Beyond the latest remix of Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road, the app has piqued the interest of social media managers at news publishers. Launched by Chinese tech company ByteDance in 2017, the service merged with Shanghai-based lip-syncing app Musica.ly before its popularity really took off in 2018. It became the most downloaded app in Apple’s App Store and hit one billion downloads on all mobile platforms in early 2019.
To catch everyone up: TikTok allows users to record 15- to 60-second looping vertical video. It has a built in editor to add background audio tracks and augmented reality-inspired overlay graphics. It’s huge adoption has been buoyed by using samples of pop music as background tracks. TikTok has partnered with music studios to navigate the tricky copyright status of those tracks and music stars have used the platform to leverage viral memes to spread awareness.
Why is this news?
Why should news managers care though? “To me, the why is obvious. It’s a whole new generation. [TikTok is] basically Gen Z’s biggest platform. Not all Gen Z likes TikTok, but a lot of them love it passionately,” says Washington Post video editor Dave Jorgenson.
Jorgenson has been behind The Washington Post’s push into the format. “There’s not a lot of news on TikTok. And, for someone who works for a newspaper or a broadcast network, that might seem kind of scary. But for me, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s amazing,’” he says. “I mean, why wouldn’t we use this app that — I think as of Friday — was number one in the entertainment section of iTunes.”
Other brands on the app include NBCNews, E! News, and The Dallas Morning News. Though Jorgenson seems to have truly tapped into the TikTok format, attracting a devoted audience to the Washington Post’s TikToks.
A culture of its own
Users spend an average of 52 minutes a day on the app. And, for Jorgenson, it’s been a way to introduce a newer generation to the venerable newspaper brand. But that’s taken a fairly specific strategy. “I’ve been very heavy handed, you’ll notice a Washington Post literal, physical newspaper cameo and we really want that to stick in there. It is funny how many people think that my name is Washington or something,” said Jorgenson.
The other main benefit Jorgenson sees is a pretty wide open space in the app for breaking news. There just aren’t many competitors. But he adds that anyone interested in using the platform should take some time to familairize themselves with the culture.
“Embracing the culture is really important,” he says. Sure, a brand or newspaper can try and jump to profit off the growing platform without figuring out what that culture is. However, audiences “know when they don’t understand the app, and they don’t know what’s going on.”
The scoop on TikTok
But if a brand is considering the space, there are a couple things to understand about going viral on the platform. Similar to Instagram, there’s an algorithmically organized “For You” section where the app surface relevant content for the user. Videos appear based on the Likes given by the user’s social circle.
There’s another unique way that TikTok puts its own spin on sharing called a “duet.” Users of the platform can record their reactions to be played concurrently beside the original video. And, if an account large enough does that, it ends up being a huge boost to viewing numbers.
“Another tip for a newsroom would be to use popular songs that everyone is using,” said Jorgenson. In fact, TikTok displays videos using the same songs together allowing discovery of content along similar themes.
At the end of the day, Jorgenson sees others in the news space following the Post’s lead. “I’ve started to be pretty open about how I do it because I think competition is good,” he says.
“A friendly rivalry is a good thing on any social app.”