What I Learned by Going Viral (a bit) on TikTok

I made my first, stupid, awkward TikTok video in April 2021 and it went a little bit viral. I was instantly intrigued. And hooked. And I haven’t looked back. Now I’m sharing what I’ve learned about TikTok with my small business clients to encourage them to consider TikTok as the next platform to add to their marketing playbook.

The plan, you see, was just for me to sarcastically brag about how amazing my cake decorating skills are. Some of my Twitter friends have taken up cake baking and decorating over the last year and I wanted in on the action! My daughter’s birthday was the perfect opportunity since she was obsessed with the Minecraft YouTuber Dream (Please click to see his profile photo…it’s necessary to understand the video).

At the last moment, my daughter asked if she could stab the cake to make reference to some big event in the Minecraft universe, promising that Minecraft YouTube TikTok would find it absolutely hilarious. I had no idea what she was talking about, but it was her birthday so I obliged.

@anitalkirkbrideMy best ##birthdaycake ever. @dreamwastakenwastaken @tommyinnit ##parenttok ##dsmp ##dreamwastaken ##tommyinnit ##mcyt ##minecraft ##fyp ##foryou ##foryoupage♬ original sound – Anita Kirkbride

Lessons learned from “going viral” on TikTok

First up, I admit that this isn’t really “viral”, but it is very successful as a video for me. As of writing this, it had over 56,000 plays, 24,000 likes and 543 comments. Several months after posting, I still get likes and comments almost daily.

Gen Z isn’t as bad as you might have thought.

Part of the reason I didn’t want to join TikTok all these years is because the only thing I ever saw about it was dancing and lip-syncing, and I am not good at that kind of thing. I thought if I made a video I would be laughed at, criticized, and ridiculed. Especially by the default audience Gen Z!


Gen Z embraced this awkward mom making her first TikTok video. Out of the 543 comments on that video, only two were negative, and one of those retracted their statement after watching the entire video to see it was a joke. The other 541 teens laughed, congratulated me on my mad skills at drawing Dream, and some even wanted me to adopt them! There were some sad comments from teens whose parents were clearly not engaged and supportive, too.

And lest you should think TikTok is only for Gen Z, let me share this interesting tidbit with you. According to Statista, 68% or more of users are OVER the age of 20. Yes, there is a higher market penetration in users 13-20, but overall, there are more older users on the app than younger ones, and it’s ageing up!

The shelf-life of a TikTok video is several months long

TikTok says the shelf-life of a video is 90 days and my video seems to have followed that pattern, with most of the activity drying up by three months and shrinking to a dribble. Still, 90 days is pretty darn good compared to 24 hours on Instagram or Facebook Stories, or just a few days on any of the major platform newsfeeds. The only other content that has a longer shelf-life is Pinterest and YouTube, which function more like search engines than social networks.

Once you’ve chosen a side of TikTok, you’re locked in good.

Making that first video gave me the courage to move forward and try more videos. I quickly learned just how difficult it was to change lanes in TikTok. I’d had great success in Minecraft YouTube TikTok, but I didn’t want to make more Minecraft content. I actually wanted to make business content and Gen X Mom content. I made a few more videos and they went NOWHERE. TikTok thought I was a Minecraft creator and a few hundred Minecraft teens had followed me, so I was boxed in.

If you’re thinking of joining TikTok to promote your small business it is essential you plan your first videos to target the right audience so you will be shown to your ideal audience immediately and not have to swim upstream to fix any audience issues. I had to start a second account (@TwirpCommunications) for my business content. I did some research and was able to get this new account safely ensconced in Small Business TikTok very quickly.

There’s so much to say about the TikTok algorithm I’ve written a companion post called What Small Businesses Need to Know About TikTok.

Hashtags are important

Being new to the platform I let my daughter, the cake stabber, assist with the hashtags on this video. I would do them differently today, omitting the #FYP and #ForYouPage as it’s been shown they have no benefit. Better to use hashtags that target your niche audience. In this case #TommyInnit #MCYT #DSMP and #DreamWasTaken. On my new business account, I use hashtags like #SmallBusinessOwner and #SmallBusinessTok.

The TikTok algorithm uses hashtags to help serve your content to users. If a user has interacted with that hashtag previously they could be shown your content. So, like other platforms, it’s important to pick niche hashtags that fall somewhere between overused and unused.

TikTok is both entertaining and educational

In past years I believed TikTok was purely entertaining content. I based this assumption on the content my teenagers shared with me. DUH. I fell prey to one of my own rules: Don’t let your teenagers tell you how a platform works!

Since joining the TikTok train I’ve found amazing educational content creators who teach about intersectional feminism, racism, and history. There are creators sharing DIY household maintenance and cleaning tips. There are doctors, chiropractors, massage therapists and therapists sharing their knowledge. I’ve found a community of people with disabilities to support my daughter. And so much more. If you are open to learning something, there is someone on this app teaching it.

And THAT is why I’ve come to love TikTok finally.

What about you? Does any of this surprise you?







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