Why the EU should be on TikTok
The European Union shouldn’t dismiss the new social network as just child’s play
“Is the European Commission on TikTok?”
This question turned lots of heads when it was asked at a recent conference in Brussels.
Unsurprisingly, the Commission is not on the lip-syncing app so loved by teenagers. But it shouldn’t be such an outlandish prospect.
Here are three reasons why the European Union should start TikToking.
The EU can’t get complacent
It’s true that TikTok’s main audience is young and the platform is not exactly built for announcements about fishing quotas and soya bean tariffs. But this doesn’t mean it should be ignored completely.
Forty percent of TikTok’s user base is under 30. Those youngsters now filming their viral challenges will be walking up to ballot boxes in the not-so-distant future.
Although millennials and Gen Z are staunch pro-Europeans, recent election results show the EU can’t rest on its laurels.
In Belgium, for example, 30 percent of people who voted for the far-right Vlaams Belang party in national elections last year were under the age of 34. Despite waning popularity among younger generations, Hungary’s radical Fidesz still garnered 37 percent of Hungary’s under-30 voters in 2018.
If the EU wants to avoid a generation of Eurosceptics, it needs to meet this generation where it is – and one of those places is TikTok.
It will show the EU is proactive rather than reactive
But younger generations are largely absent from Facebook, preferring to spend more time on platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and – you guessed it – TikTok.
And the app is on the rise in a big way. It has half a billion active users and has been downloaded 1.5 billion times, making it the fastest-growing social network. It’s no longer a social media minnow – it’s a shark.
Being a Chinese company, there are obvious concerns about data privacy and censorship of sensitive content. But if the EU wants to stay ahead of the curve and engage young audiences, it needs to embrace new platforms like TikTok now. It’s better to be a trendsetter than a follower.
It provides a new, creative way of communicating
TikTok’s defining feature is its short-form, video-based content. This has given birth to billions of videos ranging from choreographed memes to viral challenges.
This doesn’t mean Ursula von der Leyen should be sharing her rendition of Bad Guy by Billie Eilish. But it does mean EU’s comms experts can use it to break down the façade of institutional dullness.
Take the 142-year-old Washington Post. “We are a newspaper,” it reassures visitors to its TikTok page. Below this, hundreds of videos show staffers lip-syncing, dancing and creating absurdist memes. It’s hilarious, and it’s successful; more than 390,000 people follow the WaPo TikTok account.
How can the EU take inspiration? It’s already testing the waters. Last year, it launched #TheRealChallenge with UNICEF, encouraging users to create awareness-raising videos about children’s rights. The campaign gained more than 280 million views on TikTok.
This exploratory effort and the case of the venerable American broadsheet shows there is space for serious organisations to communicate on TikTok.
Social media is a shapeshifting, fickle beast. But this doesn’t mean the EU should avoid exploring new, creative channels of communication to reach new audiences. Maybe at a conference in the future, the answer to “Is the European Commission on TikTok?” will be “Absolutely.”