Can we make mollusk byssal-threads interesting? Can we offer you relevant skincare tips from a 90-year-old Australian lungfish? Can we sell you a simple 3-step process for removing flesh from a skull? Can we help you feel better about yourself by comparing you to a dead-leaf mantis? Oh and hey — while we're at it, can we expand your understanding of who belongs in science? (Maybe even make you realize it’s you?)
Heycalacademy launched March 2022, a virtual baby on the TikTok stage but one working to upend the creaky idea that professional science — science that happens in museums, research institutions, and in the field — should be exclusionary or inaccessible. As a natural history museum, aquarium, rainforest, planetarium, and research institution, we've got a wealth of engaging animals and science to share, but the true heart of our content is its incredible lineup of emerging scientists and science-communicators who demonstrate not just a different way to exist inside the STEM pipeline, but a newer, more relevant version of what working in science can look like.
Pre-2022, we were a small team responsible for a social ecosystem of about 3MM. We loved TikTok (and died a little inside each day we weren't on it), but we didn't want to jump until we had the people and bandwidth to do it well. That day came in March 2022, when our team was able to staff up after demonstrating the value of digital channels through years of pandemic-related museums closures — but being late to the platform, we had a lot of catching up to do.
Step 1 was to resist the immediate impulse to try too hard. We gave ourselves room to experiment, to go small instead of big, to find a voice that made sense for the platform, to become deeply comfortably with being deeply uncool, and to learn from — but not be ruled by — the metrics. Animals were easy and led the way at first, but step 2 was an intentional shift toward more people-centric pieces, including hosted, face-forward content (a first for our previously behind-the-scenes team). Step 3 was to test and start better balancing longer-form, more info-intensive content with, you know, out-of-focus lumpsuckers (aka lighter stuff). Step 4 was to learn a very hard lesson about the relationship between shadow bans and the phrase "sexual reproduction."
Once we thought we had something to offer, we began leveraging a small budget to invade largely retail-dominated spaces with some of our most ridiculous and earnest science content — supplementing healthy organic account-growth while also surprising, delighting, and only occasionally confusing people ("This is the promoted content I didn't know I needed," "This is the Dopest Ad Ever," "This is the only advertised account I have ever been interested in lol").
In our first year, we earned 100K followers and 900K likes — but where we think we see really meaninful impact is in the comments, including sentiments such as: