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The power of TikTok — a platform with one billion monthly active users looking for fresh finds and new content daily — is hard to ignore. According to Sprout Social, 55% of TikTok users have bought something after seeing it on the app. The viral hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, where users discuss products they purchased after seeing them on the app, has more than 44 billion views.
There’s a sizable opportunity to find new customers and grow your business with TikTok. But to do so, it’s critical to understand how TikTok works (it’s different than other social channels), how to use it to create visibility for your business, and how to harness the shopability of the app for your marketing efforts.
What is TikTok?
Before you get started marketing on TikTok, it’s important to understand exactly what it is and isn’t. TikTok is inherently a visual channel that relies heavily on sound. But what works on other video channels like YouTube will not work on TikTok. To put it simply, pace matters. What brands could do in a seven-minute YouTube video will need to be done in far less time on TikTok. Because it’s so easy to swipe to the next video, you must reel them in and make every second count.
The swipe is what powers the algorithm that helps bring viewers to your page and drives the app’s unique and highly personalized For You page. TikTok describes its algorithm as, “a stream of videos curated to your interests, making it easy to find content and creators you love … powered by a recommendation system that delivers content to each user that is likely to be of interest to that particular user.”
The algorithm is markedly different from algorithms on other social networks, most of which are based on a social graph — aka who you’re friends with or follow. Because the TikTok algorithm is based on your interests, it makes it easier for your audience to find you and for you to stand out whether you’ve been on TikTok for a day or a year.
Benefits of TikTok for businesses
The chances of virality are dramatically higher.
TikTok is one of the few apps that gives creators — regardless of following and previous success — a shot of going viral. Because exposure on TikTok is related to interest, you should experiment with content to figure out what works best for your business and what your audience enjoys.
Sounds: Sounds are a crucial element of the TikTok experience. Creators are able to make videos with popular sounds to help expose their content to an organic audience. Imagine that you use a popular sound for your video and potential diners surf through the sound library (the collection of all the videos featuring that sound) or swipe through their For You page and see your restaurant’s content. The video of that popular food dish attracts so much traffic that it winds up going viral and boosts traffic to your business.
Another benefit to TikTok’s sound feature is that you can create your own catchy sound and attract the attention of other users who want to use it in their own content.
Trends: As is the case for many social media apps, trending moments matter. Challenges are a major component of TikTok and participating in moments can have a tangible impact for your business. One of the most notable trends to come out of the app is the #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt. The most popular purchases to come out of the hashtag have gone on to be featured in everything from Vogue to Buzzfeed, boosting reach and sales.
Collaborating with influencers and getting your products out there in an engaging way can also boost sales and widen your audience, but that’s not the only way to extend your reach. Spend time experimenting with different trends and find what works best for your business.
Reaching younger audiences
Reaching younger generations is how you ensure the future of your business. Data from Oberlo shows that 38.9% of TikTok users are between the ages of 18–24 worldwide. This age range is part of Gen Z and represents a large portion of future (and, many ways, current) decision-makers. The next popular age range on TikTok is users between the ages of 25–34, representing 32.4% of worldwide users.
Knowing how to use this app and other social media platforms to reach your target audiences is important. For instance, The Small Business Blog notes that 76.2% of millennials prefer Instagram while 44% like TikTok. So, if you’re trying to get millennials to buy with you, this should impact how much time you spend on those channels. If younger millennials along with older Gen Z users are your target audience for TikTok and older millennials and Gen X are your target audience for Instagram, think about ways your strategies and content for the two platforms can differ.
Less interest in perfection, more interest in raw authenticity
Perhaps one of the most important benefits of TikTok is that you get to have fun. Relatable, entertaining, and authentic content is the foundation of the TikTok experience. In other words, there’s less pressure for content to be perfect — it’s more important for it to be real and genuine. Your content doesn’t need to be perfectly lit or scripted. It just needs to showcase your business in a positive and engaging way that makes potential customers want to see more.
How to get started with TikTok marketing
Set up a business account.
