Hello everyone! This will be the first post in a planned series of posts about TikTok! I anticipate there will be about 3-4 posts in this series, and they should each be debuted over the next 2 weeks. The posts will cover a range of topics relating to how and why (i think) Librarians should be on TikTok. The posts to follow this one will include more practical “how-to” instructions.
This is the first post in the TikTok blog series!
- See the second post here: (Pt. 2) TikTok: Is It Safe?
- See the third post here: (Pt 3) Getting Started & Security
INTRO (or, why I’m doing a blog series about TikTok)
As many of you know, I am now a huge fan of the social media platform TikTok. When students introduced me to it this year, I immediately created an account for our school library. Establishing a robust Instagram account has had a profound impact on my school library program. I’m not sure any one thing I’ve done has accomplished more for our library program than our Instagram presence, in terms of branding, PR, public perception, community outreach, relationship building, advocacy, and increasing community support (among students, teachers, parents, and D.O. admin). The positive impact has been, truly, beyond words. Because I’ve had such success in leveraging Instagram for our library’s community building and advocacy efforts, once I learned about TikTok, I jumped at the chance to add it to our repertoire. Since then I have gotten a lot of interest and questions from fellow librarians about TikTok and how to use it, so I’ve decided to do a series of posts that I hope will help!
Some of my favorite tik toks!
I’ll start each post in the series by linking to a few of my favorite tik tok videos!
- This TikTok video the first of my TikTok’s to go “viral.”
- This TikTok video is one I created to show my support for independent choice reading and to disagree with “book shaming.”
(Part 1) TikTok & Why Librarians Should Use it
For Part 1 of this blog series, I’m posting the transcript of a recent interview that I did about TikTok for librarians. Kelly Jensen (Editor & Author: (Don’t) Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start The Conversation About Mental Health & Cohost of Hey YA! Podcast) is writing an article for School Library Journal about Librarians & TikTok, and she reached out recently to ask if I would be willing to answer some questions. I, being the wordy and exuberant person that I am, wrote A LOT of answers to each of her questions. Because that is what I do. When I do something, I inevitable OVERDO (overdue…haha) it. So by the time I finished typing up the interview answers, I realized that I had written enough about Tik Tok to make a good starting blog post. So here it is, in its entirety. I hope this interview will give anyone interested in TikTok a good idea of why and how I use it for my library, and that it may inspire you to give it a try.
The next post in the series will feature some more practical “how to” advice and tips!
Special thanks to Kelly Jensen for reaching out to me, enduring my lengthy responses, and for giving permission for me to post her interview questions and my answers here.
(Questions in blue posed by Kelly Jensen, Answers in black written by me, Kelsey Bogan.)
KJ: How — and equally important, why — did you start your TikTok account started? What were the first steps and how did you decide what your content would look like?
KB: I decided to create a TikTok account for my school library pretty much immediately after students first introduced the social media format to me. Social media has played a big part of my relationship & community building efforts with my students over the past three years. I started a few years ago with Instagram, and the positive impact it has had on our library program has been significant and undeniable. When students first introduced me to TikTok, and asked me to make one for the library, I immediately saw it as a valuable advocacy, branding, & community building tool which I could leverage for my library program. After spending 3 years doggedly building up a successful Instagram account, this felt like the right time to “spice things up” by adding TikTok to the repertoire. TikTok ended up proving to pair and supplement beautifully with the branding, community building, and library advocacy efforts that our Instagram has been accomplishing.
The first steps are to spend a decent amount of time simply exploring and engaging with the videos on TikTok that other users have already uploaded. TikTok is one of those things that’s difficult to explain, and only really makes sense after you’ve immersed yourself. After you spend time in the app as a consumer, you start to get a feel for it, and inevitably you start to think of ideas of videos you’d like to create. The next step is to start playing around with the video creation features until you’ve successfully made your first video!
Since I use TikTok as a companion to our Instagram account, and since I’ve had several years to determine the goals, audience, and messaging of the Instagram, it was easy to determine what kind of content I wanted to create with TikTok. The first thing is to decide who your audience is, because the messages you create for other educators will be different than the messages you want to convey to students, admin, or the general public. For me, the audience of my social media accounts has always been primarily the students, though I also keep the rest of my education community (colleagues, admin, parents, local small businesses, etc) in my consideration too. For the most part, I use social media as a way of staying connected with students, building a digital extension of the library community for them, communicating to them, entertaining and delighting them, and teaching them or connecting them with information or resources. I also have always used social media as a way of library program advocacy. TikTok has been especially powerful for helping me reach my library advocacy goals because it provides a very engaging, often humorous, format for conveying messages about the value of the modern library. It provides a lot of opportunity to create content that highlights the great things libraries do, or to create content that shatters stereotypes or misconceptions about libraries and librarians.
