The Small/Local Business's Guide to Marketing on TikTok

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What is TikTok?

TikTok, the short-form video sharing platform that’s taken over the social media scene, is no longer just a host for cat videos and lip-sync challenges. With over a billion active users worldwide, TikTok is proving itself as an invaluable marketing tool that can grow your small business, help you engage with your customers, build trust to earn new customers and increase brand awareness. 

If you are contemplating using TikTok to leverage and enhance your small business's local marketing strategy, this guide is for you. We’ll cover everything from the basics of TikTok to tools and tips you can use to expand your business’ reach. 

To start, here’s a list of businesses that are a good fit for TikTok:

  • Restaurants

  • Cafes

  • Bakeries

  • Bars

  • Clothing shops

  • Book shops

  • Salons

  • Beauty shops

  • Dentists

  • Hotels

  • Apartment complexes

  • Music/Entertainment Venues

  • Fitness Studios/Gyms

Why TikTok?

TikTok’s Relevance to Small and Local Business

For many small businesses, there’s a general sense of hesitation when it comes to TikTok. 50% of top brands have no TikTok presence whatsoever. While the reluctance of some of these prominent brands makes sense because of direct competition (sorry, Facebook), it’s hard to understand why consumer brands like IKEA, Nestlé and Toyota are waiting to hop on the TikTok train.

Despite many brands’ slow adoption, Tiktok’s not going anywhere. 8 new users join TikTok every second, and establishing your presence on the app now could give your business a significant marketing advantage down the road.

The structure of the TikTok app makes it particularly easy for small and local business owners to use effectively. While many think that TikTok’s reach isn’t targeted enough to be worthwhile for local marketing, there are many notable advantages to its setup.

First, TikTok drives your content to the right audiences - whether or not you have followers. You don’t have to spend months growing a following as you do on every other social platform, and it’s much easier to be seen or even go viral on TikTok.

Second, when a video is first published, it’s usually circulated based on geolocation. If your marketing priority is to reach a local audience and promote local brand awareness, this feature is especially important.

As long as you are able to create authentic and engaging content, you have a good chance of increasing your visibility and attracting new customers for your small business on TikTok.

Generally, for small businesses, TikTok increases visibility and virality whereas, for local businesses, TikTok gives you the opportunity to connect more with users in your area.

TikTok as a visual search engine, a Gen Z source of trust

It’s clear that Gen Z is the largest user demographic on TikTok - over half of TikTok’s users are between the ages of 16 and 24. If this is not the target demographic for your business, remember that the adoption of new social platforms tends to start with younger groups and increase in age over time.

Recent trends have shown that over 40% of young people no longer use Google Search/Maps as their primary search engine. Rather, they use TikTok to make daily searches online. Why? Because visual content is more engaging for younger audiences - 61% of Gen Z and Millennials are watching more videos on social media now than before the pandemic. The search process is almost entirely visual, giving the user a clear sense of the experience, rather than requiring them to work through a wall of text to find answers.

The use of hashtags has also contributed to TikTok’s rise as a search engine. Hashtags make it easy to find the specific information you are looking for fast, and, when used properly, can ensure relevance.

For instance, let’s say you’re looking to try a salad recipe. You search #saladrecipe on TikTok (a hashtag with over 57.6M views) and are met with thousands of delicious ideas to choose from.

tikok search example (1)

Alternatively, you can search “salad recipe” on Google and scroll through lengthy blog posts until you find one you’re willing to try. Google’s optimized algorithm has become time-consuming and inefficient to the user when compared to TikTok, so we understand why Gen Z has made the switch.

Aside from working to help users find information fast, hashtags increase visibility for your business on TikTok. If someone finds your video via hashtag, they are likely more qualified as a prospective lead/customer - this is true for both small and local businesses.

Younger users have turned to TikTok for everything from restaurant recommendations, clothing store options, travel advice, and entertainment suggestions.

In this TikTok from @hangry_chicago, the user highlights 5 of the best foods they ate in a week. They feature clips of each food they tried and the name of the restaurant in Chicago that makes it. Where Google likely would have surfaced a long-winded food blog, the content for TikTok is condensed into a 12-second video searchable via #Chicagotiktok and #food.

@hangry_chicago Can't stop thinking about all these delicious dishes from this week! Comment below and let me know what I should try next! 🔥🔥 #chicago #chicagotiktok #food ♬ original sound - IssaVibe

For small businesses and storefronts with the ability to ship products all over the nation, hashtags work to increase impressions, leads, and the visibility of your product to those outside of your direct network.

Alternatively, for local businesses with a focus on regional customer acquisition and retention, such as restaurants or cafes, hashtags specific to your locale can connect you directly with your local audience and establish your brand in the community.

