The Ohio Department of Transportation has long been a national leader in producing high-quality, informative customer-focused videos. Among its many programs is the award-winning weekly program, The Loop, featuring ODOT communications pros Erin McBride and Matt Bruning, which has garnered more than 64,000 YouTube views. The content is high quality, consistent and – I think I mentioned this – informative.
But ODOT’s communications team has discovered that TikTok provides a way to reach an entirely new and different audience with its video content that is far beyond the standard YouTube channel.
Thanks to intern AJ Overstreet, who was familiar with the TikTok platform, ODOT discovered that it could repurpose video it was already producing and, in turn, grow the engagement with their content.
One of its first TikTok clips earned 550,000 views. Meanwhile, ODOT averages 170,000 views a year on YouTube.
“It’s exciting since we’re putting all this time and effort into making videos that we get another set of eyes,” said Colin Trubee, ODOT videographer, during a recent video call.
A recent clip featuring McBride shows a car that drove past a road closed barrier and ended up stuck. The 6-second segment used video from a Loop story that was layered over a popular TikTok audio meme, “Live, laugh, love.” It’s received 215,000 views and more than 418 comments.
“That took about 10 minutes to do and it just blew up,” said McBride. “You just never know, so you kind of have to try different things.”
So far only a few transportation agencies are using TikTok, including the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Washington State Department of Transportation. But none come close to the kind of consistency – and success – that ODOT has achieved so far.
McBride admits that ODOT didn’t set out to be a pioneer in the TikTok world. “There wasn’t a lot of thought put into it,” she said. But ODOT’s willingness to trust the instincts of a passionate intern has paid off.
“We weren’t hitting Gen Z at all with our other channels on Twitter, Facebook and Instragram,” McBride said. “TikTok is the perfect way to reach that demographic.”
Indeed it is. In September, TikTok reached more than a billion monthly active users. According to a recent survey of 10,000 teenagers, 30 percent consider TikTok their favorite social media app, behind Snapchat (35 percent) but ahead of Instagram (22 percent).
McBride and Trubee had some advice, though, for transportation agencies considering whether to jump on the TikTok bandwagon.
First, agencies do not need a large professional video operation.
“You don’t have to have someone who is great with cameras,” Trubee said. “Some of the stuff that does really well was stuff we got out on a job site, stitched together when we got home and then posted.”
They also suggest that agencies be willing to experiment. ODOT has learned to pay attention to what’s already trending on TikTok – a hashtag or audio clip – and incorporate that into their posts. They usually do a “fun” clip followed by a series of more educational posts.
While Trubee says that TikTok is a space in which viewers’ comments are generally positive, it takes time to engage with people. McBride agreed, adding, “If we do engage, our videos do better so we like to engage a bit.”
Finally, McBride and Trubee credit ODOT leadership for valuing innovation and good communications.
“They’re very supportive of us trying new things and seeing what works,” McBride said.