Beginner Guide

Breaking Down Duolingo’s Secrets to Success on TikTok

Duolingo’s TikTok has become a phenomenon. Just a few months back he had 100 followers… now he has 1.7 million. Not to mention 7 million likes and 19% engagement rate.

The best part is that TikTok is having a tangible impact on their business. Duolingo has reached the #1 education app in the Apple App Store.

Many might be tempted to call Duolingo’s success a fluke. that they were lucky.

However, how the account evolved makes it clear that Duolingo’s success is no accident. Their success is a byproduct of a coherent strategy.

The company (along with their terrifying owl mascot) was methodical in their approach. And, far from an overnight success, Duolingo has been relentless – staying away from TikTok for almost a year.

In this article, I’ll summarize three key elements of their success and what other brands can learn from it.

flicker, flash, flare

TikTok advises marketers to use Flickr, Flash, Flair content strategy to program their channels. It works like this:

  • Flicker Content – Reactive (ie, participating in trends)
  • Flash Content – Active (ie, planned/relevant content)
  • Flair Content – Interactive (ie, large-scale campaign initiatives)
Graphic detailing Flickr, Flash, Flair content strategy for TikTok

Duolingo strictly implemented the model. Initially, most of his TikTok was tutorials (ie, Flash content). Simple “how-to” videos that teach phrases in different languages.


@samandwendy teach us the #Italian word for the feeling of sleepiness after eating too much! We hope there’s pasta left for us! #learnontik tok #duolingo

original sound – Duolingo

Throughout its Flash content, Duolingo participated in a number of trends (ie, Flickr content). He brought these to life in a number of ways—from using the staff to taping the duo, the big green owl that serves as the brand’s official mascot. For example, he cobbled together the duo’s reaction to entering an elevator with Jacob Rott and his boyband-esque friends.

The brand also boomed on the NBA trade offer trend. While the NBA Draft jingle plays, participants “offer a trade,” usually two odd or odd items. In Duo’s case, he doesn’t get any money, whereas, “you get Spanish texts, push notifications” and “a boob friend.”


As they say, education is the best investment. Are you in or what? #owl #fyp #duolingo #tradeoffer

^ NBA Draft Jingle – Nate Bellamy

Over time he found that the Duo feature was performing well. That’s when things really started to take off.

Customization makes perfect

Creating a successful content format on the first try is rare. Duolingo is no exception. It wasn’t until his 39th video that he had a proper “hit”.


This is a SOS #DuolingoEmployee #owltok #livelawlove #helpme #imscareed

Original Sound – Carly

It’s important to iterate and be open to feedback from your audience. Duolingo did it well. He found that people were giving positive feedback to Duo and leaned into the same.

That first breakout TikTok showed an employee sitting in a chair while the camera was hovering over the table on the Duo. Meanwhile the popular “live, laugh, love” audio trend plays in the background.

The onscreen caption reads, “Do your job without being terrorized by an owl when you’re just trying.” This references a widespread joke portraying Duo as threatening students who did not finish their daily language learning sessions.

The video has garnered over 3.3 million views and 700,000 likes.

In the process, Duolingo found the formula that worked for them:

Duo + Trends + Funny/Dangerous tone = Success.

He increased the frequency of this new format. Also, they phased out their Flash/tutorial videos. That adaptation lent itself to the development of the hockey stick. up and to the right.

Graph plotting Duolingo's TikTok follower growth from April to November 2021, with the spike after their first viral video in late September.

candy with medicine

To reach its current level, Duolingo had to appeal to the masses and create original TikTok content.

Through his iterative process, he found that entertaining first and uncovering the message second was the key to his success. They lean into entertainment as a hook to drive consumers towards education.

It makes sense. We scroll 500 feet of content a day. To stand out, brands have to live up to the expectations of consumers who have endless content at their fingertips.

Duolingo learned this well. After all, who doesn’t love to see the Duo playing the red light/green light while speaking smack on Google Translate?

Duolingo’s success is more than just a trick. It is in their brand DNA.

Duolingo’s teaching methodology emphasizes exceptional content, continuous improvement, and multiple learning methods. Their social content is a reflection of those values.

Being creative, patient, and open to experimentation, he eventually revealed what people liked.

They’ve since doubled down on what works (that crazy boob) while ditching what doesn’t.

Most brands fail to experience this level of success. But it doesn’t have to be so.

TikTok may sound daunting, but by analyzing Duolingo we have a playbook to rely on. Adopt the Flicker, Flash and Flair frameworks, optimize for what works, and focus on entertainment first.

Start small, then take advantage of small victories. Success is slow at first. Compound interest does the rest.

There is no denying the impact of your brand on TikTok or not. Learn more about how you can use TikTok trends to inform your broader social strategy.

The post Duolingo’s breaking down secrets to success on TikTok first appeared on Sprout Social.

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