I’m old enough to remember when 2016 was declared the “Meerkat Election” and in March 2015, one pundit wrote, “Meerkat officially became the social media tool of the 2016 presidential election.” But, like so many candidates, Meerkat would drop out before reaching Election Day.
It seems like the political media are always looking to glom onto whatever social networking trend is sweeping the country and no doubt they’ll try again in 2020 to make it the TikTok election.
For those unaware, TikTok is a social media platform where users create short video clips set to music, comedy routines, or other audio. The aesthetic is generally humorous or outright absurd.
First, let me be very clear. I’m not encouraging you to commit resources to a TikTok strategy for your campaign.
Effective engagement on social media – a shared audience in the PESO model – is about having one foot out of the door to one of your owned audiences, like your website, email, or text messaging list. Given TikTok’s ban on political advertising, campaigns will struggle to capitalize on traction they may get with supporters on the platform who largely prefer to stay on the medium they’re comfortable with.
Emerging and niche social networks are like special teams in football, you should only focus on them when you’ve mastered the essentials of blocking and tackling. Perhaps the only strategic outcome from being on TikTok is earned media attention, similar to what we saw in 2016 with Snapchat. That seems to be Kamala Harris’ strategy.
But what campaigns should be aware of and work to tap into is user-generated content, which is what TikTok represents. When the community of supporters around your campaign create content, especially memes, around your election, encourage and embrace it. Even share it through official channels the way President Trump does.
Your supporters have just as much say in shaping the narrative about your campaign as you do – probably more. If you think otherwise, you’re following an outdated mindset that believes candidates and campaigns still set their own narratives.
So will this be the TikTok election? I doubt it, but that doesn’t mean people won’t declare it to be. Even though voters aren’t likely to be persuaded or turned out to vote for a candidate based on his or her engagement on TikTok, the content generated by the users on the platform will shape our political discussion, just like it does on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social networks.