TikTok Newsletter 36

Copycats, Doppelgänger and Addison Rae, BookTok, Case Study: Goethe Institute

Hi subscriber,

this is Understanding TikTok your weekly infusion 💉 of TikTok related news. My name is Marcus.

TikTok remains the most downloaded app in Q1 2021, according to new data while ByteDance is now valued at $250 Billion in private trades – more than Exxon Mobil Corp. or Coca-Cola Co. Instagram has finally cloned TikTok’s duet function. 📯

Today we talk about:

🙀 Copycats, Doppelgänger and Addison Rae
📚 BookTok & Poems
🗺️ Case Study: Goethe Institute

🙀 Copycats, Doppelgänger and Addison Rae

We have not yet talked about Addison Rae. If you have not heard her name before. She is currently TikTok’s second most-followed person behind Charli D’Amelio with more than 79 M followers and 30 B views. She is obviously now a pop star, writes Dazed, giving the cosmetics industry a makeover, writes the NYT. Learn everything about her over at must-read ressource High Tea

Last week Rae appeared on Jimmy Fallon. It didn’t go great, writes Rebecca Jennings. The dance segment sparked backlash (USA Today) “as an embodiment of a larger conversation concerning viral internet stars: that BIPOC content creators aren't getting the proper recognition for creating online trends that their white counterparts then reproduce and benefit from, often in more mainstream settings.” Compare: The Original Renegade, NYT, Feb 13, 2020.

While TikTok being inherently collaborative there are “all kinds of conversations happening on the app about how best to credit someone who maybe came up with one idea or piggybacked on another” (Jennings). While TikTok’s features like sound and duet allow to identify collaborators many users blatantly copy ideas without giving credit. A problem Gregor Schmalzried as written about in his german newsletter Cool genug (Kopie einer Kopie einer Kopie eines TikTok).

Here is an obvious example of german influencer Caro Daur copying an idea by user Tess without giving credit. Do you have to give credit,  a user asks in the comments. Well, it would be nice, right?! Most interesting to me is the aspect of the comment section as a corrective with users pointing out the original creator.

Even worse is what happened to TikTok artist Matt Chessco as told in the NYT: “Chessco recently discovered that he had a doppelgänger on TikTok — another artist was copying his videos’ style, subjects and music, as well as selling his paintings for a fraction of the price, alongside prints and supplies, on a website nearly identical to the one Chessco uses.” Sounds a bit like TikTok & Insta to me.

Take away here: Let´s give credit. It is not hard. And it increases your karma. By the way: Rae later said  that it "was never my intention and they definitely deserve all the credit, because they came up with these amazing trends." They are:  "Stranger Things" star Noah Schnapp ("Do It Again"), @jazlynebabee ("Savage Love"), @yvnggprince ("Corvette Corvette"), @flyboyfu ("Laffy Taffy"), @keke.janjah ("Savage"), @macdadddyz ("Blinding Lights"), @theemyanicole ("Up"), and @thegilberttwins ("Fergalicious"). 

📚 BookTok & Poems

A month ago i was invited to talk about #BookTok on german public radio. Since then there have been some articles on the topic so i thought i give it a quick roundup. This Refinery29 article introduced me to the entire concept: BookTok Is The Last Wholesome Place On The Internet where “creators discuss their favourite reads through video reviews, recommendations and book nerd memes.” Or literary controversies.

Then there was this NYT-article How Crying on TikTok Sells Books that showed me that nerdy book memes mean business these days. Quote: John Adamo, the head of marketing for Random House Children’s Books, said it now works with about 100 TikTok users.

The British Evening Standard had its BookTok-article just yesterday. I learned that the Barnes & Noble website now has a “BookTok” page dedicated to the most popular books on TikTok and its American stores have introduced allocated sections displaying titles that have gone viral on the platform.

If you want to start exploring, here is a YouTube video called 7 minutes of booktoks to watch instead of actually reading. If you are more into poems, here is Ayanna Albertson on NPR reading one of her TikTok Poems. I am still waiting for TikTokers to start producing #ChristianKracht videos. There is only one. It is pretty bad. I made it myself last year. 

🗺️ Case Study: Goethe Institute

The Goethe-Institut is a non-profit German cultural association operational worldwide with 159 institutes, promoting the study of the German language abroad and encouraging international cultural exchange and relations. I have facilitated a bunch of workshops for Goethe and i was happy that Gosia and Sinah got in contact for a little interview to talk about Goethe’s very first TikTok account: @goetheinstitut.deutsch

Could you please introduce yourself? How big is the team? What are the roles? 

Our team consists of Alexander (host and editor with Drive beta), Rosi (editor with Drive beta), Rike (project supervisor with Drive beta) and four Goethe-Institut colleagues: Sinah (coordinator/project lead), Marina (community manager) and Kai and Nicole (German teachers and script editors). Alexander studied linguistics and used to work as a teacher before he became a TikTok star. He is also very much into “World of Warcraft”. 

The account bio of @goetheinstitut.deutsch says „Deutsch lernen mit dem Goethe-Institut“: Can you learn a new language with TikTok?

