What does Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews have to do with a cat “dancing” to 50s pop hit Mr Sandman?
- TikTok is used mostly by teenagers
- Most of the content on the app is short lip-syncing videos and comedy skits
- Mr Andrews’s spokesman says the account is a way to reach new audiences
Not much, you might think, but a re-enactment of a viral video created by a 17-year-old Canadian with her pet cat is the first clip the premier shared on his recently set up TikTok account.
TikTok (formerly known as Musical.ly) is the latest social media phenomenon, popular mostly among teens.
In 2017 the app was taken over by Chinese tech company Bytedance and reportedly has 500 million monthly users.
Videos no longer than 15 seconds are shared by users, mostly showing people lip-synching to songs or acting out comedy skits.
The app has also spawned a new crop of online content creators making money when their memes go viral.
Mr Andrews is thought to be the first Australian politician to start an account on the app.
In a recent post, the premier is seen walking through parliament to the tune of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by Scottish duo The Proclaimers.
Other short-form videos on his account show work on the Metro Tunnel, Bruce the therapy dog helping paramedics, and clips spruiking government policies such as providing free tampons and pads to girls in government schools.
It’s not the first time Aussie politicians have dipped their toe into social media platforms other than Facebook and Twitter in a bid to appeal to voters.
But why is the Premier targeting an app used mostly by people who are too young to vote?
According to a spokesman for Mr Andrews, the TikTok account has been set up as a way of reaching new audiences.
“TikTok is one of the fastest growing platforms in the world, so it was an easy decision for us to get on there,” he said.
“We see it as a way of making the work of government more accessible, and have a bit of fun along the way.”
Digital marketing expert Brent Coker from Melbourne University said the Premier’s entry into TikTok was most likely about “association building”.
“It’s not really about appealing to the younger age group, they find it slightly amusing, it’s more about demonstrating … this idea that he’s relevant in terms of he knows what’s happening,” Dr Coker said.
“Politicians try to build themselves up in a similar way that brands do, so that when people think about them, certain things run through their minds.
“The population who do have kids of that age who use TikTok, they know [what it is].
“Ultimately what they want is the voters to think, ‘Oh, you’re kinda like me’.”
Swinburne University PhD candidate Milovan Savic, who is researching how pre-teens use social media, said he thinks TikTok’s appeal for politicians comes down to the app’s design.
“These videos are like amateur-type videos, so I think it appears more authentic when you create content for them, rather than having a marketing team with professional cameras creating videos,” he said.
‘We need to ask questions’
Dr Coker said politicians were looking for ways to get noticed on social media “because they know it works”.
But he said users needed to be wary of content politicians shared on social media, especially with the rise of fake news and in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal which revealed Facebook data was used to target voters during the 2016 US presidential campaign.
“Marketing’s becoming more and more sophisticated and we need to ask the question, at what point is it manipulation?”, he said.
“They’re [political campaigners] understanding social media is becoming more fragmented in terms of who’s using it.”
As TikTok continues to gain popularity, commercial brands and activists eager to share their messages have joined the site.
But TikTok has also faced its fair share of criticism, especially around children’s privacy issues and what it does with users’ data.
The app now bans kids under 13 from joining.