TikTok is proving to be fabulous in many ways, although utterly infuriating in others, as a venue for Archaeodeath.
For my introduction to TikTok, check out this blog from my start-up month.
By July I had amassed 1,000 followers and tackled a range of silly and frivolous videos, with some going ‘viral’ (at least by my standards) with one achieving over 30k views!
I’ve now been on the massive social media platform which allows space for 15-second and 60-second videos just over 8 months. So let’s take stock.
In that time, I’ve reached new audiences and explored new ways of communicating the archaeology and heritage of death and memory. I’ve now got 2780 followers, which means that in 8 months I’ve already built a community c. 44% the size of my Twitter following which has taken 9 years to develop.
What am I posting? A mix: some silly ones but often aimed at introducing archaeological issues, some educational explaining archaeological evidence and ideas, some announcements about publications and events.
There are also some about academic debates, a few picking up on trends and a very few stitches and replies with other creators. Yet, despite the various lockdowns, I’ve also been visiting archaeological sites and landscapes in my vicinity when legal to do so. The ability to create a mood, select perspectives, give a sense of movement and captions where relevant, means that I don’t need to appear or speak myself in many videos and still give a fresh perspective to an archaeological site or monument.
Here’s my favourite use of someone else’s sound to communicate an archaeological find:
And yes, I’ve used it to comment on the archaeological use of ‘Anglo-Saxons’ too:
Ok ok, I have done a couple of lip-syncs! It’s TikTok – you have to!
What is great about TikTok is that even my least popular post will get more views and likes that anything I put on (say) Facebook or Twitter. Most posts get at least 100-150 views, and at least 10-20 likes. I’ve posted about 471.
My stats show me going out to UK and US territories, with Canada, Australia and Ireland much smaller, and two-thirds of my followers are female. I’ve learned that for educational English-language content, this is pretty typical for TikTok.
With this blessing, however, comes frustrating limitations; it really isn’t easy to predict what will trigger the algorithm and get afforded sufficient views and likes. Therefore, some of the posts I’ve put most research or thought into have done relatively poorly, whereas random ones get a lot of attention. Indeed my very latest TikToks of the last 2 days have been rather disastrous, seemingly despite imagining that the combination of the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf with the links to J.R.R. Tolkien (i.e. I read his translation and made allusions to Middle-Earth), this simply didn’t grab the algorithm’s attention. AI is dumb sometimes methinks (although I know that I’m not the best of orators and Tolkien’s translation isn’t the easiest to engage folks with)!
Another frustration for me is that, inevitably for TikTok as well as YouTube, I have to be very sensitive about mortuary matters and no human remains will (usually) appear in my posts.
Still, my more popular ones have received over 1,000 views. I’ve done c. 24 of these. I wish to share them here, working back from the most recent! As you will see, while some are rather random among these most-popular posts, they do contain some useful (and mildly humorous at times) introductions to important archaeological artefacts, ancient monuments, landscapes and mortuary remains past and recent (including ash-scattering, memorials and a COVID-19 pandemic memorial snake), and I am able to debate some key themes linked to my research. A few are actually ‘reply videos’ to questions posted on earlier videos, so it is clear TikTok allows a high degree of interactivity. Savour!
Indeed in one instance, I’ve had (for me) a hyper-viral post. Yes, this particular 15-second post has received over 101,600 views and 4,301 likes! This is a level of public engagement one cannot get via other social media platforms! See if you can find which one it is!