own series.

Since tapping Williams as its host, the transportation service has reached up to 700,000 organic views on a single video, been flooded with comments in support of interview subjects and learned how to create an online community. The dynamic demonstrates that if brands want to succeed on TikTok, they must ditch traditional advertising strategies and instead focus on rolling out original content that doesn’t feel so promotional. Instead of acting like advertisers, brands must become publishers.

“It really comes down to spotlighting everyday riders,” said Penn Weinberger, head of partnerships at Fallen Media, which owns a variety of shows hosted by influencers that contain themes from styling interview subjects on the street to inviting viewers on college dorm tours. Other Fallen Media clients include Cash App, Adidas and Dunkin. “The best way to do that was to take to the streets of New York to have really honest conversations with people.”

This marketing tactic has been popularized by platforms like Flighthouse, which gained major traction by inviting influencers into its studio to film gameshow content. The media company now creates branded content series for names like Tinder, Hollister and Amazon Prime Video.

Tying it back to the brand

If you’ve ever stepped foot in a Lyft or Uber, you know that the conversation can range from the mundane to the highly engaging. Some silent rides consist of a simple “How are you?” while others are much more nuanced. This experience is akin to what Williams sees when he takes to the streets—some strangers don’t care to divulge much more than where they’re physically off to that day, while others get into where they see themselves going in life.

According to Lyft’s director of brand social Bryna Corcoran, the brand spent a while wrestling with exactly how to tie the content back to the transportation service.

“Sometimes the conversation in a Lyft is small talk, but we’ve all had those conversations with drivers that are a bit more profound,” said Corcoran. “You start talking about your dreams and goals and what you’re chasing.”

As for the future of the series, Corcoran and Fallen Media want to segue into spotlighting the people who sit at the core of Lyft’s culture—its network of drivers.

“This type of content is exactly what consumers are craving,” said Corcoran. “Not only on TikTok, but in marketing in general.”

This article first appeared in

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About Author

Emmy Liederman

Emmy is an Adweek staff writer covering ecommerce. Emmy is a 2021 graduate of The College of New Jersey with a major in journalism and minors in Spanish and broadcast journalism. For Adweek, Emmy reports on the people, brands, technology and services in the evolving ecommerce space.

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