The Secrets Behind Duolingo’s TikTok Marketing Strategy

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Few brands have captured the spotlight quite like Duolingo and its impressive success on TikTok. Known for its iconic green owl mascot, the language-learning app has mastered the art of engaging massive audiences online, garnering a huge following of over 8M users.

So, what’s the secret behind Duolingo’s TikTok marketing strategy? From its brand voice and personality to how it produces content, we’re peeling back the layers behind Duolingo’s approach and revealing the tactics to know for marketers looking to make waves on social.

Watch the video below where Zaria Parvez, aka Duo, shares insights into Duolingo’s TikTok success.

The Key Ingredients of Duolingo’s TikTok Success

1. A Memorable Brand Personality and Voice

With most brands playing it safe with their online presence, Duolingo stands out for its playful and cheeky personality. As a gamified language-learning app, the brand is all about making the process of learning a language enjoyable. It makes sense, then, that its dedication to delivering fun experiences made its way over to social media.

On TikTok, Duolingo never takes itself too seriously — something that’s widely appreciated and celebrated since so many are on the app for entertainment. From videos to comments, the brand remains consistent in expressing its signature brand of humor. The result is a brand persona that seems real and interesting rather than a bland corporate shell.

Duo GIF sticker

No doubt, Duolingo’s mascots play a big role in this memorability. Duo the Owl and purple-haired Lily have become iconic figures on social and give a recognizable face to what would otherwise be a faceless brand. Their presence humanizes Duolingo, making it more relatable, approachable, and familiar to users around the world.

The TikTok below is a prime example of how Duolingo successfully combines humor with its use of mascots. Featuring a self-aware joke about the realities of wearing a mascot suit all day as a job, the video racked up 602K total engagements for an engagement rate by view of 21.5%. That’s 3.5x greater than the average engagement rate of other popular language-learning apps on TikTok, such as Rosetta Stone and Babbel.

The TikTok thumbnail has Duo laying on the floor with the caption "if only you knew how bad this suit smells."

In a world where many brands are cautious and hesitant, Duolingo’s daring and distinct personality sets it apart, making it a brand with character and charm that people all over TikTok genuinely enjoy engaging with.

Dig deeper: Start benchmarking your TikTok performance by understanding what is a good engagement rate on TikTok.

2. A Finger On The Pulse of Pop Culture

Considering how fast the landscape moves on TikTok, staying plugged into the latest trends and happenings is essential for remaining relevant.

From major global events to the hottest TikTok trends, Duolingo never misses a beat. When a highly anticipated movie drops, a world-famous artist goes on tour, or a meme template goes viral, you can bet that Duolingo is there, turning these cultural moments into engaging content.

For example, when K-pop group Enhypen had a concert in Newark, Duo the Owl and Lily both showed up at the venue to mingle and dance with showgoers. By proudly embracing the fandom culture and joining the fun, the brand sparked waves of engagement from fellow “Engenes,” with the TikTok below earning an engagement rate that was nearly 4x the average of Duolingo’s competitors.

Duolingo's winning TikTok marketing strategy includes jumping on the K-pop bandwagon just like how they did with the popular group Enhypen.

But Duolingo does more than just get involved; it also makes it fun with its distinct personality. Duolingo’s funny takes on pop culture references and trends make its content shareable and memorable. Whether it’s a viral dance challenge or a trending meme, it’s quick to put its own twist on it.

Take the viral Finn Wolfhard meme, for instance, which features a background image change that occurs after the actor snaps, all to the tune of a sped-up version of Timbaland’s hit “Give It To Me.” Of course, as a language-learning app, Duolingo used the meme to spotlight the relatable scenario of switching between languages.

The use of the popular meme skyrocketed the TikTok’s exposure and made it one of Duolingo’s most popular posts this year. The video racked up a whopping 8.5M views and 1.54M total engagements, or 3.9x more engagements than its average engagement per video this year.

Duolingo jumps on the latest viral trend and makes it it's own.

What makes this approach a recipe for engagement success is the relatability factor. TikTok users are all about what’s happening now, and when they see a brand like Duolingo participating in the same trends and conversations they are, it’s an instant connection. It’s like spotting a fellow fan in the wild — you can’t help but engage, like, and share.

