How Shinesty built a TikTok community around underwear
David Cross |
Fashion brand Shinesty launched in 2014 when a couple of college friends set out to make the exciting moments in life, well, more exciting. They started out with themed, playful outerwear like overalls and pajamas, targeting early 20-somethings who wanted to keep the college party vibe alive.
Their offbeat products inspired offbeat content. And when one of their underwear products took off during the pandemic — thanks to its comfy little “pouch” — TikTok helped galvanize their rapidly expanding community around irreverent content.
Today, Shinesty has racked up almost 1.5 million likes on TikTok and more than 148,000 followers.
We sat down with Shinesty’s Senior Growth Marketer, Austin Rosmarin, and Social Media Manager, Duke Harten, to learn how TikTok fits into their larger social media strategy. They break down how they come up with fresh content and measure the success of their TikTok campaigns.
How does social media, in general, fit into Shinesty’s brand?
Duke: Our organic social media posts help our community have a good time. That’s at the core of the Shinesty brand. We want our posts to be funny and engaging, and they don’t even have to be about underwear.
We’ll add our spin to current event memes and occasionally sprinkle in references to our underwear. Sure, we want our community to head to our website, but that’s not our primary social media goal. We’re 100% clear about what we sell. But we’re also 100% clear that we want to entertain our community, not sell to them over and over again.
When and why did Shinesty decide to launch a TikTok account?
Austin: We launched our first TikTok posts in late 2021. The platform exploded in popularity during the pandemic, and we had some interesting brainstorms of what to post. We started with “behind the scenes at Shinesty” content, and a few posts were incredibly successful.
We also looked at the fact that our costs per thousand impressions (CPMs) were going way up on Facebook and Instagram, so we decided to focus on this up-and-coming channel for organic and paid outreach.
Do you think eCommerce brands need to be on TikTok? Why or why not?
Austin: TikTok is first and foremost about entertaining first and selling second (if at all). If your brand has a message with entertainment value, then you should consider TikTok. But brands can also build followings on other social media channels. The key is knowing why users visit channels like Instagram and Twitter. If your content answers that “why,” then consider going in that direction.
Duke: Brands need to resist the temptation to post on TikTok simply because the platform is hugely popular with younger audiences. Your content must come across as authentic, or it will backfire. Suppose you’ve been posting on Instagram for years, and none of your content is funny. Then you suddenly try to be funny on TikTok. It doesn’t always work.
It’s true that humor is not 100% essential for TikTok success. But that’s our niche. It works very well for us, and it means we can try pretty much anything we want. Take a brand that makes argyle sweaters. Their niche might be posting well-edited videos that show how they make their sweaters. I’m sure there’s an audience for that content. Humor might not be part of their success formula.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of TikTok?
Austin: The greatest advantage of TikTok is that the best content rises to the top of the heap. It’s a kind of meritocracy. A celebrity with millions of followers on Instagram will get tons of likes, shares, and comments on posts simply because they’re a celebrity. They might struggle on TikTok, where being attractive or famous by itself doesn’t equal entertainment.
A disadvantage of TikTok is that you must consistently deliver fresh content. The same joke might work in two videos, but by the third video, your audience will want something new. One viral video is awesome, but that popularity can fade quickly if your content doesn’t keep up with audience demands.
Duke: 100% agree with Austin. Another advantage of TikTok is that the app itself can assist with creative. I can scroll through my TikTok feed for 30 minutes and get 10 ideas for my next post. It’s easy to spot trends and memes, and you can adapt them to your brand.
What was your go-to-market (GTM) strategy for TikTok?
Duke: When we started on TikTok, our GTM strategy was to use a combination of entertaining organic and paid posts to sell some underwear. Our irreverent ads got tons of comments — positive and negative — so we knew we were on to something. That early success gave us the confidence to push the irreverence into more organic posts. Because we sell underwear, we felt we could get away with more outrageous takes on current trends. And it worked.
What is your current TikTok strategy? How have you defined success?
