Many media brands are now active on TikTok, the world’s fastest-growing social media platform. News brands see the platform as an opportunity to attract and engage younger audiences who are less likely to go directly to their websites or apps.
However, many media brands are holding off due to concerns with the platform’s Chinese ownership, as well as reservations about the platform’s environment for news. Reuters Institute’s new report, How Publishers are Learning to Create and Distribute News on TikTok, examines news media concerns and identifies how they can deliver professional content with influencer-type authenticity.
Reuters Institute interviewed 20 news organizations and individuals from companies among the top news brands in 44 countries. Interviews included large, digital-only, socially native brands and some individual creators and activists. Reuters also tracked publisher usage activity across more than 40 countries.
Many news brands are using TikTok to engage younger cohorts. Reuters’ Digital News Report 2022 shows that half of all global news organizations (49%) produce content for TikTok. Indonesian (90%), Australian (89%), Spanish (86%), French (86%), U.K. (81%), and U.S. (77%) publishers have the highest TikTok adoption. Overall, 40% of 18-24s and 28% of 25-34s use TikTok for any purpose, and 15% of 18-24s and 10% of 25-34s use it for news.
Regardless of concerns, news publishers use TikTok to build relationships with younger audiences and experiment with new vertical video formats. Others, like the Czech website HlídacíPes.org, use TikTok to help improve news literacy by identifying disinformation and explaining how to use open sources of information. Further, the Washington Post sees fact-checking and verification as their social strategy. They encourage users on TikTok to tag them to help to verify false footage.
Approaches to news content on TikTok
Reuters identifies two main approaches to news content on TikTok: a creator-first strategy and a newsroom-led approach.
The creator approach looks to a core team for content coverage. At the Washington Post, Dave Jorgenson leads the creative team trying to create light and fun videos that match the brand values of their news organization. While they try to keep a light and comedic tone in their videos, part of the TikTok DNA, they also create more serious stories. The French, Le Monde, also uses a creator approach on TikTok. Their mission is to explain the news by deploying different creative techniques using metaphors, drawings, fake video games, and acting.
The newsroom-led approach uses the whole newsroom and looks at TikTok as another distribution channel. For example, The Economist uses high-quality video to tell the story. Their mission, to explain geopolitics and economics, appeals to younger audiences. Liv Moloney, Head of Social Media, describes their strategy, “We’ll never be the first to tell you something’s happened, but we might be the first to explain it to you or explain it the best.”
Vice World News also uses a newsroom approach and focuses its TikTok content on short explanatory videos about international news. Vice’s content strategy blends news explainers, on-the-ground reporting, and listicle formats – adapting the content to the shorter attention span of TikTok users.
TikTok presents its problems with content distribution:
- Transparency about the removal or blocking of news content especially given Chinese ownership and the potential for censorship.
- Better monetization of content and compensation for the content value. While short videos are not the best advertising vehicle, publishers would like the ability to put links to their websites or apps, which currently is limited.
- More detailed and timely demographic information is needed about who has viewed posts, with more data about how particular posts perform.
News organizations use TikTok to engage and build relationships with younger audiences. While many are concerned with its ownership and that short-form videos can marginalize important news stories, they are testing the waters. Importantly, news brands need to look to new technologies and platforms to reach new audiences, and while challenging, experimentation is key for growth.