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HSE targets TikTok teens in bid to curb spread of Covid-19

The HSE has said it’s “very happy” with the role its advertising has played in keeping people in Ireland “informed and motivated” during the pandemic.

Sample HSE post on TikTok
Sample HSE post on TikTok
Image: HSE/TikTok

FROM HAVING ZERO followers on the social media platform TikTok pre-Covid, the HSE now has 12,000 – and it believes it’s a “valuable channel” in advertising messages around Covid-19.

Across all its social media channels, the HSE has boosted its following considerably since the arrival of Covid-19 to Ireland. It has quadrupled its Twitter followers and doubled its Facebook followers.

In information released to Fine Gael TD Emer Higgins, the interim HSE national director of communications said the organisation is “very happy with the role our advertising and social media have played in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, in helping to keep people in Ireland informed, and motivated”. 

In a statement, Higgins said that the HSE should use its growing platform on TikTok, in particular, given”the huge potential” it has in “reaching our young people and driving the public health messages home”. 

“Roughly 50% of TikTok’s global audience is under the age of 34 and [has] strong use among 18 to 24-year -olds, which makes it one of the platforms that should be actively targeted in reaching this demographic when it comes to Covid-19,” she said.

Throughout the pandemic, as part of wider plans to tackle the spread of the virus, the HSE has run advertising campaigns which mostly focus on the positive behaviours we can all engage in to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

It has said it is focusing on this kind of messaging over hard-hitting, emotive advertising because the latter may result in “defensive avoidance” where people deny the importance of the message it’s putting across

In its note to Higgins, the HSE said it has spent €175,000 on advertising across Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and TikTok during the pandemic. 

“We use this spend to promote certain messages so they will be seen on people’s timelines over the course of a particular period,” it said. “Tone, memorability (cut through) and relevance are important but clarity and potential to impact behaviour are key.”

Pre-Covid, the HSE had roughly 40,000 followers on Twitter. Now it has 160,000. It has also increased its Facebook following from 100,000 to just under 250,000. 

Its Instagram following has risen sharply, from 5,000 to 75,000. And, from no followers, it now has 12,000 followers on TikTok. 

The HSE said it reaches a combined audience of one million people each day through its various social channels. It has a different strategy for each. 

It said: “92% of all activity and engagement with Tweets happens within the first hour of posting. With Facebook, the interaction can go on for hours, and even days. While content on Facebook is not time bound, the information on Twitter is always here and now, important and relevant, and constantly changing.

There are plenty of differences between Facebook and Twitter, but the bottom line is that Facebook is more of an ongoing social relationship builder. Twitter keeps people updated on the here and now, and topics and trending conversations are constantly changing. It is less about social connections and more about staying informed.

Where it posts several times a day on Twitter, it usually posts just once a day on Facebook and Instagram to ensure it doesn’t have a drop in the number of people who engage with their posts. 

When it comes to TikTok, the HSE said it is a new platform to advertise its messages here.

“When Covid-19 came to Ireland, it was not possible to advertise on TikTok here. We monitored it and kept up to date and as soon as it became available, we were in contact with them to see how we could utilise the platform to get our messages to the audience on that platform.

The platform is continuously improving its ability to target the Irish audience and we are seeing a noticeable improvement on ad performance on the platform. Since making these changes this has become a valuable channel. The videos may be short, but they must be worth watching and able to interest their target audience.  

For this reason, we take the approach of posting twice a month with media spend to get as much out of each ad as we can.

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In a statement, Higgins said that she welcomed the fact that so many people are engaging with Covid-19 content on social media that encourages compliance with the public health guidance but added that TikTok should be an area of focus.

She said: “A quick scan of its page reveals a handful of videos that feature a young person dancing in their living room to emphasise the importance of staying home, and others which are shortened versions of TV ad campaigns.

“Interestingly, some of these videos have been viewed over 1 million times, which demonstrates the huge potential TikTok has in reaching our young people and driving the public health messages home.”

The Dublin Mid-West TD also said that given this potential, there was scope for the HSE to share “more engaging, thought-provoking content on TikTok”. 

“I previously said that we needed a hard-hitting advertising campaign on the Covid-19 public health crisis, and for the HSE needed to rethink its advertising strategy,” Higgins added.

“The HSE has spent €175,000 on social media advertising since the start of the pandemic, so perhaps officials could consider additional spending on TikTok advertising with the aim of protecting our health service and changing behaviour where it is needed.”

About the author:

Sean Murray

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