What Is TikTok and Should Your Nonprofit Be Using It?

6 min
Stephanie Schechter

TikTok is a social media platform that allows users to generate 15-second videos and host live streams. With over 800 million active users worldwide, and the record for being the most downloaded app ever in a single quarter (Q1 of 2020), it’s safe to say TikTok is becoming part of daily life for many.

At first, the ability for users to quickly gain fame through their videos is what made the app so appealing to teenagers, but for-profit companies caught wind of the speed at which content could go viral and wanted to get in on the action. Now, for-profit companies, influencers, and nonprofits alike are using TikTok to spread information, advertise, and raise funds for causes.

TikTok’s interface is particularly useful for creating videos that tell entire stories in 15 to 60 seconds. Additionally, the platform’s intuitive editing tools allow users to create professional-quality clips straight from their phones. 

For nonprofits, adding this new social channel to your lineup can help to increase awareness about your mission, programs, and fundraising campaigns. 

If you’re considering introducing TikTok into your social media strategy, it’s important to understand the unique ways that the app functions and how you can best leverage it for your mission. Below, we’ll give you a look at what exactly this newly popularized social platform is, how to use it, and why it can be beneficial. 

A Rapid Rise to the Top

At one point, Vine was the hot video-sharing platform of the moment, but it fizzled out over time. The app allowed users to create six-second looping videos, like a GIF with audio. 

It was purchased by Twitter in 2014 and officially retired in 2016. This left a major hole in the video app market.

TikTok, which officially launched in the United States in 2016, quickly rose to popularity, filling the void left by Vine. It’s inherently different though as it offers more editing tools that give content creators the freedom to link four 15-second videos together, add text, and edit sound. 

In addition, TikTok’s algorithm tracks which videos a user watched all the way through, ensuring that all of the content on someone’s feed is curated toward their interests. Here are some quick statistics to highlight why it can be an attractive platform: 

  • Users spend an average of 52 minutes on the app every day 
  • 68% of users have watched another user’s video
  • Users with under 1,000 followers have an average engagement rate of 144%
  • TikTok has the highest social media engagement rate per post 

Not Just for Dancing Teens

The majority of U.S. TikTok users are members of Generation Z, which presents an interesting engagement opportunity for your nonprofit to tap into a new, younger audience. However, as people have been staying home and social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, other generations have begun using the platform as well. 

When shelter-in-place orders were implemented, TikTok started to gain more attention from users in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. The simple interface gives less tech-savvy individuals the chance to not only view videos, but also create and post content of their own. 

While the app originally gained popularity with users between the ages of 16 and 24 lip syncing to popular songs and participating in dance routine challenges, videos on TikTok have expanded to include how-tos and educational videos. This is where your nonprofit can make an entrance and develop a strategy to meet these potential supporters on the platform. 

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How Your Nonprofit Can Use TikTok

It’s helpful to first examine the different ways in which your nonprofit can leverage the platform for success. Below, we’ve rounded up a few tips to show you what’s possible on TikTok and get your creative wheels turning.

Hashtag Challenges 

TikTok challenges, in which you challenge users to perform a certain activity, are a great way to get your cause to go viral while encouraging user participation. Further, the platform has collaborated with several nonprofits to create hashtag challenges through the TikTok For Good initiative. Your nonprofit can create these challenges independently as well. 

When creating a new hashtag challenge, make sure that there’s a clear and simple purpose or goal. The hashtag you create should be clever, easy to type, and memorable, and you must include clear instructions on how you expect supporters to take action. 

One example of a successful cause marketing challenge was Oreo’s #CookieWithACause campaign. Oreo promised to make a donation to Save the Children when at least 1 million TikTok videos were uploaded with the hashtag.

A screenshot of the #CookieWithACause campaign hosted by Oreo on TikTok.

Once you decide what your challenge will be and the hashtag, your next step is to drive audience participation. It can help to team up with a TikTok influencer or popular for-profit brand. 

Free Download: The Nonprofit’s Guide to Pitching Corporate Sponsors

Outside of that, share your hashtag challenge on your other social channels to draw social-savvy audiences to your TikTok page. You might also consider sending an email with details about the campaign or update your website with information on the challenge. No matter how you market the challenge, make sure you clearly communicate how new TikTok users can sign up and support your nonprofit on the platform. 

Informational Videos

Some organizations are able to tap into massive TikTok audiences with informational videos that educate viewers about their cause. By sharing what your nonprofit does, introducing your team members, and showing what goes on behind the scenes, you can connect with both new and existing audiences.

Bringing your audience behind the scenes like this is a strong show of transparency and helps to build trust between your nonprofit and your supporters. If you use your informational videos to showcase the impact of someone’s donation or support, you’re likely to build stronger relationships with your supporters as well.

The Caenhill Countryside Centre, a UK charity that teaches young children about farming and caring for animals, took this approach to share videos of the pets in their rescue program. These videos have grown the nonprofit’s audience to over 156,000 followers and established many of the animals as TikTok celebrities. Fans can’t get enough of this content and eagerly await new releases. 

While you might not have access to an internet goldmine of cute animals, there’s likely something unique or special about your cause that TikTok users will engage with. Think about your campaigns, programs, beneficiaries, volunteer experiences, and stories. Then, try to imagine how you can translate them into informational TikTok videos.

Sharing Across Platforms

The high-quality content you create with TikTok can easily be shared across all of your social channels. Just press the share button in the lower right corner of your TikTok video, and the options for sharing will pop up on the screen. 

A screenshot of how you can share TikTok video to other social channels.

By sharing TikTok videos to your other social media pages, you can give the content new life with different audiences while also directing your followers to join you on TikTok. If they follow you on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, they may want to follow your TikTok page as well. 

Donation Stickers

In April 2020, TikTok announced a new tappable Donation Stickers feature that can be added to videos and live streams. When a viewer clicks on a Donation Sticker, they can make an in-app donation to the cause of that video creator’s choice. 

Currently, there are a limited number of organizations one can donate to using TikTok Donation Stickers, but the platform will hopefully open up the option for more nonprofits soon.

A screenshot of TikTok and the new Donation Sticker she offers.

While this feature is not yet available to all nonprofits, it is another reason to make sure you establish your presence on TikTok now. If you already have an engaged follower base once TikTok opens the Donation Stickers up to more nonprofits, you can immediately add another revenue stream for your organization.

What TikTok Can Do for Your Nonprofit 

TikTok can be an effective marketing tool for nonprofits that want to easily create engaging content with the potential to reach new audiences of supporters. With its rapidly growing popularity among people of all ages, now is the time to start using it.

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If you’ve already created a TikTok profile and are building your presence, start by focusing your efforts on mastering engagement tactics like hashtag challenges and informational or educational videos. Don’t forget to post your content across other social channels as you go.

As you explore the world of TikTok, use these tips to take full advantage of the platform. Let us know how your journey goes in the comments below.


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