Why small businesses should be on TikTok

VSAndace Nelson, pastry chef and former investment banker, is co-founder of the cupcake bakery chain Sprinkles. She is also co-founder of CN2 Ventures, which invests in and incubates new ventures..

TikTok clearly has a hold on Gen Z. But does that mean the social platform is an effective place for small and medium-sized businesses to market their products and services?

After hearing stories of fledgling mainstream brands finding success through viral TikTok videos, I was intrigued. And when targeted advertising on Instagram became less effective, and therefore too expensive for my limited marketing budget last year, I decided to give it a try.

What I love about TikTok is the ability for content to go viral, regardless of how many followers you have. And when a video is first uploaded, it’s usually shown to other users in the same geolocation to begin with, which is valuable for local brand awareness. That said, video views can vary widely, even among highly-followed creators. So you have to be prepared to try, fail and try again.


While I’m still finding my footing on the platform, I’ve learned a few things that other business owners might find useful. Here are some of those ideas:

— Just because you’ve created videos for other social platforms doesn’t mean you understand TikTok. Each platform has its own values, language and sense of humor. On TikTok, audio and dance trends, humour, storytelling and voyeurism reign supreme. Keep in mind that TikTok users can be ruthless in comments if they feel the content is inauthentic.

—TikTok is discovery-based, which means users typically scroll through their pages “for you” in search of entertainment. This means that your videos will be competing for attention with other videos on this page, and without a good “hook up” or intro, they can be skipped. Starting a video with a question or statement that incorporates the word “you” followed by a common problem the target audience faces is a strategy that can grab users’ attention. This intro structure makes the viewer feel like they can relate to the creator and is statistically most likely to get them to stop scrolling and watch the video.

—To increase your chances of success, I recommend finding an experienced content creator — aka an “influencer” — to collaborate on videos with. TikTok is full of creative talent that has yet to be discovered, and their price reflects that. What better way to inject new energy into your brand and content than to hand over the reins to a budding, experimental creator? They are people with a knack for short content, not companies, so the videos they produce will always be more authentic.

—Because the market is still new and developing, you can directly contact the TikTok influencers you would like to work with. Many of these personalities, eager to start making a profit from their efforts, are ready to negotiate on the fees.

—Unlike other social platforms, the number of followers on TikTok is not equal to a predictable reach. You can check a creator’s overall engagement rate to get an idea of ​​how many views their videos are getting on average, but don’t expect to get performance guarantees. Having fresh and engaging content is key, but it takes a bit of luck getting the right video to the right audience at the right time. Experimentation is the ethos of TikTok, where creators try, fail, find success, then fail and try again.

Overall, I think TikTok has the potential to inject some fun and authenticity back into a brand, but that’s not a sure thing. Think of it as a trip to Vegas: don’t spend more than you can lose, but have fun while you’re at it.

Write to Ms. Nelson at [email protected]

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