Behind the Data Podcast, Episode 52: TikTok Microvlogging to Engage Non-Profit Stakeholders
On the most recent episode of NVivo’s Behind the Data Podcast, Dr. Stacy Penna spoke with Dr. Kim Wiley, Assistant Professor of Nonprofit Leadership and Community Engagement at the University of Florida. When the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled her field research plans in 2020, Dr. Wiley found a new research opportunity in an unexpected place. As she told Dr. Penna, “Something that happened to a lot of us during the pandemic was that we got hooked on TikTok.”
If you’re not familiar with TikTok, it’s a social media application where creators produce short videos, or “microvlogs.” Think of it as a counterpart to Twitter, where users produce short snippets of text, or “microblogs.” Since its worldwide launch in 2018, TikTok has become one of the world’s major social media networks. According to the BBC, TikTok’s downloads doubled from one billion to two billion between July 2019 and July 2020.
Wiley’s interest in TikTok was piqued when she realized that the content nonprofit organizations posted there seemed different from what they published elsewhere. One example she gave was of an organization that trained service dogs. “When the new puppies would come in,” she explained, “they would post [a video]. They’d have some playful music, or trending music,” but no text, captions, or requests for donations. These calls for action were typical of content on other social platforms, but not TikTok. She set out to understand the reason why.
Mixed-Methods Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches
Wiley and her collaborators assembled a team of faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduate students to investigate how nonprofits engage with their stakeholders through microvlogging on TikTok. According to her website, she and her team evaluated 1,160 TikTok posts from 58 different nonprofit organizations using qualitative and quantitative research methods. She analyzed posts based on a theoretic framework developed by previous research into nonprofit social media outreach. This framework indicated that nonprofit messaging broke down into three main content categories:
Sharing information about the mission of the nonprofit
Encouraging action (donating, volunteering, or participating in advocacy activities)
Building community through shared interests
First, members of the team reviewed each individual post qualitatively. Using NVivo software, each post was assigned codes based on its content category, the specific stakeholders it was meant for (for example, general audiences, funders, volunteers, and service users), and the types of features the video might have used, such as trending music, text and captions, or split-screen responses to other videos, known on TikTok as “duets”.
Next, Wiley’s collaborator scraped engagement metadata from the posts the team had evaluated to conduct a quantitative analysis. Using Python and R, the team was then able to determine which categories of posts received the most engagement by using NVivo’s built-in matrix codes and content analysis tools.
Finally, Wiley was curious about whether her team’s interpretations of what each organization was doing in a TikTok post actually aligned with the organization’s intentions. Her team conducted interviews with 30 social media coordinators from organizations that participated in the study to gain further qualitative insights into the aims of each organization. The team then analyzed transcripts of these interviews with NVivo.
What the Data Analysis Revealed
Qualitative data analysis of the 1,160 posts reviewed by Wiley’s team revealed that most TikTok posts by nonprofits fell into the category of community outreach. Quantitative analysis of the engagement statistics showed that these posts also generated the most activity from users, and that informational or call-to-action content, especially if it had been cross-posted from another platform like Instagram, did not perform as well.
In the interviews with nonprofit social media coordinators, Wiley and her team heard a clear, consistent message about what organizations hoped to achieve with their microvlogging and microblogging activity on TikTok: building connections with Generation Z. She summarized the social media coordinators’ rationale as follows: “We’re not going to talk to [Gen Z] the same way we talk to, say, an older donor ... we’re just connecting with them now [to] get them familiar with our mission, and then later maybe they can volunteer or donate.”
Advice on Working Together Remotely
The pandemic presented logistical challenges to Wiley’s research, but she was able to use NVivo’s cloud-based tools and other technology to keep her team connected and productive. Once a week, Wiley would gather the entire team on Zoom where they would code together for two hours. This provided a space for researchers to ask questions about specific posts they were struggling to categorize or ask others for help with the software.
“Being in the room together, whether it’s a Zoom room or a physical room, makes [collaboration] so much easier,” Wiley says. “You don’t have to wait for someone to respond to an email on how to code something ... you can share it right there in the room.” Plus, she adds, “the energy is great, even if you’re on Zoom.”
Dr. Wiley’s current project is looking into how influencers, government agencies, and nonprofits use social media to disseminate public health information. She’s once again assembled a team to help her code and analyze posts — but this time, they’ll be having their weekly meetings in person.
Get the Full Story
To learn more about this research, listen to the full podcast episode now. It’s also available on all major podcast services, including Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, and Stitcher. You can also learn more about Dr. Wiley’s work at www.drkimberlywiley.com.