TikTok, the popular video sharing app preferred for its short, curated streams of fun, entertaining and educational content, has become the app of choice among young people. TikTok has become the most popular app among Gen Z, with over 100 million subscribers in the US. Young users prefer the short bursts of entertainment for a fun distraction and as a way to express themselves. But the platform isn’t just about entertaining kids; businesses are using TikTok to engage with their audiences in new and creative ways.
The National Aquarium in Baltimore has expanded its audience by incorporating TikTok into its social media strategy. One could argue that the recipe for its success can be attributed to two things: animals and timing. The Aquarium’s TikTok videos can range from target training with sting rays, to a sloth eating green beans, to videos promoting animal rescue. This type of content is ripe for consumption on TikTok, but the COVID quarantine also helped drive the Aquarium’s TikTok success.
The decision to begin using TikTok as part of their social media strategy came in March, just as the pandemic hit. According to Nabila Chami, director of brand strategy, “We thought that TikTok would be a great platform to share educational content; we launched it in March and it took off from there.” When the quarantine went into effect, she said, “The motivation became seeing the lack of access to the building and the explosion of folks using it in quarantine. It was the right time.”
Juliana Bauerle, the Aquarium’s social media coordinator, added that TikTok seemed to be a natural fit with “how the Aquarium is a great place to visit and work.” Because of the pandemic, most employees aren’t able to enter the buildings; however, the team has been able to use TikTok to connect with audiences across the world by filming organic videos from the people who interact with the animals. “It feels very authentic to see the actual people who care for the birds and the snakes to be interacting with them,” Juliana said.
Both Nabila and Juliana note that the appeal of TikTok is that it is a passive way to engage with audiences that you may not have reached otherwise. Juliana acknowledges that with the trends, memes, and short, engaging videos, TikTok is a “perfect storm of cool content.” She said, “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. You don’t have to do much to find cool content; you don’t have to follow anyone or seek it out. They are curating a very specific feed for you. It has grown and become an awesome resource for education.”
Nabila agrees: “I have been engaged with social media for over 10 years and TikTok reminds me of Twitter without the algorithm. You go down these rabbit holes, but you don’t waste your time because you learn a lot and have something to take away from it.” This is appealing to younger users, as the Aquarium has seen an uptick in the number of elementary and middle-school aged children engaging with its content, but more importantly, TikTok has enabled a wider reach because the platform doesn’t depend on followers; rather it relies on engaging content. Nabila said, “School children were never really our target social media audience,” however, with TikTok, the Aquarium has been able to reach a new audience with its educational content, furthering its mission to educate people about wildlife rescue.
How do you know it is right for your business?
Although both Nabila and Juliana agree that any type of video showing animals is going to get attention, TikTok can also help many other types of businesses reach audiences in ways they never thought possible. Nabila said, “When you are coming from a business perspective, you have to make it fun and engaging. If you can make it entertaining, people will watch it. You need to enter the space authentically and you need to be consistent and engaged with it. Ask yourself, ‘Can we make this sustainable?’, ‘Does our audience really want to see us here?’” Juliana notes that businesses who choose to utilize TikTok should also prepare to engage with the comments they receive and answer questions from their audience.
The Aquarium’s strategy, according to Nabila, is about brand, reputation and education. “We are constantly trying to reach more people and share stories about the things we care about and our mission,” she said. TikTok has certainly contributed to realizing this mission.
For more examples of how brands are using TikTok, see this article from HubSpot.