TikTok is one of the fastest-growing social media platforms, with over a billion monthly active users — more than Snapchat, Pinterest, and Twitter, and quickly catching up to Instagram, according to Wallaroo Media. But many advocacy organizations are hesitant to take the plunge and start posting videos, even if they already have a presence and well-defined social media strategy for other platforms.
However, TikTok is a social network that can help advocacy organizations engage their audience, reach thousands of new potential advocates, and show their brand’s unique personality. The “advocacy” hashtag on TikTok has nearly 70 million views, and TikTok has options to fundraise built right into the platform.
We understand learning a new platform and breaking into its audience can be daunting so we talked to the pros to bring you their best tips to learn how TikTok could help your advocacy organization reach its goals.
1. It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect
More than other social media platforms, TikTok audiences demand authenticity and don’t require a perfectly polished final product. TikTok videos aren’t heavily branded and there’s no need to hire a videographer to shoot something. Whereas on Instagram, feeds are carefully curated with great lighting and a uniform aesthetic, TikTok offers variety across profiles, which is part of what keeps people swiping to see what will be next.
“Uniqueness is a big part of what attracts people to TikTok,” says Jennifer Pullinger, a social media strategist. The creative tools at your disposal are more varied and robust on TikTok, meaning “you can create one video a thousand different ways,” she says. There’s more opportunity to be creative — just pick up your phone and shoot a video in the moment.
As is the nature of the TikTok algorithm, some videos will have great success and others will fall flat — don’t be afraid to fail when getting started on this platform. Removing TikTok videos can harm your account, so it’s never a good idea to take a video down, even if it doesn’t perform as well as you hoped.
2. Show Your Brand Personality
While TikTok content doesn’t need to be highly branded or polished, it’s a great platform to show your brand’s personality and what makes it stand out. “TikTok lets you be really playful and it encourages and rewards you for being vulnerable and real,” says Heather Decker, retail and communications associate at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, an organization whose TikTok account currently has 17.6K followers.
For example, Decker says they were hesitant to use trending songs on TikTok that included curse words, as it seemed too unprofessional for their organization. But she quickly realized TikTok is a less formal platform that provides an opportunity for brands to “let their unique culture stand out,” she says. TikTok is not the social platform to present the most polished version of your brand.
The audience on TikTok values the opportunity to get a glimpse into an organization’s culture and mission and see what it believes in. “TikTok gives you a place where your audience can see behind your polished curtain,” Decker says.
It can be a challenge to find your organization’s voice on TikTok, admits Jonny Yaollen, senior manager of social media at Share Our Strength and manager of the @nokidhungry TikTok account, which currently has 45.3K followers. “It’s not enough to follow the trends, you have to find a unique voice,” he says. For his organization, it’s the one-on-one explainer videos that incorporate animations, which appeal directly to its audience.
3. Engage With Other Creators
In addition to making your own content, advocacy organizations should engage with other accounts on TikTok — whether it’s similar groups or individual advocates. “TikTok has been useful from a community management standpoint,” says Yaollen. “It’s good to be on the platform to see how other people are talking about our organization and fundraising on their own channels.”
When you see your advocates talking about your work or fundraising on their accounts, leave a comment on their video thanking them or even create a video reply. You can clarify questions and encourage people to take action on advocacy issues as you engage with the community. Yaollen also engages with other accounts that are working to end child hunger to find a larger audience who is interested in the topic.
In addition to following like-minded organizations and advocates, Decker suggests following accounts of people giving TikTok advice. These accounts provide trend alerts, TikTok tips, and best practices. Following these types of accounts can help you stay informed about what’s trending on the platform and how to optimize your results.
4. Understand the Fundamentals of Storytelling
Like any other social media platform, at its core, TikTok is a storytelling medium. The principles of telling a good story apply whether the story is in a long-form blog, an abridged tweet, or even a TikTok video. Mastering the basics of telling a compelling story will ensure your TikTok content is engaging and gets eyeballs.
“It’s important to know the fundamentals of how audio, video, and the written word work together to communicate your message,” Pullinger says. When telling a story on TikTok, it’s especially crucial to include a human element with a person-centered message, preferably letting a person do the talking. Whether it’s an employee at your organization, a volunteer, or someone impacted by the work you do, a human-centered approach is often the most engaging on TikTok.
”"It’s important to know the fundamentals of how audio, video, and the written word work together to communicate your message."Jennifer PullingerSocial media strategist
5. Handle Negative Comments Gracefully
Unlike other social media platforms, many people will see your TikTok videos who are not followers and have no prior knowledge of your organization. Even if you only have 10 followers, with engaging content you can still go viral thanks to the app’s algorithm.
While this can be a great thing for growing your audience, it can also bring negative comments to videos, as Decker found out after one of her videos blew up. The video was of Buddy, a “very ancient blind horse” who has no eyes. “It’s jarring to look at if you’ve never seen him before,” she admits. Decker posted a video of Buddy and used a song that was trending on TikTok at the time: “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani.
While the video quickly received much more attention than Decker anticipated, there were “a lot of really negative comments and people saying he should be put down,” she says. Rather than feel discouraged, Decker took these emotionally-charged comments as an opportunity to educate.
