The Secret to Duolingo's Exponential Growth: How They Scaled to 8M TikTok Followers

Aadil Verma

Hatched by Aadil Verma

Apr 19, 2024

5 min read

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The Secret to Duolingo's Exponential Growth: How They Scaled to 8M TikTok Followers

In a recent podcast episode, Zaria Parvez, the Social Media Manager for Duolingo, shared insights on how the language learning app was able to achieve exponential growth on TikTok, amassing 8 million followers. Parvez explained why they chose TikTok as their primary platform and how they leveraged the app's unique features to create viral content.

One of the reasons Duolingo decided to focus on TikTok was because it was a platform that Parvez was already familiar with and had grown up using. Having an understanding of how the app worked and what kind of content resonated with users gave her a head start in creating engaging videos. Additionally, the fact that TikTok had over 1 billion users further solidified the decision, as it meant that potential users were already spending their time on the platform, rather than on the Duolingo app itself.

When it comes to creating content for TikTok, Parvez emphasized the importance of both art and science. While having a creative and entertaining approach is crucial, understanding the science behind the app and its algorithms is equally important. When hiring for their social media teams, Parvez looks for individuals who can not only create entertaining content but also have a deep understanding of the app's mechanics. This combination ensures that the content they produce has the highest chance of reaching a wider audience.

A common question that arises when it comes to TikTok content creation is whether to copy what works or to create something authentic and different. Parvez believes that the best approach is to start by "stealing like an artist." TikTok is a platform where trends and audios often go viral through imitation and adaptation. By studying what others are doing and putting their own spin on it, creators can tap into existing trends while still showcasing their unique perspective. However, as Parvez points out, relying solely on copying will only take creators so far. As users become more familiar with the platform, they start craving more original and engaging storylines.

At Duolingo, every TikTok video is treated as an episode of a sitcom. Each piece of content contributes to building a larger narrative and lore. For example, they have recurring characters like Duo, their mascot, and Lily, an emo girl who dislikes Duo but is frequently pulled into his shenanigans. By creating these storylines, Duolingo keeps their audience engaged and invested in their content. They even go as far as bringing in external characters like Scrub Daddy and the Teletubbies for innovative collaborations. This approach not only keeps things fresh but also allows their content to live beyond TikTok itself.

While storytelling and creating engaging content is essential, it's important to note that not every video needs to tie back directly to the app or the language learning process. Parvez acknowledges that people don't come to social media platforms to learn a language or interact with an app. Therefore, Duolingo focuses on creating content that is entertaining and resonates with their audience, even if it doesn't directly promote the app.

When it comes to generating ideas for social media content, Parvez explains that it's a mix of both difficulty and simplicity. Sometimes, ideas flow naturally, while other times, it can be challenging to come up with fresh and engaging concepts. However, she emphasizes the importance of listening to the community and taking their feedback into account. The comment section often serves as a social brief, with users suggesting what they want to see. By paying attention to these preferences, Duolingo can deliver content that aligns with their audience's desires.

In terms of repurposing content across different platforms, Duolingo primarily follows a "rip and replace" approach. Approximately 75% of their content is directly adapted from TikTok to other platforms like Instagram Reels. However, they also allocate a portion of their efforts to tailor content specifically for each platform. By splitting the workload among different team members, divided by generational divides, they ensure that each channel receives the attention and creativity it deserves.

In conclusion, Duolingo's exponential growth on TikTok can be attributed to a combination of factors. By capitalizing on their Social Media Manager's familiarity with the platform, leveraging the app's massive user base, and creating engaging and entertaining content that resonates with their audience, Duolingo has been able to capture the attention of millions. Their innovative approach of treating TikTok as a sitcom, with interconnected storylines, further contributes to their success. For those looking to replicate their achievements, here are three actionable pieces of advice:

  • 1. Understand the platform: Take the time to familiarize yourself with the mechanics and trends of the platform you want to focus on. This knowledge will help you create content that aligns with user preferences and has a higher chance of going viral.
  • 2. Balance art and science: While creativity is crucial, understanding the science behind the app's algorithms and trends will greatly enhance your chances of success. Hiring individuals who can combine both aspects will ensure your content stands out.
  • 3. Listen to your audience: Pay close attention to user feedback and preferences. The comment section can serve as a valuable source of inspiration and guidance. By delivering content that aligns with what your audience wants, you can foster engagement and loyalty.

By following these tips and taking inspiration from Duolingo's approach, creators and brands can unlock the potential of TikTok and other social media platforms, driving exponential growth and capturing the attention of their target audience.

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