7 August, 2022

TikTok activism for abortion rights

icon ballot measure,petitions,TikTok
Use TikTok to reach more people - faster and for less money.

“Reproductive Freedom for All” petition would add the right to an abortion to the Michigan Constitution.

The Reproductive Freedom for All petition required 425,000 signatures to make the November ballot. Distill Social a Michigan grassroots group and their coalition partners collected 105,000 signatures. This is their story and tips on fighting for the freedom to choose when and with whom to have a family.

How does a small grassroots mobilize supporters quickly? On a budget? With limited staff? How does Distill Social's approach compare with traditional canvassing to collect signatures?

  • Who is the target audience for the campaign? Which is the best way to reach them?
  • How do you amplify your message on TikTok - without paid advertising?
  • How do you share your message and explain what's at stake?
  • How do you make it easy and fun for supporters to sign the petition?

Distill Social TikTok video

TikTok activism for abortion rights works.
Watch on TikTok or as a GIF

Petition to Guarantee Abortion Rights for Michiganders

While court battles wage over the future of abortion access, a petition could put that right to a vote of the people. Signature gatherers are recruiting residents to sign “Reproductive Freedom for All,” a petition that would add the right to an abortion into the state Constitution. If the proposed constitutional amendment receives enough valid signatures by next month, voters—instead of politicians or judges—could decide whether or not the medical procedure can legally continue in Michigan after Roe v. Wade was recently overturned. 

  • The “Reproductive Freedom for All” initiative aims to amend the state Constitution to guarantee the right to abortion and other reproductive health care in Michigan.
  • The petition requires 425,000 signatures by July 11 to make the November ballot.
  • The initiative defends the right to contraception, which some fear could be at risk.

Michigan has a 1931 state law that bans abortions in nearly all cases, but a temporary injunction by a state judge has halted enforcement of the law while the courts decide whether or not the old ban runs afoul of the state Constitution. If the injunction is lifted or courts find that abortion isn’t expressly included in either the privacy or due process clauses, the 1931 law would take immediate effect, criminalizing abortion procedures in all cases except to save the life of the mother. - Gander Newsroom

‘Reproductive Freedom for All’ turns in 750K ballot signatures

"Reproductive Freedom for All announced they are turning in over 750,000 signatures to the Secretary of State for a new ballot petition. RFFA says the ballot proposal would protect abortion access and reproductive freedom in Michigan.

“Unprecedented momentum and volunteer efforts statewide propelled the Reproductive Freedom for All campaign to historic support – with more than 2,000 RFFA volunteers who helped gather signatures resulting in the campaign turning in more signatures than any previous ballot initiative in state history,” RFFA said. In order to qualify to be on the ballot, the group needed to gather 425,059 signatures from registered Michigan votes. So the 753,759 signatures is nearly double the requirement." - WLNS

Distill Social on TikTok for abortion rights, social justice and voting rights in Michigan.

Distill Social on TikTok

Distill Social (DS) launched its TikTok campaign in Feb 2022 and has already had millions of impressions. The volunteer team creates its own TikTok videos, without paid TikTok influencer marketing.

  • They designed and posted TikTok videos regularly explaining what the Republican abortion ban would mean to people in Michigan.
  • The videos are short and quirky about 10 seconds long.
  • The videos are created with smartphones and edited without any special equipment or apps which keeps costs very low.
  • Distill Social Tik Tok videos get a few thousand to a few million views each.
  • Distill Social videos are set to the music trending on TikTok that day which improves its rating with the TikTok algorithm.
  • Videos regularly feature local Michigan landmarks and scenes. This helps as the TikTok algorithm gives higher ranking to localized content.
  • DS promotes local events at bars encouraging people to show up to sign the petition and volunteer.
  • DS shares its videos freely and encourages supporters to reuse and share those videos.
  • Distill Social included a link to its website in its TikTok for supporters to learn more.