See how your brand stacks up against Duolingo on TikTok.

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3. Authentic Interactions With Fans

Duolingo understands that TikTok is more than just a one-way communication street. It doesn’t just post content and walk away. It actively engages with its fans and dives headfirst into conversations with its viewers, whether that’s in the comment section or via video responses.

The magic of these interactions lies in their authenticity. Duolingo’s responses aren’t scripted or robotic; they’re witty, engaging, and often filled with playful banter. It’s an approach that makes users feel heard, valued, and part of a community. In a world where everyone craves connection, this is a winning formula.

When a brand shows that it’s not just about pushing products or services, but about creating a genuine connection with its audience, people can’t help but respond positively. And what’s the result of all this effort? Engagement, and lots of it.

Case in point: The TikTok below — a Valentine’s Day “thirst trap” posted in reply to a comment on a previous TikTok — garnered more than 1.27M total engagements and an engagement rate of 19.9%. To put that into perspective, the median engagement rate by view for brands as a whole (not just language-learning apps) is 4.15%.

Duolingo's Valentine's Day TikTok

Duolingo then continued engaging with its community in the comments of the TikTok, further fueling the conversation and prompting more and more users to interact.

Duolingo engages with each comment

In short, Duolingo’s proactive approach to interacting with fans, whether it’s through witty comments or entertaining video responses, turns its TikTok presence into a vibrant, living entity. It’s a recipe for success that other brands might want to take notes on.

4. Collaborations with Brands and Creators

A quick scroll through Duolingo’s profile and you can easily notice its love of collaborations. The brand regularly partners with other major brands and creators on TikTok. In doing so, the brand not only creates buzz and generates curiosity but also expands its reach to audiences who might not have stumbled upon it otherwise.

These collaborations create a delightful fusion of personalities and characters that adds an extra layer of fun for viewers. There are countless TikToks of Duo the Owl joining forces with mascots of other well-known brands, from ScrubDaddy to Teletubbies, as seen below. It’s like a crossover episode of your favorite TV shows — unexpected and thrilling at the same time.

Duolingo's collaboration with Scrub Daddy earned a 19.7% engagement rate by view and gathered 415K in total engagement as seen in Rival IQ's social media analytics tool.

But Duolingo doesn’t just stick with brands. It also regularly collaborates with all kinds of famous icons, from TikTok influencers to prominent activists. For instance, one video featured Duo the Owl lipsyncing with no less than seven TikTokers, with fans racing to the comments to express their excitement over the special guests.

Duolingo's stellar TikTok collaboration with famous TikTokers received over 3.4M views.

By involving a variety of voices, Duolingo speaks to a broader audience, effectively introducing its brand to a wider, engaged audience. All of this keeps its content fresh, relatable, and socially relevant. Whether it’s a humorous skit with a fellow brand mascot or a meaningful message from a prominent figure, these partnerships spark conversations, shares, and likes.

Why does this approach work? It’s simple: collaboration creates excitement. It’s like adding a new flavor to a familiar dish, making it more interesting and shareable. Users are naturally drawn to content that brings together their favorite brands, creators, or causes. By regularly collaborating with others, Duolingo shows that it’s all about connection and engagement with the larger TikTok community.

Bonus tips: Check out more tips on building a successful TikTok marketing strategy in 2023.

The Wrap Up

Duolingo’s TikTok marketing strategy is a masterclass in creating a thriving brand presence on the platform. With its bold personality and eager participation in the latest trends and conversations, Duolingo’s approach shows how social media can be a solid place for authentic interactions and building a loyal community of fans.

So, whether you’re teaching languages or selling products, take these “secrets” and put them to work for your brand. Study these methods, adapt them to your needs, and create content that not only promotes your brand but also builds a community around it. Let the lessons from Duolingo inspire your own TikTok success story.

Therese Nguyen

Therese is a former marketing manager turned freelance content writer based in Dallas. Working with agencies and B2B brands, she specializes in covering the latest developments in marketing trends, insights, and strategies. When she’s not writing, you can probably find her researching her next travel destination, wrapped up in a book, or jamming to BTS’ entire discography.

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