· 5 min read
In the TikTok era, even dorm rooms become a backdrop for #content. With more than 3 million incoming freshmen looking to fly their parents’ coops this fall, students are flocking to TikTok for inspiration on how to make their concrete cells sparkle.
There’s a cottage industry of influencers and home decor brands ready to help these newly independent students glam up their tiny homes. MTV’s Cribs meets Extreme Home Makeover, but for dorms.
“We’re seeing a lot of dorm room hauls,” Mae Karwowski, CEO and founder of influencer marketing firm Obviously, told Retail Brew. “Dorm room decorating has really taken off and become its own category.”
The proof is in the platform: On TikTok, “#dorm” is tagged in 27,000+ videos and has 299+ million views. “#dormessentials” has garnered more than 47 million views. “#Dormlife” had 2.7 billion views at the time of writing. And students won’t be cutting costs on comfort this year; according to Deloitte, back-to-college consumers will shell out $26.7 billion, or $1,459 per student.
One company at the forefront of dorm makeovers: Dormify, a home decor and furniture e-tailer that specializes in transforming small college rooms into sleek photo-ready pads. It’s no surprise, then, that the back-to-school season accounts for nearly 80% of Dormify’s annual sales. The company declined to say what its annual revenue is.
Mother-daughter duo Amanda and Karen Zuckerman founded the company in 2011, just as Instagram’s culture of aesthetic curation began to take off. But now, TikTok, where 150,000+ people follow Dormify’s account, helps inform their business strategy.
For instance, Dormify’s page offers snippets of dorm life, room makeovers, tips and tricks, and other “relatable” content, like this two-part series on sororities as dorm rooms, which has racked up a total of about 445,000 views. Or this simple yet effective video on storage tips, which has amassed 15,000 views.
The company, with a staff of 25, taps TikTok trends to help with product selection. What are students buying? What do they wish they could buy? Headboards are the number one trend right now, Amanda Zuckerman claimed. Accordingly, Dormify introduced a headboard with built-in charging ports. DIY removable wallpaper is another hot concept that Dormify sourced from TikTok.
“It’s not only the individual product, it’s the aesthetic that's being pulled together,”Zuckerman added. The bedroom and product photos that appear on the website are often based on what the team sees on TikTok to “capture the look that students are dreaming of.”
- Dormify designs dorm rooms to match different TV show characters’ styles, following the “What I would wear as X character on X show” TikTok trend.
- The strategy earned them some viral love, like this video (235,000 views) about what the dorms of the Gilmore Girls cast would look like.
The medium is the message
Hana Ben-Shabat, founder of research firm Gen Z Planet, recommended approaching TikTok like a mood board.
“Gen Z is looking for inspiration. Focusing on product, product, product is not going to be enough. And if you want to go after this generation, you absolutely have to be [on TikTok],” she told us. “What [Gen Z consumers] respond to the most is authenticity. They appreciate influencers because they’re somebody they can trust.”
Ben-Shabat said home decor is among the top categories on TikTok, along with apparel and beauty, with a focus on daily Amazon finds.
- 90% of Gen Z say they discover new products and brands on social media, compared to 80% of Millennials and 54% of Gen X, according to a Gen Z Planet report.
Students go to TikTok for design ideas, product roundups, and “hack-oriented content,” Zuckerman explained.
“TikTok really has everything when it comes to the college customer,” she said. Think: dorm room before-and-after transformations, how-tos, and college essentials you didn’t know you needed.
And when social media causes us to turn our private spaces public, it adds pressure to decorate your bedroom to function as a shareable slice of life.
“It's also a place where students are producing their own content, since there are so many creators in this age group,” Zuckerman said. “It’s their own production studios in these tiny rooms.”
Influencers and interns
Last year, Dormify had over 100 TikTok creator partnerships, which can involve anything from gifting to “dorm room collaboration” campaigns.
Dormify worked with two influencers, Emmy Hartman (2.1 million TikTok followers) and Katie Feeney (6.4 million), to design and photograph their dorm decor as shoppable content on the company’s website.
Out of Dormify’s 57 room themes—product collections based on specific palettes and styles—Hartman and Feeney’s personalized dorms have been in the top five best sellers for the majority of the summer.
Dormify also calls on its young ambassadors—around 60 college students—and student interns to star in, and often create, the company’s TikToks, as a way to connect with its audience, Zuckerman said.
One of the company’s interns, Matt Travaglini, told us there’s an ongoing group chat about ideas and videos, and ways to keep up with the platform’s endless cascade of back-to-school content.
“Since the clock hit August 1st, TikTok has been overrun with college content,” Travaglini said. “This is the month of college across all social media platforms, but especially on TikTok.”—JG
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