In this blog post I’m going to give you some advice or tips for building a successful TikTok for your library (actually most of this advice is going to be helpful for any TikTokker looking for success, its not really specific to libraries necessarily.) If you haven’t yet, you might like to check out the previous week’s posts in my tiktok blog series:
You don’t really need any specific materials in order to be successful on TikTok. Any mobile device that ou can download the TikTok app on is sufficient. I do all of my TikTok videos on my iphone and directly within the TikTok app. However, there are a couple of additional materials you may wish to invest in, which could make it easier for you to create quality content.
A tripod is the only item I really strongly suggest every tiktoker invest in, because it enables you to free your hands, move further away from the device, AND prevents the shaking that comes from holding the device in your hand while recording. You can get a tripod for you device for pretty cheap from all kinds of stores, and I do suggest doing that. The better quality your videos are, the better they will perform on TikTok because the app rewards higher quality videos by pushing them out to more accounts, and tripods help your videos be higher quality because they don’t have that shaking or shivering or awkward angles that comes from holding the device or propping it up on random surfaces.
Ring Light / Good Lighting
Another thing that results in higher quality videos, which do better on TikTok, is good lighting. So, if you are recording in a room that has poor lighting you may want to invest in a ring light (search “ring light” on google or amazon) or another good lighting source to ensure your videos are very bright and legible. Dark or dim videos will often not perform as well on the app, so good lighting of some kind is important. When I record videos at home I use a ring light because my house doesnt have any ceiling lights and table lamps aren’t good enough to make my videos really bright. However, when I record in the library I don’t use any ring lights or anything else because the library’s overhead lights are bright enough. So it depends on where you are recording.
I don’t use an external microphone, because I haven’t had any issues just using the built in mic on my iPhone, but some creators do use external microphones. If the built in mic on your device is not very good, or if you are recording somewhere there is a lot of ambient noises, you might wish to invest in an external mic.
When it comes to TikTok, its very similar to other social media platforms in that the more consistent you are, the better. You will grow an account much more quickly if you are consistent.
If you really want to grow a successful TikTok then you need to post every day. Most people suggest that you should post multiple times per day, every day. Now of course it is fine if you miss days here or there (for example I rarely post on weekends, but I do TRY to post 1 video every week day) however, especially when you are starting out, the more you post, the quicker you will build your account. There are a couple of reasons for this but its partly because posting a lot gives you more chances to have a video go viral, and having a viral video is how you scoop up followers. Once you get a good following and a steady viewership you can release the consistency a little bit, and it won’t hurt you, but your account will stagnate and stop the rapid growth rate. For example, my partner and I both started TikTok accounts at around the same time period, about two years ago. I began by posting about one video per day, and in the last year I have taken a few posting hiatuses, where I did not post for weeks at a time. My partner, by contrast, has consistently posted between 1-3 videos each day, at least 5 days per week. He has not taken any considerable hiatuses as I have. My account is currently at 45,000 followers while his account is at 130,000 followers. So the consistency of posting frequently really does matter if you are trying to build a following. Now building a significant following might not matter to you, as you may be using TikTok for other things, but if building up a following does matter to you then frequent posting is important.
**ProTip: You don’t actually have to record videos every day in order to post them every day. TikTok has a “drafts” folder so you can batch record a bunch of videos on one day and then post them over the course of the next weeks. That’s actually what I do. I usually schedule a 45 minute period early in the week and I record as many TikToks as I can in that time frame. It usually is about 10-20 videos. Then I post them from my drafts for the next couple weeks until I run out and have to schedule another recording session. So even though you want your account to stay active with new videos regularly, that doesnt mean you actually need to have time every day to record videos. Batch record to store them up.