Grassroots activism flourishes on TikTok

Design better TikTok videos with these tips
Share as a GIF

Design better TikTok videos

  • Frequency - Post consistently and multiple times a day to get more visibility. Aim for at least 3-4 videos a day. Post your videos when your target audience is likely to be in TikTok. This could be during commute hours, lunch break or after work.
  • Music - Use a trending sound in your TikTok video. "TikTok’s “sound-on” approach is what makes it so special. Our preferences as users are moving beyond just image sharing (like Instagram) to a richer, more immersive experience. And that’s what sound does on TikTok." - Movement Strategy
  • Local - Create videos that are hyper local to the people you want to reach. Distill Social creates videos with local Michigan landmarks and events to increase engagement as viewers can see it is authentic content.
  • Length - Short punchy videos perform well. Distill Social videos typically range from 5-12 seconds. This DS 5 second video for instance has already had 121K views.
  • Hashtags - Use hashtags to make your content easier to find and make relevant connections. DS uses hashtags such as #reproductiverights #michigan #grandrapids  #vote #votetiktok #fyp #progressive
  • Make it fun - TikTok is a platform that encourages engagement and entertainment. Having a stuffy, boring video won’t help you succeed. Your content needs to be worth a view and a follow, which means that it needs to be fast, fun, and amusing. Your audiences will appreciate a break from bland brand material. - Rock Content
  • Experiment - This is called A/B testing. Try two approaches and see which performs better. Distill Social for instance, tried a professionally made video and one featuring an amateur interview video with a pastor about reproductive rights. The amateur video performed much better.
  • Add a link - Include a link in your TikTok bio so your followers can contact you. You'll need to have at least 1,000 followers before you can add a link though.
  • Interviews work - This 29 second Distill Social video of protestors outside a women's clinic in South East Michigan has had 756K views! The call to action (CTA) with the video is clear: "Don’t let these f*ckers win. Link in bio to find a location to sign. Let’s codify repro rights. #michigan #prochoicewithheart #prochoice"
  • Authentic - Distill Social tries many different approaches. This 9 second video features a bartender dancing to a catchy tune where they was to be a petition signing event. Call to action: "Link in bio to sign up! #ferndalemichigan #ferndale #royaloakmichigan #royaloak #detroit #313 #prochoice"
  • Spokesperson - Distill Social volunteers are featured regularly to helps establish face recognition and ongoing engagement with followers.
  • Reuse and share - Repost another TikTok video (such as those from Distill Social) with your own. TikTok calls this a duet.
Distill Social TikTok videos inform and mobilize voters
Watch on TikTok
TikTok activism is the choice of a new generation

TikTok vs Facebook

Distill Social targeted their outreach to collect signatures to younger people who'd be affected by the Republican proposed abortion ban. They chose to focus most of their effort on TikTok which has a bigger following with younger people and has a bigger percentage of women users.



Addictive nature of TikTok

  • TikTok detects the type of content users prefer watching and then customizes the upcoming content to their liking. This makes the user keep staying in the app for longer periods. 
  • TikTok users average daily active time on the app is 52 minutes.
  • The average number of times a Twitter user would open the app would be around 15.  TikToker’s daily activation is more than double that, with TikTok users opening their apps 38 to 55 times a day. 
  • The ease of access – all you have to do is open the app and let the algorithm do its job. There's no need to manually search for videos.  
  • Entertainment is the most popular type of content with over 443.3 billion hashtag views.
  • Dance is the second most popular category with a total of 150.3 billion hashtag views (Statista, 2020).  

How TikTok works

TikTok is a social media app that allows users to post short-form music, talent, or comedy videos up to 15 seconds in length (although users can put four separate videos together to create 60-second pieces). Videos can incorporate filters and editing effects, or show the user lip-synching to a song. Users can also browse millions of user-generated short videos – many of which are bizarre and whacky - on the platform. The majority of TikTok users are Generation Z or millennials, who are based in major cities around the world and are attracted by the authenticity and creativity offered by the platform. - DMI

TikTok has really hit the nail on the head when it comes to the younger generation. 43% of TikTok’s global audience of TikTok in 2021 were between 18 and 24 years old as opposed to the 3.4% of TikTok audience that is older than 55. - Omnicore

"The TikTok algorithm starts by broadcasting your recently posted video to around 300-500 random users who might be interested based on your past videos and hashtags. These users will determine the success of your video based on views, shares, likes, and a statistic called video completion. If you get enough interactions or enough of the initial “judges” view your video to completion, then your video will get shared with wider audiences and appear on more “For You” pages.  You’ll also appear earlier on in feeds by followers and will have higher chances of getting those key views if your content is engaging and targeted towards a key audience." - Rock Content

Grassroots creativity vs traditional canvassing

Consider the cost of collecting 100,000 signatures with traditional canvassers vs the Distill Social approach using TikTok.

  • Cost of canvasser: Approx $20/hour
  • People contacted by canvasser in an hour: 20
  • Number of people who might sign petition (estimate): 20%
  • Petitions signed per hour = 20 x 20% = 4 petitions
  • Cost of getting a signed petition = 4 petitions/ $20 = $5 signed petition
  • Cost to obtain 100,000 signed ballot petitions = 100,000 x $5 = $500,000
  • This assumes that enough canvassers can be hired, trained and deployed in time to collect the ballot petitions in time to meet the deadline

Distill Social achieves much better results for a small fraction of the cost. A small team of volunteers creates TikTok videos that educate the viewer of the importance of signing the petition to protect abortion rights and then directs them to local venues (such as bars) where they can sign the petition. This approaches reaches more people faster and the persuasion is done online rather than in-person. The TikTok based approach also scales up faster and can cover larger geographical areas. The local events also help recruit more volunteers to spread the message further.

Distill Social

Distill Social is an independent outlet dedicated to preserving democracy by distilling the truth! It creates, curates and distributes content that cut through the noise and get right to the heart of issues and has already reached over 1 million Michiganders. It freely shares its content with supporters to share on social media.

TakeAway: Use TikTok to reach and mobilize voters - faster and with less money.



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