What about TikTok for Small Business?
Updated April 2023
I would rather remove my contacts with fondue forks dipped in hot sauce than go back to being on camera every day, but that’s just me.-Bridget Brown, on why TikTok ain’t it for small business marketing
When it comes to digital marketing, there are few people more savvy than Ross Simmonds. Ross shares my love of well-distributed content and 90s/2000s hip hop. But I respectfully disagree with his article on TikTok for small business.
His post is entitled “Why TikTok has become a Marketer’s Dream Platform.”
I would suggest it isn’t your dream platform unless you have 4 very specific personality traits, which I outline below. Here’s why I don’t advocate TikTok for small business.
READ THIS LATER: If you don’t have time to read this article right now, you can download the PDF version to your phone or computer and read it when you have time later.
Reason #1: You’re Farming Someone Else’s Land
When you invest your time and effort into a platform you don’t control, you’re basically farming someone else’s land. Not only can the owner evict you at any time, they can also make changes that ruin your yield.
Let’s not forget what happened over on Facebook. In the early days, it was feasible for a business’s post to pop off and bring in thousands of new eyeballs. Then a few years into business, Zuck & friends started tinkering with the algorithm.
In 2015, Facebook started penalizing promotional content. In 2018, it started prioritizing friends, family and group posts in the feed over business page posts. Last year it implemented even more stringent engagement rules, so your post must immediately explode into conversation in the comments if you expect it to perform well.
And what Facebook really doesn’t like to mention is that only 5-10% of your audience will be shown your post. Facebook deliberately creates conditions that push businesses to buy ads instead. Because of course they do.
Now here comes TikTok, making a couple billion a year on ad revenues, which means they also aren’t incented to help businesses promote themselves for free either. Sure, TikTok’s algorithm keeps everyone equal right now. But there is no guarantee that will remain the case and there’s pretty good argument that it won’t.
TikTok is not currently publicly traded, but its parent company has been toying with IPO plans for the past couple of years. Eventually, this company will be in the hands of shareholders and shareholders really don’t like leaving money on the table. I suspect when TikTok goes public, this “egalitarian algorithm” will come to an end.
Reason #2 – It’s NOT Free
TikTok isn’t free. You have to make the content or pay someone else to. That costs money.
The industry standard estimate is 30 mins to an hour to edit 1 minute of video. Even if you’re as fast as the pro editors I worked with in TV news, you’re looking at 30 minutes at least.
Add that to the 30 minutes to an hour it takes to come up with the idea and shoot that idea, and you’re looking at 1-2 hours MINIMUM to create a video with the potential to draw a lot of engagement.
TikTok recommends you post 1-4 videos PER DAY. So even if you batch create your content, create only one original TikTok per day, and use some kind of stitch or mashup for the rest of your 20-odd TikToks, this is still 7 hours of work a week. Almost a whole day!
The median hourly income for a small business owner in Canada is $34.70. So an hour a day adds up to $12,000/ year JUST FOR TIKTOK. That doesn’t include time spent on other marketing methods, or on closing clients.
That kind of expense puts a lot of pressure on you to make TikTok work. I sure hope you can dance better than I can.
Reason #3 – Social Media is a Conversation, not a Presentation
Ross Simmonds and other TikTok acolytes are quick to point out the importance of replying promptly to comments on your videos or messages people send.
So even if you build in the time to create that content, your work isn’t done. Your success relies on your ability willingness to be on TikTok throughout the day.
Reason #4 – Narrowcasting > Broadcasting
After all that work making your content and replying to messages you still have to convert your social media followers into customers.
As small business owners, we’re looking for people who are:
- In our service area;
- Currently looking to buy what we sell;
- Have the money to pay us; and,
- Are motivated to connect with us.
Because, let’s be real here. We don’t need fans who like our content. We need clients.
Turning a fan into a client is more work than just, ya know, finding a client.
It simply isn’t efficient to catch the whole world’s attention so you can later reach out to a few who are your ideal clients.
Lest You Think I’m Anti All Social….
TikTok could work for you if:
1) You LIKE using TikTok. Personally, I would rather remove my contacts with fondue forks dipped in hot sauce than go back to being on camera every day, but that’s just me. It might work for you if TikTok is already part of your day, including creating content and interacting with people.
2) You like and want attention. TikTok isn’t really a platform for videos that do not prominently feature your face and personality. On the other hand, if you harbour a secret desire to be TikTok famous, then by all means go for it.
3) You have other fully funded marketing methods that are producing leads. This is in case TikTok changes the algorithm, or the rules, or you accidentally get kicked off.
4) You have time or money for producing DAILY content good enough that people are moved to engage with it.
5) You have a talent or gimmick to show off that will get lots of shares and likes. If you have a side hustle as a hula-hooper or fire eater, you might as well put your moves and/or singed eyebrows to good use.
Examples of good TikTok candidates:
- You own an ice cream shop where your products look totally different than everyone else’s and the process of putting them together is visually interesting.
- You’re a cleaner willing to show off the before/after of your customer’s grossest jobs.
- You’re a small business owner who happens to have a stunning singing voice, great dance skills or an incredible artistic talent that can captivate an audience.
- You’re a personal trainer willing to give away workout advice for free in the hopes that it sends people to your business.
TikTok Probably Won’t Work for You If:
1) You don’t have time to be chit-chatting on social every day, or money to pay someone else to.
2) You don’t want to be on camera frequently.
3) You don’t have a foolproof plan to convert your followers into your customers.
- You’re an accountant with a ton of tax tips and secrets, but they’re only relevant to people in your jurisdiction. (Use an email list instead.)
- You’re a brand new restaurant with a totally unique take on the type of food you prepare (Arrange a FAM event for influencers and local tastemakers.)
- You’re a lawyer who is great on camera. (Create paid digital ads so you have more control over your audience.)
A Final Thought
There’s something else I want to mention before I wrap up.
How do you feel about the fact that social media platforms incentivize controversial videos? Let’s face it, if the videos that get the most engagement are the ones that get promoted, we’re rewarding people who stoke anger, hate, outrage and misinformation.
Sure there are a lot of viral baby animal videos, but even they get some truly awful comments. This is why we can’t have nice things.
As we’ve discussed in the past, a fundamental quality of all successful marketing endeavours is authenticity. When your business, including your marketing program, is built on your true values, your audience notices. If the nature of social media doesn’t sit well with you because it contravenes those values, your audience will notice that too.
By they by, even though our opinions diverge on the topic of TikTok, I can’t say enough good things about Ross Simmonds’ newsletter. I hope you sign up.