Forget Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. When it comes to health discussions, some of the most real, raw, and riveting healthcare interactions might just be happening on… TikTok.
A quick refresher on the latest social platform to gain traction: TikTok is a video-based social network app that has been downloaded more than a billion times worldwide; it became the seventh most downloaded app of the past 10 years. The platform allows its users to easily create and post short videos (15 seconds max) and string up to four of them together for a minute-long clip.
The videos are unabashedly amateur in style and typically in the spirit of having fun and co-creating. But if you write TikTok off as a superficial Gen-Z playground, you’d be missing out. There is some surprisingly rich healthcare activity on the platform — some of it very substantive, some of it simply very entertaining. Check out a few cases below.
There’s a contingent of HCPs who have embraced TikTok enthusiastically, and successfully, as a way of talking to patients. With hundreds of thousands of followers, they post about why guys should get the HPV vaccine, the dangers of vaping or what to do if a condom breaks.
You’ll see that what unites these examples is that they look like everything else out there on TikTok, but they’re reaching people with legitimate health content. If anyone ever knew their audience, it’s these doctors.
A recent New York Times article showcased a patient struggling to pay her hospital bill. The patient stumbled upon the suggestion to ask for an itemized bill in a TikTok video, which since has amassed 750,000 views. After following the TikTokker’s advice, the woman received a reduction in her bill. The video was posted by a North Carolina woman who, as a former debt-collector herself, has become a go-to voice for dealing with medical debt.
Patients celebrate…and commiserate
Healthcare brands advertise (okay, a healthcare brand advertises)
Last fall, the OTC cold medicine Mucinex enlisted four influencers to post videos under their #TooSickToBeSick Halloween-themed campaign. The influencers, in turn, encouraged others to create their own videos. At latest count, videos with the campaign hashtag have racked up 975 million views. Here are a few. You’ll see how they even handled the OTC warning in particularly TikTok-ian (is that a word?) style.
What’s so great about these examples is that they would never happen on any other platform. The style, the tone, the visual effects—they’re all so recognizably TikTok and, for the moment, revel in their own authenticity.
Is TikTok going to become the cornerstone of a healthcare brand’s strategy? Probably not. But there are five ways that can marketers can still find value in TikTok.
1. For insight
Check out the hashtags associated with a therapeutic area of interest: Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, lung cancer, diabetes. The reams of irony and absurdity you encounter will give you a new and very earnest perspective on what life with any of these conditions is like.
2. For inspiration
Want to see what your target audience actually looks like? Need a primer on the language they use to talk about their condition? Look no further.
3. For advertising
Yes, you can run ads on TikTok. It’s not super common – and it’s not super cheap – but you can do it. There are multiple ad products that TikTok offers, like sponsored hashtag challenges (Chipotle had a successful #GuacDance campaign), in-feed video (American Eagle partnered with Lil Wayne) and brand takeovers (Guess was the first to do it last year: When users opened up the app, they were immediately directed to the campaign).
Branded pharma ads would certainly be a challenge, but an unbranded spot that makes sense for the 66% of users who are under 30 isn’t out of the question. A warning: If you think you’ll be able to repurpose any other short video spot and run it on TikTok, you’ll be laughed off the app. See #1 and #2 above.
4. For interaction
Like Facebook and Instagram, a brand can have a page. You have the opportunity for a deeper, more consistent relationship with your customers than in periodic advertising. Netflix, Kind, Chipotle, Walmart… they all do it. As with #3, a branded page might be a stretch (where does the ISI go? who knows!), but it’s within the realm of possibility.
5. For influencing
Mucinex did this in a fun way, but also consider the very serious messages that those docs above are communicating (albeit in a totally goofy way). The opportunities for partnership with influencers are there. One avenue to consider is “challenges” — a core content focus on the platform where TikTok users post videos all competing against one another in the same challenge, like the #DNATest based on a hit tune by singer Lizzo.
Scott Barrett is VP, social strategy at Heartbeat