TikTok Nearby

TikTok Nearby, a new test feature designed to display geo-based content to users, will change the game for local businesses everywhere. Similar to Google's “near me” feature, TikTok Nearby will further encourage Gen Z to rely on TikTok as their primary search engine.

In today’s Google-first world, we focus on SEO and text reviews to drive credibility, trust, and exposure. Alternatively, in the TikTok world of the future, short-form peer video content will be the new medium for building trust. If that’s not enough to sell you on the influence of TikTok, 59% of established small businesses claim TikTok has helped them grow revenue.

If the test feature is launched, businesses will be able to take advantage of the local visibility provided by TikTok Nearby. The feature will be essential to small and local businesses that don’t have a lot of money to spend on paid ads and media. It’s cheap, effective and a tremendous incentive to get your TikTok account up and running as soon as possible.

Local businesses should take extra note of the proposed TikTok Nearby feature. It will take the virality element of TikTok, which often helps small businesses serve a wide consumer base, and leverage it geographically to support local businesses. TikTok Nearby will assure exposure is communicated to a local audience rather than the general TikTok community.

TikTok Basics

The Algorithm

TikTok’s algorithm is honed to deliver relevant and applicable content to the individual user. 

While some of its recommendations are location-based, they are also heavily founded on user interactions, video information, account and device settings, etc. Each user’s experience is tailored to their own preferences and interests, so it’s crucial to establish your niche early.

The algorithm rewards frequency and has a unique affinity for surfacing content - so you should post often, consistently, and in a way that keeps your audience engaged. If you know your audience and play to it, your TikToks are more likely to show up on the FYP (see below).  

TikTok SEO

Recent studies have shown that TikTok/Instagram are used as search engines in 40% of Gen Z's searches, marking a significant shift in search engine usage and usurping YouTube in that demographic.

TikTok SEO refers to the optimization of videos and profiles on the platform, employing basic search engine optimization (SEO) techniques, to improve their visibility within network searches.

This can be as simple as including product names, or other keywords you want to show up for, in your video titles, descriptions, and responses to comments.

The goal of TikTok SEO is to bolster content discoverability and increase followers. This optimization can be highly beneficial for personal brand building and reach expansion.

Profiles with high-quality content and optimal SEO elements can attract large followings, leading to increased engagement and exposure.

For You Page (FYP)

TikTok’s FYP is the first feed a user sees upon opening the app. It features videos from both the accounts you follow and those the app thinks you would like to see based on your interactions. The content on your FYP could be anything from trending TikToks to those that were recently posted in your geographical area. The FYP is completely different from the Nearby page. The Nearby page is likely very similar in format to the FYP but filtered by location.


One of the most unique and recognizable features of TikTok’s platform is the soundtrack behind each video. TikTok’s integration with Apple Music gives access to a multitude of songs and sounds you can use to enhance your content. However, as a business account user, you’re subject to restrictions regarding what music you can use in your videos. Whether your business account is verified or unverified, you should always stick to the Commercial Music Library to avoid copyright violations.

tiktok music copyright pop-up (1)

Music is a crucial part of growth on the app and a huge driving factor. The most common tactic used to achieve virality is to piggyback off an already tending sound/song. This will increase your chances of appearing on your customers’ FYPs while bringing an aspect of familiarity to your content. In fact, 68% of TikTok users say videos using popular songs help them remember brands better.

Note that aside from actual songs, sound bites/effects also play a significant role on the platform. They almost take on the role of a meme in video form.

Location Tag

As with other social media platforms, it’s important to tag your location in your TikToks. This helps your customers find your account and engage with your business. It also gives you the ability to promote your product in your community. Businesses that operate out of one specific location (ie. bars, restaurants, salons, and shops) are able to push their content to a more targeted audience with location tagging. 

Follow these steps to tag your location in a TikTok:

  1. Record video
  2. Edit video (add effects/filters/sounds/etc.)
  3. Click “Next”
  4. Select location (if location services are enabled for the app, locations will be suggested)
  5. Once the location is set, don’t forget to also include it in your caption via hashtag


tiktok location tag instructions how to (1)


Whether it be through dancing fads, popular hashtags or challenges, you can use current trends to your advantage simply by taking part in them. Trending music/sounds is the shared language of TikTok. It’s central to the platform experience. Acknowledging what is trendy engages your audience and proves your business is paying attention. Also, remixing a TikTok trend leads to a 14% increase in watch time overall.

Automated Video Testimonial Generation  Automatically collect videos from your happy customers. Use them on TikTok.   Learn more about Invite Video

How to Get Started

1. Make a TikTok business account:

To start, TikTok will automatically set you up with a creator account. To switch to a business account:

  • Go to your profile page

  • Click the three lines in the upper right-hand corner

  • Go to settings/privacy

  • Select “manage account”

  • Click “switch to a business account”

  • Select your industry

There are multiple benefits to having a business account as opposed to a creator account. These include access to performance metrics and audience insights, the ability to link to an e-commerce storefront, advanced messaging capabilities, and many other creative tools.

