Social media | Digital fundraising | Top Tips

TikTok for charities

For many charities, TikTok can feel like an enigma; a world of untapped potential for fundraising, reaching young audiences and a creative, dare we say, fun way to raise awareness of a cause...

By Amy Johnson · November 24, 2020

But is TikTok right for your charity? And how do you create relevant, engaging content in this seemingly exclusive culture? We dive into the latest social media hotspot and address the questions that charities want and need to know the answers to. Let’s talk TikTok, for charities.

What is TikTok?

A relatively young social media platform dealing exclusively in short form videos; TikTok experienced unfathomable amounts of growth in 2020. The app’s boom has not come without a heavy load of criticism and push-back, most famously from Donald Trump, who talked about banning the app in the USA in July 2020. TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company, and the most common word I’ve seen used to describe the app is ‘addictive.’

Profile of a girl with long hair and glasses wearing a white jacket with rainbow stripes on, blending into a rainbow stripe background.

The many ‘sides’ of TikTok

A common misconception about TikTok is that it’s just full of teenagers dancing. While there’s certainly a popular – and now wealthy – hoard of young dancing influencers, that’s just one of the app’s many ‘sides’… 

Sides are groups of like minded users who assign names to their ‘region’ of the app. ‘Clean up TikTok’, ‘Gay TikTok’, ‘Leftist TikTok’, and my personal favourite – ‘Frog TikTok’ show that there’s a side of the app for every subculture you can think of. Have a read of this article if you really want to understand the multitude of warring TikTok sides but beware, if you’re unfamiliar with the app or Gen Z culture in general, it may scramble your brain.

There are currently three feeds you can flow through when watching content on TikTok: 

  1. ‘Following’ which is full of accounts you’ve chosen to follow
  2. ‘For You’ (known by common abbreviation ‘fyp’) which is a mix of accounts you follow and relevant content from accounts you don’t follow
  3. And a ‘live’ feed, where you can scroll through live broadcasts, and tap on one to join in properly.

180 seconds to shine

The platform is often lazily touted as the new Vine, which ended back in 2017, but the comparison is only correct in that both platforms deal exclusively in relatively short video content. Yet one of the main differences, is also the length of this content. 

TikTok content can be longer (up to 3 minutes now), allowing for more in-depth videos: whether in the form of educational content, artistic expression, or simply the same absurd, nonsensical comedy seen on Vine, just a little more of it.

Like most other social media giants, TikTok makes use of ‘the algorithm’. User behaviour, such as viewing an entire video or repeatedly engaging with content from a certain channel, will make those sorts of videos turn up on their ‘For You’ page. Back in June 2020, TikTok actually released a full rundown of how their algorithm works, and this is an important read to make sure you’re using it to your advantage, rather than flying under the radar.

TikTok for good

TikTok has their own TikTok for good initiative, stating that nonprofits can use their app to “grow their audience, activate supporters, and raise awareness around specific causes.” The platform is known to donate generously to charities involved in campaigns – for example, the time they donated $1 to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for every video posted with the hashtag #PetBFF (up to $175k). TikTok wants charities to be a part of their platform, but how do you do it right?

Donation stickers

Donation stickers on TikTok are clickable icons that are embedded onto videos. When clicked, the stickers take the user straight to a donation form where they can give money. Powered by Tiltify (the fundraising platform also behind Twitch donations) donation stickers are in the pilot stage, with a select group of around 90–mostly USA based–charities having access. The process is pretty slick and streamlined; donors don’t even have to leave the TikTok app. Anyone can add a donation sticker for a charity of their choice to any video they create. Watch this space for a wider roll-out of donation stickers on TikTok in the UK soon!

On the left an image of a woman in front of a rubbish dump. She's holdign a plastic bottle and a teddy chimpanzee who has a plastic bag in its mouth. The word Recylce? is shown. On the right is a man with a stethoscope round his neck.
Half of the image shows a woman talking, with the words 'JLFIAD investing in rural communities'. The second half shows a woman posing in front of an artistic building.
Half of the image shows a young girl with a bandaid on her neck. The other shows two dogs and a microphone

Does your charity belong there?

A Gen Z paradise

If your digital strategy is robust and you have the basics down, it’s worth at least thinking about how TikTok can work for you. This is especially true if your audience or user base includes young people. You need to hang out where your audience hangs out, and nowadays a Facebook-heavy social media strategy to reach young audiences may not be the most fruitful choice, with more and more teenagers abandoning the platform

Thanks, partially to the expanse of free time we all had in the various lockdown stages of 2020, TikTok was the most downloaded app of the year last year. Moving away from the more traditional social media platforms that may not be giving you the most engagement, and putting time into figuring out digital phenomena like TikTok or Twitch could see your youth engagement and/or donations skyrocket. Read our guide to getting started on Twitch.

