We caught up with World Athletics' Digital Innovation Manager Ben Harlow to find out how they have performed better than any other IF on TikTok

Ben Harlow, Digital Innovation Manager, World Athletics

World Athletics has more followers and video views on TikTok than any other IF. Why do you think the community has reacted so positively towards your content? 

I think it’s a combination of two things: representation and TikTok’s algorithm. Athletics is an incredibly diverse sport, showcasing men and women equally, all races, shapes and sizes. Despite these athletes performing like superhumans, the range of diversity makes it so much more relatable, and our most popular videos follow this trend: one featuring a female Jamaican shot putter, the other a Japanese men’s relay team. It’s just something different to the traditional sporting model and I think the world, and particularly Gen-Z, are ready to embrace that.

Regarding the algorithm, before TikTok existed there were no platforms that centred the user experience around content you don’t actively choose to follow. In the past, on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, we’ve sometimes struggled to reach our potential fans. But with TikTok, the For You Page connected us with these unknowing fans. Often, we get comments like “I love this sport, what is it?”, people are athletics fans without realising, and TikTok’s algorithm has been a key part of facilitating that.

How much of your content is planned and how much is reacting to trends?  

Barely any content is planned, sometimes we have a very loose schedule to build hype around events but the majority of TikToks are made on the day they’re posted. The social media landscape, particularly TikTok, changes so quickly. To be successful on TikTok you really must be a fan of it yourself, only then will it give you the nuanced understanding required of what sounds to use, what trends to jump on, and what’s appropriate for you as an organisation.  

How is your TikTok strategy different from your strategy on other social media channels?  

To follow from my last answer, the key difference is the lack of forward planning. A lot of what we post is acting on the trends of that day/week, and whilst we still do that on other platforms, it’s almost impossible to have a monthly content plan dedicated to TikToks that’ll go on to perform successfully.

The other key difference is our tone of voice. On TikTok we really let it all hang out, it’s our most informal and playful platform. It gives us the opportunity to crack jokes with fans, make fun of ourselves, and really lean in on pop cultural references that otherwise may not be appropriate on other platforms.

What advice would you give an International Federation looking to launch on TikTok? 

Three pieces of advice:

  1. Spend time on the app before posting your first TikTok. Enjoy the app as a user and your knowledge, understanding and content quality will improve tenfold.
  2. Try not to take it too seriously and don’t overthink it, often our best-performing content is something thrown together in 30 minutes on the fly as opposed to something more well thought out.
  3. When using TikTok on your personal account or IF account, always save sounds whenever you hear something catchy. It’s so useful to have a catalogue of sounds you can refer to when you need to put something out quickly.

Check out World Athletics’ TikTok page here.

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