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Working & the Economy

TikTok and Google Docs: Small Businesses Thrive After Adapting to the Pandemic

Jacqueline Kuntzman, Latoya Thomas, and Allie Rose Mitrovich used social media to expand their businesses during the pandemic. Screenshots.

Jacqueline Kuntzman plans to continue the candle and soap-making business she started during the pandemic on social media after things begin to open back up.

The full-time student and mother of two relied on popular social media apps like Tik Tok to gain customers over the past year.

The pandemic sped up the online shopping trend that existed prior, said Roland Rust, executive director of the Center for Excellence and Service at the University of Maryland Smith School of Business.

“We are in an environment where a substantial percentage of the buying is going to happen online and that is probably always going to be true,” Rust said.

Tik Tok has also helped Kuntzman meet other small business owners, who support and buy from one another, she said.

Ninety percent of consumers will buy products from a brand they follow on social media, found a 2020 study by software company, Sprout Social Inc.

Any smart business goes where the people are and, during the pandemic, they weren’t walking down the street, Rust said.

“There is no way of getting your business out there except for social media,” said Kuntzman, who has shipped her products internationally.

Last March, Allie Rose Mitrovich started her sticker business and began posting videos of the creation process on Tik Tok.

The majority of her sales, in the beginning, came from one of her Tik Tok videos, which went viral and racked up more than 2.4 million views.

Social media represents the perfect commercial response to the restrictions imposed because of the pandemic, said Johan Ferreira, a visiting professor of marketing at George Washington University School of Business.

And social media platforms drive consumer awareness of small businesses’ products, while costs are cheaper than hosting events or creating television advertisements, he said.

According to a 2021 report from Hootsuite, a social media management platform, Tik Tok is the second-largest social media app for consumer spending. The social dating app Tinder was the first.

Whether it is a mom-and-pop shop or someone baking cakes in the kitchen, every business today has to be digital, said Philippe Duverger, director of graduate programs in marketing intelligence and interactive marketing at Towson University.

“For everyone [the pandemic] has given the opportunity to try out new stuff and accelerate the penetration of habits and services,” Duverger said. “Online is where the game is played.”

Latoya Thomas started her Instagram account before the pandemic, using it mainly for personal purposes. However, since the pandemic began, Thomas has dedicated her account strictly to business.

Everybody is selling something on Instagram, she said.

The real estate broker and small business owner was diagnosed with lupus at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and was apprehensive about being around people.

Social media was a way for her to continue work without fearing for her life.

Promoting yourself and your business on social media is an area that has exploded during the pandemic, said Gil Appel, assistant professor of marketing at George Washington University School of Business.

People are not commuting, they are home and social media was one of the limited outlets you could use to talk to other people, Appel said.

“I’m not reaching anybody sitting behind a desk. I need to be out and about,” said Thomas, who makes videos with her daughter and follows “mom groups” on the app.

Ferreira said there is a general misconception that only the younger generation use and are comfortable with social media.

Social media platforms have traditionally skewed towards younger generations, Rust said. However, that is increasingly no longer the case, he said. Rust’s 92-year-old mother is on social media because she wants to know what “the kids” are up to, he said.

Even so, the world of social media small businesses is not always easy to describe.

Mitrovich said it is difficult to explain what she does and the legitimacy of her work.

“Social media is my lifeline, I consider it the biggest part of my job,” Mitrovich said.

The older generation will feel disconnected if they don’t follow along and it will widen the gap between the generations on how business is dealt with in general, Duverger said.

Even old school industries are adapting to a new online environment.

Ruth Anne Phillips, offers editing and proofreading services at her small business, Turning Prose LLC. During the pandemic, large publishing houses moved what were typically paper-and-pen processes online.

Phillips, who is also a lecturer at the University of Maryland, said there was a learning curve for those traditional hard copy publishing houses.

The biggest issue has been problems with the functionality of documents on the cloud, she said; if there are too many markings on a document it slows down. But sending large manuscripts weighing 10 pounds is not something Phillips thinks will return after the pandemic.

“It would feel like a step backward,” she said.

Ferreira hesitates to say whether the world will shift to solely online business. What he can confidently say is that social media has become a place for businesses to thrive.

“It is definitely a real channel for anybody who doubted that was the case before,” Ferreira said.

Born and raised in Annapolis, Natalie Drum is a freelance reporter and graduate student at the University of Maryland. She works as an investigative reporter at the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland. She can be reached at [email protected]