We were the first global humanitarian organisation to partner with TikTok. Here’s what we learned so far.

Dante Licona
Oct 21, 2019 · 4 min read

By Melis M Figanmeşe and Dante Licona

The IFRC / TikTok story started only 10 months ago when our Red Cross video guy and trend-spotter Damien Naylor suggested we take a look at the shiny new platform that was topping the charts of mobile downloads. Our team, tainted by the ‘But, do we have the capacity?’ response, were curious to find out more about it, but after downloading the app, thought engaging would be too time consuming.

Fast forward a few months, and it was becoming harder and harder to ignore the fact that TikTok was a powerhouse in the sector. Creators started to join the app. Viral video tweets featured the TikTok logo. It was then that our team decided we needed to reconsider our stance on joining the app. We started really to think more proactively about how to convert that wave of attention into an opportunity for carrying our humanitarian messages to a younger, engaged audience.

In April 2019, we took the plunge. We reached out to TikTok’s team. They, unlike some other social companies, responded fast. They were enthusiastic to get us on board and help in any way they could. We were paired with a representative that was actually an ex-IFRC (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies) staffer — so she would understand exactly who we are, how we operate, and at what speed.

A month of talks later, the TikTok team provided us the information and support we needed to get the green light from our management team to have a presence on the platform.

Here’s a quick look to an email at the time 📧

On 25 May we created our account, and on 29 May, we posted our first TikTok:

That was our attempt at driving attention to World Blood Donor Day. It sort of failed miserably. But that’s okay! It was our first try. We had a lot to learn.

We decided to go big and put (a majority of) our eggs in a new basket. Our flagship campaign of the year was launching in just two months and we wanted TikTok to carry it home. TikTok didn’t flinch at the fact that we wanted to launch a global campaign in less than eight weeks.

In July we started to have regular conversations in order to prepare a high-impact campaign, that could increase awareness and foster climate action. We not only held weekly conference calls, but through a Whatsapp group we were providing real-time updates to get things done. On one occasion, in a Zoom call with at least 10 participants, involving different elements of TikTok as well as our team, the result was: #ForClimate

Hundreds of hours of labor and eight weeks later, the campaign launched on 16 September in over 100 countries, and 15 languages. The worldwide activation directly delivered our messages to the phones of hundreds of thousands of users around the world.

Here is a sample of the campaign notification in Chile 🇨🇱 👆

After two weeks, with the support of Red Cross and Red Crescent teams around the world, the results were encouraging: more than 250,000 videos were created. And in total, videos of the campaign have received over 300 million views.

The results of #ForClimate on TikTok

So — what were some of the take-aways from our partnership?

  1. We saw the opportunity and we took it. Especially in digital comms, we understand the importance of reacting fast to a good opportunity. Digital moves very quickly. What’s in today is out tomorrow. Sometimes being agile and open to new opportunities is the key to success. Also, the support and trust from senior management is critical, particularly in the early stages.
  2. There are high returns for early adopters. Because we were among the first, we actually signed a formal partnership with TikTok that will enable us to work together for two years. That commitment from both parties, in terms of time and resources, will help us keep communicating with the next generation of humanitarians and Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers.
  3. No shortcuts: you have to know your platform. Collectively, our team spent hundreds of hours on TikTok — first understanding the user experience, the distribution, the community building, but also how to find a voice for our organization
  4. Don’t be afraid to fail. Our first few videos were kind of flops. We didn’t understand what content worked, when to post, what hashtags to use… We were in a period of testing. But you can learn from your failure.
  5. Have fun. Our process these days is such that, we come into the office in the morning, review what’s trending and decide if we can relate that trend to our work. Even if we look a bit ridiculous in the process. We’re still not posting enough, but we’re spreading the Red Cross Red Crescent message to a brand new audience in each video and having fun along the way.

Should your organization join TikTok? In one word, yes. If not for any other reason, let it be so we’re not the lonely humanitarian organization making in-office TikToks, trying to share our message with the gen-z and all their cool users.

Digital Diplomacy

Technology, digital, and innovation in government and foreign policy

Dante Licona

Written by

Senior Social Media Officer, IFRC. Let’s talk #DigitalDiplomacy. Hecho en México.

Digital Diplomacy

Technology, digital, and innovation in government and foreign policy

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