Following a decade in professional kitchens, including Michelin-starred restaurants, Poppy O’Toole is trying on a new apron: social influencer.
O’Toole has amassed more than 2 million TikTok followers since joining the platform in 2020, where her fans eat up the self-proclaimed Potato Queen’s recipes. O’Toole joined James Stafford, head of partnerships and community at TikTok, for a fireside chat with Adweek’s Rebecca Stewart during Social Media Week Europe. The conversation focused on how TikTok reignited O’Toole’s passion for food and cooking and how she built up a loyal following centered around potatoes.
Starting from the ground up
Like many others, O’Toole said after losing her job during the Covid-19 pandemic, she was looking for a creative outlet. One day she came across a recipe video on TikTok that sprouted the idea for her own videos.
“I thought, ‘oh, I can do that!’ It was just fun and creative, and I could get out recipes I thought people would appreciate,” she said. “Initially, it was just people wanting to see what I was eating and what I was up to, and it just snowballed from there.”
Stafford said TikTok’s ability to create communities around niche content, just like how O’Toole built up a following centered around potato recipes, is part of its secret recipe for success.
“TikTok allowed people to find joy in content that they weren’t finding anywhere else—a lot of niche content, content from people who maybe wouldn’t have found an audience elsewhere, were suddenly getting discovered on the platform,” he explained. “It was really invigorating, and it’s really easy to make your own content on TikTok, that really spurred a successful period of growth for us in 2020 and 2021.”
Harnessing the power of the niche TikTok is full of niches, from #CleanTok to dancing, fitness, and #RelationshipTok; if there’s a topic, interest, or hobby, no matter how niche it is, there are likely people making TikToks about it. O’Toole said once she figured this out, her simple love of spuds took her following to new heights.
“You see like different corners of the niches on TikTok, and that’s when I went full potato—and it grabbed everyone’s attention! It’s so niche that you can tag your friends that love potatoes and instantly build a community, and it keeps them there and engaged,” she said. “What’s great about my community is they know I’m a chef, and they love the other recipes I do too, and I’ve been able to build up this two-way communication with them.”
Building lasting partnerships
Community is key for brands on TikTok too. The panelists agree that brands should lean into the community that TikTok creators have built and focus on creating long-term partnerships with them rather than one-off transactions.
“You should really value people like Poppy who have worked to build a community on the platform and work with them as a partner in reaching and engaging that audience,” Stafford said.
“Working with brands that I know I’ll have a long partnership with is always better,” O’Toole agreed. “You want to build the brand with the person and then go together as one, and that always goes out to a bigger audience who are like, ‘oh, she’s been using this for years. I trust that now.’ So, it’s always better to have longevity in partnership.”