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TikTok turns Holland into a viral sensation – Grand Rapids Business Journal

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With a viral video, more than half a million total video likes and nearly 10,000 followers, the city of Holland’s TikTok account is helping connect a new audience to city government.

TikTok, which originated in China and became available worldwide after merging with in 2018, has since accumulated 2 billion users partaking in its short-form video sharing concept. Today, many businesses and brands are taking advantage of TikTok as a viable marketing tool.

The city of Holland created an account on the platform in 2021. But it wasn’t until this summer before two interns decided to start taking TikTok seriously and posting videos on a regular basis.

“Two of our interns, Mariah and Jada, kind of spent the summer going about doing things for TikTok that were related to the city but also finding that groove with the younger audience,” said Eric Bruskotter, multimedia specialist for the city.

When it came to finding that groove, Bruskotter said he reminded them to seek a balance between a fun and professional social media presence.

“I said to them, ‘It’s city government TikTok, so as long as it’s safe and you’re not doing anything that is going to make us look bad, I’m OK with it,’” he said, adding, “‘and if the mayor agrees to this, then that’s more power to you.’”

Mayor Nathan Bocks, who was elected to the position in November 2019, has since appeared in several of the city’s TikTok videos — including the most popular one to date.

A now-viral video from August features Bocks agreeing to have his face painted, though the design turned out to be that of a yellow-colored Minion character from the “Despicable Me” movie franchise. The prank was a popular trend on the app at the time.

Though Bocks’ stunned expression after the mirror reveal was amusing, the video’s viral appeal happened in the next clip, which showed Bocks in front of small crowd in the city council chambers while the text “… and he had a city council meeting right after” appeared on the screen. In the clip, Bocks kicked off the meeting before shaking his head as business seemed to carry on as usual while he was still adorned in the Minion face paint.

At the time of publication, the video has amassed 2.1 million views and over 400,000 likes. Commentors have expressed a mixture of humorous disbelief and West Michigan pride for the mayor’s willingness to participate in the trend.

However, while the mayor did agree to make a fun TikTok video, he knew what was happening and didn’t actually attend a city council meeting looking like a Minion.

“We got him to play it off and look like he was going to go into a meeting, but then I did some editing to make it look like he was at an actual council meeting,” Bruskotter said, noting that he “just spliced the video together.”

The video of course took off, and according to Bruskotter, several people reached out and wanted to learn more about the pretend meeting.

With the video’s success, Bruskotter began to realize that the platform could be a viable way for the city to engage with residents and other online users.

Kristin Kirsch, multimedia specialist for the city, had joined the team not long before the viral video was posted, and now she works to guide the city’s TikTok strategy.

According to Kirsch, the team tries to stay on top of video trends and make use of popular sound bites on the app. From pop superstar Taylor Swift to “The Office” to “Stranger Things,” several lyrics and pop culture references have been incorporated into videos showcasing Holland’s appeal.

And while the trends certainly are an enjoyable part of the process, Kirsch sees this as a necessary aspect of TikTok strategy.

“If you don’t stay on top of trends and use these sound bites when they come out, you won’t get the views or the audience engagement,” Kirsch said.

Like many TikTok users, she finds the ongoing process of understanding the app’s algorithm to be a challenging but also rewarding part of using the platform.

“It’s really surprising sometimes to see what videos take off and what videos don’t. Sometimes I put a lot of effort into videos and then they don’t do as well, and then sometimes the super simple ones go viral,” Kirsch said. “But then it’s also really rewarding seeing all the comments that come in and people engaging with them.”

Kirsch estimated she spends about half of her week dedicated to TikTok. She is able to elicit help from the former summer interns on occasion, and she also has repurposed some of the TikTok videos to use on other platforms like YouTube or Twitter.

With the city’s growing success on TikTok, Kirsch said the team has helped both the Holland Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Holland Board of Public Works get started on TikTok.

“They reached out to us, and it’s been really fun to collaborate with them and help them launch their TikTok accounts,” Kirsch said.

Bruskotter recommends that businesses, or local governments in particular, should try to think outside the box when it comes to social media.

“With government sometimes, it just seems like it has to be dry and straightforward … but you just have to have fun with it,” he said. “Don’t try to just be informative — figure out a way to be entertaining with it.”

Ultimately, he said the goal of the city’s social media presence across the different platforms is to relate to residents and highlight all that Holland has to offer.

“I feel like our social media has just grown immensely in the past decade, and I think that is very important to being transparent as a city,” he said. “That’s what the city of Holland is trying to do is be a very transparent government entity that works for the people. We like to try to highlight all the good things that we accomplish around the city and the good things that go on in the city. I think the team does a good job with that.”

This story can be found in the Nov. 14 issue of the Grand Rapids Business Journal. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox, subscribe here.

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