Should Associations Use TikTok in 2024?

24th June 2024

Since its arrival on app stores in 2016, TikTok has taken the world by storm. The video-sharing platform currently boasts over 3.5 billion downloads and over 1 billion monthly active users – more than triple the number of those using LinkedIn on a monthly basis.

Words Guy Hall

This large user base makes the social media platform, owned by Chinese-based ByteDance Ltd, an attractive prospect to associations. With roughly one third of users aged between 25 and 34, TikTok provides a fantastic opportunity for the many associations around the world seeking to connect with this demographic and attract younger professionals to their organisation.

Many associations, however, are still uncertain of the platform and are exploring ways to understand it better, and work out how to leverage it for their benefit.

Perception of the Platform

First, let’s address some of the commonly held misconceptions not only about the content shared on the app but about its user base.

The stereotypical notion of the app being filled with synchronised dancers may be true in some areas of its algorithm, but this is not the whole story and the content on TikTok is as varied as any other social media platform – ranging from entertaining and eccentric to empowering and educational. 

The latter content categories are the arenas in which some associations are now playing. The British Psychology Society, for example, uses the platform to share insights and advice in areas of interest to their members. Their feed contains everything from tips to help manage anxiety to insights into the impact of processed food on the brain.

And while the platform is certainly more popular with younger generations, TikTok is not just for teens. According to Statista, nearly 50% of TikTok’s users are between the ages of 25 and 44, making the app an incredibly useful tool for reaching this demographic. 

In fact, some experts point to TikTok as a partial explanation for the growth of far-right politics in Europe – as parties such as Alternative for Germany (AfD) used it to garner support from young voters in June’s European elections. Although AfD was not the most popular party among young Germans, their support did triple from 5% in 2019 to 16% today, according to the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. Some say this was, in part, thanks to their ability to engage younger voters through social media. As Laura-Kristine Krause, the executive director of German think tank More in Common describes it: “If you look at TikTok, the AfD has more reach than all the other parties combined.” 

Organic Opportunities 

Fostering a community on TikTok has potentially wide-ranging benefits for associations. The platform is known for its powerful algorithm and the virality of its content which provides an opportunity for associations to get their name and messaging in front of a large audience, expanding brand awareness and assisting with membership recruitment. The Royal Society of Chemistry, for example, were able to garner 2.3 million views on just one video, with plenty of others on their feed reaching over 100,000.

Many associations are struggling to reach and recruit younger professionals and, with TikTok’s user base tending to skew towards this key group, the opportunities for content sharing on the platform make it a valuable mechanism for useful engagement.  A recent report from Marketing General Incorporated found that only 1% of associations reported using paid advertising on TikTok and, while many associations still post organically (without an advertising spend), this figure represents many potential missed opportunities for member attraction. 

Aside from recruiting new members, TikTok also allows associations to interact with their existing membership base, fostering a vibrant digital community and assisting with member retention. 

It might come as a surprise but, for some associations, there are reputational benefits for participating on TikTok. The app is widely viewed to be the most recent truly successful social media platform and, by embracing this technology and finding a place on the platform  an association may be perceived to be keeping up with the times, another advantage for those organisations looking to attract younger professionals.

Data Privacy & Drawbacks 

There are, however, other factors to be taken into consideration before associations begin utilising the platform.

Like any marketing channel that is to yield results, using TikTok effectively will require the allocation of resources: time, and probably finances, must be put toward strategy, good quality content creation and community engagement. Associations must therefore consider whether they have the available resources to develop and execute an effective marketing approach as a mismanaged effort may do more harm than good for the perception of an association in the public eye.

Perhaps of more pressing concern are the app’s privacy policies and its approach to data management. Since its release, critics of TikTok have been pointing to the amount of data that is gathered by the platform – data which extends beyond that provided within the app itself. 

A 2022 report by researchers at Internet 2.0, an Australian cybersecurity company, that showed that the app carries out “excessive data harvesting” is often cited in support of the argument. 

These worries are compounded by a set of Chinese national security laws that compel organisations to assist with intelligence gathering – a requirement to which ByteDance, the app’s parent company would likely be subject. The United States government has long expressed their apprehension towards TikTok and, in late April, President Biden signed into law a bill that requires ByteDance to sell the app’s US operations or face a ban. 

These policy makers in the US are not alone in their concern, the UK government has banned TikTok from staff’s work devices, as has the European Commission. 

It is worth noting, conversely, that a test carried out by Citizen Lab – an interdisciplinary laboratory based out of the University of Toronto – found that “in comparison to other popular social media platforms, TikTok collects similar types of data to track user behaviour”. A report from the Georgia Institute of Technology supported this thesis, concluding that “most other social media and mobile apps do the same thing.” 

Whether or not an association ultimately chooses to implement TikTok as an additional marketing channel, it is important that these data privacy concerns are known and considered as part of the decision-making process. 

Content Creation

If an association does decide to pursue the platform, it can be challenging to decide how to approach content production. In the professional realm it is often recommended that organisations focus their content creation around the pillars of “educate”, “engage” and ‘promote” – and this holds true on TikTok. 

As always, at its core, an association’s content should primarily focus on providing value for their members, as well as the wider community using the platform. By sharing educational content, for example, associations can attract a broad viewership while promoting topics within their sphere of interest. The American Heart Association, for instance, has a series of videos on their account which teach their audiences how to perform hands-only CPR. 

When it comes to content which seeks to “engage”, associations might create videos that aim to draw a response from their viewers and foster a sense of community. These could involve featuring noteworthy members and their achievements, producing content aimed at generating productive commentary from their members or hosting live, interactive Q&A sessions with important industry figures. 

When considering “promotional” content, associations can tease and publicise upcoming events, workshops or webinars with interviews, testimonials or behind-the-scenes glimpses of operations within their organisation. 

Working under these content pillars, there are several formats available on TikTok that can be harnessed to reach a wider audience. “Duet” and “stitch” videos, for example, essentially allow users to post a video side-by-side, or in sequence with, videos produced by other creators allowing associations to  leverage these formats to engage with trending topics and viral content, to respond and interact with members, and more. 

As with any marketing outlet, it is important that associations have a firm grasp of the unique qualities of each in order to effectively implement their content strategy. 

Final Words

Undeniably TikTok has the potential to help some associations develop their community, growth and reputation. This is despite common misconceptions, although the opportunities it offers are not without drawbacks.

The decision as to whether to take the plunge and try TikTok rests with individual associations, who must also calculate whether they have the capacity to support meaningful engagement on the platform. Despite the challenges the app and its owners face across the globe, it would appear that the app is here to stay – in one form or another – into the foreseeable future. 

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