Dive In: Duolingo's Sensational TikTok Strategy

Kaila Mathis

Welcome to CLLCTVE’s first installment of “Dive In,” a series that gets into the weeds of brand success and extracts key strategy that can be implemented by other brands looking to scale.

This week’s feature highlights Duolingo, a free language-learning app that has exploded on TikTok over the past few months, growing to 3.2 million followers and counting.

The account has popularized the brand globally, growing the its traction in countries around the world by 100%, 200%+ in Q4 2022 and skyrocketing the company to the #1 education spot on the app store.

So what’s making Duolingo’s so popular among its Gen Z and millennial audiences? Let’s dive in.

from The Business Journals, Duolingo’s social team shoots a TikTok with its giant green mascot

Humanizing the Brand

Learning a new language may sound exciting and entertaining to a select market population, but to most, it can invoke dread, boredom and even fear. Duolingo’s TikTok challenges this perspective through its character, Duo.

Duo is a giant, menacing green owl that specializes in what the brand’s social media manager, Zaria Parvez, calls, “unhinged content”. Whether it’s twerking on an office desk or threatening followers to “do your lesson or else,” Duo makes followers laugh by diverting from a corporate persona.

Giving a face to the brand — a giant green owl face to be exact — has enabled Duolingo to connect more deeply with its consumers.

Avoiding the Sell

Duolingo has made a point to use its TikTok to entertain - not to sell. So instead of posting promo codes or using sell-oriented copy, the account is much more concerned with associating the brand with great content and great vibes, increasing its presence through virality.

If that leads more consumers to download the app immediately, awesome. If it brings the brand to the forefront of followers’ minds when they finally decide they want to download a language-learning, also awesome. But one thing Duolingo knows for sure? Direct selling and over-promotion have no place on Gen Z’s favorite app.

Tapping Into TikTok’s Culture

As Duolingo caught the attention of TikTokers worldwide, it decided to capitalize on its success by interacting with the app’s biggest celebrities. Features include mainstream celebs, like Dua Lipa, who Duo is constantly thirsting for in its content (referencing a joke from followers that the two are often confused for each other).

The account comments on celeb videos as well to put itself in front of new audiences and associate itself with the app’s favorite accounts.

The account also collabs with TikTok-native stars like @Chris, @rod and @peterspasta - even bringing them to the company’s headquarters to create content with the team.

When it’s not partnering with the stars, Duolingo is always taking over trending sounds on the app, like this one from a Kylie Jenner voice dub, or this one from a Disney’s Encanto scene.

Duolingo gets TikTok — the trends that followers love, the celebrities they idolize and the content that truly entertains them. Without understanding its customers’ voice, it could never engage a generation like Gen Z so successfully.

Flicker, Flash, Flare

TikTok encourages brands to use the Flicker, Flash, Flare method, which challenges them to post:

  • High volume of trending, turnkey content
  • Medium volume of episodic, medium effort production quality content
  • Low volumes of large scale content like branded hashtag challenges and effects

Using this methodology takes out the sell, and focuses on capturing and engaging audiences first. Duolingo posts flicker content a few times a week and flash content a few times a month, allowing it to draw in loyal followers before launching flare content.

Perfecting this practice enabled the account to skyrocket its following in Q4 ‘21 and Q1 ‘22 from less than one hundred thousand followers to 3.2 million.

So what can you learn from Duolingo?

  1. Understand your audience: Success on socials isn’t as simple as copy and paste. Duolingo became success because it learned over time where its audience lived and what it loved to consume. Take the time to research your target user persona, learn where it spends its time and test new content until you find what it responds to. Every company is unique - find what makes your brand special.
  2. Serve your audience first, sell your product second: Whether you’re entertaining, informing or interacting with your followers, make your primary focus serving that purpose. Once you’ve done that, you can naturally and authentically place your product or service.
  3. Adjust and adapt: Culture and trends are always changing, so there will probably never be one simple equation that will allow your account to scale consistently. Instead, constantly adjust your content strategy as consumers’ interests change over time. Don’t get discouraged if your traction begins to wane unexpectedly. Instead, use it as a chance to learn how your followers’ preferences have changed and adapt accordingly.
Kaila Mathis
Kaila graduated from Villanova University in 2021 with a B.A. in PR & Advertising and Journalism, with a minor in Spanish. She is now the Growth Manager at CLLCTVE and a Freelance Writer for Adweek.
Want in on CLLCTVE?
Join the Waitlist
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

More From Us...