If your social media strategy involves reaching young people, it’s definitely worth giving (some of) that responsibility to a young person, someone who is up-to-date with trends and language. No one knows how to engage young people online better than a young person themself. Many of the Gen Z generation are old enough to either be in university or their first few years of work – hiring someone to optimise your social media engagement strategy could be a game-changer, especially if you’re hoping to make waves on TikTok. 

With such an emphasis on the ‘algorithm’ and the ‘For You’ page, people will see and interact with content that resembles what they usually engage with. This is all the more reason to get young people on board with creating your content so it assimilates with popular content, and doesn’t sound tone deaf or feel out of place. If done well, your content or campaign could gain real traction because of this style of content consumption.

Even if you don’t exclusively target young people, it could be worth a shot. TikTok say that 60% of users are ‘Gen Z’ (born 1997-2012), but that does leave over a third of users who are over 24, and this number is increasing day by day. As more adults have joined the app the content found on TikTok has drastically changed. At the time of its inception a couple of years ago, when it replaced the lip synching app, Music.ly and became a haven for children and tweens – the concept of TikTok for charities would be laughed out of the room. But times have changed…

Listen in

If your strategy involves reaching young people but you have limited resources, TikTok confidence, or know-how, it’s worth downloading the app anyway to do some social listening. Gen Z are a curious species: subversive, progressive, but difficult to pin down or define. Just keeping an eye on trending content can get you more familiar with their interests, their humour, what causes they’re passionate about, which famous figures they warm to, and those they shun. This can help you better engage with them through your other channels – even offline.

Charities leading the TikTok movement

Citizens Advice

Citizens Advice’s TikTok content is second-to-none, and recently scooped up a Third Sector award for Best Use of Social Media. TikTok is Citizens Advice’s best performing social platform in terms of engagement, and their account just hit an impressive milestone of 50,000 followers.

They wrote a blog about their TikTok journey which mentions their ‘TikTok action group’. Having multiple people across your charity chipping in and creating the videos is a great way to reduce pressure and workload for one lone creator, and also varies the faces that audiences see in your content.

Citizens Advice’s easy-to-understand videos break down topics that are often complex and heavy, in a way that engages the 16-25 demographic.

This video, for example, breaking down the recent Universal Credit news, has been viewed over half a million times. It’s not a one-and-done exercise either, with the charity replying to follow up questions in the comments.

@citizensadvice

Important news ⬆️⬆️ #KeepTheLifeline #UniversalCredit #LearnOnTikTok

♬ Stories 2 – Danilo Stankovic

Young Scot

All of Young Scot’s content is made by young people, so it comes across to their audience as genuine and relatable.  Their videos have amassed over 500,000 likes, and many more views becoming a lovely example of TikTok for charities. From comedic content that goes viral: (149k views at time of writing):

@young.scot

How to pronounce Scottish place names #scottishtiktok #scotland #makeitscottish #americanvsbritish #foryou #fyp #foryoupage

♬ original sound – Young Scot

British Red Cross

With a whopping 420,700+ followers, 7 million likes, and a recent Best Use of TikTok award from The Drum, it’s safe to say that British Red Cross are absolutely bossing this platform. As of July 2020 they’d apparently raised over £90,000 from TikTok alone, and their follower count on the app is the largest of any of their social media platforms.

The charity was the first in the UK to make use of TikTok’s donation stickers. Nana Crawford, the charity’s Social Media Manager, told the International Broadcasting Trust that a pivotal difference between content creation on TikTok versus other platforms is sign off – or actually, lack thereof. The nature of TikTok and its audiences means that off-the-cuff, funny, authentic content (possibly posted in time with a trend) does really well, and more corporate and ‘safe’ content that might easily get senior sign off may fall flat.

Interestingly, the British Red Cross’s content is created by various people; some with jobs at the charity and others by volunteers, or members of their audience. As a result, their content is far from one dimensional and this is potentially what generates a constant stream of great engagement. To give a few stellar examples:

A funny video that went just a little bit viral (26.4 million views and counting) that spreads awareness of the correct length of hand washing to kill the coronavirus!