TikTok Benefits of a Business Account (1)

2. Set Up a Profile

Your profile serves as a virtual storefront for your business. It should include an informative bio and user name, recent photo, links to your other social media pages and a link to your website (if applicable).

TikTok Profile Example (1)

3. Get familiar with the app:

The best way to learn TikTok is to use it. Watch videos for inspiration and get a feel for how other small and local businesses are showcasing their brands through TikTok.

4. Engage:

Follow people/businesses in your network, engage with their videos, like videos on your FYP and establish your algorithm. The first videos you see will be completely random trending videos, but the more you scroll and engage with the content you want to see, the quicker TikTok’s algorithm will mold to your preferences.

5. Make your first TikTok:

As a business owner new to TikTok, the ins and outs of the app may seem intimidating. Luckily, it’s not as difficult as it seems. Once your account is established and you have a firm grasp on how to use the app, you can focus on creating a content strategy for your small or local business. Learn more about how to make your first TikTok here.

No matter how you use TikTok for your business, remember these best practices:

  1. Jump on popular trends

  2. Use hashtags (#smallbusinesscheck, #businessowner, #shoplocal etc.)

  3. Tag your location

  4. Respond to comments

  5. Be authentic and informative

Ways to Use TikTok

User-Generated Content:

UGC can take many forms on TikTok. Generally, it features customers using or reviewing your product/service. UGC Videos are 22% more effective than branded content on TikTok and, like on many other social media platforms, are a great way to establish trust and increase brand awareness. 

As stated before, you don’t need a dominant presence on TikTok in order to be successful, you just need to know the platform and make an effort to showcase your happy customers. 

In general, TikTok users are either looking to entertain or be entertained, and this is where user-generated content comes in handy. People will make content for the benefit of your business - but only if it boosts the visibility of their own posts.

If you establish a strong presence on TikTok with hashtags and location tags, customers will be more inclined to promote and create content for your local business.

Here's an example of a user-generated TikTok that features Bluestone Lane Harvard Square Cafe, a restaurant in Boston, MA. The user gets visibility for their own post - they even take the time to promote their own small business - all while providing the cafe with free advertising to their entire network.

@pao_boston Search 'Bluestone Lane Harvard Square Cafe' on @thepaoapp now to save this delicious spot 💎 #boston #bostonmass #cambridge #massachusetts #fyp #hiddengems ♬ оригинальный звук - a✧°•

While it’s easy to see the value of user-generated content on TikTok, getting your customers to participate is another story. Here are some ways you can encourage your customers to engage:

1. Ask:

TikTok’s all about putting yourself and your business out there. Don’t be shy to ask your customers to tag your business in their TikTok posts or even just follow your page. *Branded hashtags are the most effective way to bring attention to your business. 

2. Challenges: 

TikTok challenges work to generate user content because they are engaging. They also allow you to be clear about what kind of content you want from your customers - giving you more control over your brand. For instance, if you run a skincare company, challenge your followers to share their daily skincare routines via TikTok. Your customers gain exposure for their own TikTok accounts while advertising your products. 

3. Contests:

People love competition. One of the best ways to get people to participate in a UGC campaign is by giving them the opportunity to win something. Offer your customers something of value, whether it be a discount code, free product, or gift card to encourage them to promote your brand. 

4. Reviews

Authentic customer reviews are the perfect way to generate trust for your business and increase brand awareness on TikTok. If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to gather user-generated video review content for your business, Invite Video is a great place to start. With Invite Video, you can collect genuine video testimonials from your customers and feature the best ones directly on TikTok.

TikTok Trends

Participating in trends is a great way to increase the visibility of your posts and gain followers on TikTok. However, identifying them and making them applicable to your business/product can be difficult. 

A TikTok trend can originate from a specific social media challenge, sound, transition, dance, or hashtag. The algorithm favors trending content, so the easiest way to identify new trends on TikTok is to browse the FYP. 

If you notice a certain sound or hashtag being used in more than one video on your FYP, it’s trending. Alternatively, if you aren’t willing to scroll through endless TikToks to identify trends, you can try searching #trending or #trendalert. 

Jumping on trends works to promote your business because it proves you are paying attention. It also gives you the chance to get creative and offer your own fresh take on what’s popular. 

For example, in these TikToks, small business owners promote their products and offer their own interpretation of the popular #itscorn trend. 