Downloading the app and setting up a business account is the first step to marketing your business on TikTok. Business accounts on TikTok have access to a host of creative and commercial tools within the app that makes building your brand’s platform simple and easy. Business accounts also include access to information like analytics and a built-in workspace that will make it easy to track your growth and understand how promotions support your brand’s profile.
Create a strategy.
After creating your account and observing how other businesses and creators operate within the app, it’s important to create a strategy. Think about what you want your business TikTok account to showcase and how it relates back to your business and overall marketing goals. Research is imperative in this stage. Spend time researching how your competitors use the app and also how shoppers think about your products. There may be user-generated content already on the app from your customers that you can learn from. This information can help you dig deep into your buyer persona to ensure you understand and maximize the full potential of the app. Measurement is also an important part of any strategy; we touch on ways to measure the success of your TikTok strategy further down.
Creating engaging content for TikTok marketing
Types of content to post on TikTok
Similar to Instagram, TikTok has the option to go live. Going live is beneficial because it allows you to interact with your audience in real time to answer questions or show off products in detail. There’s also the option for livestream shopping, adding another shopping avenue for customers.
Unlike Instagram, it’s important to note that TikTok’s live feature doesn’t yet allow creators to go live together (which could be useful for influencer marketing) or to save livestreams to your account. So when determining which platforms you should go live on, consider what you want to accomplish and the functionality of each platform before making a decision.
Authentic content is king on TikTok. Make your audience want what you’re selling and relate to your content with videos that are genuine. While there’s nothing wrong with professionally produced content, the majority of TikTok users gravitate toward content that feels organic. In other words, lo-fi content or content shot on a phone or tablet with a do-it-yourself feel might resonate better and make it easier for viewers to latch onto your content.
But how you shoot your content is just as important as the content you shoot. With this in mind, showing regular people doing regular things as it relates to your brand will also help your content appear more authentic.
Trending content is the lifeline of TikTok. Whether it’s a challenge, a dance competition, or just a trending sound that users are applying to a host of situations, using these moments to your advantage can make a huge difference. Imagine you own a retail store and there’s a major dance challenge taking off on TikTok just as you’re preparing to launch a new collection of sports gear. There’s an opportunity to use the challenge to show how durable your clothing is or simply show off your new items.
While it’s important to pay attention to trending moments, it’s equally important to pay attention to trending or popular hashtags. One of the dominant hashtags on TikTok is the #fyp which stands for the app’s popular For You Page, which helps users find curated content according to their viewing habits. More specialized hashtags can make it easy for people who are on the search for a particular experience such as #restaurantsoftiktok (which has 20 million views) or #dresseswithpockets (which has 23.5 million views) to find what they’re looking for. Explore popular hashtags used for your industry and implement them appropriately.
With all of this in mind, every moment on TikTok doesn’t have to be grand. But considering the virality of content on the platform, it’s important to make each moment count and continue to try new things.
Analyzing and optimizing business TikTok marketing
Analyzing performance with TikTok Insights
TikTok provides a number of insights that make it easy to measure success. The Insights section allows you to understand the make up of your audience and how they’re engaging with content. So whether you’re interested in a quick snapshot or a deep dive, you’re able to take what you need and discover ways to improve.
The Insights section provides a quick look at your engagement (video views, profile views, etc.), followers (total plus any newcomers), and content (amount of posts) in a given week or whatever time period you choose. This level of insight lets you know where you’re growing, and where the opportunities for improvement are, making it easier to set goals.
Content analytics show you all of the content you’ve posted in a given time period, including the number of views, likes, comments, and shares, so you can see which post was the most popular and how all of your weekly content stacks up overall. If there’s a consistent type of post that brings in the most engagement or views, this is an easy way to understand what that content is so you can build it into your future strategies.
Follower analytics show you how your audience is growing over time alongside a breakdown of gender and where your followers are in the world. This information can help you better serve your audience and understand where to be more specific if necessary. For instance, if your audience is skewing toward one gender that’s outside of your target group, it might be a sign to revisit your content. On the other hand, if you’re reaching users beyond your target demographic, this could be a promising sign of pending growth.
