Grace Strong

If you aren’t familiar with TikTok by now, you should be. The social platform was the most downloaded app in 2020, boasting 850 million monthly active users. While TikTok is most popular among younger generations, the platform isn’t just for kids – 18-to-24-year-olds make up just 42% of its users, and the Wall Street Journal even recently profiled a handful of senior citizens going viral on the app.

TikTok trends have key implications for the healthcare industry. Recent research suggests demand for healthcare-related voices on the platform outpaces the current supply – demonstrating a real opportunity for health professionals and others to weigh in on important topics, and potentially reach millions.

Recently, physicians, public health organizations and others have been using the platform to spread awareness about important topics such as women’s health, debunk myths about vaccines and encourage positive behavior changes like quitting vaping. But TikTok isn’t just for influencers—some of the most established brands in healthcare use the platform to amplify important public health information. For example, during a surge of new COVID cases ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, Cleveland Clinic used a now-viral TikTok to encourage followers to wear a mask, practice social distancing and hand-washing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The video earned 280,000 likes and used a popular hashtag, #MaskUp, which has gained more than 400 million views on the platform to date.

If you’re ready to take the leap and integrate TikTok into your healthcare communications strategy, the tried and true rules of healthcare communications still apply. Here are some key considerations before you take the leap:

1. Listen to trends

At Reservoir, we have a pulse on a wide range of issues facing healthcare clients, leveraging our expertise to identify the right voices to deliver the right messages that will resonate with key audiences. This often includes research, stakeholder mapping, and a deep understanding of the shifting policy and regulatory challenges facing our clients.

In the same vein, "going viral" on TikTok does not happen by chance - it’s strategic. Videos that tend go viral leverage the use of popular hashtags and sounds, short and simple messages, and strategic timing for uploading the final product.

Staying up to date on TikTok trends will give you an advantage because there could be a trending topic that your organization has the expertise to weigh in on, like vaccine awareness or COVID-19 precautions.

In addition to tracking these trends on the app homepage, following established creators within your industry can help you anticipate what’s next and keep your message relevant on the platform. Popular creators in the healthcare community include Dr. Austin Chiang (@austinchiangmd), Dr. Rose Marie Leslie (@drleslie) and Dr. Jennifer Lincoln (@drjenniferlincoln), all of whom have reached millions of users with their videos. You may also find inspiration from the World Health Organization (@who) and the CDC Foundation (@cdcfound), accounts with pioneering educational content.

2. Information is king

In established healthcare communications strategies, "Myth vs. Fact" one pagers are often developed as part of a suite of materials to support proactive and reactive communications opportunities alike. The same tactic is also well-suited for reaching audiences on TikTok.

Providers and other public health experts have gained notoriety on TikTok for dispelling myths and common misconceptions. For example, Dr. Austin Chiang, self-identified as the “Medical Mythbuster” is one of several famous TikTokers whose mission it is to debunk medical myths. Dr. Chiang’s TikTok video responding to misconceptions regarding the COVID-19 vaccine received 180,000 likes and thousands of shares. With more than 13 million likes on his videos, Dr. Chiang represents a strong example of successfully fact-sharing important health information via TikTok.

3. To build champions, make it personal

Creating, building and maintaining champions is critical to a successful public affairs campaign. Even before the dawn of TikTok, advocates have been pushing the envelope to creatively engage audiences and build community through challenges. In 2014, the Ice Bucket Challenge raised $220 million for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and powerfully raised awareness of the disease across the globe.

Today, TikTok challenges are gaining momentum in the healthcare space. The Truth Initiative’s #ImmuneUpVapesDown campaign asks users to come up with their own immune-boosting drink, all while raising awareness of the dangers of vaping. The campaign has earned more than 20 million views.

“Dueting” videos is another feature on TikTok that can boost a TikTok profile, that leverages existing content. A TikTok duet is a way for a person to communicate, collaborate, or respond to another user’s video. For example, Dr. Jennifer Lincoln’s duet of an educational video on birth control allowed her to react, respond and weigh in on the content – leveraging her expertise to educate her audience and expand her reach. This duet has received more than 50,000 likes to date.

TikTok is not going away anytime soon and has proven to be a powerful tool for healthcare professionals and public health organizations to inform and engage. Today, there is a significant opportunity for thought leadership and health education on one of the most downloaded applications worldwide. Adding TikTok to a broader communications strategy may help reach new audiences, increase stakeholder engagement and amplify messages in creative, new ways.