Tutorials/Point-of-View (POV)/Behind-the-scenes (BTS)

Tutorials are often made for recipes or make-up looks, but there’s really no limit to how you can use TikTok to highlight your brand. Show your followers how your product works or include a BTS video of how it’s made/packaged. Creating content from the customer's POV helps you stay connected with your audience and is a great way to advertise your product. 

Here, Classievu, an accessory and jewelry company, offers a BTS video on how they package their items. This TikTok promotes the business’ product while establishing its values as compared to larger companies.

In this TikTok, Mexicali Blues, a clothing and jewelry boutique, demonstrates how to wear one of their signature wrap skirts. It encourages new customers to buy the product and offers a new way for existing ones to use it. 


Get more interactions and help grow your following with giveaways. Incentives keep your audiences entertained and encourage engagement - increasing your TikTok’s effectiveness. 

Here, Spiffy, an on-demand car-care company, hid a $20 off promo code in their video. This encourages views and interactions but also motivates users to choose Spiffy and redeem their prize.

@getspiffy We spy with our little penguin eyes $20 off 👀 #GetSpiffy #summerpromo #summervibes #ispy ♬ Summer day - TimTaj

Livestream/10-Minute Video Feature 

Livestreams and longer videos via TikTok are useful to engage with your audience in real-time, giving you more control over your brand. You aren’t bound by TikTok's 15-second video formula, you are able to humanize your business and you can answer questions in the comments. 

Overall, TikTok’s what you make it, and you don’t have to alter your current marketing strategy in order to be successful. If TikTok dance and social media trends are off-brand or out of your comfort zone, that’s okay! 

Your goal is to connect with your audience in a genuine and authentic way. If you are able to achieve this by offering tips or sharing your expertise in your field, do that. Don’t compromise your brand - focus on your niche. 

Remember: trending hashtags and sounds can take your videos a long way if you use them correctly. 

Tips to Increase TikTok Visibility as a Small or Local Business

  • Engage with users
  • Use trending sounds - establish familiarity and recognition 
  • Link other socials 
  • Post frequently
  • Know your audience - TikTok is full of niches, find yours.

TikTok vs. Instagram

Instagram has changed drastically since the app’s launch in 2010. Today, in order to be successful on Instagram, you have to commit to churning out new and relevant reel content. 

Reels, or 15-second short video clips, are essentially the same as TikToks. For marketers, this is fantastic news. Odds are you’ve already invested a lot of time and money into your local business’ Instagram account. TikTok and Instagram encouraging the exact same type of content means less work with double the reach. In short, if you are making reels, you should be making TikToks.

While it may be a content marketing win, Instagram’s shift to favor video media over photos altered the app’s purpose, and has left many users disillusioned. 

Instagram used to be a place to stay connected and share content with people in your network. Now, it feeds you content from random users. It no longer fosters the same sense of community and familiarity it once did, and, while frustrating to many, most likely never will again.

Instagram’s evolution has certainly sparked controversy amongst users, however, as a marketing platform, it still carries immense value to your local business. Both TikTok and Instagram allow you to strengthen customer relationships, run ad campaigns, drive traffic, and increase brand awareness. 

TikTok vs. BeReal

BeReal, which has branded itself “the simplest photo sharing app” is on the rise, with over 74.5% of the app’s total downloads occurring in 2022. 

The main difference between TikTok and BeReal is media type. TikTok features video content while BeReal exclusively features photos. Further, BeReal lacks TikTok’s permanence. Anything you post on BeReal disappears the next day, rather than being added to a video feed on your profile. 

While functionally very different, TikTok and BeReal are comparable in their potential to enhance your local business marketing strategy. Both allow you to run promos, connect with your audience, and build your brand in a personal and authentic way. 

Chipotle is a great example of how BeReal can be used for business, big or small. BeReal’s 2 minute post window gives promos and incentives an element of spontaneity and competition that will encourage your customers to participate. 

BeReal Example Chipotle

For more ideas, here are 5 ways you can use BeReal to enhance your local marketing strategy. 

*One important thing to remember is that not every social media strategy will make sense for your local business. BeReal’s format is very familiar and casual and, for many small businesses, this may not be on brand. TikTok however, allows for more flexibility and gives you the chance to promote your business on your own terms. 

All in all, TikTok’s swift rise in popularity is unrivaled. Since its launch in 2018, it has been downloaded over 3 billion times. While people are constantly searching for new ways to consume content, TikTok offers a unique and tailored experience to the individual user, making it the perfect place to gain new customers and promote your small business.

If you are ready to use TikTok but still don’t know where to begin, Widewail can help kickstart your presence on the app. Learn more about how your business can benefit from authentic and organic user-generated video testimonials with Invite Video.

Automated Video Testimonial Generation  Automatically collect videos from your happy customers. Use them on TikTok.   Learn more about Invite Video