If you can learn how to dance, why shouldn’t you be able to learn German? We definitely want our followers and users to learn something from our videos and posts, but the main purpose – especially on TikTok – is to make learning German fun and keep users motivated to continue learning. TikTok and Instagram are just two of many tools that we offer to make learning German easier. Our motto is: Even if you haven’t understood anything in class, you can follow our channels. 

Who is your target audience? How do you make sure that your account reaches your target audience? Do you actually reach the target audience you want? 

We started the project in the Netherlands and the UK in what we at the Goethe-Institut call the region of North-western Europe (that is Ireland, the UK, The Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries and Finland). Our narrow target audience is therefore German learners between 14 and 16, living in these countries. But as a globally acting institute, we of course do not want to exclude any German learners, therefore our broader target audience is German learners worldwide. At the moment, we are not quite there yet: At this point, 46% of our followers are from Germany, from those probably a good part does learn German, but there are definitely also quite a few native speakers among our followers. For the first few weeks, we posted only in German – not wanting to confuse our learners from different countries with two languages. Now we try to get on better terms with the algorithm by using more English language in our videos and texts. We’ve also seen some good results with advertising in order to push videos in our target countries and are really happy to be working with an agency who understands how to do that.

There is an Insta account too. How do the two platforms work together. What is your strategy here?

At the beginning, Instagram was more of a fail-safe plan. TikTok was unchartered waters and we weren’t quite sure whether we could make it. Having more experience with Instagram as a platform (the main Goethe-Institut account having over 100.000 followers), we didn’t want to put all our eggs in one basket. Over time, that has changed quite a bit. We now see both channels as two distinctive ways to reach different people on their favourite platform and help them stay motivated with learning German: While on TikTok we focus on edutainment with a slight emphasis on the entertainment in “edutainment”, on Instagram we put a bit more weight on education – respecting the platforms and how people use them. So while you would seldom find a very long and serious explanation on TikTok, on Instagram we try to keep it light while also giving broader explanations and what can be traditionally seen as learning material – like vocabulary – that people can save (which they do a lot). 

How many TikTok videos do you produce per week? 

We publish 4 videos per week. 

Could you describe the editorial steps from idea to a finished TikTok video? 

The initial idea for the content was developed with experts and members of the target group during a design sprint at the Goethe-Institut in London. The videos are being developed by Drive beta. Usually they send us a script that three members of our team review. Sometimes the idea also originates on our side – the teachers in our team bringing some ideas from their classes. After our feedback, the videos are shot, usually 12 at a time, so we have content for at least 2 weeks. Then follows another round of feedback from the Goethe-Institut and the last edits on the videos are made, before they are published. 

Did you rely on external agencies or is everything done by Goethe internally? Did TikTok at any point offer support? 

We could never do it ourselves. Due to our resources, but especially our lack of TikTok expertise (at the beginning, but even now), we rely on an agency, Drive beta from Berlin, to support us. They have had prior experience with successful TikTok formats like Doktorsex that they could rely on. 

What was your biggest learning experience so far?

Respect the platform – and its users. Our biggest learning experience is probably that you have to forget everything you learned about making a nice short and funny version of your high-end content and putting it on social media in order to lure people to your website and just be more... TikTok. We are also still trying to get our hand around why some videos go viral – and some don’t. Our most popular video with over 1M views plays with the stereotype of German being such a harsh language, us making fun of that in a returning format. Two weeks ago 500k users watched our host Alexander not eating a Mettbrötchen. On the other hand, an ASMR video of playing with a bubble wrap was only viewed 5k times. You just never know.

What surprised you the most concerning your audience? 

Most surprising was that the audience is so very active. They comment so much that in some cases we almost can't keep up with the community management. This instant feedback is also a great way to learn more about what our users want from us.

What accounts inspire you on a professional level?

So many! @sophiasmithgaler is great. She is a BBC journalist and we especially like her videos about language, e.g. the "Patriarchy in language", "Etymology of the word weird" or "Why do Italians sound so dramatic". There are a ton of interesting littok/booktok accounts such as @erynbroughtabook with videos like "Stuff I learned in books". As for language focused accounts, @how_to_british is genius in its simplicity, mostly concentrating on “how to say XYZ in British slang”. And speaking about language-based accounts, we love @berveleen too – she gives very practical tips on German language and how to start a life in Germany – and we are chuffed to have her as a guest on our channel.  

What is the long term goal of the account?

We want more and more people to develop a positive attitude to learning German! And at some point take a look at what else the Goethe-Institut has to offer.

What are Goethe’s next steps concerning TikTok?

Other regions in the world are considering starting their own TikTok channels with content more customized to the local learning culture and use of social media. We are also interested in exploring more TikTok in the cultural field. At the same time, as a global institution, we are constantly monitoring the data privacy issues and local implications of using the platform (think: India). To put it in Facebook terms, it’s complicated.



That’s it. You have reached the end. I hope you have a bunch of relaxing days. And after that why not become a Chief TikTok Officer maybe one day you might even join a Creator Council. I for one will make sure to get some soup. Thread! Take care.