this is Understanding TikTok your weekly infusion 💉 of TikTok related news. My name is Marcus.
Before we continue let me shamelessly self-promote two things. On Friday, February 26 i will discuss “Kulturdebatten abseits des Feuilletons” on german public radio station Deutschlandfunk 📻. I will be talking about Ballet TikTok, BookTok & Lubalin’s Broccoli Casserole.
If you want to spend 30 minutes of your time with me, i am giving a little TikTok lecture at space for transformation. You can reserve a digital deck chair here ⛱️. Yet again: in german.
This week we talk about:
🇷🇺 Russian TikTok
😲 TikTok Face
🐼 Case Study: WWF Germany
🇷🇺 Russian TikTok
Let´s talk about Russia and TikTok. No, not Russia’s greatest love machine again. TikTok has overtaken Facebook in Russia ( 14 percent to nine percent). Russia as a country has a small but fast-growing and vocal group of TikTok users, writes Techcrunch. And quotes a report in the Moscow Times from the end of December. It estimates there are around 20 million active users in the country, more than double the 8 million it had at the end of 2019.
After Gen Zers in Russia Are Using TikTok as a Catchy Tool of Political Resistance, Russia threatens TikTok with fines over protest posts, then TikTok sees a surge in anti-protest disinformation in Russia, and then Recent events accelerate process of creating Russian Foreign Ministry’s TikTok account. In fact both the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Emergency Situations Ministry joined the popular video-sharing app TikTok. It might just seem that Russia’s TikTok Generation Is Putin’s Achilles’ Heel.
😲 TikTok Face
Cat Zhang has written a brilliant text about the TikTok Face for Real Life. And i just do not know how i could miss her monthly-ish column about TikTok on Pitchfork. The last one is on Glitchcore.
Drawing a line from Duckface 2009 to the cyborgian Instagram Face to Gen-Z facial tic[s] Zhang concludes that “facial choreography is sanitized of almost all particularity. There is no storyline.” Still comforted by the routine of seeing her (Charli D’Amelio’s) face appear on my feed, Bella Poarch’s smooth head-bobbing and elastic gestures lull you into a state of calm, like ASMR. Zhang writes about “this emoji-fication, the ability to immediately signal an emotion without feeling it, reducing oneself to a logo.”
If you want to follow the path of this discussion i recommend the text Face as Infrastructure as part of the Revenge of the Real programme at Strelka. Quote: “Generations raised by frozen faces will not possess the same range of expressive capabilities. Coupled with increased online connection and a distancing from the realities of clear facial communication, a new era of social distancing continues forward.”
🐼 Case Study: WWF Germany
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is an international non-governmental organization and the world's largest conservation organization. Over five million supporters worldwide, working in more than 100 countries, and i counted more than 15 different WWF TikTok accounts on the Digital Diplomacy list.
By chance i stumbled over the successful german account (@wwf_deutschland) and recognized my old colleague Klaus Esterluss who happens to be the main presenter. We wrote back and forth. Here is our little interview:
How did you start using TikTok at WWF Germany. Was there a clear concept? More trial and error? A team? A specific goal?
We started TikTok in January 2020. At first, there was the idea to be on this very interesting and entertaining platform. To be a part of it and to learn more about the audience we can reach here and how to reach them. So, we watched and learned. The audience we found was very interested in what we did. It's young and has the power to act and mobilise others. We see activist as well as young environmentalist on the app who overlap with the topics of WWF Germany and WWF in general. Over time, our videos developed, the early ones are quite different to the ones we are producing now - it's a mix of entertaining and fact-driven content. In the future, we going to go live more often to highlight the experts in our team and to explain what WWF does where and why.
Is there an overall WWF strategy international?
We were to some extend pioneering but we see more WWF countries joining TikTok and we are discussing about our experiences. For topics such as Earth Hour in March, we are also developing strategies together.
How big is the team and how often do you post?
Everything is selfmade, there are no agencies involved in the process. We are posting 3 times a week on a weekly basis but are always ready to jump on urgent or up-to-the-minute topics. The team contains of myself and a video editor but we get support from people of the different WWF departments - from photo editors to campaingners or specialists to discuss our content.
How is the editorial process organized? Do you have storyboards? Someone who checks them before publishing?
In general, we come up with an idea, write a script and get in touch with experts about if everything is accurate. There's no storyboard or alike, just a text and an idea about how to implement photos or videos, depending on the topic and/or filter that might be used.
Do you use additional apps? Or just TikTok?
Usually, we use the TikTok app for certain filters or challenges and lives - the regular videos are shot on a mobile/camera and are edited with Premiere Pro.
How does #LearningWithTikTok work? Do you get support? How does TikTok help you during the process?
The #LearningWithTikTok hashtag, for us, is a perfect way to classify our videos because, in general, all videos match. Yet, we are no 'official creators' chosen by TikTok in this particular field. So, we are in touch with TikTok, also about the hashtag, but don't get further support.
What were your learnings concerning the platform and your audience? What surprised you the most?
It's surprising or interesting to see how and to what extent our audience consumes our videos. Some, that we would guess, would be working very well, don't. Other's are performing much better than expected. But that's part of the learning process for us to get to know our audience better. It's also interesting to see how communicative our audience is. There are plenty of request, people are keen to know more about certain topics, some draw a line between us and the stuff they have heard at school. So, we are somehow a bridge between their educational life and private life. We knew before we started, how fast some accounts can grow on TikTok but it was nice to see that growing goes beyond comedy and entertainment content.
How important is the comments section?
The comments are very important. They help to spread a video and they are a good source to get to know the audience better. It's vital to answer (or at least try to answer) every comment there is, even if they not pleasant. We try to reply in a fun way but also taking the audience seriously which is very often much appreciated and grows a strong, committed fanbase.
Looking at your experience: What kind of content works? What kind of content does not work?
The first frame is important. If it is strong/funny/surprising/weird, people are more likely to watch a video - at least in our field of work. Animals do quite well, things that are affecting the everyday life of people work well, opinion-based stories (food, waste management, sustainablity etc) too. If the script is funny and serious as well, it helps. People scroll through their FYP and they do it quickly. So, they will often need an eyecatcher to make sure, they stay for a bit. Opposite to this, if the look is too dark, too complicated, or the sound is too bad, videos won't work, even if the content is promising.
Do you have TikTok accounts that inspire your work?
We have done some collaborations in the past, hence, those accounts were inspiring. I would mention Nachhaltiger Leben who has found a very unique and clear way to address his audience. It's, in general, important to keep an eye on 'the others', to find trends or new approaches. Niklas Kolorz for example does a very good job here, WWF Schweiz is doing great, too, Herr Tierfreund, Raul Krauthausen, Das ist Jay... just to mention a few who are doing inspiring work. They all support the learning aspect in a more or less serious or entertaining way.