New social media channels seem to pop up daily, with the most cutting-edge platforms often existing as a mystery to all but the youngest users. A few years ago, Instagram made its debut, then Snapchat came along, and now TikTok is taking the social media world by storm, with some brands getting in on the ground floor.

So what is TikTok? The simple answer is that it’s a social media video app, launched in 2017 for creating and sharing short—usually comedic—videos. The foodservice-friendly answer is that TikTok is a powerful marketing tool, one that pushes customers to personally engage with brands by creating content themselves.

READ MORE: Chipotle morphs into a lifestyle brand

Just ahead of National Avocado Day on July 31, Chipotle launched its #GuacDance challenge, which asked guacamole fans to film themselves dancing to a popular, avocado-centric meme-song created by children’s musician Dr. Jean. The campaign was TikTok’s highest-performing branded challenge in the U.S., resulting in 250,000 video submissions during the six-day challenge and Chipotle’s biggest guacamole day ever, with more than 800,000 sides of free guac served. Since then, Chipotle has also run a Halloween #Boorito challenge, and more campaigns are coming down the pipeline.

Tressie Lieberman, Chipotle’s vice president of digital and off-premises, gave QSR some tips on strategy for this youthful—and lucrative—channel.

Pay attention to your customers

The Chipotle team decided to create a presence on TikTok after seeing their brand repeatedly mentioned by users of the app when a Chipotle Instagram video of an employee flipping a lid over a burrito bowl made it over to the platform.

“We thought that video of one of our employees doing a cool lid trick would be the perfect way to launch, because we could use the challenge capability to get customers involved at home and shoot video of their own tricks,” Lieberman says.

Later on, when prepping for National Avocado Day, the brand capitalized on an already-popular piece of Internet culture—the Dr. Jean video—to get customers dancing. Lieberman says the chain is always scanning various online channels to capitalize on the content that customers are buzzing about.

Ask for a variety of tech-savvy input

Chipotle has a team of culturally dialed-in researchers referred to as “culture hunters.” These culture hunters are curious Internet users who gauge what customers are posting about and what online trends are most popular, information that Chipotle spins into social campaigns.

All ages help build Chipotle’s digital strategy (and the brand looks to appeal to all ages of customers socially, as well), but the company does have some Gen Z team members who help connect with the younger demographic responsible for TikTok’s rise to fame.

“We have a lot of diversity on our team to help us evaluate all the ideas through different eyes,” Lieberman says. “But we have some people on our team who are part of that Gen Z community, and I think they are really great filters to think through these newer ideas.”

Act as if your brand is a person

Lieberman says Chipotle’s goal for its presence on TikTok is to establish a genuine, real personality. With this platform in particular, the brand can show customers what goes on behind the scenes in stores with videos, adding in playful music for a dash of humor.

Since the theme of TikTok is overwhelmingly lighthearted, the brand works hard not to take itself too seriously on the channel, looking for ways to tell real stories and function as a personal presence rather than branded. As TikTok becomes more popular with audiences in Gen Z and otherwise, Lieberman says, Chipotle will continue to examine how its presence can remain authentic while evolving along with the platform.

“TikTok is a big part of the conversation right now, and we’re seeing more people join in. Bringing through our human side as a brand works really well for us; you don’t want to show up and feel like an advertiser,” she says. “It’s not about creating content for Instagram and then posting it on this platform; it’s about really using the power of this particular channel and sharing real content that will resonate specifically on TikTok.”

Fast Casual, Marketing & Promotions, Story, Chipotle