A beginner’s guide to TikTok marketing for small businesses

Everyone’s talking about TikTok these days. You may be wondering if your business has a place on the rising social platform.

No matter the size of your business, TikTok marketing can help you grow your brand. 

In this article, we’ll talk about why you should be marketing on TikTok. We’ll also introduce the three ways to market on the platform and discuss how to use each to engage your target audience.

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Table of contents

What is TikTok?

TikTok is a video-based social media platform where users can create, share and discover short-form content. Videos on the platform range from pranks to dance to stunts to “how-to” tutorials with the aim to entertain or educate. 

Users can interact with content as on most other social platforms by liking, sharing and commenting. They can also join in challenges by creating their own content and branding it with a shared hashtag, or they can “stitch” other users’ videos with their own and “duet” (posting a video side by side with another user’s video).

TikTok has blown up in popularity recently. For the last three years, TikTok has been the number-one downloaded app worldwide. It’s currently the sixth most used social platform in the world. In 2021, TikTok reported that it had one billion monthly active users, nearly double the reported number from the previous year. 

This exponential rise in popularity is due to several factors.

  • The global pandemic gave people the time and motivation to explore the emerging platform as they searched for new ways to connect virtually.
  • The short-form content and newness of the platform appeal to a younger audience, who have adopted it most widely (Gen Z, which includes users ages 18 to 25, makes up 43% of TikTok’s global audience).
  • TikTok’s unique algorithm is extremely fine-tuned to deliver highly personal and relevant new content to each user (one of the reasons it’s so easy to pick up an audience at speed for new users).

Though dance challenges and viral videos prevail, TikTok is a great marketing investment for small businesses too. Its rise in popularity doesn’t show signs of slowing, and now is a good time to get on board. 

What does TikTok marketing look like?

TikTok marketing is video content on the platform specifically targeted to reach your audience, increase brand awareness and boost sales. Your strategy will be similar to that for other social platforms (more on strategy later), but it will have a different tone and delivery. 

TikTok’s format feels more authentic and personal than traditional marketing. It’s more about offering a behind-the-scenes look at a brand and the people that run it. TikTok’s scaled-down, accessible, short video content helps brands show their human side.

More authentic marketing means you’ve got room to be more creative with your voice as well as your content and how it’s delivered. Marketing will involve engaging in fun and lighthearted social media trends (like #onethingaboutme) and offering videos that are entertaining as well as informative.

There are three types of marketing on TikTok: Influencer marketing, original content and TikTok ads. We’ll explore all three types and how and when to use them.

First, let’s look at the benefits of marketing on the platform and how to create a winning TikTok marketing strategy.

Top Tip: Digital marketing is a great way to engage with your target audience quickly, whether you’re a large company or a small e-commerce brand. Strengthen your efforts by marketing on multiple social platforms. Read our beginners guide on 10 tips for small businesses to get started on Instagram📱

Why you should market your business on TikTok 

TikTok hasn’t yet been saturated with sales content. Because there’s relatively little advertising on the platform and brands take part in trends and challenges versus pushing ads, users feel content on the platform is more authentic. Marketing videos feel more natural in the context of the other content users see on the platform.

And this is critical because Gen Z and Millennials have bigger expectations from brands than older consumers. For starters, they are more interested in buying from brands they trust, and they’re more likely to build trust with brands through authentic marketing.

Here are some other reasons TikTok is an excellent platform for targeting and reaching new audiences.

Benefits of TikTok marketing 

The platform is an ideal place to see and be seen and to develop a community that advocates for your brand. You can increase brand awareness by using TikTok marketing to build engaged communities and advertise directly to your target audience. 

More customer interaction means more insight into your audience and the ability to provide more immediate customer service.

What TikTok offers over other social platforms

While TikTok offers similar benefits to other social marketing platforms, it hasn’t yet been as widely adopted (Facebook has 3 billion monthly active users, compared with TikTok’s recent report of 1 billion). 

That means there’s more opportunity for companies looking to create a presence. 

