What TikTok teaches us about effective communication

Those of us stuck in the “last century” take heed: TikTok and 15 to 60 second videos are IN.

My Tiktok channel: https://www.tiktok.com/@ctlin99

The TL;DR? 15 seconds should be the length of your educational videos. Wanna know why? and how? read on.

I was a Late adopter of Facebook

I’ve been thinking about the evolution of social media. In early days, I was a late adopter of Facebook, not getting why it was any better than email. Now, I get it: saying something once allows your network to see it, from close friends, to casual acquaintances. Medical residents explained to me that photos and memories were easier to share more broadly. AND, an existing large network made participation more valuable (hey! look at all the people I already know on here!).

Just like in the old days, getting a telephone was INCREASINGLY useful if there were MORE people and stores you could call. The network effect.

LinkedIn, Twitter

That led me over the years to LinkedIn (mostly for work contacts and posting my CV and work products publicly) and Twitter (still figuring it out, but a good way to keep up with news if you curate your network carefully, and also a way to post blog content). Also, Twitter allows you to curate for yourself an international community with similar interests, like #medtwitter.

And, my brilliant younger sister taught me that Twitter could also be good for lecture commentary and discussion (she will give a talk on 2 screens: one with her slides and another with a live pre-filtered Twitter feed: how brave! and give out a custom hashtag, like #postitpearls_lecture, and ask the audience to submit questions this way: wow).

YouTube

And, some of you know that I’ve dabbled in amateur song-parodies with EHR songs on my youtube channel.

IFTTT, blogging

Finally, I’ve figured out how to blog regularly and then use IFTTT to cross-post my content auto-magically to my other platforms (Facebook page, Twitter, LinkedIn) so that I can seem more connected and omni-present than I really am (Thanks for another great tip, Sis).

Tiktok?

BUT! TikTok is another thing altogether. My colleague and her daughter suggested that I take my latest Hamilton parody song (that I had gamely posted to YouTube and here I am shamelessly showing it to you again)

#notthrowinawaymyshot and now post it on TikTok, a post-millenial social media platform restricted to 60 second videos. Leaving aside the recent kerfuffle about Chinese ownership and control, this is qualitatively a different animal: getting your thoughts across in 15 seconds (preferred duration, and the time restriction being a result of the music industry’s maximum replay length of a copyrighted song). It has since been extended to 60 second maximum if you have an original soundtrack on your video.

So, I dove in. Unlike my “dozens” of views on my YouTube channel (with which I was satisfied; my broadcast domain is, admittedly to a relatively small physician informatics audience), my TikToks quickly blossomed to nearly 1000 views in 2 days.

Wow! I thought. I am AMAZING on TikTok.

What I did not appreciate is the 15 to 60 second format is much more attuned to the rapid “swipe” of post-millenials, and EVERYONE racks up lots of views. And, ultra-short videos are so easy to consume one after the other. AND, TikTok doesn’t need you to establish your network before your video gets out there; it shows your video to a random selection of viewers, and then those who LIKE it or SUBSCRIBE to you trigger the algorithm to show it to more viewers. So, an easy way to game the system is to use trending (but highly inaccurate) hashtags, like #superbowl, etc. Sadly, this user does not seem to have understood, or be willing to follow, some of these informal rules.

Furthermore, if you read online chatter about TikTok views “500 views total, is pretty sad; what you want is 500 views per hour.” For example, Nathan Evans, of Sea Shanty fame? He went viral at about 250,000 views, and now he’s at 12.9 million. Oh, well. Here’s my paltry Covid Sea Shanty, currently at 62 views (not 62,000) and SIX LIKES.

In contrast, our Informatics team at UCHealth just retired/deleted a 17-minute video I made a 10 years ago for a full “walkthrough” of how to use the Electronic Health Record for our ambulatory clinic physicians. Whew, how out of touch was THIS guy? Here’s a one minute snippet of the kind of video I posted back then, when we were on Allscripts Touchworks. So young, so naive.

Our more recent training videos are more like 1-2 minutes and focused on ONE technique or tool. Now, I’m thinking, maybe we need to shoot for 15-30 seconds. The cool thing about TikToks is that you can trim seconds, speed things up, because those viewers who “get it” can be done watching in 15 seconds, but the video can be paused and also it automatically replays so the viewer can catch subtle details. Hmm, is this a paradigm shift? Should we embed TikTok length education videos into our EHR?

Put Road Signs On the Roadway

As we say internally, shouldn’t we put the Road Signs and Driving Directions (our tips and tricks) on the Roadway (where our users are actually using the EHR) and not in the Garage (our online reference library and training webinars)? Aren’t our users more likely to click on tips WHEN they’re doing work, rather than when “oh, I have some time, let me see what I can go learn.” (which is never)

Austin Chang is my hero

There clearly is an entire evolution of thinking needed to succeed in this TikTok medium. And I don’t have the savvy (yet), the luck, or the persistence to grind out the many tries needed to break through. However, there are medical professionals who have. For example, Austin Chang.

Austin is … well, just go watch him. In 15 seconds, with hilarious music over-dubs, he uses captions and terrible dancing while in scrubs (ok not so terrible), to get his medical facts out there.

I both bemoan the general public’s deterioration of attention span (15 seconds now? Really?) and his ability to fit his tiny education bites (bytes?) into this format. It works. Some of his TikToks are over 2 million views. On MEDICAL TOPICS. Nice. Here’s the NYTimes writing about him.

This reminds me of reading The Shallows, a book about what the Internet is doing to our brains. Are we losing the ability to read a book? I don’t know. I, for one, did not finish reading the book. Ironic.

CMIO’s take: Beat ’em or Join ’em? What are YOU doing about TikTok in your field?

Author: CT Lin

CMIO, UCHealth (Colorado); Professor, University of Colorado School of Medicine

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