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Should small businesses consider a presence on TikTok?

Columnist Dean Swanson says while TikTok has often been seen as a social media app for teens, its influence in business is growing rapidly.

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This past week I had a discussion with some local small business CEOs on the topic of growing their business. I got a question in which several were interested: “Should we be considering TikTok in our marketing plan?”

Wow, I hadn’t thought about that. So, I did a little digging into the topic. I found a piece that one of our SCORE content partners did very recently. Rieva Lesonsky is president and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. She did a great job on the topic and raised some serious considerations for CEOs. I share some of her content here.

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TikTok continues its upward trajectory. In the U.S., Apptopia reports TikTok was the No. 1 downloaded app – with 94 million downloads in 2021, up 6% over 2020. It is currently the sixth most-used social platform in the world.

Of course, the view of TikTok is not all positive. Statista reports that in the U.S., 34% of adults hold unfavorable opinions of the app, compared to 37% who have favorable views. And true to the perception, TikTok is more popular with younger Americans: 59% of those ages 18-34 view TikTok favorably, compared to 40% of 25-44 year-olds and 31% of 45-64 year-olds.

Paying attention to TikTok

But perhaps the most crucial statistic for small business owners is that TikTok users spend — a lot. The State of Mobile 2022 report from Data.ai (formerly App Annie) notes, “consumer spending on TikTok increased 77% in 2021. Overall, users spent $2.3 billion on the app, compared to $1.3 billion the year before."

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The rise of TikTok is part of the increased importance of video content. So crucial that social media management tool Hootsuite recently announced it was teaming up with TikTok’s Marketing Partner Program, making it easier for businesses to scale their content on the social platform.

Maggie Lower, Hootsuite’s chief marketing officer, says the partnership “has been much anticipated. We’ve seen video content grow into a powerful tool that successful (businesses) use to socialize with the world and have identified the pain points our customers face in creating this type of content.”

Despite all the positive stats, TikTok is underappreciated by many small business owners who don’t understand the platform and still consider it primarily a channel for teens. To learn how small businesses can take advantage of the platform, Lesonsky talked to Hootsuite’s Lower.

Conversation about TikTok

Is TikTok “misunderstood?”

Maggie Lower: "It’s not that the platform is misunderstood; instead, it’s a newer channel that users need to adapt to and put in the time to understand its evolution. The depth and breadth of TikTok’s influence have changed significantly since its inception. What started as a video platform used mainly for dance challenges has evolved into a network with significant social and cultural influence — opening a wealth of opportunities for individuals, creators and businesses looking to connect with their audiences.

"An assumption I believe is common about TikTok is that it’s complex and too intimidating to succeed on. Businesses and individuals not comfortable with the platform think they’re not equipped to produce video content that will perform consistently. And the speed at which the trends change acts as a deterrent to getting on the platform in the first place — especially when paired with all the other social platforms users have to keep up with. The reality is that TikTok’s algorithm makes it easier for businesses to go viral or get discovered, regardless of their following or engagement, if they create TikToks, not ads. The goal is to entertain and connect, which builds brand recognition."

Do you think most businesses think it’s a site for teens?

Maggie Lower: "While many still think of TikTok as a site for teens and dance challenges, others have quickly jumped into the hot trends on the platform, yielding great success. TikTok has grown to encompass every kind of content. Businesses and creators in any industry are guaranteed to find a community and attract consumers that align with their business goals.

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"According to our Digital 2022 Report, most of the TikTok audience is Gen Z, with 42% of the audience aged 18 to 24. However, that still leaves over half of the platform’s audience to millennials, Gen X’ers, and Baby Boomers. Creative content inspires creative content. It would be a greatly missed opportunity for companies to disregard this new platform, which has grown tremendously and shifted the social landscape at lightning speed."

How does adding TikTok to their social channels for marketing help a small business?

Maggie Lower: "TikTok has 1 billion monthly active users, making it the place to see and be seen, with ample opportunity for businesses to engage with audiences in a whole new way. Within the platform is an excellent sense of community, which is of utmost importance for small businesses looking to establish themselves and gain a loyal following. To drive meaningful engagement with audiences on TikTok, companies must challenge themselves, push the boundaries, and redefine what it means to be a part of a community.

"As a place for people to create and express themselves in a unique and fun way, the TikTok algorithm's beauty is that engagement doesn’t matter how many followers you have – engagement favors quality content that resonates with people. This makes the platform a fair playing ground for all businesses."

Limited ad budgets often challenge small businesses, so finding the right platforms to invest in based on your company’s objectives is critical. Interestingly, our 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—a 700% increase. Marketing 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.
  • Providing virtual customer service.
  • Advertising products and services to target audiences.

Getting creative and experimenting with different types of content is key to finding the best way to relay your message to the right audience – the results are often quite surprising.
Hootsuite has launched a culture guide and other tools to help businesses navigate the TikTok.
Dean Swanson is a volunteer Certified SCORE Mentor and former SCORE chapter chairman, district director and regional vice president for the North West Region.

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