“I'm too old for TikTok.”
Had I been asked about the video-sharing app a month ago, that cliched refrain would have been my response. As a millennial, the platform formally known as musical.ly seemed like a trend that I had no business taking on.
Then came the quarantine.
As every aspect of American life changed and adapted to the coronavirus pandemic, so have my content consumption habits. I found myself with a surplus of time on my hands and an overwhelming desire to escape the constant barrage of headlines and panic posts that were dominating my feeds on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. After feeling fatigued by Instagram’s overly-curated posts and stories that seemed to be inundated with an ever-increasing supply of ads, I decided to give TikTok a try, and I haven’t looked back since.
TikTok, the sixth-largest social network, provides users with an endless feed of short-form mobile videos in the spirit of now-defunct Vine. In leaked audio, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg described TikTok as “Explore for stories,” referencing Instagram’s popular Explore tab. The experience is similar, but TikTok uses an algorithm that serves users a mix of dance videos, animal content, and video memes on its “For You” pages. In 2019, the viral video app was installed over 738 million times, making it the second most downloaded app of the year. While it’s clear that TikTok is tremendously popular — and a particularly fun way to escape reality for a while - the question remains: should your organization be on TikTok?
For political organizations, TikTok’s ties to China and the possibility of its compliance with the Chinese government’s intelligence operations might be a disqualifying factor. In December 2019, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) advised presidential candidates to not use the app over security concerns. While these ties have yet to deter the app’s 800 million active users, we recommend considering whether your organization is comfortable taking on the potential risk.
Who are you trying to reach?
Perhaps one of the most important considerations to ponder before committing is whether the audience you’re trying to reach is even on TikTok in the first place. Sixty percent of the app’s U.S. users are 16- to 24- year-olds. If you’re trying to reach a more mature demographic, TikTok isn’t likely to be worth your time, at least not for now.
Do you have an authentic voice to share?
Authenticity is paramount. As The Atlantic put it: “Being “on trend”...is key to operating on TikTok and many other social networks: Simply put, users need to understand standards, trends, inside jokes, and other nuances of the app before they post. Otherwise they run the risk of appearing inauthentic—one of the biggest online faux pas and a quick way to lose audience trust.”
Consider if TikTok’s meme-heavy format is consistent with your organization’s tone and if you feel confident operating in a space where trends change rapidly and what’s relevant one week may be out of date the next. If you find yourself thinking “I just don’t get it,” don’t force it. Delegate TikTok content creation to a team member who’s engaged on the platform and enthusiastic about meeting the challenge.
The Washington Post’s Dave Jorgenson is a prime example of such delegation. The Post’s account, with its more than 423,700 followers, is managed by Jorgenson, who’s compared the paper’s expansion into TikTok to its past forays into editorial cartoons and crossword puzzles. Jorgenson’s content isn’t merely headlines molded to fit TikTok’s specs, but instead a mix of comedic videos and memes that convey his understanding of the platform and what hits with its audience. As a result, a newspaper with an average subscriber age that is likely well above TikTok’s target demo is being ingratiated with an expanded audience.
Political and issue advocacy
For those of us who work in this space, it’s worth interrogating whether or not TikTok is the best venue to convey our messaging, grow our audiences, and move users to action. It’s important to note that any efforts in this space will rely entirely on organic success, as according to a post shared by TikTok in October 2019, the platform “...will not allow paid ads that promote or oppose a candidate, current leader, political party or group, or issue at the federal, state, or local level — including election-related ads, advocacy ads, or issue ads.”
For examples of advocacy work already underway, look to the organization Youth Climate Strike: the group has number of state-specific accounts — the largest being Climate Strike AZ with over 14,400 followers — where student ambassadors share videos that adapt their platform positions into engaging videos that feel authentic and tailor-made for TikTok.
The People for Bernie movement has successfully channeled their online momentum into a TikTok account with nearly 10,000 followers and videos that score thousands of views and likes. Despite the DNC’s guidance, the recent candidate himself has an account, where his nearly 450,000 followers are served a mix of original and credited content.
As TikTok’s popularity continues to rise, organizations will undoubtedly find new and innovative ways to adapt its functionality to meet their goals. If you have the capacity, enthusiasm, and creativity to devote to this burgeoning social network, the future is bright.
If your organization is doing political or advocacy work on TikTok, or if you want to shout out another group doing great work, we’d love to hear about it. Drop us a line here.
Still not sure if TikTok is a good fit? We can help you figure out where you should be spending your time and resources to best reach your audience online. Book a call with our team at acmstrategies.com/schedule-a-call.