Making Politicians Viral on TikTok: A Lesson in Social Media Marketing From Gen Z

Why we can all learn from the #ressen trend

A fictional movie poster featuring politicians Jetten and Klaver in the style of a romantic drama, edited by TikTok user @tunasaladisvalid.

This week, Gen Z has made two Dutch politicians famous overnight. But not for their political views or for controversial tweets. The reason that liberal party leaders Rob Jetten and Jesse Klaver are now gaining attention from teens on TikTok is due to a fan culture phenomenon.

The whims of the short-form video app TikTok are still a mystery for many, despite the company making the logic behind its algorithm public last summer. Creators on the app are used to fluctuations in engagement, and content trends can explode and die out within the span of a single week.

With Gen Z being the leading voices on the platform, trends are colored by their interests. It may or may not come as a surprise that what started it all was shipping edits made to showcase Jetten and Klaver as enemies in love.

For those new to the term, “shipping” is the act of supporting two people to be in a romantic relationship and is a common practice in online fan culture. The term was popularized on fanfiction forums and Tumblr in the early 2010s, where users created media or wrote stories about two fictional characters or celebrities that they wanted to form a romantic bond. Essentially it is a practice based on the same feeling we get when we frantically grapple for our phone to take pictures of our dogs as they cuddle on the couch.

The edits of Jetten and Klaver contain clips from public appearances. The two are seen talking animatedly in parliament, gazing at each other during debates, and interacting on red carpets. In the comment sections, people are going wild with glee.

It is hard to tell why the unlikely pair, who according to Jetten are just good colleagues from separate political parties, sparked the imaginations of hundreds of thousands of people. The hashtag #resse, which combines the politicians’ names, currently has over 8 million views. What is apparent is how well Rob Jetten has responded to the stellar marketing opportunity of TikTok virality.

Within days he had set up a TikTok account and was interacting with the creators fueling the trend, causing new waves of content centered on his comments. Showing presence in this way with his newfound audience is the definition of Surprise and Delight.

Politicians are generally not known for their savviness when it comes to interacting with age groups 13–24 on their own turf, which amplifies the surprise effect of getting a reply and motivates creators and users to share the interaction. Whenever he leaves a comment it boosts the content by generating more engagement. It also doesn’t hurt that the interactions are chuckle-worthy.

A reply made by Jetten on a video by TikTok user @zestylegend.

Jetten has amassed 20K followers on his TikTok account without posting a single video with this strategy. In contrast, Klaver hasn’t been commenting as actively and now has 7K followers on the app. Both of them have gained an unexpected platform that could amplify their voices to young people globally.

The lessons to be learned here are about flexibility. Not hesitating to utilize humor and presence as tools of community management can lead to results at the right moment. Daring to invest your energy in a “new” platform reaps rewards if done right. Social media is a realm for entities that are ready to move swiftly, and while strategizing is a must, staying in the comfort zone of a known platform and one-way communication won't be what takes a brand to new heights.

Marketing departments in more formal fields should take this to heart as they explore the possibilities of any trend or platform. Be where your audience is even when it pops up unexpectedly in a new place, and when you get there, notice the potential of personal interaction.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store