How to Develop a TikTok Strategy for Your Business

Realm Candles found its winning formula on the social-media platform by tapping into a popular genre of videos
(illustrations: Rose Wong)

Danielle Johnson was looking to funnel her pandemic stress into a relaxing hobby, so she turned to candle-making. She learned techniques from YouTube videos and Facebook groups and quickly realized that not only did she enjoy the process but she also excelled at it—particularly the finicky work of developing custom scent blends. Johnson, who lives in Mississauga, Ont., launched Realm Candles six months later, in September of 2020. She creates an array of soy-wax candles with appetizing scents like “Lemonade” and “Fig” and wraps them in elegant minimalist packaging.

Launching a new business during a pandemic isn’t easy, so she decided to focus her marketing efforts on TikTok, the video-sharing app that has a chokehold on Gen Z and is renowned for minting the most random of items (butt-lifting leggings! heat-free hair curlers!) into viral musthaves. Johnson’s strategy for conquering the fast-paced platform was rooted in experimentation. “The best way to get started on TikTok is to become slightly addicted,” she says. She looked to small-business accounts like handmade-hair-accessory brand @xxl.scrunchie—which has found success documenting behind-the-scenes content showing how a small business is run—for inspiration. Then she began shooting video footage of herself pouring wax, trimming wicks and packing orders.

Realm Candles founder Danielle Johnson posing in a photo by Duane Cole
Danielle Johnson (photograph: Duane Cole)

Johnson quickly learned to scan the app for the most popular audio appearing on the “For You” page, the home for trending videos, and used these sounds to accompany her content to help it gain traction. At first, she used relevant hashtags like #candles and #smallbusiness, but she eventually gravitated toward trending topics like #superbowl2021. This popular TikTok trick—captioning videos using trending hashtags, even when they are completely unrelated to the content—helps creators attract more views. Johnson consulted websites like Influencer Marketing Hub to master the algorithm and learned the best times to post on weekdays (Monday at 6 a.m., 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.) and weekends (Saturday at 11 a.m., 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 a.m., 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.) to increase engagement. Within months, Realm Candles’ TikTok following grew from just a couple hundred followers to several thousand.

But Johnson’s biggest breakthrough happened when she tapped into a subset of the platform that has a massive following: ASMR, a genre of videos designed to elicit a satisfying shiver down the spine through sound. ASMR videos have more than 271 billion views on TikTok. After noticing that the process of packing candle orders had a lot of soothing sounds—wrapping the candles in paper, filling the boxes with packing peanuts—Johnson recorded a video focusing on these subtle noises and hashtagged it #ASMR.

After she uploaded it in February 2021, the video exploded in popularity and ended up on the For You page—a coveted spot of TikTok real estate that can boost a creator’s career. In less than 24 hours, the video garnered 1 million views and Johnson sold out her entire stock of candles. Later that evening, she had to build a new website because the traffic surge crashed her old one.

Once she went viral, her TikTok following jumped from 4,000 to 200,000 and her Instagram audience ballooned from 300 to 16,000. Johnson makes 100 candles per week, and she began selling out of her batches within 15 minutes of adding them to her site. She decided to stick with ASMR as her main marketing strategy. “People like knowing that they can go to a page and it will give them a certain type of content,” she says.

An illustration of a phone with TikTok open

Johnson began to use TikTok’s live function to further engage with her audience and build a community of followers. She would log in on Saturday evenings, when most of her customers, who are in their teens and early 20s, were also online, and answer their questions about Realm and share tidbits about her personal life, such as her favourite musician (Lauryn Hill) and food (bacon). Now, Realm’s three TikTok posts per week routinely get thousands of views each, and its year-over-year revenue has experienced double-digit growth.

For small-business owners looking to boost their brand on TikTok, Johnson recommends that they record footage of themselves at work—packing orders, organizing a workspace or revealing how a product is made. That’s the simplest way to gather content for future videos. “The most important thing to remember is to be consistent,” she says. “Keep posting, keep trying new things and don’t get discouraged.”

Isabel B. Slone
Isabel B. Slone
Isabel B. Slone is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and others.