TikTok, subcultures and the power of the niche.

Are you on TarotTok or SmuttyBookTok?

How about Dark Academia TikTok or early ‘00s British musical theatre reality TV TikTok? Or no-idea-what-im-talking-about-Tok?

The Gen-Z favourite social media platform’s fast-working algorithm makes it easier than ever to find content, creators and communities that share your passions and interests, no matter how small or niche. In fact, the more niche the better.

Go Niche

I’d never given trains a second glance except in frustration if I’ve made a fool of myself running towards one that left without me. But last year, like literally millions of others, I found myself hooked on watching one enthusiastic British trainspotter by the name of Francis Bourgeois aka TikTok Train Guy. 

A 21 year-old guy starts posting trainspotting videos during lockdown, now has 2.2 million followers, over 38 million likes… and a Gucci x North Face campaign.

Wearing a GoPro on his head for a somewhat unflattery face-cam, Bourgeois comes almost close to tears with excitement at seeing certain models. He is joyful, expressive and unfiltered when it comes to sharing and talking about his passion –  and he’s attracted an audience in the millions.

In further proof that no niche is too niche…

Another TikTok success story has been 31 year-old Brit, Miles Laflin aka @thep00lguy. A swimming pool engineer, Laflin has amassed over 11 million followers (and international media coverage) for his videos of… you guessed it… pool cleaning. Sure it’s no ‘Renegade’ dance, but hundreds of millions of people watch his pool cleaning transformation videos as he talks through the often laborious process of turning pools from green to clean in just seconds of content.

An intoxicating intersection of before and afters, oddly satisfying aesthetics and #CleanTok hype, it was an “unexpected” result for Laflin – and no doubt a welcome boost for his brand, too.

While it was once cool not to care, TikTok encourages (and arguably prioritises) users to go “full-geek” on the subjects and topics they’re excited and engrossed by. A popular space for self-expression, it’s proving the catalyst – or at least the vehicle – for the emergence and celebration of subcultures and the niche in a way that hasn’t been seen in a long time. 

Let’s be clear, TikTok hasn’t created subcultures. 

They do and have always existed and emerged across many forms; from zines to blogs to podcasts. But what’s special here is how accessible and almost democratic they feel on sites like TikTok, where lingering over one video on your #ForYou page can send you deep into a subculture you never even knew existed two minutes ago. It could offer a fascinating short break from your day or introduce you to the passion or people you’ve long been searching for. 

Forging a place for themselves in a confusing and often bleak world, Gen Z are finding comfort and belonging in the wonderful, wacky and different ‘communities’ TikTok and the wider internet offers. 

There are undoubtedly parallels to the early-internet forums, chatrooms and social platforms that came before it, including Reddit. A sense of anonymity, focus on true community and a copy- rather than picture-led platform allowed Reddit to become the home of all manner of niche. TikTok takes some of these elements and adds a hyper-intelligent algorithm and full screen visuals. 

As researcher Tim Squirrel points out on Quartz, while Facebook and Instagram focus on connecting you with the people you know sharing things you don’t care about, Reddit’s (and TikTok’s) strengths come from instead connecting you with strangers sharing things you do. 

So what does this mean for your brand and content strategy?

Focussing on psychographics (values and interests) rather than demographics (age, gender, location) has always been our strategy approach at Willow and Blake. It gets you to the heart of why people want or care about what you have to offer.

We’re not telling you to head to your nearest train station. Instead, what is a subject or topic or thing that you or your brand is genuinely passionate about? It could be directly related to your product or service, or so niche that it becomes an attraction and audience-builder in itself.

Small and specific can be powerful. It can help you build an engaged audience and community, establish trust and credibility and earn customer loyalty. Because being everything to everyone is often a sure-fire way to mean nothing to anyone. 

Need to know your niche? Let’s strategise.

Need help talking to them? We know just what to say.