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What to know when starting a TikTok channel

4 March 2022

I’d been in my role at Citizens Advice for six months and was trying to find a platform that would help us reach young people. That’s when I came across TikTok. Having heard about this platform that had been around since 2018, but that had grown in popularity during the pandemic and quite literally saved many peoples’ sanity – it felt like it could be good for Citizens Advice.

As my only real experience of TikTok had been helping a friend’s sister film videos of her dancing, I set out to find out what all the fuss was about and whether it would work for us. After a lot of research, I wrote a case for Citizens Advice to get its own TikTok. A year and a Third Sector Award later, we have almost 80k followers. The platform has been a huge and unexpected success for us. But there are definitely lots of things we wish we’d known before starting out, so here they are…

1. You’ll end up spending a huge amount of time on TikTok

When people talk to me about starting out on TikTok the first question I ask is ‘Do you use it?’ 99% of the time they say no. Lots of organisations want to use TikTok without knowing what the platform is about or why they want to use it. You can’t start a channel without having an in-depth understanding of the platform. You need to know what types of videos do well and where you’d fit in.

The easiest way to do this is by using it a lot. When we started, I looked at what other charities were doing and thought about the type of content we could make. Other organisations inspired me a lot, such as @young.scot and @britishredcross. I also took inspiration from individuals, like @davidlarbi and @loewhaley. As well as pretty much every person on my ‘For You Page’ (a page of curated TikToks you get shown based on the kind of videos you’ve viewed and liked in the past.)

Using TikTok helps me understand what’s trending, what type of content is doing well and why. TikTok differs from Twitter in that you don’t need to be browsing Twitter all the time to write a tweet. But, you do need to know what other people are creating to be able to make a TikTok. You also can’t just repost the same content you’re creating for other social channels, you need to make videos especially for TikTok.

Here’s an example of us jumping on a trend that wouldn’t necessarily make sense to non-TikTok users.

https://www.tiktok.com/@citizensadvice/video/7057223297284590853?is_copy_url=1&is_from_webapp=v1

2. Understanding your voice is the most important thing

Looking at what others are doing on TikTok and using the platform yourself is only the first step. The next thing is working out what your voice is. There are so many subsections of TikTok, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. When we first started, I knew our space would be informative. Our aim was to get information out there quickly, so people understood our advice within seconds of watching a video. I’d read a lot about TikTok for good and had seen TikToks like @unicef paving the way for charities. It was only after trial and error that we realised being more playful and sometimes even tongue in cheek, worked really well for us. We enjoyed that TikTok allowed us to still be Citizens Advice, but a fresher, more fun version.

Using trending sounds and jumping on trends helped us engage with a whole new demographic. We’ve found this reflected in our data. Since we’ve been using TikTok our brand familiarity amongst young people has grown by around 20%.

It seems people like being given advice in a fun and interesting way. TikTok has a wide range of types of content – and there are lots of different voices out there too. You can be informative but more serious like @unicef or you can be completely random like @ryanair. But the most important thing is finding out what works for your charity, and that comes with practice.

3. You need to talk about topics people want to hear about

It seems like an obvious point, but it took us a while to get it. For videos to do “well” they’ll need a lot of likes. They’ll need to be about topics that people find interesting and want to engage with (either by liking, leaving a comment, or sharing with friends.) To get lots of engagement the video should be about an issue which affects lots of people.

https://www.tiktok.com/@citizensadvice/video/6990391789144313093?is_copy_url=1&is_from_webapp=v1&lang=en

Housing advice always does well! Why? Because what better way for a student to find out how they can challenge their difficult landlord, than coming across it on the very app they spend most of their time on. They don’t have to go out of their way to find the advice, it’s already there in front of them. When we first got TikTok our content relied on a pre-understanding of Citizens Advice and what we do. Instead, we should have been making content people will find interesting even if they don’t know who we are. You need to make content which people will care about in separation of your cause. But the good thing is once they start enjoying your content, they’ll find out about you too.

4. Building an audience takes time and patience

And lastly, it’s important to know you can’t build a following overnight. For the first four months, Citizens Advice only had 160 followers but they were regular and loyal. Don’t worry if you start off slow, because when you start to understand what content works for your charity, you’ll grow, and you’ll grow quickly. A video that did well for us could on its own give us thousands of new followers. Much more than any tweet could give you on Twitter. So be ready to jump on these new followers. Have content ready to show them and really analyse why your videos did well and how you can make more. I’ll leave you with the first video we made that got a lot of views.

Like any platform, setting up a successful TikTok isn’t easy. But as one of the fastest-growing social media platforms, it’s worth a try. You can speak to new and younger audiences directly. Few platforms give you that opportunity. Don’t let nervousness put you off. Download it and have a go. It’s likely to be around for the long haul.


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

Banner Image: Omar Houchaimi on Pexels

Eleanor Sutherland

communications officer, Citizens Advice

Eleanor is a communications officer at Citizens Advice, where she leads on their award-winning TikTok channel. She also creates digital content for fashion and art brands. Her spare time is spent learning Spanish and drawing cats.