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Food Star Valentina Mussi Shares The TikTok Tips You Need To Know

Trying new foods started as a hobby for Miami-based TikTok content creator and Storyhunter freelancer Valentina Mussi. She used to film and…
Food Star Valentina Mussi Shares The TikTok Tips You Need To Know

Trying new foods started as a hobby for Miami-based TikTok content creator and Storyhunter freelancer Valentina Mussi. She used to film and post videos of herself trying over-the-top food concoctions before anyone else discovered them. Over the years, the 22-year-old honed her TikTok persona, which she describes as “colorful, easygoing, and honest.” Today, she shares her internet-breaking recipes from whipped coffee to seltzer slushies with her 1.2 million TikTok followers. In her new book “The Unofficial TikTok Cookbook,” she offers 75 of the “most popular, post-worthy, and fun recipes.” So, how did she find success? She fills us in and tells us what TikTok is all about (“raw, unfiltered and absolutely no bullshit”) and outlines the dos and don’ts for any brand looking to resonate with audiences on the platform.

Shivan: How did you get started on TikTok and grow your audience on the platform?

Valentina: I was posting food videos from restaurants and they were taking off, especially the crazy foods. But I didn’t pay enough attention to it at the time. I would post whatever I wanted to post on Instagram on TikTok as well. After the pandemic, I started to post my recipes. I never thought of them as recipes, rather food I would cook, but as I started to share it online, I realized I had to give people exact quantities and instructions. So they became recipes. After the pandemic started, I moved on to recipes only and that’s when my growth skyrocketed both on Instagram and TikTok. I went from 150,000 followers on Instagram to over 550,000. On TikTok, I probably had 400,000 and now I have over a million and that led to more opportunities like book deals. This happened when I really made my platforms my own and incorporated my personality into them. A new food blogger can go to any restaurant, but not everyone can make my recipes or develop something.

Shivan: What’s the concept behind your TikTok videos?

Valentina: Once I started making recipes, I was able to reach a broader audience simply because anyone could recreate these recipes no matter where they were. And with TikTok, it’s so easy to reach an audience that goes beyond the US as well. At the time, I was doing simple stuff especially because of the pandemic: the first two months some items were very scarce. So, a lot of my recipes were three-ingredient mozzarella sticks, three-ingredient cookies, three- ingredient everything. And it was very easy. If I saw those myself on TikTok, even if I didn’t create them, I’d probably stop what I was doing and look in my pantry to see if I had everything to make it.

Shivan: How do you stand out on TikTok?

Valentina: I go beyond following the trends. I don’t focus on the trending page of TikTok, because what I’ve realized is that trend cycles are very short. What’s popular, cool and fun lasts five days and I’m not exaggerating. By the time it goes onto the TikTok highlights, those trends have already been around for a couple of days when TikTok catches them. I focus more on either creating a trend or looking at a trend and making my own version of it.

Shivan: Can you give an example of a trend that you saw and made your own?

Valentina: So for instance, the whipped coffee, Dalgona coffee. I didn’t just make Dalgona coffee. I made a version with caramel, I made a mocha version — I would make it my own and take it a step beyond. I got a lot of feedback from people, especially on TikTok because it’s a much younger audience, saying they don’t drink coffee. So I said, “Okay, how can I take this and make it kid-friendly like chocolate milk?” So I made whipped milk. It’s basically chocolate milk with a whipped topping. I put the whipped topping over ice and milk and that took off. I got so much press. I think that’s one of the reasons why I got a book deal.

That’s really the key to growth: teaching something to someone. When the user saves that video, likes it, or sends it to somebody, those are the actions that trigger more engagement and allow your video to continue to grow on all social media platforms. They all value that save button more than just the view or like. So, if you’re teaching something to somebody they’re going to likely save it rather than if I showed them something funny. Keeping those things in mind is how I film a lot of my stuff or develop my recipes. If I made instant mac and cheese, no one’s going to care because everyone knows how to make it. But if I take that basic recipe and make something that people haven’t seen before, they’re going to save it.

Shivan: Your cookbook called “The Unofficial TikTok Cookbook” recently launched. What can people expect from it?

