The power of TikTok to virally spread content is no secret. So, in 2020, when the rest of the world was jumping on the new content-sharing platform, Underknown followed suit. At first, the company took a simple approach, sharing short-form clips from its popular longer-form content on YouTube to TikTok. But Senior Content Strategy Manager Saida Mirzalimova notes that the Underknown’s real TikTok growth came when they were invited to join a “Learn on TikTok” program sponsored by the company itself.
This program was designed to help educational content creators, like Underknown, produce effective content on the platform. Underknown’s flagship show, What If, saw immediate success on TikTok with Peter, co-founder and voice of the show, also becoming the face of it. That account now has over two million followers and showed how big the reach on TikTok could be. For Underknown, TikTok clearly presented an opportunity to educate a whole new demographic of, mostly younger, viewers.
The company set a mission to bring other shows onto TikTok as well and hired Short Form Content Creator and Producer Shayne Cole to lead the charge. Shayne came to Underknown with not just an extensive background in social media management and marketing, but also an impressive TikTok following of her own. Shayne brought Underknown shows How to Survive and Crazy Creatures to TikTok and oversees the full production process of short form content for both shows.
A large part of Shayne’s job revolves around creating strategy for Underknown’s TikTok content by keeping a finger on the pulse of what other creators are doing and looking at data from content she’s already posted. “It’s fun and extremely challenging in a startup environment,” she says. However, she also notes that the beauty of TikTok is that trying new things is the best way to find what works. In her first year at Underknown, she’s grown How to Survive’s TikTok following from 0 to over 800,000.
The key to success on TikTok isn’t just about getting people to like the content though. As Shayne puts it, “We’re trying to start a conversation in the comments section.” She explains that because the content Underknown puts up is educational, the most important element of any video is that viewers engage with it and ask questions. There is a lot of content that audiences internalize on TikTok, but Underknown’s accounts ensure that at least some of that content will be informative and factual.
According to Saida, a large part of Underknown’s success on TikTok has been realizing that it is a unique app with unique demands. “The information we deliver needs to be short, punchy and straight-to-the-point. We cannot stay away from trends and have to jump on them as quickly as possible,” she says. Shayne has embraced this by paying close attention to trends like the ‘Ohio meme’ which inspired Shayne to create what she says is her favorite video she’s done thus far for Underknown, ‘How to Survive Ohio’. The four-second video performed extremely well and showed that “you just need to know your audience and know the joke and go with it”.
As Underknown’s success with short-form content continues to grow, the company is looking beyond TikTok to new opportunities like YouTube shorts, which is the first platform to offer programmatic revenue for short-form content. However, YouTube shorts and TikTok have very different audiences with very different demands so Underknown’s content on each differs. Shayne notes that on YouTube, people expect a higher level of production quality. “If it looks too polished on TikTok,” she says, “it looks like an ad and people swipe away”.
Success on all of these platforms drives up engagement, introduces new audiences to Underknown’s educational, entertaining content, and paves the way for more Underknown employees like Shayne to help grow the brand across the entire digital media landscape.
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