LONG READ: Where TikTok sits in the media landscape and how the public sector can use it

I’ve lost count of the number of people asking about TikTok.

If middle managers are suggesting TikTok something is clearly happening.

First things first. Cards on the table. I’m slightly sceptical of emerging platforms.

Until they become used by a decent number of people I keep an eye on them. This way, I’ve avoided the hype around Google Buzz, Google Wave and Google Plus.

Just because people suggest it doesn’t always make it a good idea.

But several things make TikTok a real proposition in the public sector.

Here’s your break-down…

The numbers say take TikTok seriously

There are npw 12 million TikTok users in the UK.

Not only that, but they’ve surged to a particular demographic. Ofcom data says almost half UK 16 to 24s use the platform. So, if you need to reach this particular demographic then TikTok is a strong way to do it.

But it’s not just under 24s

While the platform is big with this group it would be wrong to dismiss it as a ghetto for Generation Z.

TikTok are trying really hard to make the platform reach older groups of people too. Watch a Euro 2020 game and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll see TikTok ads around the perimeter as one of the event sponsors.

They’ve also taken out shirt sponsorship of Wrexham FC who are owned by high profile Hollywood duo Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.

Again, these football matches are places where older demographics see the brand name.

Take also the ease to download a TikTok video. If you’ve been scrolling through Facebook or Twitter over the last 12-months the cute dog video you may have seen may well have had the tell-tale TikTok branding.

While other platforms like YouTube guard their content and make it hard to rip them TikTok serves it up on a plate to make it sharable. They really want you to share it in WhatsApp or Facebook.

Me? In the 12-months I’ve been dabbling I’ve ended up following a number of people who don’t do your typical stuff aimed at younger people.

Get over yourself

Firstly, there’s things to be appalled about. There’s a lot of females dancing. Some of them I’m not entirely sure how old they are and I’m entirely sure their parents would have a view of their clothing choice.

I’ve also heard communicators in their 40s be appalled at the rapid edits and K-Pop backing music that can be found on the platform. Wise up, Grandma. Get over yourself. Those videos aren’t aimed at you. The fast edits work on the platform best.

I’ve also heard communicators be appalled at the site of dancing nurses at the start of the pandemic. They may have as point. But I’d argue that setting a tone and direction is important rather than refusing to work with it. There is much more to TikTok than dancing staff if you try.

Then there’s the Information Commissioner’s Office’s questions over the data privacy of children and impending legal action over the topic. Those are things to be aware of.

TikTok is bending over for advertisers

Another factor to take into account is TikTok are making a big push with advertising agencies and businesses. A string of companies are advertising with the platform in the UK and there’s resources to make the process easier.

The big flaw for the public sector however is that advertising can only be localised to the ‘UK’ rather than to say, Dudley in the West Midlands. Or more specifically brass band enthusiasts who are engaged support Stoke City and who live in Dudley. In that department, Facebook platforms still have the edge.

But in the US TikTok are trialling TikTok city-by-city ads.

Broadly, it shows a direction of travel.

The TikTok for Business platform is a good place to have a look at. You’ll find a lot of resources and some data to help you understand the platform.

How to create content?

And this is the $64,000 dollar question.

A load of people have looked at TikTok and scratched their heads. They see the argument and they struggle with exactly how to do it.

There are some filters to think of before going down this path.

More than 70 per cent of people come to TikTok for entertainment. So, if your content is not entertaining it won’t work. If that rules out swathes of what you do that’s fine. It’s worth knowing now.

How to videos work as do place marketing, tourist information, tips and tricks about a place and some good relevant knowledge.

I have to break it to you know that making dull content on a dull subject always fails.

The cunning line from TikTok is ‘Don’t make ads, make TikToks.’

It’s a clever one. They want you to create content that fits into the platform.

So, how can you use it practically?

The corporate channel idea

Places like Liverpool City Council and Lancashire Fire & Rescue have deployed a corporate channel. They’re worth looking at. In particular, Liverpool’s channel catches the eye.

As I understand it, they’re lucky to have a full-time videographer on the payroll with an eye for a shot and a willingness to experiment.

This video from Liverpool, for example, has had 25,000 views and records the progress the city has made from April 2020 to the first dance night test night 12-months later.

Now, if you watch that it doesn’t look like a council product, does it?

That said, I’m not convinced that corporate channels are always the way to go. Good luck to innovators like Liverpool but a one-person comms team will never come near to them.

The NHS has a channel to their credit but this feels like more of a repurposing of existing content than a warm embrace of it. There are others too.

The working with creators idea

TikTok have been pointing large brands down the route of working with established TikTok creators. In other words the people who craft effective video on the platform can make your TikTok with you. You can potentially find them on creator marketplace.

What they mean by this route is to create something that works on the platform and has the spirit of the platform rather than cutting and pasting existing content.

This approach led to this cracking video for M&S Food whereby a singleton creator celebrated the food by making a slightly pastiche video that saw her tucking in alone to a M&S meal deal.

It has all the breathy ‘This isn’t food, this is M&S food’ schtick but the twist is it’s for one.

Take a look:

It’s a cracking video.

It’s clearly on brand but playing with it.

Of course, these formal routes probably aren’t open to most parts of the public sector. But it does raise the really important concept of encouraging others to create content for you either by approaching them or by setting a challenge that people can pile in on.

The joining in with a challenge or creating one idea

Making a video with a hashtag is a good way of getting it in front of people who are scrolling through loads of content with the hashtag.

For example, there’s the #accentchallenge hashtag.

This video by user @ceeceejax is a video in response to one poster by someone from Northern Ireland to say a list of words on your local accent, like ‘baby’, ‘water’ and ‘film’.

The end result shows a celebration of local dialect.

If you were looking to reach a Black Country audience on TikTok, this is one way to start doing that with the right hashtags added.

‘Baby’ ‘water’ ‘film’ and ‘got yer jab, bab?’ would go down a storm in the Black Country.

The venue account idea

For this, the venue is the thing.

Full props to the Black County Living Museum on this who have set a high bar with their fun and educational videos that both embrace the sprit of TikTok but also their mission to educate.

Listening to the architect of their strategy, they make the videos in consultation between the costumed demonstrators and the marketing manager. They will look at TikTok see what trends are working and see if they can make something from that.

They also don’t shy a way from the fact this is work and takes time, planning, shooting and editing. But they get brilliant results with 1.2 million followers which they’ve seen translate into visits to the website.

Interestingly, their Facebook is different and more about celebrating nostalgia. Their TikTok isn’t because it’s a different audience. That’s such a big lesson.

The employee channel idea

The NHS is particularly good at this.

Here, Dr Karan Raj has an account where he gives basic medical tips that he think people will find useful. Why you should not take ibuprofen on an empty stomach, for example.

In this one, its what people need to know about the latest COVID-19 wave.

Other nurses, doctors and paramedics are also on TikTok making content.

That said, most of these NHS channels don’t feel as though they are official. Good, because that’s their strength.

But what makes TikTok different?

I’ve spoken at length about the numbers and the approaches. You may be wondering what that is.

TikTok is a portrait video platform that throws video at you. It starts on the For You screen where TikTok shows you things it thinks you’ll like based on previous viewing.

Click through to ‘Following’ and you’ll see people who you follow.

You can search with ‘discover’ and tap through on the hashtags added to videos you watch.

More than 90 per cent of TikTok users just watch rather than create but if you did want to make things there’s a stack of tools and functionality within the editing functionality.

You can learn more about TikTok and other emerging channels as part of the ESSENTIAL COMMS SKILLS BOOSTER workshops I run.

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