Main Characters in Search of an Audience: How Institutions used #LearnOnTikTok to Perform Authenticity


  • Jennifer Smout Goldsmiths



#LearnOnTikTok was a 2020 initiative from the social media company which invited accounts to facilitate audience education during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. As previous digital marketing and storytelling strategies can rarely be successfully transposed from other social media platforms to TikTok, organisations must create (and recreate) their own form of entertaining education. TikTok may become a classroom, but that does not guarantee there will be students. A new form of pedagogy must encompass the technological and cultural specificities of TikTok to reach, and then retain, the desired audience. Drawing from my own professional experience as a social media manager, I will examine how the materiality of TikTok videos shape a performance-based memetic culture, and how this in turn, transforms the pedagogic relationship between the institution and the audience. Using examples from DuoLingo and Planet Money, I will show how engaging in TikTok’s culture in a manner that is read as “authentic†by potential students is fundamental to an institution’s performance as “the Main Characterâ€, which is essential to their capacity to educate on the social media platform.