@britishredcross

🖐🤚 + 💧+ 🎂🎵 @who #coronavirus #foryou #foryoupage fyp

♬ Happy Birthday (Samba Version) – Karaoke – Best Instrumentals

Since publishing this blog for the first time in November 2020 the number of charities on TikTok has grown massively, from a handful of names to a list too long to feature everybody on this page! Some other charities doing good stuff on TikTok include RefugeShelter, Papyrus, Battersea, Young Minds UK, Shout, Support Dogs, Teenage Cancer Trust, Mind, Guide Dogs UK, Cycling UK, Water Aid, Guts UK, Stonewall, and lots more!

 

How can my charity use TikTok?

Organic content

As a charity using TikTok, for long-term gains, spending the time creating organic content that hooks and engages your audience is your best bet. Young Scot have gone viral a couple of times on the platform by doing this and have built up a respectable follower base of 25,000 people. 

Telling your story, or those of the people your charity helps, is a route you can take with organic content. A massive appeal of TikTok is the relatable, human content you can find there, no matter who you are; the aspirational (and therefore, fake) nature of Instagram is shunned on most of TikTok in favour of raw, ‘imperfect,’ relatable lives. Plus, the 180-second maximum length format enables hefty stories to be conveyed in digestible formats.

Most charities with a bit of ideation work can find their groove with organic content, but some types of charities are a shoo-in for TikTok content that will find an audience.

  • If your charity is in any way related to animals – stop what you are doing right now and make a TikTok account. As mentioned before, animal content does insanely well on TikTok and often spans the tribal ‘sides’ – what barbarian wouldn’t want to see a rescued sea otter munching on some crushed ice?
  • If your charity is in any way related to social causes or politics, you definitely have an audience on TikTok. Especially feminism, racial equality, or LGBT related causes. A lot of young people love to be educated with short videos on social issues they’re passionate about.
  • If you put on gigs or live events to fundraise, posting snippets of these performances with artists may gain traction due to music content being so popular on the platform.
  • Nature based charities – gardening TikToks, such as those made by Garden Marcus boomed in 2020, a year where people reevaluated what’s important to them – finding pleasure in the more simple aspects of life that they may have ignored in the hustle and bustle of a normal year.
  • Mental health. One of the most popular regions of the app is that dedicated to mental health content. It’s no surprise this content does so well on TikTok, a platform synonymous with Gen Z, with the generation being famous for their upfront, darkly humorous, and candid method of talking about mental wellbeing.

Streaming

A new trend is also emerging: TikTok as an event platform. Singer, The Weeknd, performed a virtual concert on TikTok in August 2020, amassing 2 million unique viewers and raising $350,000 for the Equal Justice Initiative through the sale of concert merchandise. So, if the audience for your upcoming events would be more likely to watch a TikTok live than a Facebook live or Zoom event, TikTok’s live streaming capabilities (similar to Instagram’s live feature) are worth checking out.

Virtual gig poster showing an illustration of The Weeknd with glowing glasses, reaching out a hand. The Image says 'TikTok The Weeknd Experience'
Complex headline saying 'The Weeknd, TokTok Raise $350,000 for Equal Justice initiative, Singer Also Donates $300k to Beirut Explosion Victims

Paid advertising on TikTok

Other than organic content, there are ways to buy paid advertising on TikTok. This kind of social media advertising is vastly different to Twitter or Facebook, with many different forms available for your sponsored message to take on. Sprout Social has a great step-by-step guide for those looking to spend some money on TikTok ads.

TikTok for charities: Top Tips

That’s the lowdown on TikTok for charities. There’s a lot to take in, but if there are a few final points to highlight, they’re these: 

  • Not a copy and paste exercise

The effort needed to create a TikTok video far exceeds that needed to craft a tweet. So to see positive outcomes on the platform, a substantial amount of time needs to be spent running the account. Content needs to be tailored especially for TikTok.

  • Keep it simple, keep it interesting

They don’t have to be fancy, blockbuster budget videos. Simple explainer videos with text added in-app can go viral – you just have to post what people are interested in. TikTok’s in-app editing tools are easy to use for beginners, and bypass the need for computer editing software. Get to grips with the built-in editing suite with TechJunkie’s explainer.

  • Recycle 

Recycle content. If you’re not in a position to film or make new TikToks on a weekly basis, but you’ve got a YouTube full of content – use it! Just make sure it’s still up-to-date and interesting. Clips can be uploaded to TikTok as long as they’re not over 3 minutes long.

  • Respect the culture

At a time when everything is disrupted and up in the air, and people are reevaluating how they use the more old-school platforms, there’s ample opportunity to branch out and make new connections with your audience. But understanding the culture is really important. More so than most established social platforms at the moment, TikTok has its own specific language and a tribalism to it that needs to be understood.

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