The power of TikTok in China

Working with digital media can throw up unexpected results as the algorithms and policies of different online channels have their own way of affecting what content reaches what audience. This was borne out when a recent Justice4Her video shot to more than one million views on the TikTok platform. The video was one of 10 following-up an online event focusing on domestic violence, marital property and divorce. And the topic that caught followers’ attention was the tricky issue of who gets custody of the family pet when a couple break up. It was about the dog, the cat and the parakeet. Or was it?

Justice4Her is an RNW Media platform in China, co-funded by EuropeAid. The cross-sector, multi-stakeholder project aims to strengthen the rule of law to reduce gender-based violence against women, especially young women migrant workers. Diverse online channels and offline activities aim to raise awareness of the issues, inform this vulnerable group of women of their rights, amplify their voices and support their access to justice. Among the activities, Justice4Her is organising a series of online media events – hour-long live discussions with invited experts who discuss GBV related topics and answer questions from users.

Major player
These events are broadcast via the Chinese social media platforms WeiBo and TikTok. Justice4Her has long been active on Weibo – well-established as one of China’s biggest social media platforms – and has recently launched a TikTok channel. The short-video platform, known as “Douyin” in China, has rapidly become a major player in the Chinese social media ecosystem. With over 500 million monthly active users, TikTok is currently China’s most downloaded video-streaming app.

Custody of pets
September’s event featured a discussion with Jia Xinyan, a specialist on family law. She talked about the marital property dispute cases she had been involved in and answered questions live from viewers. The event was ranked 13 out of the 50 most popular livestreams in the Shanghai area and attracted 384,000 views and 3,768 engagements on Weibo and TikTok. After the event, ten 60-second clips from the livestreaming video were distributed via TikTok. One of those clips was ‘Custody of pets after divorce’ which rapidly shot to more than one million views and generated 1,461 comments, and 2,461 reposts. Justice4Her also saw its followers on TikTok almost treble in number (from 1,500 to 4,073).

The viral video


Unlike Weibo or Wechat, TikTok relies on big data calculation methods to target users with content based on their interests rather than accounts they have followed. So, the video was distributed not just to people interested in matrimonial and women’s rights issues but also to people interested in pets – meaning it reached a broad and diverse audience. Justice4Her can see, for instance, that more than half of the followers it has now attracted have pets as avatars. Tapping into the interests we all have in the smaller issues of daily life is key to building social media reach. People often engage more deeply with serious issues when they are approached in a lighter way, a tactic that can help Justice4Her to build on its success in helping young women migrant workers access justice.

Engaging a diverse audience
TikTok and its big data approach are revolutionising how Chinese users engage with brands, and it has become an online gathering space for a huge number of Chinese young people. Justice4Her aims to take advantage of this by developing a content strategy that links its focus on GBV against women migrant workers and the legal rights of GBV survivors with topics that are popular amongst young people on TikTok. The aim is to engage with as diverse an audience as possible and generate broader social awareness of GBV and its harmful effects by means of high quality and engaging short videos. A topic such as pets can be an entry point to bigger discussions, reaching more people, creating more positive change.

TikTok also features a built-in direct-message system which enables followers to ask questions conveniently and privately. The Justice4Her team reply to these queries and direct users to relevant content on its other channels such as Wechat/Weibo. When appropriate, users are referred for advice directly to one of the pro-bono lawyers in the Justice4Her network, as was the case with 36 of the users who responded to this event.

Success story
Justice4Her is an immensely successful platform. It saw 350 million visits on its social media channels in 2018. Eighteen cases were taken to court and 1,400 consultations given via the growing pro-bono legal services network. The Justice4Her video “Your silence may contribute to violence (Silence Hurts)” won the Best Creative PSA Video of the Shanghai Advertisement Association Awards 2018 and Silver Prize for Best Video at the 8th STDecaux Public Service Awards of JCDecaux 2018. Moreover, three legislative proposals on GBV issues were submitted to the national and provincial congress, and suggestions made by lawyers of the Justice4Her network were adopted by the People’s Congress of Hubei Province when formulating its anti-domestic violence legislation.