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TikTok for SMBs: Catch the Wave or Get Left Behind  

6 Mins read

In the digital-first world we now live in, capturing the attention of consumers consistently and meaningfully looks very different than it did only a decade ago. To be successful today, brands are having to adapt their marketing plans to mirror the direction that social is headed — and intertwine the two worlds to build a unified strategy that will most effectively reach consumers. That strategy is no different for small businesses, and could arguably be more important.

It goes without saying: small businesses are social-first businesses. With a low barrier to entry, social levels the playing field for brands and creators — making it increasingly accessible for small businesses to build a brand and community. Powered by low-cost, tangible analytics that allow for testing and iteration, running a successful brand campaign is no longer exclusive to big budgets. Along with more accessibility, more and more platform algorithms, such as TikTok’s, are favoring quality content, which enables small business owners to tap into the power of social and feel the impact, regardless of their follower count.

But keeping up with the pace of social is no easy feat. The social landscape evolves at lighting speed, and businesses must continue to evolve with it in order to effectively reach their target audience. This means keeping up with – and adapting to – changing consumer trends. 

Perhaps one of the most interesting trends is that while the average time spent on social media has not fluctuated much over the last few years as a whole, the platforms that users are spending their time on has. The pandemic had an unexpected impact on social platforms and their reach, with short-form video content becoming the hero of social. TikTok became the most downloaded app of 2021, and reached the top of the social network rankings with the highest average monthly time spent per user – surpassing both Youtube and Facebook, who are now second and third in the ranks respectively. 

It’s always been well understood that marketers need to meet consumers where they are at to be successful, but this data shows us that it may be easier said than done – and marketers need to take note of changes in social usage and up-and-coming platforms to truly drive success. 

Short-form video and TikTok’s rise to fame

TikTok has quickly stolen the hearts and minds of digital users, with a focus on quick and snappy video content, short captions and trending challenges. But beyond its continued growth of over 1 billion active users, TikTok offers a ton of value for businesses of all shapes and sizes. According to Hootsuite’s Digital 2022 Report, TikTok’s ad audience reach grew faster in the first three months of 2022 than it did in the final three months of 2021 – creating an immense potential for brands to scale their content and drive business, while engaging with their audience in a new and meaningful way. 

For small businesses in particular, TikTok is an investment worth making. Often faced with small budgets, small businesses that tap into the power of this platform can expect to be rewarded with a loyal community and increased following. In fact, Hootsuite’s 2022 Social Trends Survey found that 24% of marketers considered TikTok effective for reaching their business goals, compared to just 3% in the previous year — an astounding increase of 700%. With an algorithm that favors quality content, marketing a brand through TikTok can help a business in many ways, including:

  • Increasing brand awareness,
  • Building engaged communities,
  • Selling products and services,
  • Getting feedback from customers and audiences, and
  • Providing virtual customer service.

TikTok has also emerged as a powerful social commerce tool. At a time when e-commerce has not only become the norm, but a heightened expectation among consumers, it’s more essential than ever for brands to extend their reach through the in-app shopping experiences made available to users. Interestingly, 70% of TikTokers say they’ve discovered new products and brands on the platform that fit their lifestyles, and almost half of TikTok users say they bought something they saw in the app.

Leveraging TikTok to show up authentically on social 

TikTok is a place where relatability and authenticity are rewarded. With consumers becoming more and more critical of how a brand shows up on social, aligning business values with brand personality is more impactful than ever. This is even more important on TikTok, as the primary motivation for using the platform is to find funny and engaging content – issuing a call to action for brands to tailor their TikTok content to fill this purpose. Repurposing the same content for multiple platforms is no longer an effective marketing strategy and will fall flat on this unique platform. 

For small businesses that want to fearlessly jump into creating content that feels authentic to their brand on TikTok, here’s a few tips on how to get started: 

  • Start with the basics: download the app, snag your handle, write a compelling bio

If an account hasn’t been created yet, download the TikTok app and secure your brand’s handle. Get tips from Hootsuite’s TikTok for business blog about adding more information to your profile and accessing metrics and audience insights.

Write a clever bio (check out your industry peers’ bios for inspiration) and add a link to your website. Be sure to add a UTM to your link if you want to track the traffic that TikTok is sending your way.

  • Get familiar with the platform

To make great TikTok content, you need to know great TikTok content. Small businesses owners should spend time watching TikTok videos and exploring the different trends and features on the app. To keep up pace, stay up-to-date on which challenges and songs are trending and keep an eye on top creators – studying their collaborations to inform your brand strategy. 

  • Identify your target audience

Studying the demographics on TikTok will help you navigate which communities or subgroups your audience is part of on the app and, from there, what kind of content will resonate best with them.

You may also be surprised about the vast potential you have to reach new audiences. A common misconception of the platform is that it strictly reaches Gen Z users but, while the majority of TikTok’s audience is Gen Z – with 42% of the audience aged 18 to 24 years old – the other half of the platform’s audience is made up of millennials, Gen X’ers and baby boomers. Year-over-year, American TikTok users aged 35 to 54 have more than tripled, demonstrating the versatility of the platform and small business’ potential to reach new demographics. 

  • Learn the TikTok etiquette

TikTok can be a wild, intimidating place if you’re not familiar with the platform. Before you dive into developing content, it’s important that you understand its language, culture and trends. For help understanding how to navigate TikTok’s difficult-to-define elements, get your hands on Hootsuite’s plain-language TikTok Culture Guide

  • Watch, listen, learn

Follow your interests on the platform and watch some content from your competitors, adjacent industry players, and creators. Understanding what they post, how they engage with their audiences and what content performs best will help you to inform your own social content strategy.

  • Comment on other brands’ videos

The comments section of TikTok videos is a great place to learn how to speak TikTok and to begin building connections with your target audience. Proactively commenting on other brands’ posts will get you attention, and can bring tons of traffic to your account

  • Try making a quick video

Create a funny sketch about your industry, try a dance move, or share a life hack. The videos that you post don’t need to be high-quality and, in fact, shouldn’t always be; 65% of TikTok users agree that professional-looking videos from brands feel out of place or odd on TikTok (Marketing Science Global Community and Self-expression Study 2021).

For example, Mojo Coffee, based out of Austin, Texas has been tapping into the power of TikTok by featuring employees in content that resonates with not only their local customer base, but coffee enthusiasts and baristas too. 

The more authentic the content, the bigger the reach. Check out tips and tricks on our blog to get started.

  • Manage and analyze your campaigns effectively

Managing social content for various platforms can be overwhelming. Using a social media management platform will help you to schedule, optimize and analyze your TikTok content alongside your other social platforms from a single dashboard, while benefiting from access to campaign analytics that will uncover insights to inform future strategies. 

With creative opportunities unlike any other platform, TikTok can be quite intimidating to small business owners – but pushing past that fear is where brands will find the most success. To drive the most meaningful engagement with audiences on TikTok, businesses need to challenge themselves, push the boundaries and redefine what it means to be a part of a community.  

Christine Buck, VP of product marketing and brand for Hootsuite, is focused on bringing to life the Hootsuite brand story connected to our products and our customers around the world.  Prior to joining Hootsuite, Christine led global brand and marketing for Morningstar and has successfully led global teams at Accenture, Bank of America and Microsoft.  Christine is known for being an innovative leader who is passionate about creating moments that excite and engage people in ways that contribute to top-line growth and improve outcomes for her customers.

TikTok stock image by Kaspars Grinvalds/Shutterstock

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