Austin: It’s easy for brands to look at followers, likes, and shares as the ultimate success benchmarks. Of course, we care about those metrics. But for Shinesty, success is building a devoted community. We’d rather go a mile deep and an inch wide than a mile wide and an inch deep.
In other words, we’d rather have a smaller but incredibly devoted user base than a larger but less engaged one. Ten thousand followers who heavily like and comment are more valuable to us than a million followers who barely engage.
At the end of the day, it’s about quality over quantity. Some folks just won’t like our content. And that’s okay.
Shinesty has a running gag where your underwear is sentient. What’s the story behind this content?
Duke: I had just started at Shinesty, and I was looking for a humorous narrative that had the potential to fuel multiple TikTok posts. I decided to create a character out of our underwear and pit that character against a more “straitlaced” character.
The underwear character is rough around the edges, rude, and perfectly captures our attitude. I used filters to put eyes and a mouth on it, and now it shows up every so often.
What’s a misconception about TikTok you want to set the record straight about?
Austin: TikTok is not strictly a Gen Z platform, though they’re the largest user base. If your brand targets older generations — and your messaging lends itself to entertainment — you should still consider TikTok.
Duke: I think another misconception is that virality is the mark of success on TikTok. This goes back to what Austin said about building community. It’s exhilarating when a post gets a million views, but what percentage of that million really cares about the rest of what you’re doing? And again, you can’t always copy virality. TikTok users want fresh content, so viral content one week might be boring the week after.
It’s a cliche, but our TikTok philosophy is that slow and steady ultimately wins the race. We’ll keep putting out content we want to watch, and that resonates with our core community. It might take years before that content vaults Shinesty into a household name, but that’s okay with us.
What TikTok accounts should eCommerce brands follow for inspiration?
Duke: Duolingo comes to mind immediately. They have their green owl that shows up in everything. They’re a great example of finding their thing and sticking to it.
Another great example is Vilpe, a Finnish company that makes ventilation equipment. I had to watch 20 of their videos before I figured out what they did. Whoever runs their TikTok account simply walks around the office interviewing different employees about their life and hobbies. One employee, a soft-spoken, long-haired guy named Kirill, is 100% unimpressed with the whole idea of TikTok. But he’s magnetic to watch. People want to see him. Like Duolingo, Vilpe found their thing and stuck with it.
TikTok offers business and creator pages. Which one does Shinesty use, and which do you recommend for eCommerce brands?
Duke: Shinesty uses a business page, and we’d recommend it for eCommerce brands. We wanted a single branded page where our paid and organic content could live. Plus, brands with an interest in social commerce can easily highlight their products on the app.
It’s true that creator pages have access to more sounds and music, but we’re content with the options business pages offer.
Many eCommerce brands report a huge post-pandemic rise in customer acquisition costs (CAC). What impact has your paid TikTok strategy had on Shinesty’s CAC?
Austin: Our TikTok CAC is comparable to what we see on Instagram and Facebook. But our CPMs are meaningfully lower on TikTok.
In other words, our paid TikTok content is getting in front of way more people for the same cost as our paid Instagram content.
Again, we go back to our strategy of making Shinesty a household name. Lower CPMs align nicely with that goal.
Our success with paid TikTok ads also comes from nonstop iterative testing. We A/B test heavily within different ad groups, varying components such as captions and music. We get about a month of traction out of a well-performing piece of TikTok creative.
Duke: One strategy we’ve adopted to offset CAC is adding a subscription experience. TikTok drives awareness, while subscriptions help pull in customers. If customers really dig our underwear, we’ve made it easy for them to get it regularly at a deeper discount — without having to place a new order each month.
We want the combination of our content and subscription benefits to keep customers coming back, making us a bit less reliant on finding new customers. Underwear lovers get a pair each month at up to 35% off, with free shipping. We also allow our subscribers to pause, cancel, modify, or exchange pairs whenever they want. Plus, they can access exclusive prints not available anywhere else.
The longer they subscribe, the longer we have to create meaningful relationships with them.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed. Shinesty uses Ordergroove and other leading eCommerce integrations to power their subscription experience.