Behind the TikTok viral account of the Aquarium of the Pacific • the Hi-lo
In the world of Aquarium’s now viral TikTok account, penguins parade with rainbow flags in a Pride Parade (1.4 million views), Harpo, the aquarium’s social media star, belts in pop punk rock song (405,900 views) and – the post that fueled the account’s rise in popularity at the start of the pandemic –an octopus eats a toy boat loaded with mussels.
Madeline Walden, the 29-year-old aquarium social media curator – and the woman behind it – doesn’t strive for perfection, but rather authenticity.
“We want to make learning fun,” she said. “We want to make it attractive to everyone, regardless of your level of education or, or where you are in the world.”
The local aquarium’s TikTok subscriber count has grown to 2.3 million, more than any other aquarium or zoo in the country, Walden said.
She opened the account in January 2020, just before the pandemic. The marketing team supported the decision, she said, acknowledging the potential of the sometimes controversial app.
The account only had 160 subscribers until March 2020, then came the silly octopus video, set to intense “Jaws” -type music, which immediately boosted the aquarium’s account to 100,000 subscribers.
One of the account’s most viewed videos, currently at 14 million, shows Ollie the sea otter munching on a heart-shaped frozen clam “cookie” for Valentine’s Day.
“Ollie, you are utterly adorable,” reads the robotic speech of TikTok’s automated text-to-speech feature.
“I know,” Ollie’s voiceover responds (and he’s not wrong).
TikTok is a video sharing app owned by Chinese company ByteDance that allows users to share 15-60 second videos that often capitalize on trending music or jokes.
Designing mini-stories about sea otters, sea lions, penguins, and other living creatures to both educate and entertain seemed like a perfect choice, even when the aquarium sometimes has to deal with the sad side of it. their business, like when Maggie the sea otter died.
“We have these wonderful days of triumph and celebration, like the fun birthday parties and the feline song contest,” Walden said. “We also have very difficult days where we unfortunately lose animals, because that is part of life.”
While some videos are produced quickly to follow a TikTok trend, which can change from day to day, other videos take a few weeks to formulate.
Walden’s animal expertise mainly came from hands-on learning. She collaborates and thinks with the Animal Care department, constantly aiming to make each idea more fun or take it even further, while using the team’s vast knowledge of marine life.
On the aquarium’s TikTok, you can find videos ranging from a “Why do sea lions have black teeth?” “ explanatory, which has accumulated 25.8 million views, to Harpo explaining its skin care routine (a sustainable seafood diet and gentle saltwater exfoliation), racking up 531,000 views.
Walden said it was an honor to tell these stories, especially about the animals that have spent the majority of their lives in the aquarium.
She understands her audience (she’s spent hours using the app herself) and she knows they want authenticity and confirmation that life isn’t always perfect.
His strategy is working.
The aquarium has racked up 40.8 million “likes” in total, but Walden’s intention isn’t just about numbers.
She’s proud of the account’s success, sure, but she’s even prouder of the connections the app has been able to forge, connecting people across the world since the account was created.
“We see comments saying, ‘I live in the UK and have never heard of your aquarium, you are now on my bucket list’ and ‘I grew up in Long Beach, and now I live on the other side of the world, and how wonderful it is to be able to follow my hometown aquarium on social media. ‘”
Walden herself is originally from Long Beach and spent her childhood enjoying family trips and trips to the aquarium. She has now worked at the aquarium for five years.
“The metrics and the numbers, they’re obviously awesome and awesome, but to me it’s those connections that mean so much more, because they’re people who are ultimately going to stay in touch with us and hopefully come back and visit us. one day, “she said.
Walden, who met her husband on MySpace and her bridesmaids on Tumblr, is no stranger to the connecting power of social media and is refining this ability to create engaging content that makes science accessible.
According to Walden, showcasing animals and letting their charisma shine through bridged that gap between the aquarium and the public, in a year when access to the aquarium was severely limited.
“Obviously the last year brought a lot of hardship to the aquarium, but I really had that light in the dark with the ability to create on TikTok and connect to this community,” he said. she declared.
Join Walden live on the Aquarium TikTok at 6 p.m. every Tuesday.