Possibilities for Public Engagement through Short Videos
TikTok, the video-sharing app, is rather controversial with President Trump’s Executive Order 13873 to ban the app alongside rising claims that the app's data collection threatens personal security. But even with these potential safety and privacy concerns, TikTok has accrued a massive potential audience for museums and public history institutions to tap into with millions of downloads and users across the globe. But assuming the Executive Order is actually enacted this month, this growing young audience will again be far harder to reach.
It is not a new problem for museums and public history institutions to be struggling to reach this young technologically inclined audience. Especially during a global pandemic that has shut down institutions from in-person visits: the main outlet most of these institutions rely on to spread their messages. But TikTok, while it is still broadly utilized, provides a unique outlet to feel as though you are doing one-on-one interactions with visitors. It also allows institutions to embrace more of the fun side that draws people working in those institutions to it in the first place.
TikTok videos allow institutions to demystify some of the behind-the-scenes actions and breakdown barriers of the “ivory tower.” Plus, institutions can share fun and exciting experiences in a new format. This app allows people to be people just having fun doing their jobs online and for people to realize how much more there is to know and learn from public historians than they may ever have realized before.
A popular strategy on the platform is for fun or “relatable” individuals sharing anything they find interesting. From at home projects, dancing, or funny one-liners, there are a lot of opportunities to try new methods of engagement not to mention the easy access to a wider global audience. This individuality element and one-on-one engagement provides a new format for building connections with public history institutions as well as having employees share their favorite moments to engage in cheesy, adventurous, or even educational moments with viewers.
Public history institutions cannot let social media outlets pass them by if they want to continue or even start engaging with young curious audiences. Assuming that occasional field trips or a child’s trip with their parents to the museum will be enough to bring them back over and over again through their entire life is not reasonable. These younger audiences can be reached and engaged with through online platforms even from halfway across the world. Why limit that education to an occasional Facebook post that most twenty-year old’s will never check, or an Instagram story that is gone in moments? TikTok has grown drastically within two years since their merging with Musical.ly, and although you may think of it as only dancing videos it has an astounding variety of content typically centered around audio cues. This app allows content creators to reuse different music or audio from other TikTok videos which as they grow in popularity establishes a sense of tone and messaging. There are, of course, videos that go against that set grain with the audio; however, the audio shifts are sometimes still utilized to demonstrate that difference. Take advantage of these already created viral audio clips to show off museum collections, fun facts, behind-the-scenes surprises, and exhibits in a new and engaging way.
Now that you know some of the small secrets into TikTok; go and get scrolling. Learn more about what people find interesting and engaging. Then make some yourself. See if they gain popularity or if they don’t. Self-promote across your own platforms. And create the kind of content you, your kids, your grandparents, your cousin, or your neighbor wants to find. Authenticity and engagement: that’s where you will find the most success.
Alex Warren is a public historian who recently completed her master's in public history at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is passionate about digital opportunities to engage public audiences.