Like many restaurants in the fall of 2021, Lakewood, Colorado-based Vietnamese seafood Clawful was on the verge of closing for good. Then a 22-year-old with 700,000 followers and a penchant for TikTok changed everything.
After hearing from a friend about the restaurant’s plight, Eli Stone founder of Bouta, a GenZ consulting firm based out of Denver, volunteered his services to Clawful’s owners, Korean immigrant couple Sam Han and Maria Song. What followed was a 57-second emotional appeal to save the family-run business. The video shared the 59-year-old owners’ story of why they started their restaurant-and its miserable timing, which was just a few weeks before the pandemic took hold of the U.S. in March of 2020. The video also detailed how Covid has left them reeling and in need of customers–stat.
In the first 48 hours of airing on October 6th of 2021, the TikTok video Stone created reached more than 580,000 people with over 450,000 views accumulating in the first 48 hours. While the video didn’t contain a specific ask, people came from all over to eat at the restaurant, say the founders. That weekend alone generated the business $24,000 in revenue. The next week generated $18,000, and the third week was roughly $15,000. Prior to the video, the founders say they were lucky if the restaurant generated $700 to $1,000 a week.
The impact of this campaign stunned everyone involved. Stone originally hoped the video would garner 10,000 views, maybe 15,000 if it really took off. The Clawful founders themselves hadn’t originally put much stock in social media prior to the experience, but now they’re converts.
“We couldn’t believe this situation was happening at all,” said Han. Although the business’s sales have slowed since the viral video, he is hopeful that it will continue to make the rounds with would-be customers.
While fleeting, the experience serves as a testament to the influence TikTok can have on small businesses. Here are a few key takeaways from Stone on how other businesses can see similar results:
1. Reach out to influencers.
Whether you are old, young, immigrant, or native, Stone recommends reaching out to TikTok creators. They “love helping where they can,” he says. Stone notes that he also turns to other creators for ideas and advice. In devising a strategy for this video, for example, Stone says he tapped a lot of friends who watch TikTok for additional advice on what approach to take. Once he had a story outlined and scripted he sent it to a fellow content creator for feedback, too.
2. Decide on the format.
If you are looking to share your own story on TikTok like the one Stone developed for Clawful, it’s important to decide early if the type of content you’re looking to create is entertainment or a story, says Stone. Entertainment on TikTok is content that leans more on comedy, a talent, or something not entirely driven by a purpose. A story, rather, has a clear objective such as selling, spreading awareness, or sharing something intimate.
3. Research what works.
Every business is different, of course, but it can be worthwhile to see how businesses similar to yours have succeeded with the medium. In the case of Clawful, Stone acknowledged that, in his research, many people related to immigrants moving from a foreign country to America to provide a better opportunity for their kids.
Stone also happened upon a successful use-case: a video about Sushiya, a sushi restaurant in Dallas. The owner’s grandson, Andrew Kim, made a TikTok video asking people to come to visit his grandfather’s restaurant because it was struggling due to the pandemic. The video amassed over 6 million views, and the response from the community was incredible, so Stone knew that it was possible to mirror that type of success.
4. Ask for help.
It is difficult to engineer a viral video. You can have all the ingredients that make a great video and still not go viral. Creating authentic content, especially content that is purpose-driven and capable of resonating with people on a broad spectrum won’t guarantee virality but it can boost your chances for success.
Stone adds: “our initial strategy was to tag and get people to tag one of the biggest food influencers on TikTok in Denver specifically and during this time we were also DMing any people we could find publishing articles or blogs regarding food.” Stone was aware that these outlets would provide additional exposure and help share the video. The initial strategy was a success because @denverfoodscene, a TikTok page with a fan base of over 450,000 followers dedicated to promoting Denver’s best restaurants, ended up resharing Stones’ original TikTok as well as creating a video of its own. In addition, both WestWord, a local news source in Denver, as well as 9News published pieces about Clawful and the TikTok video.
“People obviously resonated with the story, and that’s my passion, getting people to authentically resonate with things. As long as that touches them, that’s all that matters to me,” Stone said.
You can find Eli Stone’s original TikTok post here and below: