We have good news and we have bad news.
The bad news is that the city of Minneapolis is going viral. COVID is surging across Hennepin County, with more than 200 new cases a day.
The good news is that the city of Minneapolis is going viral… on TikTok! For combating the very COVID misinformation that got us here in the first place!
Here’s a video from a few days ago. It’s one of the most popular clips the city’s posted since launching the account in summer 2019.
Here’s another one.
OK, one more.
People love it. The City of Minneapolis TikTok account—which is pretty much 30-something social media officer Jordan Gilgenbach—has blown up recently, its follower count shooting past 32,000.
“Over the last week and a half I’m up over 12,000 followers. It’s insane,” Gilgenbach says. (It was around 28,000 on Monday when I asked if he’d be interested in talking TikTok for a story.)
TikTok as a public health tool? It’s more likely than you think! The account has been an important way to reach Gen Z—an audience with high rates of positive tests that’s also under-vaccinated—in a way that doesn’t feel preachy.
Sometimes Gilgenbach descends into the comments, responding to people who don’t trust the vaccine because they don’t know what’s in it with a polite “Funny you say that, because the CDC has every ingredient listed for every vaccination available. Here’s a link! Check it out for yourself!”
But the Pink video aside, he says that for the last few weeks, the comments have been more about the content itself and less about COVID or vaccinations. “To be truthful, I really haven’t been in the comments with the anti-vaxxers a lot,” he says. “Here and there, I’ve pushed back a little bit, or been able to provide information.”
It’s not all COVID information and public health. Gilgenbach also takes on Twin Cities topics like the weather, holidays, and hating Edina. In one of his biggest pre-pandemic hits, he erased Wisconsin from a U.S. map, leading to an extended back-and-forth between Minneapolis and the Wisconsin DNR (which now has close to 65,000 followers of its own).
A handful of other cities and states are on TikTok, along with municipal services like libraries and fire departments. (If I may, I highly urge you to check out the Sioux Falls Fire Department’s cat rescue videos, which have gone viral a few times.)
The city’s Twitter account has more followers than its TikTok—but all the brands, government agencies, and public health agencies are on Twitter.
“They’re all saying the same thing over and over again, and it’s all, ‘Get vaccinated! It’s free! Here’s a link!'” Gilgenbach says. “There’s no relatability there. It’s just really boring.”
TikTok is a good way to reach people where they’re at, without pretension, while they’re scrolling their phone. The talking points don’t feel bureaucratic, or even like they’re coming from the government at all. And the algorithm has plastered Minneapolis on the For You Pages of folks across the country and the world: Australia, Great Britain, Greece, New Zealand.
“Didn’t you comment on someone else’s post ‘*cries in public health*’? This is the best official city TikTok account ever,” a Canadian commenter noted on the Pink video. The top comment on another video: “Do I live in Minnesota, no. Do I like this account, yes.”
The misinformation isn’t limited to COVID. Gilgenbach says that there are so many misperceptions about Minneapolis from people who don’t live here or have never been here—that the city is in disarray, burning down around us all the time. It’s either a crime-ridden cesspool or a vacant dead zone depending on which pundit you’ve tuned into that day.
TikTok has helped humanize it. “You’ve got people who are like, ‘I’ve never considered visiting Minneapolis, I’ve never considered living in Minneapolis, and this is changing my mind on that,” Gilgenbach says.
Those people may never visit or move to the city, and that’s fine! The point is that it’s showing people as far away as Australia and close as Chaska that the city isn’t the bombed-out war zone they’ve heard about.
“At the very least it’s helping people see: Maybe the city of Minneapolis isn’t something to be afraid of.”