Two librarians in the Bond Hill branch. Photo courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Every night before bed, I watch TikTok for about 20 minutes. The videos in my “For You” feed consist of funny animals doing hilarious things, fashion and makeup (I really miss dressing up!)  and books.

I’m outside of the platform’s average demographic in terms of age, but I love the original and creative content. I find it inspiring.

I have only created a few TikToks to share. It takes a lot of effort and time. And that is why I usually hesitate when I am asked if libraries should be posting on TikTok.

Consuming TikTok content is easy. Making it is harder.

But in the past year, TikTok has really taken off. As of March 2021, the app has 689 million active users worldwide. By comparison, Facebook has 2.8 billion users and Twitter has 192 million active daily users (Twitter doesn’t report monthly use).

TikTok says it’s users are roughly 60 percent female and 40 percent male. Most of the global users are under the age of 34 years.

But here’s the kicker. The average user spends about 52 minutes a day on TikTok. By comparison, the average user spends 53 minutes a day on Instagram, 33 minutes a day on Facebook, and six minutes a day on Twitter.

It took Twitter and Facebook years to get to the same level of use that TikTok enjoys now, so clearly people love TikTok. But does that mean that your library should spent time and energy posting to TikTok? And if you do, will you see any measurable marketing results? 

Here are some things to consider as you make that decision.

The TikTok algorithm is kinder to libraries.

TikTok’s algorithm offers more organic growth potential than any other major social platform.  

TikTok shows a new post to a small group of people (both followers and non-followers) who are likely to be interested in the content. It shows up on a user’s “For You” page. If that content gets a lot of engagement on the “For You” page, TikTok will then expose the post to more people. As the content continues to drive engagement, the algorithm keeps adjusting to show it to a wider and wider audience.

By contrast, other platforms like Facebook and Instagram filter content in feeds. Facebook and Instagram have lots of rules in place that make it unlikely that your content will ever be seen by all your followers. And getting Facebook and Instagram posts in front of non-followers is nearly impossible unless your library is willing to pay to boost a post or buy an ad.

There isn’t as much content about libraries and reading.

Although TikTok has a lot of users, the competition levels in the feed for the kind of content your library would likely create is very low. There are really only a handful of libraries posting to the platform right now.

That means your content has more of an opportunity to catch attention and gain popularity on TikTok than on other platforms.

TikTok only lets you add links in your bio.

As is the case with Instagram, you can’t embed a directly clickable link in your TikToks. If you have a call to action that requires a link, you’ll have to add it to your bio.

Great content on TikTok doesn’t equal effective marketing.

The TikTok algorithm does not take the location of your library into account when it shows your content to followers. That means many of your most engaged followers may live outside your service area. Your library may have a huge, highly engaged TikTok following without any measurable marketing results.

It takes time to learn to create TikTok content.

I found creating my own TikToks to be time-consuming and a little confusing. And I think I’m adept at social media, plus I have video editing experience!

That said, if you have staff who are driven to post on TikTok, there are lots of great tutorials on YouTube about how to use the various creative tools. Some of the best are this one by Katie Steckly and this one from Social Media Examiner.

You can get super creative on TikTok.

TikTok has more tools to create unique videos than most other social platforms.

For example, the duet feature lets you make reaction videos in response to what other users post. You can also add music and special effects to posts.

Each of these tools adds a layer of difficulty and a measure of time in creating content. But they also increase the chances that your TikToks will be engaging and impact more people.

Advertising on TikTok is expensive.

Right now, the cost of buying an ad on TikTok is $10 per 1000 views, which doesn’t seem like much. But the platform requires you to spend a minimum of $500 per campaign, which immediately prices it out of the range of most libraries.

What to do if you decide to try TikTok

  • Set an experimental period of one to two months.
  • Decide on a consistent posting pattern, like once a week or every Monday and Friday. Then stick to it for the entirety of your experimental period.
  • Keep a record so you can track how your posts are doing. Start a spreadsheet and record the type of post you create, when you post it, how long your video is, what affects you use, and how much engagement you get. If you are using your videos to drive attendance at an event or drive circulation, be sure to track that. 

At the end of your experimental period, you’ll have enough data to determine if it’s worth your library to continue to post on TikTok.

I also suggest you read this article by Kelsey Bogan, a library media specialist at Great Valley High School, for the perspective of a library staffer who is using TikTok. Scroll to the bottom for a great list of libraries and book accounts to follow on TikTok for inspiration.

What to do if you decide NOT to try TikTok

Get on the platform and claim you library’s name anyway, in case you change your mind later. This is especially important if you use the same handle for all of your library’s social media accounts. Save the name and password you create.

Libraries, librarians, and book-related accounts to follow on TikTok.

Is your library on TikTok? Do you have a library TikTok account to recommend? Leave your comments below!

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