Here are some of the unique ways TikTok presents small businesses the chance to drive sales and grow their market:

  • TikTok is the place to form niche communities, so you can tap into your target audience quickly
  • It offers an opportunity to reach younger demographics.
  • Fewer companies on the app mean less competition, so your content has a greater chance of going viral
  • TikTok’s extensive organic reach lets you grow brand recognition without a massive marketing budget
  • You’ll get the benefit of the social proof that comes when customers see how others are using your products

Top Tip: Marketing should happen across multiple social platforms. But that doesn’t mean using the same strategy for each. Learn what makes a good strategy on another popular platform by reading our guide on Instagram marketing for business⌚️

How to create a TikTok marketing strategy

Marketing success on TikTok requires planning, just like on any social platform. The approach for TikTok will be unique to fit the versatile content format. Getting started is relatively easy.

1. Create a TikTok business account

The first step is to create a TikTok account through TikTok for Business. Simply follow the instructions to sign up and fill out the relevant information. 

Screenshot of Create an Account Page in Tiktok

Create a profile that matches your brand voice and style. Add a profile picture and brief, punchy bio to communicate who you are and help users know what to expect from your brand. Include a relevant URL and email so they can find you when needed.

2. Get familiar with the platform

Take time to play around on the TikTok app and learn how the platform works. Check out trending hashtags, sounds and challenges. Use your time to find out who the key TikTok influencers are in your industry as well as who your audience and competitors are. 

3. Define your target audience

You need to know who you’re trying to reach on TikTok. Take into consideration the typical demographics on the platform. For instance, is your user base on the younger side? Or are you looking to expand your market and reach a new, younger audience? 

Top Tip: To understand your target audience, you need to research your market and define your brand. Learn how in our guide on how to conduct market research for your business idea 🔬

4. Evaluate your competition

Find out who your competitors are on TikTok, then learn from what they’re doing. How are they engaging with audiences? Take note of what’s working and what’s not (as indicated by their views, likes and comments). 

Identifying your competition’s strengths and weaknesses can also show you any gaps your brand can fill for customers.

5. Set goals

A good strategy starts with specific and measurable goals. This gives you direction as you start putting out content. It also ensures your efforts support your overall business goals.

Your direction can change as you iterate different approaches (part of the beauty of real-time interactions on a social network). However, you should start with a clear idea of what you want to get from the platform. 

For instance, is your priority to grow brand awareness? Educate your existing clients? Reach new potential customers? Drive more traffic to your website? Write down your goals and reference them as you plan out and create your content.

6. Create a content calendar

Consistency is crucial in TikTok content marketing. You need to post content regularly to gain traction and get noticed. Make this much simpler by building out a calendar of the type of content you’ll share and when. 

A calendar ensures you stay in front of your target audience. It also keeps you from scrambling for last-minute content. Creating your content in advance lets you build in time for approval and review, so you don’t end up sending out a new video that’s off-brand or full of typos. 

You can create your own calendar in a basic spreadsheet or use a template like this free one from Hootsuite:

Screenshot of Calendar from Hootsuite

7. Learn about TikTok’s algorithm 

TikTok’s unique algorithm is part of what makes the platform so valuable for marketing. Read up on how it works, so you understand how TikTok decides how to populate a user’s feed (the “For You” page). Knowing how the app ranks and displays videos will help you decide on your own TikTok content.

8. Use TikTok’s built-in analytics tool to check your progress

Track your progress through TikTok Analytics. Check in regularly to see if you’re reaching your goals. Look at metrics around your follower count, who’s engaging with your content, how and when they’re engaging and which videos are performing best. 

Screenshot of TikTok Analytics

Then use what you learn to make adjustments to your strategy as needed.

For instance, you might see in your follower analytics that your followers are most active on weekday evenings. You can then adjust your posting times to match. This will ensure you post your TikTok videos when they’ll get more engagement, and the extra engagement will trigger TikTok’s algorithm to get more views for your video.

It’s worth noting that, in the beginning, your account will need to be warmed up. This means that you won’t start getting views immediately after you post because TikTok is running a series of manual checks to ensure your content meets their guidelines. 

For new creators, this means you’ll want to post anywhere from one to several hours before your audience is active on the platform, or you risk missing the window while your content is being reviewed.

