The Secret to Duolingo's Exponential Growth: Leveraging TikTok's Viral Potential

Aadil Verma

Hatched by Aadil Verma

Apr 06, 2024

4 min read


The Secret to Duolingo's Exponential Growth: Leveraging TikTok's Viral Potential

Duolingo, the popular language-learning app, has achieved remarkable success in recent years, boasting a staggering 8 million followers on TikTok. In a podcast interview with Zaria Parvez, the Social Media Manager of Duolingo, she reveals the reasons behind the company's decision to invest time and effort into TikTok and how they have harnessed the platform's viral potential.

Parvez explains that her familiarity with TikTok played a significant role in the decision-making process. Having grown up using the platform, she had an intuitive understanding of its workings, what content resonated with users, and how to create engaging videos. However, the real tipping point came when she learned that TikTok had reached 1 billion users in September 2021. This realization led her to recognize the immense opportunity of capturing the attention of TikTok's vast user base and redirecting them to the Duolingo app.

When it comes to hiring content creators for their team, Parvez emphasizes the importance of finding individuals who can grasp the science behind TikTok's algorithms. While artistic talent is valuable, understanding the platform's mechanics and being able to create content that aligns with its trends and features is crucial for achieving virality. Parvez's litmus test for potential hires is whether they can take a concept, identify a trending audio, film an engaging video, and create compelling captions and text overlays. This blending of art and science is key to Duolingo's success on TikTok.

One of the key strategies Duolingo employs on TikTok is the concept of "stealing like an artist." Parvez acknowledges that much of TikTok's content is derived from copying and building upon existing trends. It is a culture where users take popular audio clips and put their unique spin on them. Parvez encourages content creators to explore trending audio clips and observe what others are doing with them. By finding ways to incorporate their own unique perspectives and personalities into these trends, creators can engage with the platform's existing user base and increase their chances of going viral.

However, Parvez also recognizes that copying alone will only get you so far. Once a certain level of virality is achieved, users crave fresh storylines and unique content. Parvez likens Duolingo's TikTok account to a sitcom, with each video being an episode in an ongoing narrative. By creating storylines and building lore around their characters, Duolingo keeps their audience engaged and eager to see what happens next. They have even collaborated with popular mascots like Scrub Daddy and the Teletubbies to create innovative and entertaining content. This approach not only helps them stand out from the crowd but also allows their content to transcend TikTok and live on other platforms as well.

Interestingly, Parvez notes that not every video needs to tie directly back to language learning or the Duolingo app. While some users may come to social media platforms to learn a language, many simply seek entertainment and are not necessarily interested in the app itself. Recognizing this, Duolingo focuses on creating content that appeals to a broader audience and taps into the cultural zeitgeist. By listening to their audience through comments and feedback, they tailor their content to meet their desires and expectations.

So, how does Duolingo generate cool ideas for their social media content? Parvez admits that it's a challenging process. Sometimes, it feels like ideas come easily, while other times, it's a struggle. She emphasizes the importance of listening to the audience and using their comments as a social brief. By paying attention to what users want to see and giving them what they desire, Duolingo ensures their content remains relevant and engaging.

When it comes to repurposing content across different platforms, Duolingo takes a strategic approach. Approximately 75% of their content is "rip and replace," meaning they adapt the same video for different platforms with minimal changes. The remaining 25% is dedicated to tailoring content specifically for each platform. To streamline this process, Duolingo divides responsibilities among their social media team based on generational divides. They assign different platforms to different team members, ensuring that each channel receives the attention it deserves while capitalizing on the unique characteristics and preferences of each generation.

In conclusion, Duolingo's exponential growth on TikTok can be attributed to their understanding of the platform's viral potential and their ability to create engaging and entertaining content. By leveraging their team's expertise in both art and science, embracing popular trends while adding their unique spin, and building storylines and lore, Duolingo has captured the attention of millions of users. Their approach of stealing like an artist, listening to their audience, and repurposing content strategically has propelled them to new heights of success. For other brands and content creators, these actionable takeaways can serve as valuable insights for achieving viral growth on social media platforms.

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