Like all good social media management, it’s just about experimenting, adjusting and being genuinely end-user focussed
Back in late 2020, after just a few months of being live, the Black Country Living Museum’s TikTok account had gone what can only be described as terrifyingly viral. So viral, in fact, that at one point, we gained 20,000 followers in a single day.
Somehow, the account made it onto the UK ‘TikTok100’, alongside world-famous influencers. It wasn’t long before the story was picked up by the media, and within 48 hours I somehow found myself doing four live interviews, including one on BBC breakfast. Surreal is an understatement.
Flash forward to February 2021. We’re now at 550k followers, and have reached over 20 million people in the process. That’s more visitors than we actually get in a year. Crazier still, the vast majority of this audience are under 30, and for about 80% of them, it’s the first time that they’d interacted with a museum on any social media platform, ever (just let that one sink in).
The result? A 15% uplift in 18-24 year olds on our website, interested in booking a ticket and paying us a visit. As one colleague put it: “this is museum gold dust”.
I want to be clear that we started TikTok as an experiment with the broad goal of engaging young people. Even though I’d spent literally hundreds of hours on the platform, I still wasn’t confident on what would actually work, because when we joined, we were one of a small handful of museums on the platform. We were basically in unexplored territory.
Still, lots of people (both in and outside of the sector) have asked me many questions about why the account has been so successful. And since we’ve recently taken a break from the platform (for safety reasons), this is something I’ve had lots of time to think about and actually put into words.
And what I’ve realised is that, in fact, there is no big secret, so to speak. Like all good social media management, it’s just about experimenting, adjusting and being genuinely end-user focussed.
In the case of TikTok, getting these things right is going to start with a solid understanding of both the platform subculture and its userbase. If you’re new to the world of TikTok, I highly recommend downloading the app and using it consistently over a few weeks before diving in. Give yourself time. Like any other social media platform, this isn’t really the kind of thing you can really ‘get’ by flicking through it for half an hour a week.
It also helps to do a bit of research on TikTok’s userbase too. If you’re an experienced marketer, you might be tempted to skip this, but in my experience, it never hurts to go back to basics. McKinsey’s research on this is essential reading.
Don’t be tempted to try and repurpose content for the platform, as it probably won’t work
When you’ve got a good feel for the subculture and its userbase, there are then three main things to consider before posting…
When it comes to format, I’ve found that keeping things short and snappy and playing on well-established memes and trending sounds are both good places to start. Make sure you follow non-museum accounts as they’re my usual go-to source for inspiration. Don’t forget to try out interacting with your audience via video, or answering questions out there in the wider community via the stich tool. I think there’s also a lot of potential in TikTok live, too, which is something I plan on experimenting more with in the future. Don’t be tempted to try and repurpose content for the platform, as it probably won’t work.
When it comes to tone, you’re probably going to want to be significantly more informal than you’re used to being on other platforms, in the language you use, the way you address subject matter (where appropriate), and the way you interact with fans. I’ve heard a few social media specialists say that it isn’t necessary or essential to be funny, but let’s be honest, it doesn’t exactly hurt, either. When it comes to employing humour, just remember: use your gut and read a room. Chances are you’re going to have a real person in your videos at some point, so pick someone with a real passion and allow their personalities to shine. Simplicity and authenticity are key.
When it comes to subject matter, things are slightly more complicated. There is no one hard and fast rule, and it’s of course going to largely be dictated by the subject matter you cover as a museum. In the same way you would with every other social media channel, focus on what makes a good story (the unusual, the weird, the surprising) and be conscious of issues and histories that are going to be of interest to young people in particular. For us, the history of education, womens’ rights, post-war migration and Victorian medicine have all been popular subjects that seem to resonate, for reasons I’ve previously mentioned.
Finally, keep in mind that connecting the dots between all of these factors requires good instincts and a creative eye. So make sure you have time and space to think and be creative. And keep in mind that TikTok’s algorithms can sometimes work in mysterious ways, so don’t be discouraged if something falls flat. Give yourself time to learn, trust your instincts, take a few risks, experiment, be critical (but not too critical), and you’ll eventually be able to navigate through the wild west that is TikTok in no time at all.
Looking for some inspiration? Check out my favourite TikTok accounts:
Watching Howard and his passion for the museum’s printing press is one of life’s simple joys, and it’s also a reminder that you don’t need to make things complicated to succeed.
Old Salem are masters at using the live function, but they also have a knack for approaching ‘difficult histories’ in a way that’s both engaging and informative.
When BCLM first arrived on TikTok, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History was one of two or three museums already on the platform. So of course, I simply have to mention Tim Pearce, their resident snail expert and dad-joke-maker extraordinaire.
Bonkers? Check. Off the wall engagement? Check. Genius? I’ll let you decide.
Sometimes all you need is a phone, an eye for a good story, and a passion for history, a delicious piece of candy, or both.
Discovery Channel’s TikTok is a perfect example of how to adapt and adjust tone and format for the TikTok end-user.
Grandad Frank is the perfect example of the types of positive communities that you can find all over TikTok.
A truly inspirational account, proving that most subject matter can translate to TikTok when you really get the platform and you go for the right format and tone. Yes, even biochemistry and genomics.