Staying on top with Tik Tok at Black Country Living Museum

Black Country Living Museum’s approach to Tik Tok has been a roaring success, garnering over a half a million followers and attracting headlines and attention across the world. But how do you get started? And how do you best sustain interest in your digital innovation? We spoke to Abby Bird, BCLM’s Audiences and Communications Manager to find out more.

Like many museums during the pandemic, Black Country Living Museum has been exploring how to keep their audiences engaged whilst the doors were closed. But it was their work on Tik Tok – for the uninitiated, a social media platform used to make, watch, and share short, often music based, videos – that really caught the attention. With limited resources but a lot of creativity, the BCLM Tik Tok account grew from nothing to 570,000 followers in six months, and, crucially, engaged a new and younger audience with the work of the museum.

Social media is having profound implications for the way that museums are consumed, and often the only interaction someone will have will be online, explains Abby Bird, BCLM’s Audiences and Communications Manager.

“Like many, in the past we have been a bit guilty of treating social media as an add on. Digital touchpoints like social media are becoming really important ways in which we define the brand, and whilst it is a powerful educational tool, it is also always a powerful marketing tool,
and the two are not mutually exclusive.”

Whilst social media has always been a focus for the small BCLM team, around a third of the communications effort, once the doors closed it grew significantly, and with significant results.

“According to a recent poll, 80% of the people that we are talking with (on Tik Tok) are under 30; 50% of our followers haven’t visited before, and 80% of our followers said interacting with us was the first time they had interacted with museums on social media at all. So we are talking about a young, less culturally engaged audience – that’s like museum gold dust!”

Given the success of their work, Tik Tok approached BCLM to becoming a learning partner, providing them with a budget to support the production of a couple of videos a week prior to the current lockdown. It’s a collaborative effort across the organisation that helps drive the creativity required to sustain content demanding social channels.

“We recently signed a contract with Tik Tok as part of their ‘learn on Tik Tok‘ initiative, so we produce four videos a week for them. But in the first few months we were on our own. We look at what’s trending and see how we can apply the stories and histories that we tell to that trend. If we just have an idea that we just want to experiment with. we base it around characters that are interested in being in front of the camera, because not everyone is comfortable. A lot of content has come out of discussions with researchers and curators and a piece of content frequently serves the purposes of multiple teams.”

What’s more you don’t need Spielberg’s skills to make the films, which can be done with minimal kit, as long as the creative ideas are there, explains Abby.

“Sometimes it’s easier to shoot on your phone, but we always have a continuous lighting rig, some form of stabilisation. If time and the content warrants it, I will shoot on a DSLR and all the editing we do in Premiere Pro.”

And in terms of other accounts there’s a range of approaches on Tik Tok Abby rates.

”English Heritage does a great job, as well a couple of good examples in America – Old Salem, Sacramento History Museum. And Ministry of History. They’re really good, too, it’s just a guy in front of a white sheet. It just goes to show you just don’t need a lot, to get a lot of engagement.”

Looking to give it a go? Check out this great Tik Tok how to Abby produced for Association for Cultural Enterprises: