I’m a middle-aged suburban dad – Can I become a TikTok star?

I’m a middle-aged suburban dad – Can I become a TikTok star?

“We need a TikTok account,” I said, to my team of mainly 20-something staff, two years ago. They looked at me blankly and slightly astonished.

Yes I run a communications agency but I’m not really a social media person.

I rarely use social media for personal announcements. And I have taken all social media apps off my phone. At 46 I’m not a digital native and fell like my brain isn’t able to cope with how addictive short social media videos are: ‘Oh My God: A snake eating a crocodile!’ – flick –  ‘Oh My God! A man jumping off a cliff wearing wings’ – flick – ‘Oh my God…Where did the last two hours just go?!’

I like traditional media and always have. As a reader I don’t feel like I’m being assaulted by a Silicon Valley stimulus ninja pulverising my brain into a state where it will buy anything. Literally anything! During lockdown I bought a ball on an elastic band that attaches to your head.

An Instagram video showed someone keeping fit by batting it away with easy punches. I punched it once and it flew back at my face bonking me on the nose. It ended up in landfill soon after leaving me with feelings of guilt both for my health and the environment.

And as a journalist I loved writing into the abyss. Back when readers had to write and post a letter if they didn’t like your article they rarely did. Pure joy.

I’m far too sensitive to deal with readers pulling apart every part of an article I’ve carefully written. (Note to self: do not read comments under this article.)

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So hearing that I wanted to actually set up a TikTok account came as a surprise to most.

My rationale was that I thought it would stick around and by getting in early we could pick up followers that way.

I didn’t think I would find any customers there – 16-to-24-year-olds are not the typical buyers of corporate PR services – it might be where we find future talent.

And we could practice our skills for other forms of social media that we were more invested in because grown-ups use them such as LinkedIn.

I thought there would be more clambering from my 20-something staff to become TikTok influencers creating the ‘content’ on their go-to channel of choice. But there wasn’t.

“I watch it all the time but don’t post,” was the refrain.

So it was left to me to lead the charge.

I downloaded TikTok – purely for research purposes – and got watching.

The majority of the videos seemed to be people miming and doing dance moves to songs they liked.

I’m not going to do that. Firstly I can’t dance and secondly I don’t want to look like a prat.

I looked to see what other ‘PR leaders’ were doing.

They’re all miming and doing dance moves in a desperate attempt gain likes. Excruciating!

But I kept looking and found that a significant minority of videos were short but educational.

And that was my eureka moment.

Young people are not just going on TikTok for escapism they are actually using it to learn about the world.

We’ll leave the click bait chasing to others I said. Higginson Strategy’s TikTok account will be a place where people come to learn.

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And as we don’t believe our customers, who are generally older, are on there then we won’t bother trying to win them on it by talking about what we do.

But we do think future talent that we might want to work for us will be on there so we will use it as a recruitment tool as well.

Knowing how we want to use the tool and what we want it to do for us gives us clear direction.

Without selling what we do we share useful information and tips on how to be good communicators for other professionals. And we show the fun socials we have to try to attract the best young talent.

That’s it. TikTok strategy devised.

In May 2022, I stood in my suit in front of a door outside our office in Shoreditch and explained what purpose means in business. No singing. No dancing. No tricks. Just a bloke standing and explaining something in a concise way.

It was a surprise hit racking up more than 1,000 views in a few hours despite having no followers or promotion. There was no way I was going to share it with anyone I knew and in fact I hope you don’t watch it. Far too cringe.

But it backed my theory that young people, far more than older generations, aren’t just looking for escapism on social media. It is how they are learning about the world.

Tweaking that formula of sharing useful information has seen us racked up many multiples of that first post.

A post pointing out five things we think should go in every press release is our most popular.

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Any dreams of being a middle-aged, middle-class TikTok influencer might not be realised – quite yet!

But by being on TikTok we are helping to fill the platform with information we believe is important to people who might one day want to work with us or even employ us.

And what is more after filling the first few posts, my 20-something staff learned to become less shy and are thankfully filling our TikTok feed far more than me.

Getting a TikTok account is not a strategy I recommend to most clients.

But what I do say is that marketing is not complicated. It is at its best when it is simplest.

Work out who you want to talk to? And keep them at the front of your mind.

Work out what media they consume? And use that to speak to them from the heart.

And lead from the front. Don’t ask others in the organisation to communicate in a way that you wouldn’t. Even if that means swallowing your pride to be a middle-aged suburban dad on TikTok.

John Higginson

John Higginson is the co-founder and CEO of purpose-led communications agency Higginson Strategy and host of the Communicating Purpose podcast

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