At the end of September 2021, Duolingo went viral on TikTok. The video amassed millions of views overnight and changed everything for the brand.

They’ve achieved many milestone moments since that fated hit due to their TikTok efforts. It’s seriously impressive stuff.

So, what’s their secret sauce? Was it merely an accident? Some have argued that it is but I don’t believe it for one minute. I’m writing this article to demonstrate that Duolingo executed a perfect strategy and won. I’m also writing this article to answer a “what’s in it for me” question. We set up Internet of Now to help marketers learn from Internet culture and apply it to their businesses. So, we’ll also examine what we can put into practice based on Duolingo’s success.

Let’s jump into it!

Via doubledipcop

The strategy

One of the things I love about TikTok is that they often feed good strategy to brands on a plate. Unlike other platforms that keep the mysteries of their algorithm under lock and key, TikTok proactively lets its creators know what will be trending.

Of course, this may well have sinister implications (but best not get into that here – you never know who’s watching)

Oh hi there Xi 👋

Duolingo has kicked serious ass because, from the word go they consistently executed on the TikTok playbook.

So what is that playbook? It’s a strategy known as Flicker, Flash, Flare.


Flicker content is what you are advised to post most frequently. This is reactive content that responds, in the moment, to what’s trending. It’s what I like to call “quick and dirty”. There’s no polish and there’s very little flashy editing.

Flicker content should form the backbone of your content strategy on TikTok.


Flash content is content you post at a lesser frequency than Flicker content however, you still want to serve it up with regularity.

This sort of content is episodic in nature and follows a consistent set of themes (or content pillars).

Up until a certain viral point (more on that later), Duolingo was doing a series where they defined common experiences that didn’t have English language translations (e.g “that feeling of tiredness you get after a big meal”), it was a perfect example of Flash content.


Flare content is your once-in-a-while content. These will be big activations planned out with specific aims in mind. Duolingo did this with an app install campaign and hashtags.

We’re talking a couple of times a year max on these.

Consistently show up

That in a nutshell is a big part of Duolingo’s success. It’s not the whole story though.

Take a look at the image below, it’s a screenshot of Duolingo’s TikTok feed. The fated viral video from Sept 2021 is highlighted. Do you notice anything after that watershed moment?

It’s unmissable really, isn’t it?

Iterate and double down

This is where Duolingo has been seriously good (and why it’s definitely not a fluke). They deployed a consistent strategy but iterated on how the content looked. When they hit the viral mark, they doubled down on what worked (there’s something about that loveable yet intimidating owl isn’t there?).

Where a lot of brands make mistakes is that they expect overnight success, after a few videos not performing too great, they get itchy and either decide the platform isn’t for them or, they windmill with their content strategy and scattergun inconsistent content.

It’s worth noting that Duolingo posted well over 30 videos before they found their flow. For many brands (particularly brands with less public awareness), it will take much longer.


So, what’s in it for me?

That’s where I’ll bring this article in to land. I think there are a few things you could take action on today off the back of this article:

  1. Devise and deploy a content calendar based on the Flicker, Flash, Flare model.
  2. Consistently show up and post (give it a good run before you do anything).
  3. Watch your data and when you hit a “viral for you” moment (more views than average) ask yourself if there are obvious reasons why – double down on what you find.
  4. Iterate without breaking the content pillars. Keep your themes brand consistent but change how you package them in the content.
  5. Profit?

Of course, if you ever want to chat on TikTok, I’d love to shoot the breeze with you, drop me an email.