A steady stream of young people enters the Myllyoja youth centre, and a buzz of conversation soon fills the air. While showing videos to one another on their phones, the youngsters also talk about TikTok. The youth workers join the discussion since most of the young people seem to know what they are talking about. Several youngsters immediately volunteer to show them videos. The rest of the evening is spent on the sofa, watching videos and learning about the top moves on TikTok. When the youth centre closes hours later, we say our goodbyes, doing the “Woah”, which by now is familiar to us all, and an idea begins to simmer in the youth workers’ minds.
This is how it all started for us. We decided to join TikTok and learn more about the phenomenon and what it was all about. At first, it meant spending evenings at home, browsing the application and discussing it with others at work. But then came the day when we announced we were going to make our first video. We worked on it, experimented and finally had a ready product to put online. The idea was to only reach out to young people in our own area, but this was not to be – the popularity of the video took us all by surprise! In the evening, our youngsters flowed to the centre, joking about how adults cannot be on TikTok. In defiance of these comments, we produced more videos, without any particular goal – and their popularity kept rising.
At this point, we youth workers felt we had to formulate some policy for our spontaneous entertainment and concluded that TikTok might offer a good way to disseminate information about youth work and activities at our youth centre. Young people often think of youth work being synonymous to drinking coffee and playing pool, and much of our work remains hidden to them. We also made videos of amusing incidents featuring young people at our youth centre, which both youngsters and youth workers could identify with. In other words, our videos reflected the everyday activities of visitors to the centre, spiced with humour. These were the videos that attracted viewers and brought followers to our account. We learned many of the hits from TikTok and combined them with everyday youth work activities, and as a result, our followers soon numbered in the thousands.
Live broadcasts on TikTok led us to discuss the use of the application with our superior
When it was time to take the next step, we got the idea about live broadcasts on TikTok. We hosted our first live TikTok broadcast once again without any definite plan, feeling excited about the new experience. We got surprisingly many viewers and received requests for more live broadcasts. TikTok videos are produced as part of our other work, but since live broadcasts take place outside the youth centre’s opening hours, we felt we should talk to our superior about allocating some of our working hours to TikTok. Our superior gave us the green light, since the time spent in relation to the benefits gained was small. Our superior thought it was an ingenious and bold move to develop a new form of activity alongside the traditional ones. After all, this form of work is one in which the employees sometimes have to step out of their comfort zone. And this is how the opportunities afforded by TikTok gave us a new tool for our daily work!
At first, TikTok took up more of our own time and called for a personal interest in the application. Many of the youth workers still use the application in their spare time, and that is also when some of the ideas emerge. However, we aim to produce all content at work, including browsing TikTok, filming videos and producing live broadcasts. The content often depends on your co-workers. Luckily, all of the youth workers at Myllyoja have agreed to appear in the videos. The idea and “moves” for the videos are ready, but we obviously listen to everyone’s opinions.
Videos have made youth work more transparent
The greater the number of people designing and producing the video, the better the content. TikTok viewers want to see a variety of youth workers on both the videos and live broadcasts, and they often ask us about other employees. Readily available contact information, familiar faces and a common topic make youth workers clearly easier to approach online than face-to-face. This becomes clear with substitutes from different centres. Young people also find it easier to share personal issues, for example, on Snapchat.
However, communication under pseudonyms and contacts from around Finland can pose challenges when dealing with matters in Oulu. Young people have the right to decide whether to provide personal details, and some prefer to remain anonymous. It is nearly impossible to track anyone down. During our live TikTok broadcasts, we receive many questions about youth centres and youth work from other parts of Finland. Young people like to share their experiences of youth work in their own area and differences between areas. Some questions require us to dig deeper for information, find contact information or make calls to other parties. It any case, TikTok has made youth work more transparent and brought it closer to young people.
Experiment and explore to find the right kind of content
The Myllyoja youth centre is popular from morning to evening, and our youth workers have become familiar visitors at schools and other centres. Our daily activities remain the same, but now and then, we throw ourselves whole-heartedly into the world of TikTok, and everyone enjoys a healthy laugh at our less successful shots. We are never short of enthusiastic video shooters, and we keep getting ideas for videos from various locations. We get our best tips from our viewers, from young people, who are experts in telling us what their age group likes. Sometimes, we are called Boomers and told to go and get a real job by youngsters well known to us. Nevertheless, we keep getting numerous requests from all around Finland for duets and shout-outs and follow requests. Due to our popularity, we have had to draw up a policy, which means, among other things, that we do not include young people in our videos and make our decision on each follow request on a case-by-case basis.
Practice has been our best teacher. When producing TikTok videos, you must focus on the video’s quality and on placing text at the top and middle of the picture. Exaggerated use of filters and effects does not work on TikTok, but effects can be fun additions here and there. Just as long as you keep in mind that too much is too much. Humour and laughter are ultimately what viewers appreciate.
This is a good moment to look back on the time described at the beginning of this article when, nursing coffee cups in our hand, we browsed TikTok and laughed at all our ideas. As a group, we made it into a daily tool to give us something new in addition to “normal” youth work, something that no one else yet had. Something that distinguishes TikTok from our other tools is the comments we hear in the street: “Hey, you’re the one from TikTok!”
We can be found on TikTok under the account @mylenuokkari. Please get in touch with us if you have any questions related to TikTok or need tips for producing TikTok videos. The best way to reach us is by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our TikTok videos can be freely used and distributed!