What’s the worst that can happen?

by Jack Grasby

The famous last words me and my colleague Zander uttered to each other last year, as we decided it was time to finally take the leap and set up a TikTok account for our organisation.

At the time it seemed like a slightly rash decision. Whilst we’d already spent time getting to know the channel and undergone some training, we had no content to start with.

Eight months later, though, and it turns out to be one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

Through blood, sweat and almost genuine tears, we are now one of the leading public services in the world on TikTok with over 100,000 followers.

Above and beyond that, we’re having the best time of our careers.

Here’s what we’ve learned…  

1. Talk does not cook rice

We spent months developing a strategy, undergoing training and trying to familiarise ourselves with the channel before we launched. This is the best way to do things as a professional communicator, right?

But the truth is, no amount of discussion and planning can prepare you for the crazy world of TikTok. Quite the opposite, in fact. Turns out that it wasn’t until we jumped in at the deep end, and buried ourselves in the channel, that we started to truly understand it.

The lesson? When it comes to TikTok, talk is cheap. You need to get out there and start creating, even if you don’t fully know what you’re doing, to truly learn how this absolutely bonkers platform works.

2. As always, it pays to have a purpose

This might seem contradictory to the previous point, but bear with me. Whilst we eventually cut all planning and discussion, opting to just submit ourselves to the algorithm, we didn’t make the jump until we’d outlined a clear purpose and strategy for our work on the channel.

Before we started planning, a quick and dirty audit of our social channels showed we were missing a key audience of people aged 16-24. Now, whilst these aren’t the only people on TikTok, this platform is clearly the channel of choice for the younger generation.

Armed with this insight, and a clear purpose around our work on the channel, we were well equipped to handle the inevitable questions from staff who thought TikTok was for bored teens who wanted to do ‘stupid’ dances. 

The lesson? Having one side of A4 that outlines the all-important ‘what’ and ‘why’ will help get buy-in from staff who might otherwise, understandably, be quite apprehensive.

3. Sometimes it pays to be a rookie

Our team has a collective 42 years of experience in fire and rescue service communication. We’ve handled large scale wildfires, flooding and other fire incidents. And, indeed, we like to think we’ve got a good grasp of our ‘OG’ social channels such as Twitter and Facebook.

However, we quickly learned that none of this mattered when it came to TikTok. Past medals went in the bin and, whilst it’s always a big hit to the professional pride, we had to admit that we didn’t have a clue what we were doing.

In doing so, though, we opened ourselves up to some hands-on learning and development that we perhaps wouldn’t have got, had we of stubbornly pretended to know everything about a channel that really is like nothing else we’ve ever used. 

The lesson? It’s ok to admit when you don’t know what you’re doing and seek help and support from those that do – especially when it comes to navigating hundreds of sub-cultures and the most powerful algorithm in the world.

4. It’s a bumpy ride!

Over the last eight months there have been days where our follower growth has been so rapid, we haven’t been able to sleep through excitement.

But the reality is, these moments are a rarity. The vast majority of our time has been spent wallowing in self-pity after a video we thought would ‘blow up’ has only just managed to scrape past 1,000 views.

The lesson? The algorithm will chew you up and spit you out. Get used to it and get over it – because if you want to make a success of the channel, you need to persevere through the difficult moments.

Jack Grasby is campaigns manager at South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service. You can hello on Twitter at @JackGrasby

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