As students geared up for a return to campus unlike any other, one Bowdoin staff member found herself at the center of unexpected Internet stardom. With thousands of views across more than 20 videos and features on multiple local news networks, Director of Content Janie Porche became a community favorite through her popular TikTok account: @Janie_at_bowdoin.
Porche, whose typical responsibilities include managing the College’s news content and curating the Bowdoin homepage, first conceived of the idea of doing TikTok videos when planning for student arrival back in December.
“I was in a meeting where one of the things that we talked about [was] ‘Oh, we need to make sure students have a backpack with their medicines in case they go into isolation.’ And something in my brain is like ‘that’s going to get missed,’” said Porche in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “I went to sleep at night and woke up and [thought], ‘Well, you know, what do we have?’ … I made the first few videos without telling anybody and without going anywhere, just so I could show those to my bosses and say ‘here’s the kind of thing I think we could do.’”
The TikTok platform appealed to Porche because of its limited time format, which allows her to communicate key information in memorable, easily digestible segments. These 59-second videos covered topics ranging from shipping packages to campus, how to perform the pre-arrival Let’s Get Checked COVID-19 test and a step-by-step guide for arrival day.
“Honestly, the format itself was less important. I think TikTok is a standard for a one-minute video, and if you know that it’s a one-minute video, you can commit to watching it,” Porche explained.
Shooting the videos from her home and editing them on her laptop, Porche also noted that the informal medium allowed for a much quicker and more accomodating turnaround time.
“Some of the stuff we were working on was changing up until Wednesday [or] Thursday,” she said. “So we needed something that we could do really quickly. And that if things change, we can post an update.”
Of course, a major part of each TikTok’s charm comes from Porche’s personality and humor, as well as the occasional cameos from her cat. Porche said that she intentionally chose not to present her account as the College’s official channel, but rather to give a behind-the-scenes taste of real staff members at work.
“I was not ready to be the Bowdoin College account. But I was certainly willing to be the face of a person who works here, who’s trying to help this process be easier,” she said. “The idea of being able to just show some humanity goes a long way in realizing that we’re all in this together.”
Though Porche is the one in front of the camera in these videos, she recounted receiving support from all members of Bowdoin staff. For example, she organized Zoom calls with mail center staff to gather the key dates and also communicated with the Dean of Students’ office in the process.
“There were some [videos] where I would communicate with Katie Toro-Ferrari—she became my contact with the Dean of Students’ office. I would say, ‘Okay, I think this video is good, but I use the word badass, like, is everyone okay?’ She was like, ‘Yes.’ So that comes directly from my colleagues having trust in me, and that’s something that I really appreciated and can’t say enough about,” Porche said.
The feedback on her TikTok videos has been overwhelmingly positive, and Porche has received warm comments from students, faculty, parents and alumni alike. Serendipitously, the social media’s algorithm has occasionally led non-Bowdoin viewers to her videos too.
“Probably my favorite comment is one that I got on the TikTok app itself. It’s like, ‘I don’t go to Bowdoin, but this explains my school’s testing policy better than they ever have,’” she said.
With students now settled into their dorm rooms and heading into the start of the semester, Porche said that she plans to continue using the platform to advocate for safe behavior on campus and to highlight important issues.
“I would love if this account lasted until May, and then went away, because I want it to solve a specific problem,” said Porche. “I want to use this voice for the things that are really important about safety, or what you need to do to stay on campus, or making sure that you have certain things done.”
Looking ahead, Porche said she is open to potential collaborations with Bowdoin’s own student TikTok personalities or even featuring President Clayton Rose on the account.
“There’s a rumor going around that if we get through this semester safely, Clayton will learn a TikTok dance,” she said. “He’s just one of many who have been really onboard.”