The TikTok Revolution: How small businesses are using social media to expand

TikTok is a recent phenomenon compared to most established social media.

Facebook went global in 2004, when it was still TheFacebook. TikTok only became an international app in 2017.

Three years later, TikTok had 800 million global active users, a feat that took Facebook over 7 years.

Dr Ronnie Das, a Newcastle University lecturer in Digital Marketing and Data Analytics, discussed how social media has transformed the way businesses operate.

He said primarily social media provides a cheap way to interact with customers.

Additionally, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the trends which social media started.

Ronnie said that 30 years’ worth of advancement in online engagement was made over a nine month period in 2020.

Whereas the 2008 global recession caused a boost in a new generation of start-ups, Das expects the current pandemic to accelerate the move to online enterprise and usher in a new era of business.

When asked about TikTok specifically, Das explained that its use of augmented reality creates a sense of humour and of escape which other social media don’t utilise.

He said TikTok has created its own niche and realised that people thrive on micro moments. 

He said: “TikTok is here to stay, it’s here to grow and it is investing in creators.”

I spoke to five small business owners who use TikTok to promote their businesses.

Their brands are all very different, and some have been established for more than a decade, whilst others are only a few months old.

One thing on which all of these business owners agree is that TikTok caused their brand’s reach to skyrocket.

ElleCreate – Graphic Designs – TikTok: @ellecreate_

Elle started her business, ElleCreate, which sells her funky prints, T shirts and sticker designs, in September 2019.

It was during the first national lockdown that she decided to use TikTok to promote her business.

She said: “It just took off and I never looked back.”

Elle had a business page on Instagram for months before joining TikTok and was doing well, but since joining TikTok her sales have increased significantly.

Previously, most sales came from commissioned work for people she knew, but now Elle is able to advertise her printwork to larger audiences, creating more demand and driving more traffic to her Etsy store.

In some ways the pandemic helped Elle to build her business presence online, as people flocked to TikTok to share videos from isolation and connect in a socially distanced world.

Elle explained how different social media serve different purposes.

Her core target audience is under 30s, and TikTok meets this demographic.

Under 30s represented more than 60% of TikTok’s users last year. Her portrait commissions are generally more popular with the older generation though, and she has a Facebook page to meet this market.

Elle’s advice for others who are looking to start a small business?

“Do your research.

“If you do the research and you’re passionate about what you do you will succeed regardless.”

Diddi Dance – Dance classes for toddlers – TikTok: @originaldiddidancer


Jumping on this dance trend coz it’s a lot of fun. DC @jamesparvin0 @xkd95 #hillbilly #hillbillyrock #danceteacher

♬ Hillbilly Rock (Line Dance Remix) – Die Campbells

Anne-Marie started her dance company for under-fives 17 years ago, when even Facebook would have been too young to take her classes.

She started promoting her business on TikTok in June 2020 after hearing from friends that parents and young adults were migrating to the app in great numbers during lockdown.

She found that the main difference between TikTok and other social media is that people use the app looking for comedic content.

She said: “You can jump on different trends, be completely random and completely silly and the audience on there gets it.”

That bodes well for a company with youngsters at its heart.

Many of Anne-Marie’s videos involve fun dances to current songs and sounds which are popular on TikTok.

She can several 15-30 seconds long videos one evening, save them to her drafts and upload the content over the week for thousands of people to view.       

What amazed Anne-Marie about the app was the reach that her business could achieve without spending anything on advertising.

Some of her TikTok lives (a livestream which allows creators to connect with their followers in real time) reached 48,000 people.

Free engagement on TikTok truly is unmatched by other social media.

Blob Box – Self-care boxes for women on their period – TikTok: @blobboxuk

Eniye decided to create Blob Box when her sister got her first period and her mother was unsure of how to help her feel better.

After looking online for care boxes, she found that they mostly contained products that could be bought from a corner shop.

She decided to make her own care box which would include educational material, a variety of period products, and self-care products.

Eniye named her product Blob Box after learning that “on the blob” was a derogatory way of saying that a woman was on her period.

She wanted to reclaim the word, as it was something that most women experience, and they should not be shamed for it.

Through advertising her product on TikTok Eniye hoped that it would help to normalise talking about periods.

She said: “Hopefully my brand is doing that for people, because people are just so proud to receive a Blob Box.”

TikTok is a crucial platform for businesses like Blob Box.

Eniye said small businesses which are often relegated to the seventh page of Google search results, struggle to compete with big brands.

But, on TikTok, she can showcase her products more easily.

Furthermore, she said it gives her audience an opportunity to get to know her and not just her brand.

The personalisation of brands is as aspect that TikTok users seem to look for in their content, and not something that ever comes through authentically in big brand advertising.    

Alexander Clementine – sustainable underwear made from seaweed – TikTok: @alexanderclementine

Freya and Alex founded Alexander Clementine, a clothing brand which makes underwear from seaweed, two years ago.

They have only been on TikTok since this January but have already seen their sales surge.

Freya said that before moving onto TikTok they made a few daily sales, but after advertising through the app, they would make enough sales in one day to pay rent for a month.

This bump in sales enabled the pair to operate their business from an office much sooner than they expected.

She explained that their Instagram following also doubled, as users on TikTok would follow their other social media pages.  

Freya is a self-confessed TikTok addict, and would regularly look at other small businesses on the app.

She enjoyed watching people unwrap their orders and decided to produce content of herself wrapping up her customers orders.

Here again, the personal aspect of small businesses, and the ‘behind the scenes’ glimpses that TikTok can provide audiences are incredibly popular.

Freya’s videos have had an amazing reach, with one achieving over half a million views.

At first, Alex was unsure if moving onto TikTok was a savvy business move. He said: “I was wary it might cheapen the brand, but actually it has been amazing for it.”

Evidently, TikTok has taken off in a big way, exploding in popularity during a global pandemic which saw so many of us stuck inside, scrolling on our phones, looking for things to buy.

Consumer trends that are becoming more popular include self-care, fitness, sustainability, and a preference for small businesses.

TikTok provides the perfect platform for these kinds of brands to advertise themselves at no cost, reaching an audience of thousands of potential consumers.

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