Stay on Brand / Purpose
Keeping to a consistent vibe, brand, purpose, tone, whatever you want to call it is also important. TikTok rewards consistency, and your viewers will follow you because they liked something you did. You will build a more successful TikTok if you stay “on brand” and stay on message, rather than bouncing back and forth across different purposes, tones, etc. So for example, my account is a library account which focuses on advocating for libraries. That is the message I stick to in all my posts. I even try to record most of my videos in the same spot in my library. It creates familiarity and that is something that does well on TikTok. Your account should have a clear purpose, one that followers can count on. So, for example, if your account is a library-focused account, don’t post videos about other topics. Stay on message. There are whole swaths of TikTok focused on talking about Marvel movies. But my TikTok is focused on library topics, so it wouldn’t really make sense for me to post videos about Marvel movies on that account. Or about food I’m cooking, or vacations, or whatever other topic comes to mind. If you want to TiKTok about other topics I suggest creating other accounts for them, because a tightly-focused account performs better. I don’t really understand why this is the case, but it is clear on TikTok that accounts that stick to their purpose/vision/brand/message/vibe/etc are more consistently successful than account that are unfocused or meandering, or which don’t have a clear purpose.
Keep the Handle
Your handle is your account name, the “@myname” part of your socials. If at all possible, it is best if you keep the same handle for all of your library’s social media platforms. This consistency helps people find you across platforms. So, since I already had a library instagram with the handle @gvhslibrary, I nabbed the same handle on TikTok so that its also @gvhslibrary. This is not always possible, because the handle you want is sometimes already taken, but if possible try to get the same handles. I even suggest that anytime a new social media platform starts to rise to prominence that you create an account as early as possible so you can grab the consistent handle name. Even if you don’t plan to actually use the platform, or keep the account live, its better to own the handle in case you do later want to use that platform. The earlier you create your account, even if you never end up using it, the more likely you can grab your handle.
The following section will include a variety of tips I can offer regarding the kind of content to post to build a successful TikTok account. Now its important to remember that TikTok’s algorithm is mysterious and we’re all really only guessing at what makes it tick, but these tips are generally considered good advice to make the most of TikTok’s potential.
Watch Other Creator’s Videos
Before you can create engaging content you need to spend some time lurking on TikTok and simply watching other people’s videos. This is how you will get a sense of what’s happening on the app, and how you’ll learn about a bunch of different styles, techniques, and strategies. The best way to get ideas for the kind of TikTok account you want to run is to simply watch a lot of videos. Watching videos is something I make sure I do every week as this helps me keep my finger on the pulse of what’s trending, it gives me ideas of sounds to use, topics I might want to speak on, and just keeps me inspired in general. If you only create content, and never scroll to view other content, you will be operating in a void. TikTok works because people “riff” off and build upon each other’s content. It acts as a continual inspiration cycle. If you are sitting here thinking “how will I ever even have ideas of things to post about on TikTok,” the answer is that you’ll get ideas if you watch other people’s content. You don’t want to copycat them, or repeat their ideas exactly as that would be both rude and uninspired. But you do want to watch other videos until you start to feel inspired to make your own. Maybe you see a couple BookTok videos of people showing off their Spooky books near Halloween and that inspires you to do a spooky book TikTok for your library. Maybe you see a bunch of librarians discussing the Dr. Seuss drama in March and it inspires you to do a post on your thoughts on the matter. Maybe you see another librarian use a trending sound in a certain way and it makes you think of a topic you could use that sound for. Etc etc etc. Be sure to be a content consumer as well as a content creator.
Most people scroll past a video after the first 1-3 seconds or so, so having a good hook is really important. You need to convince people in the first second to stick around for the whole video. TikTok success is, we THINK, based largely on watch time. In other words, TikTok rewards (we THINK) you based on how many people watch your entire video or at least the majority of the video. So the goal is to hook viewers in the first second or two and convince them to watch through to the end. If you watch other people’s videos you will start to notice the different strategies people use to hook the viewer. They don’t put all the text at once, so the viewer has to watch through to the end to see the whole story or they put in the caption something clickbaity like “wait for it” or “watch to the end.” There are a lot of different strategies to use to hook people to ensure they want to watch the whole video. Quality content will, in and of itself, be a hook too. People want to watch TikToks that engage them, that are surprising, relatable, unique, shocking, controversial, or entertaining. You should always be thinking about your audience and strategically choosing topics and content that is likely to hook them. What would your audience find surprising, relateable, unique, shocking, controversial, or entertaining?