Using A/B testing
A/B testing is a cornerstone of any type of marketing. It allows you to experiment with the kinds of content you post, when you post, and other key aspects of your marketing journey to ensure continued growth and improvement. TikTok is no different. A/B testing on TikTok is especially important when you’re new to the app, because what works on other social platforms may require a different approach, and understanding where you fit in on the platform takes time.
For restaurants, this may mean testing out whether your audience wants to see more content about how their favorite dishes are made or if they want to see how your kitchen staff participates in a trending dance challenge. This could also look like trying different hashtags, different posting times, and more to find what resonates most.
Advertising on TikTok for small businesses
Types of ads available on TikTok
Once you decide how to approach your content, then decide how to boost it. Advertising on TikTok comes with five different options: in-feed ads, brand takeover, top view, branded hashtag challenge, and branded effects.
In-feed ads are ads that blend in with regular content, making it feel more natural to the user experience. These particular ads can range between nine and 15 seconds and include a call to action such as “shop now’”or “download today” for users who want to continue engaging with your brand. These ads can often be saved for users who enjoyed what they saw but weren’t ready to disrupt their scrolling experience.
Brand takeover ads are ads that pop up as soon as a user opens the app. These ads present a full-screen experience to your target audience and work well for businesses that want to capture their audience right away. These ads can also pop up in other places within the app as GIFs or still images as your target audience maneuvers throughout the app.
Top view ads are similar to brand takeover ads with the only difference being that they don’t pop up as soon as the user opens the app. Instead, they appear within a user’s feed within three seconds and at the top of the app’s wildly popular For You Page.
Branded Hashtag Challenge ads offer organic and sponsored opportunities for brands through the use of a hashtag. When users click on the branded hashtag, they’re taken to a page with the brand logo, website link, description of the challenge, and popular videos using the hashtag. This unique ad makes it easy to encourage user-generated content, spread the word about your brand, and, more importantly, have fun. This is ideal for brands that want to create their own moment and need a little support doing so.
Branded effect ads are ads that include shareable branded stickers, AR filters, and lenses similar to options available on Snapchat. These effects typically last up to 10 days and are great to advertise the launch of a new product, allowing users to experience that product in a unique and engaging way.
Tips for building your business audience on TikTok
Engage with followers.
Content on TikTok is amplified and reaches more eyeballs when there is engagement from users. In the caption of your post, encourage them to comment and share with others. When users comment on your post, be sure to comment back.You can take it a step further and create a dialogue so that people can share their thoughts in the comments. This is an organic way to make your content more shareable and increase engagement.
Create a brand voice.
Having a unique voice or point of view helps build your following because you’re providing content that your audience can’t get anywhere else. When you go to create your brand voice, think about your mission, your audience, and your business goals, and then find ways to tie them all together. As you create your voice, it’s important to remember that TikTok (and social media, generally) is a place where people find information and get entertained. Even if users come to TikTok to discover new hacks or new products, how those hacks or products are presented is what will make them view your content versus someone else’s. This doesn’t mean your brand has to be exclusively built on humor, but it has to feel relatable and engaging enough to keep users coming back.
Influencers are everywhere, and that is especially true for TikTok. Reaching out to influencers can sometimes cost a heavy fee, but, in many cases, the return on investment can be worth it. Do your research on the most trusted voices in your industry and create a list of those who would work best for your business, keeping in mind your target audience. In some cases, there’s an opportunity to organically engage with influencers in the comments of a post that relates to your business. Or you might engage via the stitch method, available within the app, which allows you to combine clips of other videos to add a different approach or opinion to a popular or trending video.