Valentina: The cookbook deal, it was all purely TikTok success. I am working with Simon & Schuster. The idea behind the book is to take those recipes that everyone loves from TikTok and put them all in one place. I think that one of the flaws that comes with TikTok is that you don’t really have a space for captions. And that’s mostly where you would want to write down a recipe. We noticed that and wanted to make it easier for people to follow along with the recipes. The book focuses on people who want to replicate these recipes and post them on their TikTok pages. So, it’s a blend of recipes and advice and tips as if I was taking somebody in a week of my life, how I develop my recipes. Where do I start? How would I cook? How would I film them? Which apps would I use?

Shivan: What do brands need to consider before getting started on TikTok?

Valentina: I would start with research and that’s something I do myself as a creator all the time. Dive into the TikTok platform, scroll down and look at the trends, see what other people are creating, what other brands are creating. It’s important to understand what’s funny and cool on TikTok. And that takes a little while. Secondly, I would try to shy away from whatever they were doing before. Focus less on a corporate looking TikTok but something more easy going. Also, brands need to embrace the TikTok culture vis-a-vis just reposting whatever how-to video you are using on YouTube. It’s not going to work at all. And understand that TikTok is a sound-based platform.

Shivan: How can a brand find success on TikTok?

Valentina: The key is to be approachable and not sell a product. What I’ve noticed with successful up and coming brands, maybe the ones that are not as well known is that they focus more on real stories, real users. They showcase their product in a way that it doesn’t look like a commercial. They may work with influencers where the influencer will only post if it’s their genuine opinion. And that’s often what I do. I will not work with a brand that I don’t necessarily support. If someone who follows me doesn’t like something, they will make sure to message me and call me out on it. So, I value my audience very much. If you’re a brand, don’t make it seem like you’re selling something, instead gain your customers’ trust by making your brand relatable to whoever you’re targeting.

Looking to create TikTok content? Hire a production company or freelancer.

Shivan: What have you learned about the audience on TikTok?

Valentina: They have a really short attention span. So, as soon as you see a trend, post immediately because next week it’s not going to be cool. Also, don’t be afraid of the competition. The market is huge and it keeps expanding. The amount of products that people are purchasing right now is insane. Before, if you liked soda, you probably would only be loyal to one brand. Now there are so many drink options and people are more willing to consume other products than before.

Shivan: What are some brand campaigns you worked on and what made them successful?

Valentina: I did a Cap’n Crunch campaign on TikTok. I did not make a video of eating cereal. Instead they let me make a homemade ice cream using Cap’n Crunch. So, it was a Cap’n Crunch-flavored ice cream, which was much more fun than if I had just been like, “Oh, this is my favorite cereal. I eat it every day.” Because that’s definitely not true. And nowadays, no one is eating cereal every single day, but they do like it as a treat. So, firstly, I did not make any false claims and secondly, I taught the person something. It made people want to save that. Thirdly, it was honest and fun.

Shivan: Making ice cream from cereal is unexpected. How important is the element of surprise to a video’s success?

Valentina: It was unexpected. A lot of the people were commenting “Oh wow, I never thought of making ice cream with cereal,” or “I never realized how easy it is to make ice cream.” So, thinking outside of the box. I try to do that a lot for my ads.

Shivan: When you are considering working with a brand, is it important that it aligns with your values or a cause you care about?

Valentina: In recent years, I’ve been more conscious about what I consume more than before. Not necessarily for health benefits, but I’ve been looking at its impact. I research the brand before working with them, making sure that their practices align with what I do. For instance, I worked with Clorox pre-pandemic. But now I would probably not want to work with them again because it’s bad for the environment. It’s not cruelty-free. So, as consumers we are also getting smarter about those things. I think companies that align with values seem more trustworthy to consumers.

Shivan: If brands want to grow their business today, which platform do you recommend: Instagram or TikTok?

Valentina: Most brands nowadays do have an Instagram presence, but Instagram feels more formal. I think that you’re just going to show the very corporate friendly stock photos and approved captions and imagery. It feels very forced and a lot of the time it doesn’t make any normal users want to follow you.

TikTok is always fun, but it’s also very raw and unfiltered and absolutely no bullshit. You cannot lie to your audience because they will see through it. While Instagram is showing that very best version of yourself, that edited photo with a sunset and a drink in your hand, your skin flawless and your outfit perfect. On TikTok, you will be wearing pajamas and in your living room. It’s very different. But I think that consumers are favoring that realness.

By Shivan Sarna, Head of Stories