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TikTok: an underused tool for charities?

When it launched on the platform recently, the RNLI became the third most popular charity on TikTok. Within days of the organisation creating its profile and posting its first few videos, it amassed more than 100,000 followers, and just a few weeks later, its audience has grown to more than 143k.

With clips of dramatic sea rescues, plenty of life-saving information, and with a few cute sea-faring animals thrown into the mix, it’s not difficult to see why four million people choose to watch the charity’s videos on the social media platform.

It’s all well and good having a following—but just how many of these TikTokers have donated money or signed up to volunteer for the RLNI since the account went live?

If that sounds derogatory, it’s not meant to—but it is something for charities to consider before they dive, head first, into TikTok land. In today’s digital age, every charity must have an online presence, however small. It may be that only a handful of people become actively involved with your cause from being a follower of yours on social media, but any interaction is better than nothing*.

Phone laid on table with tiktok app open on it

*I’m going to add a caveat here…as with any marketing, you should look at the ROI (return of investment). For example, if you employ a social media/digital assistant full-time and the returns from their activity doesn’t even cover their wage, this may not be the best use of funds. Even if the person representing you online is a volunteer, their time should still be viewed as a cost, and you should still gauge what you get back for their efforts.

In an ideal world, every charity would appear in as many places and on as many platforms as it could, and it would cast its net far and wide to find donors, stakeholders, beneficiaries and opportunities. It would flood its social profiles with great content and optimise every possible opportunity.

But this isn’t an ideal world.

Small charities don’t have the time, the funds or the manpower to do this.

The best advice I can give smaller organisations, therefore, is to only do the things that are appropriate and within their capabilities.

Appropriate – this means understanding your audience and putting forward the messages they will respond to and appreciate. This means using only the online platforms and offline methods that they will likely see and act upon.

Capabilities – it’s better to do one or two things well than ten things less than adequately. You need to apportion the time to not just post content but to also work on a strategy that will engage your potential donors, stakeholders, etc. If you can only spare an afternoon once a fortnight to promote or work ON your organisation and build links/opportunities, look at what you can realistically achieve in this time, and use the ROI premise to understand what will give you maximum reaction/engagement for the time you have available.

The RNLI has clearly understood the assignment. Not only is the organisation posting videos that make for great viewing (which is what the people of TikTok like), it’s also content that accurately demonstrates what the charity does. Had they filmed an informative, talking head video inside an empty lifeboat station, their audience may have swiped upwards very quickly. Instead, they’ve captured film that shows the type of support they offer as it happens—real life, high octane, fly-on the-sea footage of their rescues and their supervision of the aquatic landscape they serve. If you were to watch the clips they’ve posted, you’d know exactly what their organisation stands for, what your donations would go towards, and how important their support is.

Money bank notes stuffed behind a white keyboard

The RLNI is a sizeable organisation, in that it has the funds to employ people to cover all the different platforms and marketing tools and techniques that exist. Their presence on TikTok has simply introduced them to a younger demographic. Whilst this may not be rewarding in terms of donations, people of all ages enjoy the ocean—whether swimming, sailing or exploring. Though it would be unfortunate if so, this audience may become service users of the RLNI (after all, we take more risks when we’re young and rarely think of the consequences!).

There’s nothing to say, however, that these youngsters won’t donate sizeable amounts to the lifeboat charity, or their time, when they’re older. Awareness building is as important a task as any other for charities. It still carries a ROI—it just takes longer to realise the rewards than other forms of marketing and promotion. And this is, perhaps, one of the main differences between small charities and larger ones…bigger organisations can afford to invest time and money in activities that take a long time to see a return. Smaller charities, with fewer resources, may not be able to do this.

This may seem unfair, but it’s important to remember that every large organisation started out as a small charity. If they’ve managed to build their institution up over the years into a sizeable outfit, there’s no reason why smaller good causes can’t do the same.


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