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How to use TikTok to grow your museum’s audience

TikTok is more than just an app that is centred on short-form videos. Since bursting onto the social media scene in September 2016, it’s become a hub for creativity, trends and most importantly for our purposes, a marketing goldmine. Even though it debuted halfway through the decade, it recently took seventh place amongst the most downloaded apps of the 2010s; marking its territory as an app that deserves recognition.

Over the past few years museums have taken to the platform like fish to water such as Black Country Living Museum and their prolific TikTok account with 1.3 million followers, 21.6 million likes and counting. There is massive potential for audience expansion with this app that boasts over 1 billion users. So, what exactly is the secret to TikTok fame and success for museums? Read on to find how to expand your audience, get your account off the ground, and set on the track to success.

Assessing the competition

For TikTok beginners, it’s all about “lurking” which is the process of using an app and exploring content without posting. Taking a few weeks to understand the territory and lingo is an important first step in learning how to create platform-appropriate content. Follow the accounts of similar organisations and take note of what kind of videos they are producing. The TikTok For You Feed is an algorithm-generated stream of videos that is curated to each users’ viewing tastes. Consider engaging with the content on your organisation’s personalised feed if it’s relevant, to encourage the app to highlight more of that useful cultural inspiration. Before you know it, you’ll be able to open the app and see the latest and greatest videos from significant organisations which is useful for staying on top of trends and keeping current.

Sure, the app is great at knowing which content to flag up to you, but it’s also a good idea to visit the accounts of your cultural competitors and consider following organisations that they follow such as arts and culture influencers, museum groups, journalists etc… Building up your knowledge and crafting your account in this way before posting videos is a sure-fire way to hit the TikTok ground running.

Working with Influencers

TikTok isn’t the platform for hard sells. The app is most popular with Gen Z and Millennial users who notoriously don’t fall for traditional marketing tactics. Young adults aged 18-24 comprise 43% of TikTok’s global audience so tailoring content to that demographic is key for marketing success. According to a 2020 report from GWI 60% of US/UK TikTok visitors visit the app for entertainment, to find funny or entertaining videos. This means that if you are creating straightforward content without a twist or unexpected element, your efforts are likely to be in vain.

Instead of marketing directly, consider marketing indirectly through unorthodox methods such as enlisting the help of influencers. Influencer marketing is a fantastic way to promote your organisation in a suitable way for TikTok. These tech-savvy content creators know the territory, lingo, hashtags and have the equipment and skillset to create trending content. Partnering up with an influencer who jives with your brand can help expand your audience and get your organisation noticed by younger generations. The first step to learning more about working with influencers is to read this helpful Museum Next article on the subject. Next, do the research to find out which TikTok influencers live in your area and invite them to visit your museum. Offer them an extra incentive like an exclusive event invitation or a behind the scenes tour and ask them to capture their visit via videos. Last, but not least, align on which hashtags to use and be sure to share the museum content that they create on multiple social media platforms to increase views and leverage publicity.

If you are in the market for more traditional advertising methods, TikTok also offers four advertising options: TopView, In-Feed Ads, Branded Hashtag Challenge and Branded Effects. With each one set at a different price point and tailored to different audiences, it’s all about trying them out and seeing which one works for your organisation if it’s in your budget. 

Capitalising on trends

As a video-based app, TikTok offers users the opportunity to get creative, and we mean really creative when it comes to posting content. Videos must be visually gripping for viewers to stop scrolling. Including the right hashtags and audio for videos to pop up in users’ personalised feeds is also important. TikTok operates around a trending culture. Dances, songs and lingo become a community-wide conversation and get adopted and made their own by users old and young, located across the globe.

For your content to take off, we’d recommend jumping on the trend bandwagon and utilsing popular songs, dances and subjects but in a way that is personalised to your brand. TikTok users want to see brands as “fun and cool”. TikTok reported in 2021 that 67% of app users would prefer to see videos from brands featuring popular or trending songs on the platform. This is the time to get over any camera-shyness and consider getting in front of the lens to make your brand more fun and relatable to younger generations.

However great your video content may be, without the use of trending hashtags, you risk your content getting lost in the TikTok shuffle. Ask yourself some important questions…Which hashtags are trending that also relate to your museum? What kind of hashtags are similar organisations using? Use a process of trial and error to figure out how to caption and hashtag your videos for optimal views. The path to TikTok fame isn’t a straightforward one. The most prolific museum accounts got to where they are because of hard work and the boldness to try new things and learn from mistakes.

Ready to Post?

Once you’ve assessed your competition, followed relevant accounts, listened to some trending songs, and maybe even learned a dance or two, you may just be ready to post! One great aspect of using Tiktok to market your museum is that many of the videos on the platform were created using basic video technology i.e. a smartphone! Posting that first video can be intimidating, but everyone must start somewhere and the most important thing to remember is to learn from your mistakes. Take time to reflect after posting and see what worked and what did not to improve future videos. Additionally, be sure to make the most of your efforts by sharing your video on other social media platforms like Instagram (reels) and Facebook (stories.)

Looking for more inspiration? Learn what other museums have been up to on TikTok in this Museum Next article.

About the author – Devon Rose Turner

Devon Rose Turner is an Arts & Culture Writer. She has worked extensively in arts marketing for both the visual arts and performing arts in the US and UK. Now living in London, Devon works in the arts and culture sector and enjoys traveling to visit museums.

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