Is it time for charities to embrace TikTok?

About the author

Danny Richardson prepared this article as part of a CIPR Professional PR Diploma assignment while studying with PR Academy

Just as we’ve got our heads around Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, along comes another channel to add to our social media strategies.

Danny Richardson

This time, it’s video sharing giant TikTok. Hootsuite research suggests around eight new users join every second, with the platform boasting over a billion active users. A Meltwater study shows it’s the fastest growing social media platform in the world. Here in the UK, Statista projections estimate there will be 15 million users by 2025.

But why is TikTok so successful? How can it benefit us? Why are charities across the third sector embracing it, with great results? And how do charities make their TikTok channels work?

The science behind TikTok

TikTok’s success can be traced back to its addictiveness. Uploaders are encouraged to be creative, posting short-form video clips (typically 15-60 seconds long) that are set to music. Because the clips are short, viewers typically go from one video to the next.

In a recent survey commissioned by the channel, users praised its authenticity, uniqueness and community as reasons that keep them scrolling, while a third said it lifts their spirits.

There’s a science behind it, too. An American National Institute of Health study showed that because short videos are characterised by a clear style, have concise content and a fast rhythm, they create addictive behaviour. That study is supported by research by Social Films which shows UK users spend 41 minutes a day on the channel.

The next generation of fundraiser

It’s clear TikTok has potential, but there’s an elephant in the room – its primary audience.

Statistics show that TikTok’s main userbase in the UK are aged between 16-24, the demographics that charities have shied away from targeting in the past, as they’re less likely to donate because of their perceived lack of disposable income.

But times are changing. According to NPT UK, just less than half of those aged 16-24 now donate to charity.

The younger audience clearly has an appetite for philanthropy – and we can reach them through TikTok.

How does TikTok compare to other channels?

Before we take the plunge, could we save ourselves the effort and use our existing social media platforms to reach that sought after younger audience?

Research from Statista shows that, in 2022, UK users spent more time on TikTok than Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and WhatsApp.

But this is the standout stat – a Statista study suggests around a quarter of internet users aged between 15-24 use TikTok. That’s one in four young adults who could be introduced to our charities through the platform.

But what type of video works?

Not-for-profit organisations across the country are posting timely, educational videos with facts and figures that contain a human-interest angle – similar to what we’d expect from a news story – helping to raise awareness of the causes they represent, illustrating more about the work they do and the telling the stories of people impacted.

For example, by hijacking the COVID-19 news agenda, British Red Cross launched a ‘how to wash your hands’ tutorial featuring professionals demonstrating proper handwashing to the tune of ‘Happy Birthday’. It racked up over a staggering 26m views, and it’s that type of content that has seen British Red Cross become one of the most followed charities on the platform.

You don’t have to represent a cause that specifically impacts young people to resonate with them. Homeless charity Shelter uses its TikTok channel to highlight its fundraising campaigns like #NoHomeKit and create educational videos about how to help rough sleepers – despite the fact Government research shows the average age of a rough sleeper in the UK in autumn 2021 was above 26.

So taking a handful of leaves out of the books of other charities, we experimented with short, educational videos raising awareness of cancer, symptoms, the work we do and the stories of case studies and fundraisers.

Macmillan’s best performing TikTok post features the story of a young woman living with cancer on her wedding day. It tells the story of her relationship and details about the impact cancer has had on her life. The video is educational while it’s also got a strong real-life, human-interest angle. Posted on Valentine’s Day, it was also topical – so it’s no surprise it’s racked up over 400,000 views.

Like other social media platforms, hashtags are important, too. We include #MacmillanCancer on our videos. It also allows our supporters to find our videos and check out what other creators are posting about us – while it allows us to keep track of the content our supporters like to upload, helping us ensure our videos resonate with them.

It’s that educational and informative content, as well as newsjacking and hashtagging, that can help increase followers, engagement and reach on TikTok.

