TikTok forces local government comms leaders to be brave!  

By Charlotte Goulding, Strategic Campaigns and Communications Manager, Waltham Forest

Back at LGcomms Academy in 2022, I listened to Jack and Zander from South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue tell a room full of people that they had not only launched a TikTok channel, but gained over 100,000 followers too. This was met with what would be fair to say, a worried silence, with us all thinking ‘gosh, I hope we won’t have to use this platform.’  

Quite honestly, TikTok sounded like a scary, unhinged and impossible place for local government communications. But their presentation and more importantly the huge success they had achieved had me hooked and as I jotted down the pointers and how best to use this channel – I knew I’d try my best to get this greenlit at Waltham Forest.

Fast forward to a weird and wonderful week where we welcomed five local college students in for a comms takeover. Their final message of how we could communicate better with young people was loud and clear: Create a TikTok channel and show us what a council really does for us.

After that, we were off – organisationally, we agreed this was a channel we wanted to try. But, I was clear that if we were doing this, we needed to it with guts and ambition. We needed to allow our team to explore the channel with freedom, trying new approaches in a bold and funny way, whilst also maintaining the mantra: every bit of content has to have a point.

A moment I won’t forget is Christmas Eve 2023, tag teaming over 260 comments with one of our most innovative campaign officers Molly, on our Love Actually parody video (you know, Hugh Grant dancing around Number 10.) As the views climbed over 100k views, not stopping until it hit 289k – my panic was relentless. Why did I sign off on this idea? How could I be so foolish? What is our brilliant new Chief Executive going to say?

But that mantra kept coming back: Can you demonstrate the reason you are creating this content and it is aiming to engage people with a specific, meaningful purpose?

And it did. During those couple of days it was viral, it generated nearly 300 new subscribers to our e-newsletter.

And the feedback was clear through the comments: This is what people wanted to see. Council officers not taking themselves too seriously and having fun with communications.

‘Now that’s my council’ said local resident Lucy in our comments. It wasn’t all positive, but the negative were outnumbered ten-fold by the great comments. And we were able to address the negative directly, with compassion and demonstrating we actively listen on this this channel too.    

The beginning of February 2024 marked the one year anniversary of Waltham Forest Council’s TikTok channel, and a huge moment for us as we hit 1,000 followers. 1,000 sounds small, but we’ve done it organically.  No ads, no paid promo – just relentlessly creating weird and wonderful content that has often connected with our audiences. 15% of our audience on TikTok is aged between 18 to 24, which is the highest proportion of young people across any of our social media channels.

So we’re doing something right.

As a comms leader, I’ve been proud to give the floor to my brilliant team, trusting them when they have an idea and supporting their creative exploration. And a huge thanks to my Director, Leader and Chief Executive too. They’ve embraced it with us, and together we’re developing our communications with a whole new audience.


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