Decker created video replies to some of the negative comments educating on Buddy’s condition, and these videos got a huge amount of engagement as well. She found that creating video replies to comments is a great way to boost engagement. “So much of what came out of that video was an opportunity for education,” she says.
6. Understand TikTok’s Algorithm
TikTok’s algorithm is distinct from other social media platforms — the app “prioritizes recency less and relevancy more,” Yaollen says. The algorithm analyzes what kind of content people are engaging with and uses that data to recommend content on their For You page. This means people engaging with similar causes will likely be exposed to your content.
TikTok describes its For You page algorithm as “A stream of videos curated to your interests, making it easy to find content and creators you love … powered by a recommendation system that delivers content to each user that is likely to be of interest to that particular user.” Factors for recommending a video depend on user interactions (such as likes or shares) and video information (such as the captions, sounds, and hashtags a video uses).
Many of the people viewing your content will not be your followers. On Yaollen’s more popular videos, 60 percent of viewers are not followers, for example, which maximizes your brand awareness. Adding relevant hashtags, using trending sounds, and creating engaging content that viewers want to interact with will increase your odds of appearing on a user’s For You page.
7. Keep Captions Concise
While relevant hashtags and captions can help grow your audience, TikTok is focused on video rather than text, and long captions can muddle your message. “We’ve had to make our captions more concise, even more than on Twitter,” Yaollen says. “We allow space for the video to speak for itself.”
Captions should frame the video and include additional hashtags that help the TikTok algorithm determine relevancy, but keeping captions short and sweet creates a better user experience in the app.
8. Keep Demographics in Mind
With half of its users under age 30, TikTok’s audience skews younger than other social media platforms. Consider how your organization can appeal to a younger audience, convince them to care about your cause, and invite them into the community. These demographics and the nature of the platform invite attention-grabbing, brief content — Yaollen said he tries to hook his audience within the first three seconds of a video.
Some people write off TikTok as an audience of kids, but those young people will be your organization’s advocates and employees someday if they are not already, Pullinger points out. “It’s a good way to tap into new audiences that go beyond your core audience,” she says. If you think your audience doesn’t align with the demographics of TikTok’s audience, consider how your organization might benefit from a new and larger audience.
“The future generation is really who is on TikTok right now,” says Nicole Patton, manager of state government relations at the National Down Syndrome Society. “There’s a whole new audience to be tapped into that is going to be affected by or is affected by these issues.”
As TikTok grows, a wider audience is migrating to the platform and more millennials are downloading the app. “Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are maturing platforms,” Pullinger says. “Instagram is pivoting to stay as relevant as possible, but TikTok is where the audience is going.”
TikTok is currently the #1 app in the Apple Store’s entertainment category and is growing hugely in active users. The app had 1.2 billion monthly active users at the end of 2021 and is expected to reach 1.5 billion by the end of this year, according to Business of Apps. “Those numbers should at least give organizations a reason to think about using it for messaging, calls to action, and advocacy campaigns,” Pullinger says.
9. Measure Your Performance
It’s important to report on your success, learnings, or growth on TikTok by measuring performance. This can be done by tracking the number of views, shares, likes, comments, and fundraising success. Yaollen’s organization uses the fundraising sticker that can be embedded within TikTok videos to let users support nonprofits financially.
Even if a TikTok video doesn’t lead to a direct action taken, you can monitor the awareness your organization creates for issues — that’s how Yaollen measures success on the platform. A recent video he posted was on the current status of USDA child nutrition waivers, a topic that is complicated to unpack. Yaollen’s team created a straightforward explainer video, giving them the ability to unpack a complex topic, how it affects kids, and what people can do to help. “My colleague adapted a ‘TikTok aesthetic’ for the video to help resonate with the audience,” He says.
This video had a lot of engagement, maybe not by viral video standards, but for a video about policy, it was a success. “Getting 6,000 views in less than 24 hours for a complicated policy topic is a definite win for us,” Yaollen says.
For the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, TikTok users have found out about the animal sanctuary and followed them on other social media platforms, Decker says, so their engagement across channels has grown. She also measures success through orders for their book coming in from across the country, people asking about volunteering opportunities, and guests to the sanctuary’s bed and breakfast who found out about it on TikTok.
”"The more time I spend on TikTok, the easier and more fun it is. The best advice I could give is to just have fun with it."Heather DeckerRetail and communications associate, Catskill Animal Sanctuary
10. Experiment With Features
TikTok has a lot of video features that you can use to personalize your content and make it stand out: music and other audio options, text, filters, effects, the ability to “duet” with someone else’s video, and the ability to reply to comments via video.
Creating your video within the platform, rather than creating and editing it with another program and then just uploading it to TikTok, means you’ll have access to more of these features. “The app lets you use the better editing features, transitions, and animations that all work to increase engagement,” Yaollen says.
If someone in your organization has experience creating TikTok videos, tap into this resource — or consider hiring an intern or taking a crash course. “There’s so much more to learn versus Instagram reels,” Pullinger says, “So it helps to have someone who knows the ins and outs of the features and functions.”
While it can be overwhelming to learn these features, it’s another opportunity to show your brand’s personality, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
“The more time I spend on TikTok, the easier and more fun it is,” Decker says. “The best advice I could give is to just have fun with it.”
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