KJ: If you were to explain TikTok to someone who didn’t know what it was, how would you do that? What would you tell a colleague the benefits of being on the platform are?
KB: TikTok is a social media platform where users create content in the form of short videos. The videos are usually set to the backdrop of popular or trending music “sounds,” though they can also be original sounds that each user creates themselves. The videos are intended to convey a message, and often do so by employing satire, irony, memes, or social commentary. TikTok is for video communication, the way Instagram is for photo communication.
When I run PD sessions for my colleagues on using social media, TikTok is often one that teachers have the most questions about, but also one they are most interested in. Partly this is because students are frequently referring to TikToks, or even showing TikToks, to their teachers. In fact, my colleagues found out about my library TikTok because students kept showing them my viral videos and asking their teachers to create a classroom TikTok too! 😊 I explain to colleagues that TikTok can be used in many different ways, depending on what their particular social media goal is. I always explain that it is important to choose your audience and your goal before you start creating social media content.
Different audiences you might be targeting include: colleagues, administration/stakeholders, parents, students, or the general public. Goals for social media might include: advocating for your profession, communicating to parents/community, showing admin what great things occur in your classroom/library, communicating with students, relationship/community building, establishing a digital extension to your physical classroom/library, etc. All of these goals can be served by TikTok, which is the benefit to being on the platform. An additional benefit is that there is a robust educator community on tiktok, so its actually a great way to connect with other educators and to find what I call “teacher-friends.” When I started TikTok in October there were not many librarians on the platform. At first I was only able to find two other librarians on the platform, but in recent months that has been changing! Librarians will now find it easier to connect with other librarians, which makes for a fun way to find “librarian-friends!” I created #tiktoklibrarian, which is a great starting place for connecting with other librarians on TikTok, as is the @tokstarlibrarians group!
KJ: What sorts of content generate the most engagement? How do you gauge what success is on the platform for your library?
KB: Following trends and memes is very important on TikTok (but with your own spin). You may have a funny or wonderful video idea, and you can certainly create that video using any “sound” you want, but your content will get more engagement if you keep up with the trending sounds & dances or memes in TikTok, and the trends change rapidly and often. One week you may notice that everyone seems to be using the same “sound.” You should try to create a video using that popular sound too! You may notice tons of people are trying to do the same choreographed dance during another week. You should jump on board the bandwagon and give it a shot, though putting your own spin on it or even making fun of the fact that you could not do it would also be a way of engaging with that trend. TikTok content is most successful when you engage with the ongoing trending sounds and dances.
The content that generates the most engagement is usually shorter videos that employ humor/irony, a relate-able experience, or something surprising. Content usually gets more views if the lighting and video quality is very good, whereas videos with poor lighting tend not to do as well. If you are really going to make a go at TikTok, I highly recommend investing in a good tripod and a ring-light.
Content that shows people’s faces also tends to do better (in general) that videos that don’t show any people. So a video that only shows books or bookshelves may not do as well as a video that shows a person engaging with the books in some way.
I gauge the success of the platform by simple informal observation and feedback monitoring. I’m fortunate in that my students, staff, admin, and parents tend not to be shy about telling me what is or is not working. So far our community has been supportive and in favor of the impact of our library’s social media use. This is part of the reason TikTok has been so wonderful for advocating for my library (and for libraries in general). The short and fun videos are very engaging to viewers, and it makes them want to know more about your library and the librarian. I truly believe that my library’s social media accounts have directly been at least partly responsible for the increasing levels of support I’ve been receiving from my district over the years. A strong social Media presence has allowed our library to remain highly visible, vocal, and relatable, which has allowed our messaging and advocacy to spread far among our community. I believe our library is now perceived by the community to be very valuable, and part of that is because I use TikTok and Instagram to constantly show everyone all the value we bring to student’s school experiences. Really, if we are not shouting from the rooftops about what value our libraries bring, how else would anyone know? And the best way to tell people is to show them. Tiktok is a great platform for this.
KJ: What’s been your favorite content to create?
KB: My favorite content to create are the videos where I’m advertising or advocating for how awesome my library program is. I created one that went viral which I absolutely love. It basically provides an introduction and tour of our library within one 15 second video. My superintendent loved it so much that she had me share it with a bunch of other superintendents when they had a superintendent meetup at our school this year. It was a wonderful advocacy moment, being able to show a room full of people who make decisions about whether their schools should have librarians, that libraries and librarians are changing with the times, and are a lot more than book hoarders these days.