Top Tip: Successful social media marketing requires a tailored content strategy. Learn about using social platforms to grow your business in our detailed guide on how to create a social media marketing strategy for your small business 💯

Creating content that gets your brand in front of your audience 

Content creation is relatively quick and easy on TikTok. It doesn’t require dedicated staff or special equipment to produce it. Here are some tips for creating the kind of content that will serve your marketing strategy goals:

Focus on quality

While Twitter and LinkedIn are text-based, TikTok is all about video and sound. That means you need to maintain high visual and audio quality for the videos you publish if you want them to get noticed.

Consider a more casual voice

TikTok is a more personal platform than LinkedIn, for example, with its business focus. That means you’ve got room to adjust your brand voice a little. You want to maintain brand consistency but may adopt a less formal, more personable voice on the platform.

Try out different content types

Constant production gives you the chance to be creative. Experiment with different kinds of videos. Try content that gets your audience involved. This can include semi-formal how-to videos but also more entertainment-focused content like hashtag challenges, funny videos or even dance routines.

Learn from failure and iterate

The constant stream of TikTok videos means no failure is the end of the world. If you try out a video that doesn’t land with your audience, you can always try again. And more importantly, you can learn from the failure. What didn’t work about the video? Does the format not speak to your potential audience? 

Track the data around how people interact with your videos and learn from it. 

TikTok is all about interaction. Don’t be afraid to join the conversations already happening. Do your research to stay on top of what’s trending and be prepared to have a sense of humour. Then jump in and create content aligned with popular challenges, jokes, hashtags or trending topics.

Leverage user-generated content 

Because anyone can create videos and engage on TikTok, it’s a great source for organic word-of-mouth marketing. User-generated content (UGC) is content created by individual TikTok users that features your brand or product. Intentionally inspiring users to create content linked to your brand creates additional ambassadors for your brand and expands your reach. 

To make the most of USG, build a few tactics into your marketing strategy.

  • Interact with any content that includes a mention or hashtag from your brand (like, reply or share).
  • Create a call to action. Let people know how to spread the word by participating in a social challenge, posing questions or asking for responses in your video.
  • Partner with TikTok influencers to post content around your product or service. (We’ll talk about this in more depth in the next section.)

Top Tip: Help turn TikTok users into brand ambassadors by first creating a brand that appeals to your target audience. Find out how to get noticed and reach potential customers in our guide on how to build a brand that customers love 😍

Partnering with influencers to build brand trust

As with other social platforms, Influencers have a lot of leverage on TikTok. Their audiences tend to be highly engaged and eager for their content, so creating a partnership can expand your brand presence.

Personal care brand Synth Labs Intl partnered with popular TikTok creators to help create brand trust and expand viewership. They boosted other TikTok creator’s videos that showed the influencers using their products as part of their TikTok marketing campaign to build social proof. 

Screenshot of Synth Labs Intl Partnering with Popular Tiktok Creators To Help Create Brand Trust

The result of the campaign was an additional 100K video views, an 80% increase in profile views and a 100% increase in follower count.

With TikTok influencer marketing, ask the following questions:

  • Does their audience fit your target market? You know your audience, so before you approach an influencer, make sure their followers are a good representation of who you’re trying to reach.

  • Have they established relationships of trust with their followers? Make sure audiences interact with the influencer’s posts at a high rate. Lots of followers with very low engagement won’t do a lot to build up your brand.

  • Do they create content associated with your niche? See whether they’ve worked with products similar to yours and whether they respond to and understand key industry players and trends.

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Advertising on TikTok to expand your market reach

Paid ads are fairly new to TikTok, so there’s a lot of potential for capturing attention and new customers. If your budget allows, TikTok advertising can be a worthwhile marketing investment.

Why TikTok advertising is so effective 

The newness of paid advertising, the nature of TikTok interactions and TikTok’s algorithm make advertising a powerful marketing tool. Consider the following:

  • TikTok drives higher engagement rates than other social platforms, so you’re likely to get more buzz around a well-planned campaign.
  • TikTok’s in-app tools make it easy to create engaging effects or repurpose content into ads.
  • TikTok’s in-depth targeting options help you take advantage of their algorithm to get the right content in front of the right users.