Shorter is Often Better
This goes along with the above tip, but shorter videos often perform better than longer videos. We think part of this has to do with the “watch time” thing I mentioned earlier. Because TikTok (we THINK) rewards videos with high watch time stats by pushing those videos out to more and more accounts, the shorter videos often perform better because its easier to convince someone to watch 90% of a 7 second video than to watch 90% of a 3 minute long video. Videos that are 6 seconds to 10 seconds long tend to be the most successful for me, and I tend to do as many of those shorter videos as I can. It is rare that one of my longer videos will perform well, though it does happen if the topic is particularly engaging to my audience.
TikTok is a little different than something like Instagram, in a good way! TikTok tends to embrace a bit more authenticity and is not, in general, as “everything must be picture perfect” as Instagram is. You can be wildly successful on TikTok and be just a regular, average person. The average person can go viral and do well, as long as they are creating quality content for their audience. You don’t have to be a master filmographer, or model-pretty, or skinny, or rich, or anything else to be successful at TikTok. Those things help because they come with various privleges in our society, but if you scroll TikTok for a while you will notice that plenty of successful accounts are just run by regular people. Your audience wants you to just be genuine. Embrace your personality and put it on display in your tiktoks. Let people get to know you. Post about what you know. Try to let go of self-consciousness and embrace authenticity. I know that it can feel awkward to be in front of a camera, and you may feel self-conscious or worried that teens are going to judge you or find you “cringey.” I get that concern a lot from adults thinking about joining TikTok. All I can tell you is that if you act as if what you are doing is fun, enjoyable, and not cringey. If you project ownership and confidence, that comes across to your viewers. And if you are not comfortable being in front of the camera, you can still do tiktok videos for your library. Scroll TikTok for a while and you’ll see accounts that don’t show the creator’s face. It is possible to be successful that way, though it is much harder. People on social media respond better to human stories, and part of that is our face. For example, accounts whose profile picture shows the actual creator’s face instead of a logo or avatar tend to get more engagement and more followers. It can depend on the audience and purpose too, for example the videos I do that only show books and not my face always get less views than the ones that show my face. My partner says his is the opposite, though, and that when he does videos without his face they often perform better. So different things may work for you than what works for someone else.
Hit the Trends
This is a big tip for tiktok, keeping up with the trends is critical for building a successful tiktok account. Every week there will be different sound clips and hashtags that are trending. You want to make sure you are using those sound clips and hashtags as much as possible because those are the videos that are going to perform best. There may be different dance trends, or other kinds of memes and trends too and you should try to incorporate them often in your videos. If you just go on tiktok and choose whatever sounds you feel like it, and use whichever hashtags you want to, without paying attention to the trends, you will notice that you often won’t get many views. That is because hitting the trends are what helps your videos get pushed out to more viewers. If you want to know what is trending at any given time you can click the “discover” page and browse to see what’s trending that day. You’ll also notice trends just from scrolling your FYP (For You Page) because you’ll often notice a lot of people doing the same sound clip. Whenever I notice that I usually click on the sound clip and save it to my “favorites” library so I can use that trending sound in an upcoming video.
Replicate what works
TikTok tends to reward what has worked for you before, so once you find a formula/vibe/topic/niche/style/etc that works well for you you should try to keep consistent with that, even replicating it. What works for you won’t necessarily be the same thing as what works for someone else though, so its not about replicating exactly what someone else is doing, its more about trying different things until you find what works for you and then sticking to that more or less. For example, my advocacy posts work best for me. The videos where I am talking about library misconceptions or inequity in libraries have been successful videos for me. That does not mean that those topics will necessarily work for you, though. You want to find your niche. There is another librarian who does book recommendation posts and that is very successful for her. However, my book rec posts are less successful for me. So the same formula doesn’t work for everyone, you need to play around a bit to figure out what your own niche will be and then own that.
Speak to Your Audience
When running a social media platform is is critical that you use it intentionally and with purpose. Be sure to keep a clear focus and audience in mind when you are creating your posts as this will help you stay on track and keep consistent. Figure out what your purpose is, and who your intended audience is, and ensure most of your videos drive towards those two things intentionally.