Consistency is the name of the game for any social media platform. Posting regularly on a schedule that works for your business is helpful for keeping your audience engaged. While there’s no hard and fast rule for how often businesses should post, most marketers tend to post four to six times a week on average. Leaning into social media trends can help make it easy. For restaurants that serve tacos, indulging in the popular Taco Tuesday trend every week, for instance, can keep your business top of mind every Tuesday and is another opportunity to relate to your followers and customers. Consistency also allows you to continually build your audience; with each post comes an opportunity to grab a new person’s attention (and potentially new customers) to your business.
But consistency isn’t just about posting regularly, it’s also about having a consistent brand voice. Once you outline your brand voice (as noted above), create a style guide to create clarity about what your brand is and is not.
Lean into your industry.
Pay attention to the ways customers use your products and build off of those natural connections for your business. For example, in our 2023 Future of Commerce Summit, Keba Konte, founder and CEO of Red Bay Coffee, noted that his business often showcases books in their TikTok content. Because books and coffee are a common pairing, this makes sense not only for their core audience, but also when it comes to reaching new customers. Analyze how your offerings are used in-store and online and examine ways to build that relationship. As you think about this, keep your business goals and overall mission in mind to ensure they make sense for your brand.
5 examples of businesses on TikTok
Chipotle is one of the largest brands in the food and beverage industry and, with over two million followers on TikTok, it makes creating relatable and authentic content look easy. It does this by having a deep understanding of its audience. In 2020, the brand found viral success with its #GuacDance Challenge. Days before National Avocado Day, the food chain encouraged guacamole fans to record themselves dancing to a popular, avocado-centric song by children’s musician Dr. Jean. The challenge resulted in 250,000 video submissions during its six-day run and resulted in Chipotle’s biggest guacamole day ever with over 800,000 sides of free guac served.
Vessi is a waterproof footwear company based in Canada. The brand incorporates elements of humor and practicality to engage with its audience on TikTok. In some videos, it showcases just how waterproof and durable their shoes are by testing them out in water-heavy situations. In others, it uses shoe humor to relate to its audience. These two elements create a strong brand voice that makes their content unique and their point-of-view original.
In both of the examples below, the videos are lo-fi (like most of their videos), emphasizing the importance of being authentic and relatable.
Gymshark is a fitness apparel and accessories brand based in Britain. Their unique brand voice is built on the idea of workout inspiration, workout memes, and workout videos — all with a healthy dose of comedy. From diets to working out to those surprising gym moments, this brand relies on an in-depth understanding of its industry, its audience, and how its products can fit into that world. Gymshark uses TikTok not only to showcase products, but to communicate itself as a lifestyle brand.
The Last Crumb
The Last Crumb is a luxury cookie company that ships handcrafted cookies out every week and is based in Los Angeles, CA. Because this company doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar store, they use their TikTok to showcase the ins and outs of how their cookies are made and what’s inside (because they’re typically stuffed), all while incorporating user-generated content to encourage others to indulge in the specialty cookies.
This business’s use of TikTok is different because they rely heavily on, well, making you hungry. Their brand voice is rooted in taking you inside the experience of their cookies and is less about humor or a distinct personality. This is proof that your product can be all you need to stand out on TikTok, especially if you can create an experience around it.
Ike’s Love & Sandwiches
Ike’s Love & Sandwiches is a sandwich shop with locations all across California. Similar to The Last Crumb, Ike’s Love & Sandwiches relies on making viewers hungry. But they also understand how to lean into trends and sounds, and that makes it easy for them to build their audience.
With the help of a background sound that amassed over two million videos, Ike’s threw their hat into the tortilla challenge ring and showcased how to make a unique sandwich with a tortilla. Challenges that rely on restaurants showing how they stand out from the crowd with simple ingredients is a great way to use TikTok. It opens your viewer’s eyes to new food possibilities and makes them curious about what else is on your menu.
TikTok can be a viable marketing tool for your business, especially as it relates to reaching younger consumers. Research how the app is being used across your industry and map out clear goals to help you maximize the opportunity to market and grow your business. Once you’ve established your presence on TikTok, use your other social platforms and tools, like Square Marketing, to encourage your audience to join the fun.