SHORT VIDEO: TikTok and how the public sector can approach it… and a health warning

man set up film reel on vintage 8mm movie projector in dark room

Here we go again… something has come along to shift the comms landscape again.

Yes, yes, I can hear the Statler and Waldorf comments complaining about things changing yet again.

What now?

This post is about the video creating and sharing app TikTok and I’m blogging because its formed a serious chunk of the digital landscape.

What is TikTok?

TikTok is a Chinese-owned platform whose servers are outside China itself to allow for a little more freedom. It’s a fast growing app that is now used by 500 million globally with no readily available UK user stats.

It’s for younger people. Users globally are 41 per cent aged 16 to 24-year-old.

The platform works by allowing you the option to drop music tracks through the TikTok app into your video. The standard video length is 15-seconds but you can make that as long as 60 seconds or as little as three seconds.

What the app is doing is giving younger people the tools to create and edit content with text in the app. Short stories and gags with set-ups and punchlines are achievable by a 10-year-old. Or younger.

Hashtags work really well with content created around topics. Like, #petbff that celebrates pets, #ukcomedy, #ukfood or #noodledance. The issue of climate change works really well. Would green messages work? With some thought behind them, yes.

Here’s an example of content…

And also from Liverpool FC…

The orientation of video is upright rather like Snapchat. It is the opposite of the more common landscape video used by TV and much of the internet.

Who is using TikTok?

More than 500 million users are claimed. Lots of young people. The demographic is much younger than other platforms although some organisations such as Liverpool FC are experimenting with it with 600,000 people following their account while 165,000 follow BBC Radio 1 and 88,000 following the Washington Post.

Health warning #1 China

It’s Chinese-owned. Which shouldn’t be a problem unless you are looking to set state secrets to 15-second videos backed by K-Pop.

Health warning #2 GDPR

But there is a far bigger red flag health warning. The Information Commissioners Office are investigating the platform for a suspicion that it is not keeping to GDPR legislation. In addition, there is the suggestion that children can be messaged by adults without there being safeguards in place.

The thrust of the investigation would appear to be into the architecture of the platform rather than each of TikTok’s many users. But such a review should set some alarm bells ringing if you are thinking of embarking on using it.

Health warning #3 Not many examples… yet

The second note of caution is that there are very few public sector organisations using the platform.

Most use is through young people making content for other young people. What there is is more human content from frontline staff such as paramedics who are making short lip-synch videos for fun. Watching them, its hard to get away from the feeling that this is the trendy uncle breakdancing at a wedding.

But don’t be put off. Be your own case study.

Health warning #4 Trendy uncles

Looking at TikTok, there is a strong flavour of Snapchat in that its users are younger than the average comms person. So comms people are likely to be baffled by it. But I’m not sure that young people would follow public sector organisations. The exception to the rule would be the marvellous Caenhill Countryside Centre in Wiltshire that posts a daily video of animals leaving the barn in the morning that is truly magnificent.

Here is one…

In conclusion

Until the GDPR issues are sorted there is an argument to keep a watching brief.

If it is sorted, then an account that creates young-people focussed content may work. Adding music without the risk of legal action is attractive. But a communicator trying to pump out key messages and calls to action feels like the the wrong thing to do here.

Working with young people for them to create their own content to their own networks may be the best way. But until those GDPR issues are sorted its probably not worth looking into.

Picture credit: istock

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