These savvy, young creators have generated momentum for the Black Lives Matter movement in fresh and compelling ways. They have used their profiles to call for the arrest of the cops who killed Breonna Taylor or shown people how to avoid facial recognition while attending protests.
They are making impact with crowd-sourced activism, such as reportedly reserving thousands of seats at President Donald Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma only to leave them empty.
With their concise and entertaining content, TikTok creators are able to spread awareness to a wide audience, whether sharing protest resources, explainers on racism, or quick comebacks to racist statements from family members. These creators have perfected the ability to craft a viral message and even more importantly, to create urgency through their calls to action.
What exactly is TikTok?
TikTok, now the world’s sixth-largest social networking platform, is a video-sharing app where anyone can create, edit, and share 15 to 60-second videos on any topic. Users create videos that entertain (some by lip-syncing and dancing) or educate (some by sharing life hacks) their followers.
TikTok users are young. Since its inception in 2018, TikTok has amassed more than 800 million active users — 69% of whom are between 13 and 24 years old. It is wildly popular with Gen Z, and is growing in popularity among users of all ages.
TikTok’s viral-friendly algorithm and its user culture have proven to be successful in movement building. The #blacklivesmatter hashtag alone has accumulated over 4.9 billion views as of June 4, 2020.
Following are the three things that make TikTok content effective — and what change-makers can learn from them:
1) They get to the point quickly
TikTok videos are only 15 to 60 seconds long, which means that content creators don’t have time to waste.
The most successful TikTok videos only last about 16 seconds. Since the average person has an attention span of only eight seconds, TikTok creators must make every second count. Here’s how:
- By avoiding unnecessary explainers or fillers
- Using short sentences or bullet points (if any text at all)
- Speaking quickly
- Intentionally highlighting important information
Take a look at the following TikTok from @everydaylaw that explains why using tear gas on peaceful protestors shouldn’t be normalized. He presents three key pieces of information: Tear gas is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention; police can only use force that is necessary and proportional to the situation; and a banned method of war being used on peaceful protestors isn’t proportional. This presentation allows viewers to come to their own judgments about police actions.
Lesson: Before creating content, ask yourself: What would I say if I only had 15 seconds? What are the most important and compelling pieces of information that can push my audiences to action?
2) They use language that everyone can understand
TikTok creators explain complex ideas in easily digestible snippets. In contrast, too many traditional communications professionals with great ideas struggle to communicate effectively and without jargon.
TikTok users avoid the jargon trap by using language that is natural to them and their peers, which results in simple and direct messages that are highly effective. It’s common for TikTok videos to use a question-answer approach, which is how they are able to help others retain and repeat easily understandable information.
For an example of this approach, take a look at this quick video shared by creator Brittany Broski on “Can we abolish the police?”.
Lesson: Since the average American reads at an eighth-grade reading level, it’s important to get rid of complexity.
3) They don’t shy away from creativity and authenticity
Communications practitioners often get held up by rewrites and edits, to polish our language down to each word and dash.
In contrast, typical TikToks are made quickly, their music often doesn’t match the content in a way traditional video does, and they usually take unexpected turns. These low production values are exactly what make them take off, and what allows creativity to thrive on the platform. The vast majority of content comes from users who put their own spin on jokes, dances, or memes, but the best videos come from creators thinking out of the box.
Additionally, funny mistakes, fails, and silliness have always been a part of the platform’s DNA. There is no attempt at perfection, or any pressure to find and keep to an aesthetic as there is on other platforms, such as Instagram. For TikTok users, this creates room for humility, accountability, and being open about learning from errors.
Lesson: These are not necessarily recommendations to abandon your branding and cultivated channels to create low-fi DIY TikTok clips (though even museums are finding success on the platform). Instead, the key is to take inspiration from the wellspring of creative, concise, and effective content TikTok creators are churning out.
Take a breath of fresh air and a few moments to see how young creators, on TikTok and elsewhere, are approaching complex issues, building movements, and spreading the word. Then consider how you may be able to make your organization’s communications feel fresh and exciting. Maybe you’ll learn a dance or two in the process.