Don’t forget about celebrities and influencers

At Macmillan, we’re good at engaging with celebrities to help push our cause. Like other charities, we have a bank of well-known faces who act as our ambassadors, helping us achieve press and social media coverage.

So it’s good news for us that many of our celebrity partners have embraced TikTok. For example, one of our ambassadors, Alison Hammond, boasts over a million followers on the platform.

Meanwhile, British Red Cross teamed up with singer Lewis Capaldi last year. He hosted a live video for the charity. Thanks to donation stickers (more on those later) he helped to raise more than £40,000 from viewers in around an hour.

Just by having a relationship with these famous faces, it gives charities a ‘head start’ in the TikTok sphere. But what if you’re a smaller charity, without access to the bigger names?

That’s where social media influencers come in. The rise of channels like TikTok has seen a rise in social media influencer PR and marketing. They promote brands or products to their thousands of social media followers.

For this year’s World Cancer Day for example, we worked with influencer Iain Ward, aka @thekingofchemo on TikTok, who posted a video with some of our key messaging. His video was viewed over 77,000 times.

While Iain isn’t a celebrity in the traditional sense, he does have a dedicated following of 4.8m on TikTok. So by him posting on behalf of Macmillan on World Cancer Day, it helped us reach his huge audience and raise awareness of our services.

Donation Stickers

But can TikTok help drive donations?

Introducing Donation Stickers – an in-app feature that offer creators a way to help raise funds within their videos and TikTok live streams for the charities and causes they care most about.

Donation Stickers are interactive and can be embedded directly in videos and TikTok LIVE streams, just like the other video effects the platform offers. When a user taps on the Donation Sticker, they’re guided to a pop-up window where they can quickly and easily submit a donation without having to leave the app. Donations are enabled by Tiltify, a fundraising channel, which processes donation transactions securely through their platform.

They’re the same tool that allowed Lewis Capaldi to raise money for the Red Cross as outlined above (the whole campaign helped raise £90,000 according to The Civil Society) as well as UK charity Help Musicians, which was one of the first charities in the UK to take advantage of the functionality.

TikTok wants charities to succeed

Donation Stickers are illustrative of TikTok’s willingness to help charities on its platform – and there are other examples, too.

The TikTok for Good initiative allows charities engage with the platform’s users with ‘Hashtag Challenges’ where users create their own content to show support for campaigns – like increasing awareness of climate change or, more appropriately, raise money for charity.

TikTok for Good also has its own account with over 800,000 followers, which shares charity content from around the world, helping to increase reach, engagement and of course, awareness of your cause.

But is the platform ethical?

For balance, it’s important to recognise TikTok has been in the news recently because of security concerns. The US, UK and French governments have banned the platform from staff devices.

In response, TikTok has accused those governments of misunderstanding the app and says the move to ban it is part of a wider political agenda. It’s important to note that the UK government has said there are no plans to ban the app more widely and MPs have been told they can use the device on their personal phones.

Meanwhile, in April this year, TikTok was fined £12.7m by the UK’s data watchdog for failing to protect the privacy of children by allowing children under 13 to use its platform.

In response, TikTok says it had significantly changed its practices to crack down on underage use of its platform while it should be noted the charges relate to the period between May 2018 and July 2020.

A bright future

While TikTok has had its controversies, charities across the sector are clearly using it for good. And the future is exciting, too.

A 2022 study by Ofcom found that TikTok is the fastest growing news platform for adults. With our PR heads on and in the age of online news and the decline of traditional newspapers, could the channel become a platform for charities to share our news updates moving forward, following in the footsteps of news channels like BBC News?

There’s certainly lots of potential, particularly in the third sector as TikTok looks to make a difference to the world through its various initiatives. Charities like British Red Cross have shown us how it’s done, while we’re starting to have a real impact at Macmillan, scoring some great engagement.

With all that in mind, I’d argue it’s time for the third sector to embrace TikTok.

This article was researched and written by Danny Richardson. The main image was created in AI by Bing Image Creator.