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Things we learned from using TikTok in our fight to tackle the housing emergency

1 March 2022

Here’s a statistic for you. 222,360 households have been tipped into homelessness since the start of the pandemic. But if you close this blog and try to recall that number in 20 minutes’ time, can you?

Large numbers are hard to comprehend, let alone remember. But they’re important. That’s why at Shelter we’re making stats about the housing emergency more memorable by using TikTok

Our incredible research team writes in-depth reports, filled with numbers about homelessness. Our job on the social team is to share their findings with a broad audience of people with short attention spans. There is so much content out there and lots of research to unpack, so we need to produce fast-paced content that helps keep people focused on the important issue: the housing emergency. 

TikTok is a great platform for Shelter to be able to create short, educational videos that are also entertaining so we’ve been using it to develop a series of statistic-led content to explain the housing emergency. 

Here are seven things we learned:

1. Show, don’t tell

“Showing” someone a statistic is better than just telling them about one. With limited budget and resource, you might need to get creative. 

To demonstrate that the number of households made homeless since the start of the pandemic is equivalent to a city the size of Liverpool, we either needed a helicopter… or we needed to work with something more realistic.

Filming Google maps on a computer screen worked just as well at showing the scale of the issue as flying a helicopter over the city. And it doesn’t look out of place on TikTok – rough and ready edits are welcome.

2. Write out a rough script and storyboard for the TikTok before you make it

Writing down a plan before filming anything helped us iron out anything that could need signing off by other teams. It also allowed us to spot improvements before we filmed anything. 

Storyboarding a TikTok, just like how you might storyboard any other video content, is worth it – it will mean you can save time in the long run. But leave space for being spontaneous and adding your own personality.

Some of our best performing TikToks have been 75% planned, 25% adlib. This adds authenticity. 

3. Decide on a hook for each statistic

There are different ways to frame a statistic. When planning this series, we identified what made each stat most shareable before we started creating. For example:

“Let’s show the scale of the housing emergency”

Fact: 401 households become homeless every day*. 

We wanted the audience to comprehend size, so we used the hook: “Do you know how many people become homeless daily?”. 

To visualise this, we took our audience on a walk to count out 401 houses. We edited the video in a blog format to narrate the passage of time and demonstrate just how huge 401 households becoming homeless a day really was.

The video has been watched over 12,000 times across all of our channels and posts, and performed remarkably well on LinkedIn, gaining comments such as: “Extraordinary way to highlight those statistics. The scale is shocking.” And, “A really accessible way to understand the message.”

@sheltercharity

We know from past experience that many people find this number hard to believe, but it’s true. We can’t be there to help them without you. #housing #housingrights #homelessness #housingemergency #activism

♬ love nwantinti (ah ah ah) – CKay

“Let’s explain the causes of the housing emergency”  

Fact: 7,000 social homes were built last year, but over 1 million people are on the social housing waiting list. 

This is a story about ratios. We wanted the audience to see how contrasting stats relate to the housing emergency. 

We used the hook: “This policy is making the housing emergency worse.” We drew a line graph on a whiteboard to demonstrate the number of social homes declining. Then another line graph to show house prices were increasing. This time we also tied in a TikTok trend, which helped us gain over 19,000 views in just 2 days. The ‘drop it like it’s hot’ trend was all over the TikTok algorithm at the time – by using it creatively, we were able to appear in more people’s TikTok feeds (also known as the For You page) – and so further increase the reach of this content.

@sheltercharity

Without homes, we can’t solve homelessness. The government needs to #BuildSocialHousing 🏡 #uktiktok #property #dropchallenge

♬ Yoncé – Atsuko Okatsuka

4. “Explain it to me like I am five.”

One of our challenges is that no one comes to our social channels with the same level of understanding about the housing emergency. But everyone LOVES to learn and they love to share interesting content.

That’s why a frequent mantra in Shelter’s social media team is ‘explain to me like I’m five’. If you can explain something in a way that is educational, engaging, and entertaining, your point is more likely to stick with them. And everyone is going to want to share it. 

5. Test your analogy on peers outside your area of work

I have some passionate, clever friends who have become a mini testing zone for my explainer ideas. One of them is a teacher who has lots of experience explaining things to 5-year-olds. This is very handy!

Testing your ideas by reaching out to people outside of your organisation helps you identify any assumed knowledge, which could isolate a cold audience. 

6. Create your videos with personality   

You can still create TikTok-friendly content without following a trend, so long as it has personality. 

The best TikTok accounts occupy a niche, and for us it’s housing. Our niche is the same across all our accounts, but our TikTok personality has a different tone to ‘Twitter Shelter’. 

As long as our brand personality comes through, we can create content that works, but might not necessarily be a TikTok trend. Our friends at Citizen’s Advice are great at this.

It’s good to mix up content though. Replicating the best performing trends in our own content niche was the quickest way for us to start creating. A bit like how we used the ‘Drop Tok’ trend in this video.

7. Share widely outside of TikTok  

One of our best performing posts in this series was a TikTok video that we cross-posted to LinkedIn. Downloading videos from the platform gives our content more mileage and helps us engage a different audience. The fun of TikTok is that content is very top-line, so it can easily work in other spaces. 

If you like what we do then please do give us a follow, or why not even tag us in some of your content and we can engage with your charity? 

*The number of households who became homeless per day was calculated using official statistics on the number of households who became homeless and were owed the relief duty in the year 1st July 2020-30th June 2021. Since Shelter’s social media post was released, the government have published new quarterly statistics showing that between July and September 2021 the number of households owed a relief duty was equivalent to 397 per day.


Want to learn more about TikTok? Take a look at these other blogs:

Banner Image: Miki Fath on Unsplash

Bronya Smolen

Social media officer, Shelter

Bronya is the social media officer at Shelter charity. She creates content and social strategies for Shelter's fundraising and political campaigns.