Keep your videos accessible by using legible font (in color, style, and size). Also don’t put the font on the far right side of the screen or the bottom of the screen because when you post the video the TikTok buttons and caption will cover the font and your viewers won’t be able to read it. Some people do this on purpose because obscuring the font is a kind of “cheat” hook, some people spend a lot of time on the video trying to make out what the font says and that translates to higher “watch time” stats but I disagree with this practice and I think its really cruel, and a practice librarians of all people should avoid. We want our information to be easily accessible to everyone, and making the font difficult to read goes against the access to information values that we should uphold. In my opinion. That’s why I always put my font in the top right corner or the middle section of the screen. Those are the most easily viewable areas of the tiktok. For accessibility you should also add captions to the videos in which you are speaking, as that helps people with hearing related disabilities be able to still access your content. TikTok finally added a captions feature right in the app so its super simple to add captions to your videos, there is really no excuse for not doing so.
Engagement is an important aspect of social media, you want to make sure your content is engaging to your audience but you also want to make sure YOU are engaging back with the audience and the app. Social media is supposed to be, you know, SOCIAL! Your account will be more successful if you put legitimate work into engaging with other creators and your followers authentically. Social media should not be just use shouting into the void about what we think is important. Its a community. Its a give and take.
TikTok is great for cross platform collaboration. You can download your own videos off TikTok and upload and share them on all of your other platforms, which is EXCELLENT. I reshare my tiktoks on the library’s instagram, our website, in newsletters, on our youtube page, even in our Canvas modules. You can also reshare OTHER creator’s content, which is a great way to amplify voices and perspectives other than your own, especially diverse voices and perspectives. I intentionally curate my “following” list to ensure I am following as many diverse TikTokers as I can so that I am being exposed to diverse perspectives and opinions. This helps me grow and keep learning. I also like to amplify those voices by re-sharing their content on my library’s instagram so that my students get to see a diverse array of content creator’s voices on our library’s social media platform, rather than only ever seeing my opinion and perspective.
As i mentioned before, it is important to engage with the hashtags on TikTok. You want to use trending hashtags AND content-relevant hashtags to ensure that your content shows up in the right discourse threads. Since I am often posting content relevant to librarians I make sure to include the relevant hashtags on my posts so that other librarians are likely to see the posts. #librariansoftiktok and #librarytiktok are two of the most common ones I use.
Respond to Comments
To engage with your audience, its best to leave comments open and to try to respond to as many as you can. At some point your video will get too many comments for you to actually respond to all of them, if the video goes viral. But most videos don’t go viral and it will often be a small segment of your followers that are commenting. To build community and engage with them authentically you should try to respond to comments at least sometimes. It keeps the relationships building and keeps your account relevant and responsive. You can respond to comments in text or even with a video response!
Engage with other Creators
Be sure to follow other creators and engage with their content too! Post kind or curious comments, hype them up, share their content, hit “like,” duet them, stitch their videos, and follow them. Be intentional in building a PLC on your socials, choose who to follow based on their content. If its content you are interested in, follow them. Be sure to intentionally follow diverse creators as often as possible since that will help keep your algorithm from putting you into a white-washed confirmation bubble.
If you set your account to a “creator account” it will enable you to view your analytics. I recommend doing this (it does not cost anything). Your analytics will help you keep informed of which videos are performing well and will give you other info that will help inform you of what’s working and what’s not working.
Well this post went a little longer than I expected (as usual, I have a brevity problem lol) but I hope some of this advice proves helpful to you. I think TikTok is one of the best tools a librarian can add to their communication toolbox, and I love to see librarians and libraries leveraging the power of TikTok for their libraries.
I am often hired to present PD to librarians about social media, and TikTok for Librarians has been one of the most popular topics I’ve been hired for. If you are interested in hiring me to provide PD, a webinar, a conference session, etc don’t hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love presenting, but I especially love presenting about and training librarians on how to be social media rockstars!