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What Is TikTok and Should Your Nonprofit Be Using It?

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By Robert Carnes

TikTok Nonprofits

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Published December 3, 2021 Reading Time: 8 minutes

TikTok is a social media platform that allows users to generate 15-second videos and host live streams. It launched in the United States in 2016 and rapidly grew to more than 680 million active users worldwide.

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.

The social media network is now a prime opportunity for nonprofits to connect with a younger audience more personally and immediately.

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.

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How TikTok Quickly Rose 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
  • Users with under 1,000 followers have an average engagement rate of 51.1%
  • TikTok has the highest social media engagement rate per post

TikTok Videos: 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.

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.

CookieWithACause

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.

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.

3 Bonus Tips to Use TikTok for Nonprofits

1. Personalize Your Organization

TikTok allows your nonprofit to get intimate with your followers because it offers a look into your organization. Think about which behind-the-scenes videos of your volunteers and staff you can feature easily. Videos of other people are often the most engaging type of social media content.

There’s even a feature allowing TikTok users to designate which nonprofit they support from their profile. The feature rolled out in late 2020 to enable other users to donate directly to specific nonprofits from within the app. Individual users can now spread awareness of your organization directly from their accounts.

There’s also a Donation Sticker feature that is slowly being rolled out to certain accounts since being introduced in April 2020. This feature allows users to support their favorite organizations directly from within the app.

2. Leverage TikTok Marketing Partners

In October 2021, TikTok launched a Marketing Partner program to help organizations create even better and more engaging content on their platform. This includes a list of certified brands that integrate directly into the app.

There’s a great deal of focus on the few Sound Partners who provide a vast library of audio users can choose from. However, the program has different elements, including managing marketing campaigns, creative content like stock photography and video, and branded effects.

These features are built for TikTok For Business accounts, and the features are available directly within the app. This integration makes it simpler for nonprofits to develop content customized to the platform, which is unique compared to other social media networks.

3. Learn From Other Nonprofits on TikTok

Because TikTok is such a new platform, it helps to learn collectively. There are plenty of nonprofits already active on TikTok. Follow others leveraging the app to learn from their content and inspire your next viral video.

Some good examples of TikTok savvy organizations include: 

1. Aquarium of the Pacific (2.3M followers)

This Long Beach, California-based nonprofit uses the cuteness of their animals to full effect in their TikTok videos. They do a great job of posting a variety of content. On their profile, you’ll find content such as fun facts about aquatic animals, a day in the life of their staff members, and tours of different sections of their aquarium.

Key takeaway: Post a variety of content.

2. Nashville Humane Society (23K followers)

Like the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Nashville Humane Society maximizes the appeal of animals in their content. Many of these videos are backed by popular songs, tagged directly in the post’s description. These descriptions also leverage trending hashtags, such as #DogsOfTikTok or #AdoptMe, which works well on TikTok.

Key takeaway: Use plenty of hashtags.

3. United Way (71K followers)

For an organization founded over 125 years ago, the United Way has remarkably adapted to the latest technology. They share various posts from PSAs, dance videos, national hashtag holidays, and thank you videos to their supporters. Their account has also earned a verified badge from TikTok, the same familiar blue check found on other social platforms.

Key takeaway: Try to get your account verified.

4. American Red Cross: (750.7K followers)

The Red Cross’ TikTok channel focuses primarily on education and information about their service areas. The videos work well on TikTop because they’re short in length and use appropriate background music and text on the screen.

Key takeaway: Add on-screen text to your video content.

5. World Economic Forum (1.6M followers)

With seemingly endless content to be shared on international economics, the World Economic Forum leverages their TikTok channel almost like a short-form video blog. Videos are focused on a specific topic and provide a few quick tips that provide value to donors. The background music and visuals are also compelling without distracting from the text on the screen.

Key takeaway: Have a specific focus for each video post.

@worldeconomicforum

This is the MIND diet. Learn more about brain health by tapping the link in our bio #food #diet #health #brainhealth #wellbeing

♬ original sound - World Economic Forum

6. Giving Tuesday (55.8K followers)

Giving Tuesday’s TikTok account features a variety of people in their videos—creating a sense of community. They also utilize a link landing page (Linktr.ee) to share multiple links in their bio. Similar to Instagram, TikTok doesn’t allow for external links from individual posts.

Key takeaway: Use a link-in-bio landing page tool like Linktr.ee.

@givingtuesday

“When it’s raining look for rainbows. When it’s dark look for stars.” Let’s spread kindness every Tuesday. 🙏 to @randomhappiness5 #GivingTuesday

♬ original sound - GivingTuesday

7. Red Nose Day (19.5K followers)

Red Nose Day is an organization that aims to end child poverty. So, it’s appropriate that most of their TikTok videos feature a wide range of people wearing those red noses. Prominently and consistently showing off your brand in this way is something we could all learn from.

Key takeaway: Create a recognizable brand with your TikTok videos.

@comicreliefus

You can make us mini, but our Red Noses stay the same #minime #mommyandme #momandme #family #fyp #xyzbca

♬ Woo - Wande

How Will Your Nonprofit Organization Use TikTok?

TikTok is just the latest in popular social media platforms that continue to impress marketers with eye-popping statistics. User growth and high engagement rates translate to eyes on your cause and more donation potential.

To indeed be effective on this short-form video-sharing platform, nonprofits will need to invest time in a content strategy and learning the tool by diving in headfirst.

Are you inspired to get started? Check out the Nonprofit’s Social Media Content Planner to bring your year-end campaigns to the next level.

nonprofit social media content planner

Your Free Social Media Content Planner (and Templates)

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