Every day, in the wee hours of the morning, Chris Franklin, a 61-year-old farmer living in Wiltshire, England, opens the doors to his barn and let a parade of squawking ducks, geese and roosters enter the yard. He films the scene and uploads it on TikTok, where it’s regularly met with thousands of views and likes.
This series of “rush hour” videos is just a small part of the content Franklin publishes daily on the Chinese social media platform. From Chris the billy goat to the donkeys Coco and Eli, there's always a bounty of endearing animal-themed clips on the TikTok account of Franklin's farm.
He doesn't make and upload the videos just because they're objectively irresistible but also to raise awareness about the farm’s activities.
The thing is, this isn’t a regular farm: it’s the Caenhill Countryside Centre, a charity that teaches children about farming, animals and the countryside.
Obviously, not all charities can mobilize testimonials as heartwarming as Cuthbert the Goose for their engagement efforts on TikTok. Nevertheless, the Chinese social media is being looked at with interest by an increasing number of communications professionals working in the nonprofit sector. Will it become the next go-to platform for organizations that want to boost online donations and engagement rates? ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, certainly hopes so.
In November, they organized an event for the charitable sector, with the aim of informing British charities about the potential of the social media for their work. As reported by Charity Digital News, Matt Griffiths, the CEO of Youth Music, a charity supporting music-making projects for young people, explained to the 100+ attendees how his organization partnered with the app for their “mind-blowing” campaign #MusicShapedMe that saw 15 million engagements over just three weeks. The campaign asked users to share videos on how music changed their lives, helping them power through challenging circumstances.
Along the same lines, Elizabeth Kanter, TikTok’s Public Policy Director, discussed how, in November, the social media supported #Movember, a yearly initiative to raise awareness on men’s health issues, by donating a total of £10k for clips created as part of the hashtag challenge.
All in all, what emerged from the event is that ByteDance’s household name, with its billion of active users spread across 150 markets, can potentially be a great venue for organizations that want to engage with their younger supporters (around 41% of TikTok users are aged between 16 and 24), especially if they want to create awareness around specific causes.
Given the young age of most users, what is yet to be understood is whether the platform will work mainly as a social amplifier or it will actually drive digital donations (research indicates that around 60% of GenZs are inspired to donate to charity by social media).
More in general, TikTok itself is so “young” (the app was launched in the international market in September 2017) that is still largely terra incognita with a series of problems (from privacy issues to its potential role in the U.S.-China trade war) that still needs to be fully addressed. It may then not (yet) be the ideal ground for charities that want to avoid reputational hazards at all costs.
What is certain is that many big tech companies, from the Facebook conglomerate to Amazon and Youtube, are developing and constantly fine-tuning fundraising tools to make charitable giving as easy as online shopping (in 2018 alone, over $1 billion in donations was raised through Facebook Fundraisers). TikTok or not, digital donations and online fundraising seem the way to go.