I’ve also had fun creating TikToks that: introduce library resource, teach a tutorial, build hype for upcoming author visits, unveil big library changes, and even to announce grants that I’ve won for our library.
In fact, TikTok is such an engaging and succinct way of advertising our library’s resources that I’m intending to use only TikTok videos for next year’s 9th grade orientation. I’m not going to lecture at all to introduce the library to them, I’m just going to let them explore our TikTok videos!
KJ: What are best practices you’d recommend to other libraries interested in trying TikTok?
KB: Best practices would be the same as for any social media account when you are an educator. Make sure to follow all of your district’s social media policies and to make sure you never upload any content that shows you doing or saying something that you would not do or say in front of an auditorium full of students, parents, and community members. I also never choose a sound clip that includes derogatory words or curse words, just to be safe. I’ve seen many educators on TikTok who don’t take those same precautions, but it is important to remember that TikTok is probably the least private social media platform there is. Even if you create your account with an anonymous name instead of your real name, there is a very good chance that your videos will show up on the feeds of people who know you just because of the way the TikTok algorithm uses geotagging to match users. This aspect of TikTok is what makes it so excellent for advocacy, but it also means that if you create content that shows you doing or saying something offensive, its going to be seen by a lot more people than you probably want. My personal advice is to create content on TikTok with the full expectation that it will be seen by your community. I would also recommend posting only positive, up-lifting content for the most part. I do not recommend using it as a place to vent or complain about your school or district. Doing that in a public forum rarely ends up well for teachers!
I also recommend that, if you are going to try TikTok, you fully embrace the silliness of it. Don’t let yourself feel self-conscious, because that will come across in the videos. The whole point of TikTok is that users often look silly, or ridiculous, or “making a fool of themselves.” You’ll have more fun, and your content will be better received, if you don’t seem to take yourself too seriously and let yourself be okay with looking ridiculous. Or, as the kids say, “cringey.” That’s the best way to “pass the vibe check” as they say.
KJ: Do you believe TikTok moves the needle for your library in terms of getting users interested or aware of what you offer? Or is it simply for fun?
KB: Yes TikTok works well in conjunction with our Instagram to act as a very powerful advocacy platform. I believe that devoting the time to create a robust social media presence may be the most important & impactful decision I made for my library in the 4 years I’ve worked here. It is also very fun!
KJ: Are teens the primary audience for your content?
KB: For my account, the primary audience is my students and school community, but I also enjoy creating content that is aimed more at the average citizen who may not know much about what a modern library or librarian look like these days. I enjoy using TikTok as a way of engaging & delighting my students, but I also enjoy that I can use it to change perceptions about libraries and librarians on a more global scale, at the same time.
I’ve had a few videos reach over 1 million views each, while others have reached tens or hundreds of thousands of views. Comparatively, I think the most views one of my Instagram posts has ever reached is maybe the 600’s and I haven’t come close to even that on Twitter. The potential reach on TikTok is astronomical. The average educator doesn’t usually have the ability to communicate to that many people, but through TikTok you often can reach audiences that regularly number in the thousands, tens of thousands, or even more. The advocacy potential here is huge, and largely untapped. I highly encourage librarians to give it a try. Never forget that monumental decisions, policies, and even legislation is often happening now as a result of successful social media campaigns. #MeToo changed the world as we know it, as did #BlackLivesMatter. A viral social media post or campaign can literally change the world. Librarians have an opportunity here to begin leveraging platforms like TikTok for getting our messages out there to the world at large. And in an era that so frequently tries to discount the value librarians bring to their communities, this kind of advocacy reach is so important. To convince stakeholders of our value, we simply must make ourselves and our library programs visible, vocal, and, ideally, viral.
KJ: What TikTok accounts are among your favorites? Any authors or publishers you’re really loving content from? What makes them so great? Any student or teen TikToks that libraries should know about?
KB: I very much enjoy Penguin Teen’s account, and the Washington Post’s account is hilarious too. They both understand how to keep up with the TikTok trends and memes, while smothering their content in cheeky humor and satire. There are a lot of wonderful educator accounts as well. If you want to find other teachers and librarians, check out the @tokstarlibrarians account or the #tiktokteacher hashtag. I’ve also created the #tiktoklibrarian hashtag where you can find other librarians!
Stay tuned for our next post in this Tik Tok series! Coming soon!