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Seven Chinese top museums took to Douyin on International Museum Day

Yu Zhang discovered Douyin during a recent trip to China. And she downloaded the app after seven Chinese museums promoted themselves on the platform.

She wants to share this phenomenon with you and wonders whether your museums will be ready to adopt just another new platform.

What is Tik Tok (or Douyin)?

You may not yet have heard about Douyin (or Tik Tok for its international users) – it is the most popular social video app nowadays in China, with “60 million active users who together contribute more than 4 billion video views on the platform every month“. Released in September 2016, it was the most downloaded non-game iOS app in the world for the first quarter of 2018, beating Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or Youtube. In short, it is a video app where people post 15-second video memes, for showing off lip-syncing dances, stunts, parody, food, pets, kids or just everything, with filters or special effets and embedded pop music. Its main criticisers have been blaming the app to be vulgar, dangerous for imitation and addictive. “80 percent of the app’s users are under the age of 30, 66.4 percent are female, and over 40 percent live in first- and second-tier cities”.

For International Museum Day on 18 May, Douyin teamed up with seven top Chinese museums, including the National Museum, Hunan Provincial Museum, Nanjing Museum, Shaanxi History Museum, Zhejiang Provincial Museum, Shanxi Museum and Guangdong Museum, and shared two videos starring highlight objects from the museums’ collections, named “Wonderful Night at the Museum, Let’s Dance, a Magical Opening” and “The First Contest of Drama Queen at the Museum”.

To view the video on Douyin

During the weekend following the International Museum Day, the video was played more than 100 million times, favourited 6.5 million times and shared more than 170,000 times. The seven participating museums have each created an account and featured a highlight object considered “national treasure” on Douyin platform. On the day of the launch, the museums have attracted 360,000 followers in all.

The videos went viral immediately beyond the platform and was applauded by a general public, museum-goer or not, and museum professionals. The videos were generally considered creative and successful, as they picked the highlight from the museum collection, made fun of the centuries-old dusty objects, joined trendy internet movement and spoke the language of the young people.

But after the weekend fever, criticism has risen, especially from the museum field:

  • Shall we join whatever internet trends?
  • Is it considered free advertisement or even an endorsement of such a commercial / for-profit platform?
  • Is it disrespectful to make fun of “national treasures”?
  • What’s more to just have the objects dancing or talking?
  • What’s in there for the museum visitors or a general public?

After the heated discussions calmed down, I checked again the museums’ accounts on Douyin: more museums have created their account on the platform but few are sharing contents regularly. From the content shared, some are not tailored for the platform (without the Douyin-branded filters and special effects or Douyin-selected BGM); some are still struggling to find their style; some just don’t have the “skills” for flashy videos (or they just don’t want to: their videos looking no more than a collage of photos). And a search of the keyword “museum” brought up very little UGC (user-generated content) and it makes me wondering: what can you tell in 15 seconds? Apart from catching eyes, what engagement do you create? And after all, do museums have to be on every new platform?

p.s. Do you still remember Second Life?

Title illustration by Sage. You can also check out her work on her website.