Those who love American military history, especially the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War, but prefer their information in short, bursts should search online for Garry Adelman or Callan Shea. The two are the most prominent TikTok presences behind preservation nonprofit American Battlefield Trust (ABT).
Adelman serves as ABT’s chief historian, and is a frequent on-camera presence for the nonprofit’s videos. Shea, a Philadelphia-based history student and social media influencer, frequently collaborates with ABT, bringing her effervescent enthusiasm to topics relevant to ABT’s mission. Both provide content on multiple social media platforms. But TikTok, the short-duration video hosting app, provides access to a young audience ABT wants to turn into history enthusiasts — and eventually next-generation donors.
As of this past September, roughly half of TikTok’s nearly 1 billion active users were younger than age 34, with 41% between the ages of 16 and 24, according to Menlo Park, Calif.-based digital marketing agency Omnicore. That’s an audience ABT wants to cultivate as future funders and donors.
“TikTok, or anything attached to a phone, is well suited for microdonations,” said ABT’s Chief Digital Officer Lawrence Swiader. “TikTok may be a place where we test out messages that have more urgency to them, or that are geo-located. If you’re in an area close by a piece of land we’re saving right now, and we hit you with a message asking you to donate $10 to our effort to reserve that land, that is very relevant and very special.”
It’s also a little ahead of the game. TikTok’s donation-capture mechanisms aren’t as robust as other platforms, and in some instances nonprofits end up asking potential donors to leave TikTok to access their donation mechanisms, creating a hurdle that depresses response.
TikTok is stronger as a branding or information medium. For nonprofit managers willing to invest resources into TikTok content, the media is more likely to be relevant when they do connect with potential audience.
“Nonprofits have a lot going under the hood,” said Dani Hart, digital strategist at Newport One in Duxbury, Mass. “If they sent an email for every single program they did, they wouldn’t have an email list because everyone would unsubscribe. There’s a difference between me emailing you and you coming to me and saying ‘hey, I want to see your stuff’,” said Hart.
One key to enticing TikTok users to actively search for the content they want is using a variety of onscreen presences. ABT already had Adelman on its staff, but Shea, who created her history-focused social media presence on her own, has roughly 50,000 followers on TikTok — more than twice the 23,200 TikTok followers ABT claims. Shea lends her personality to ABT’s topics on her platforms, and then directs her followers to ABT’s TikTok presence.
“It’s important that history isn’t [presented] by one person,” explained ABT’s Associate of Digital Content Laurel Gupton. “We don’t want history being seen as just one viewpoint. It’s a lot of viewpoints, a lot of events, a lot of different opinions.”
For now, ABT is putting the majority of its online video efforts into TikTok. More than half of its videos go on TikTok before being repurposed for YouTube or other platforms, according to Gupton.