How to get started with TikTok advertising 

You’ll need a separate ad account for TikTok Ads Manager if you want to run ads on the platform. Starting an account is quick and easy. Simply go to ads.tiktok.com to sign up and fill in the required information.

Once your brand is approved, you can set up your TikTok account for ads and start creating campaigns. You’ll fill out information about your target audience and choose the type(s) of ads you’ll run. 

Learn more about setting up ads on tiktok.com/business.

Top Tip: Ads are only one way you can use social media to grow your business. Read about other ways to boost your brand online in an interview with one small business owner who’s had big success in our guide on how to use social media to grow your business 💗

Types of TikTok ads 

TikTok offers paid advertising to subsidise your less formal marketing strategies, and the formats are as creative as the platform content. Here’s an overview of the types of ads you can pay for and how you might use them. 

Sponsored hashtag challenges

Challenges are incredibly popular on TikTok. Formally sponsoring a challenge with a custom hashtag is a great way to increase audience interaction. 

PhotoSi, an Italian company that turns photos into prints, albums, calendars and keepsakes, ran a hashtag challenge to get more eyes on their content. They challenged users to recreate a childhood photo and share it with the hashtag #ReviveconPhotoSi.

Screenshot of Users who participated on PhotoSi Hashtag challenge to recreate childhood photo

Screenshot of Users who recreated childhood photo for PhotoSi Hashtag Challenge

The results? More than a billion views on over 380,000 videos.

Native ads

You can pay to place your video ads in a user’s feed. This gives people the chance to like, share and comment on your videos and garners more attention. Users can also scroll right past your ads if they’re not compelling, so put in the effort to make them eye-catching if you choose this option.

Custom temporary tattoo company Momentary Ink used in-feed ads to boost awareness of their product. The ads featured people testing out the tattoos and included their reactions.

Screenshot of Tiktok users who shared their video reaction and testing out momentary ink tattoo

Momentary Ink used the value of social proof (real people using real products) in their ad and drove them to a CPA for purchase that was 22% more efficient than the benchmark.  

Brand takeovers

This is just what it sounds like: your ad pops up as soon as a user opens the app, essentially “taking over” their For You page.

Takeovers can be a good way to get your brand or offer noticed. You can also include a link to your landing page in takeover ads, helping you drive more traffic to your site.

Makeup brand Maybelline New York launched a takeover ad in Poland. To promote their lipstick, Maybelline created an ad with an original song and encouraged users to create their own UGC to win a set of their lipsticks. 

Screenshot of Users who created their own UGC to win a set of lipstick in Maybelline 

The takeover video saw 15 million views and helped the lipstick become the number one choice in Euromonitor’s market report (as reported by TikTok).

Branded lenses

You can create custom lenses, or filters, other content creators can use in their own videos. These are augmented reality (AR) template effects that respond to users’ movements or facial expressions.

Spotify used a branded effect alongside a hashtag challenge to promote their new “duo” plan in Germany (one plan, one payment, two separate Spotify accounts). They partnered with influencers to spread awareness of the plan through a fun dance challenge centred around music choices.

Screenshot of Spotify Tiktok Hashtag Challenge to promote their “duo” plan in Germany

The brand gathered 713 million views from 280K UGC videos and a 6.7% increase in brand awareness. 

Boost your brand with a TikTok marketing strategy 

Marketing on TikTok is different from other marketing efforts. But with the right approach and an open mind, you can take advantage of this emerging platform to grow your audience and create a stronger community around your brand. 

Keep things simple, direct and lighthearted to keep pace on the dynamic social platform. While a marketing plan is crucial, it’s a faster pace, so there’s no time for long, drawn-out decision making. The key is to set your direction and jump in. As you start engaging with your audience, you’ll learn how best to establish your brand presence and begin having an impact.

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Photo by Artem Podrez, published on Pexels

Valentine Hutchings

Valentine Hutchings

Head of Community and small business enthusiast

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