How to use Tik Tok, Instagram and other social media to launch a business

Generation Z grew up on social media: We've been building our list of friends and followers since we were young. So, college students who want to try their hand at launching a business, have a ready customer base and marketing platform at their fingertips.

Social media platforms recognize that potential and have been implementing trading tools. Pinterest and Facebook were among the first to launch shopping/marketplace features and Instagram followed a few years later, allowing small businesses to reach millions, and in some cases billions, of users. This has been a game changer for startups.

In August, TikTok announced a partnership with Shopify, where Shopify merchants who have a TikTok for Business account can add a shopping tab to their profiles. Reality star Kylie Jenner was one of the first users to try TikTok's new shopping feature, using it to market her Kylie Cosmetics beauty products to her 37 million followers.

Kylie Jenner attends the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2018 in New York City.
Kylie Jenner attends the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2018, in New York City.
Dia Dipasupil | WireImage | Getty Images

“I built my business on social media; It's where my fans go first for the next Kylie Cosmetics," Jenner said in a statement.

And that goes for college students, too: His friends already follow him on social media to stay on top of his news, so if he's launching a business, they're there waiting to hear from him. That makes it much easier, and cheaper, to start a business. You don't have to create a marketing plan or propose thousands for advertising.

And, when you think about how Facebook has almost 3 billion monthly users, TikTok and Instagram have a billion each, and Pinterest has 444 million users, the potential growth for her business is huge.

Instagram currently has over 200 million business accounts on its app. And, nearly half of surveyed Instagram users (44%) said they use features like shopping tags and the Instagram Shop tab to shop every week.

Kerisa Mason, a freshman at Baruch College, started a custom art business on Instagram. She launched the business during the pandemic.

All of her business comes from social media. Mason likes the addition of Instagram Reels (short video clips) and the ability to post footage of her art on Instagram.

Kerisa Mason holding her painting of "Girl on Fire" from her custom-made art business
Kerisa Mason holding her painting of “Girl on Fire” from her custom-made art business.
Source: Kerisa Mason

“Instagram is a way for me to share my art with friends and strangers while working with the algorithm to expand my business,” he said. "I was inspired to do it mainly by TikTok and my friends who encouraged me."

Alexis Larreategui, a recent SUNY Plattsburgh graduate, launched her vegan skincare business on Instagram. A few years ago, she discovered that she couldn't pronounce some of the ingredients in her skincare products. After researching and discovering how damaging it was to her skin, LarreƔtegui looked for more organic remedies. Having started the business in college, she also understands the difficulties students can face when shopping for products.

“My whole mission was to provide people with accessibility and affordability. If you're like me, you were in college and you're looking for an alternative from the major brands, something that's reasonably priced,” she explained.

Alexis Larreategui wearing a chocolate face mask from her vegan skin care brand.
Alexis Larreategui wearing a chocolate face mask from her vegan skincare brand.
Source: Alexis Larreategui

Beyond reaching out to your own friends on social media, these platforms also help other fans and businesses discover you and your products.

Instagram recently introduced new tools that will support content creators and brands to make it easier to discover them and collaborate with other brands. Among the new features to be implemented, the most important may be the ability to find the best creators for brand campaigns using unique filters. Collaboration with other brands can help businesses gain more followers and spread brand name awareness.

“Instagram helps me reach a larger audience. It is an easy platform to communicate with clients and collaborators”, said Larreategui. "I've collaborated with 5-10 brands and it wasn't anything big, just giving away giveaways featuring our products or promoting each other on our page."

87% of people surveyed said they took action after seeing product information on Instagram, such as following a brand or making an online purchase.

When college students launch a business in college, it is important where the business goes after graduation; whether it becomes a side hustle or the main source of income.

The price varies, but Mason can earn up to $45 for one of his pieces. She considers her business a side job and will keep it going after she graduates.

“I feel like my business will become a second source of income,” Mason said. "I want to have my career and then my business is something that I would do for fun, but it also makes me money."

Larreategui also sees her business as a side hustle, but she wants to see it grow and engage more with other brands. Every month is different, but he has earned up to $300 a month.

Interested in starting her own business?

“One thing I would say is just get started,” said Chantel Richardson, who runs a consulting business and uses multiple social apps. "Go out and learn [because] we're in a generation where everything is easily accessible, so I feel like if you want it, go out and get it."

Mukund Iyengar, a professor at Stevens Institute of Technology who also runs several programs focused on launching student startups, says college is the perfect place to think outside the box and come up with new and bizarre ideas.

“College is the time to be as ambitious as you can ever be because you really have nothing to lose,” Iyengar said.

Have a value proposition.

Melinda Emerson, an author, small business expert, and marketing consultant known as SmallBizLady says the key to starting a business is having what's called a value proposition.

"You have to have something in your business that your competitor can't easily duplicate," Emerson said. “Find something that is unique, something that makes your customers feel special because it's all about creating an amazing customer experience.”

Do competitive research.

Larreategui suggests searching YouTube for "how-to" videos and seeing what other people have done. He knows what other products exist, how those creators market them, and what platforms they use.

“When I was deciding how to set up my brand, I was struggling, but after looking at videos, people showed me that I should create a certain aesthetic and follow a color scheme,” he said.

Take a business class in college.

Mason believes that taking a class will equip students with more knowledge about aspects of running a business.

“If you have an idea for a business, it would be nice to have the educational side to maximize the reach that [you have],” she said.

Do product testing and get feedback.

Emerson knows that there are different reasons why people buy, and testing is crucial.

“The first time you post something, people may not like it, so you may have to remix it and repost it,” he said. "Get feedback from strangers, and social media is an easy way to do that."

Choose one platform first.

Mike Allton, director of strategic partnerships at Agorapulse, which makes social media management tools, says companies should focus on one platform at first.

“My advice is to pick a platform and go all out on that platform until you see success,” Allton said. “Once you've seen success, and you should know what that means [to you]; once you get to that point, as soon as you can, expand to other platforms and diversify your platform.”

Find a mentor.

Allton thinks it's important to talk to someone about the project you're about to start.

“They're not going to be experts on everything, so identity who will give you their time and expertise, and identify what your strengths are,” he said.

Richardson believes that it is important to follow your dreams and work hard to do so.

"We're in a generation where everything is easily accessible, so if you want it, go out and get it," she explained.

But don't just go for your dreams blindly.

"Dream with your eyes open," said Iyengar. "People who dream with their eyes open tend to do something about [the problem]."


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