Skip to main content

Insights and Intelligence

  • 12 Aug 2021
  • 5 min read
  • by Caroline Olechowski

How scientific brands can capture curious minds

Planner Caroline shares the unlikely lessons brands can take from the likes of TikTok and YouTube - it turns out dance routines and cooking hacks aren't the only thing we can learn on these platforms.

One of the pandemic’s biggest success stories has been TikTok. As we left the outside world behind last year and turned our attention to our screens, the app was there waiting with its viral dance routines and lockdown memes.

So it might have been surprising to some when the platform launched its #LearnOnTikTok campaign later in the year. After noticing a rising interest in educational videos, it partnered with 800 creators and organisations to give its users even more chances to learn on the platform.

It was a strategy that paid off. Videos posted using the #LearnonTikTok hashtag have garnered over 130bn views. Many of these videos offer practical tips - things like beauty tutorials and cooking hacks.

Others delve into more scientific topics - partially due to a concerted effort by TikTok to recruit organisations like the Met Office and the Royal Society of Chemistry on to the platform.

But, why the focus on educational content? I have a few hunches. Number one - it’s stickier. Memes have a shelf life. They’re fun for a while, and then they die out.

Compare that to a video that provides you with more lasting value - one that teaches you something new or changes how you think about the world. You’ll want to watch more videos from that creator, follow their account, and return to the platform time and time again to engage with their content.

Getting users to spend more time on the platform means serving them more ads - and reaping big rewards. While TikTok’s parent company Bytedance hasn’t yet published earnings figures for 2021, rival platform YouTube brought in over $6 billion in advertising revenue in the first quarter of this year alone - up a whopping 49% since last year.

Scientific content can engage our emotions

But not all educational content is created equal. What successful creators on platforms like TikTok and Youtube understand is that, framed properly and told well, science content can pack an emotional punch.

‘Emotions?’ you might be thinking. Surely educational content is the definition of rational. But a closer look at the most watched science videos reveals that they inspire a whole range of emotions - from anticipation and surprise, to awe and wonder, and of course, curiosity.

As a species, we’re hard wired to want to know more. That’s one reason why we’re so drawn to stories - we want to see what happens in the end. It’s also one reason for the rise of conspiracy theories and so much misinformation - we don’t cope well with uncertainty and we feel reassured when we think we know the reasons why the world is the way it is.

So often as marketers we’re urged to steer clear of complicated or technical subjects, for fear of boring our audience or overloading them with information. But in doing so, are we missing an opportunity to tap into this desire to learn more about the world around us?

To create content that satisfies our curious minds, the first step is to start with a question. Tools like Answer the Public can show you what people are searching for on your particular topic. But I often find that these three simple questions are the best place to start:

Question 1: Why?

If there is a small child in your life, you’ll have heard this one before. Humans are naturally curious about why the world is the way it is. This one simple question has driven so much scientific discovery over the centuries.

Media platform Vox, the inventor of the modern explainer video, saw an opportunity to explain the ‘why’ behind the day’s news headlines. Video titles mirror the questions people might type into a search bar - questions like ‘Why are so many Covid-19 variants showing up now?’ and ‘Why you can’t compare Covid-19 vaccines’. With tens of millions of views, Vox’s videos are so popular that they’ve now turned the format into multiple Netflix series.

Question 2: How?

We love to know how things work. Demonstrations and experiments answer the ‘how’ question by helping people to visualise invisible processes and better understand cause and effect.

There are a whole host of creators making content to help people understand how our bodies work. According to the Apple charts, the UK’s most popular podcast is currently an experiment designed to reveal how ultra-processed foods affect our bodies. American gynecologist Dr. Jennifer Lincoln’s birth simulation TikTok showing how breech births unfold has over 30 million views. Period product brand Kotex partnered with Youtuber Simone Giertz, also known as the Queen of Shitty Robots, who created a robotic uterus to show how strong period cramps are (the answer? Strong enough to crush a can).

Question 3: Why does this matter?

When new discoveries and innovations hit the headlines, we don’t always have enough background context to understand why they are important, and what the implications might be. People want to know what the stakes are, and what the consequences might be.

CRISPR might seem like a niche topic. But this 16 minute long video which explains how genetic engineering technology will ‘change everything forever’ has 22 million views.

But shorter content can work for this question too. Over on TikTok, an NHS surgeon’s video explaining why India’s Covid crisis matters to the world has racked up over 600k views.

We all know by now that there’s no shortcut to social media success. The personality of the narrator, the structure of the story, the editing and visual effects all have a hugely important part to play. But while chasing those likes and views, don’t be afraid to delve into the science. Armed with these three curious questions, you can make sure your scientific content captures the hearts, as well as the minds, of the internet’s geeks.

Caroline Olechowski

Senior Planner