NEW YORK: Want to know one sure-fire way to get engagement on TikTok? Post a video that includes owls, piping plovers or really just any baby bird.
That hot tip comes from Preeti Desai, director of social media and storytelling at the National Audubon Society. Those are the most popular birds, she said, on any social media platform.
Maybe that’s why the 116-year-old nonprofit conservation organization, which works to protect birds, is killing it on TikTok. Just two weeks ago, a TikTok video from the organization featuring a number of adorable piping plovers, and inspired by an extremely niche meme, was viewed 3.2 million times.
@audubonsociety We had to hop on this trend Credit to @robinrena26 for the original! #bird #birdtok #fyp #birding #birdersoftiktok ♬ original sound - robinrena26
The organization only has been on TikTok since May 2020, and it already has 150,000 followers and its videos have been liked 1.3 million times. Posting once per week, its main target is young people and its goals are to build awareness of Audubon as an organization and educate the public about birds and conservation efforts.
“A lot of our content utilizes trending memes and songs; and we like to balance that with produced videos that are educating people about birds and Audubon’s work,” said Desai. “But we know that the trending posts are the ones that attract people.”
Desai added that TikTok users seem “surprised” to see Audubon putting out content that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
“Even if they have heard of us, they associate us with their parents or grandparents,” she said. “But now they are seeing a different side of us, so that is helping us to connect with younger people.”
In April, the organization used TikTok as one tool to communicate about Audubon’s 2021 Seabird Action Week, which brought together 70 grassroots activists to build the movement and use their collective voice to protect seabirds and the habitats they need. The event was held on Zoom with the aim of getting Audubon members to talk to their members of Congress about seabirds.
Desai said her team created a TikTok video about Audubon’s seabird conservation program and its history.
@audubonsociety The story behind “The Puffin Man” #birds #puffin #sealife #SaveTheSeabirds #fyp ♬ original sound - Audubon Society
“While we are talking about conservation work, we are still trying to make it snappy, funny and accessible,” Desai said.
Leading the organization’s TikTok work is senior producer of visual storytelling Christine Lin, who reports to Desai. She launched Audubon’s TikTok page last year and is responsible for the content. The organization’s TikTok page has also seen a spike in views and followers since it brought on Zakiyyah Madyun as a Walker Visual Storytelling fellow earlier this year.
“She has worked to create these trendy videos,” said Desai.
In terms of the content approval process, Desai said that Madyun isn’t actively told what content to create. She gets to “spread her wings,” come up with the content and she gets feedback before it is posted.
Because of the platform, Audubon uses a “fun or funny” tone and doesn’t directly ask people to take action. The aim is more about building awareness.
“We are working on strategy and planning for our TikTok content to make more of a connection to conservation,” said Desai. “We have to be creative because TikTok is not an easy platform to get people to take action in traditional ways like clicking on a link like you see on other platforms.”