For the past few years, TikTok has been the platform at the cutting edge of social media, with a rapidly growing, young cohort of users. It is also the place nearly 1 in 7 people in the 18 to 24 age group turn to for news.
Media companies like ABC News and the Washington Post have developed a strong following on the platform. And BBC News has seen a 2000% increase in followers in the last nine months.
Reuters Institute reports that 49% of leading news publishers worldwide now regularly post to TikTok and the number of publishers committing to the platform continues to climb. Echobox’s latest Publishing Trends Survey found that 59% of publishers believed TikTok would be more important to them this year compared to 2022 — a jump of 39% in the last year.
These developments, however, are taking place against the backdrop of growing regulatory pressure on TikTok’s parent company ByteDance. It is conceivable that the world’s fastest growing social media app could soon be banned in the U.S. Why, then, are so many news organizations choosing to invest in a platform whose future is shrouded in uncertainty?
Why invest in a platform with an uncertain future?
1. The short term gain justifies the investment
The simplest answer is that whatever happens to TikTok in the future is less important than the benefit to be gained from using the platform now. When we asked publishers which activities would be more important to them this year, 47% of respondents to our survey answered growing social followers and engagement. Publishers are going where the audiences are, with the hope that readers exposed to their content will either follow them on other social platforms or sign up for newsletters or other subscription products in the event that TikTok becomes unviable.
2. All social media is becoming like TikTok
In the long term, the continued investment in TikTok is an indication of the new realities of social media as a whole. Quite simply, TikTok has changed the game.
In the last couple of years, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have all sharpened their focus on TikTok, looking to ape its distinctive allure. The calculus here is that even if the platform was to be banned, the innovations that it pioneered, such as short-form vertical format video, will remain alive and well on other platforms.
Meta’s cross-platform Reels as well as YouTube Shorts have experienced impressive performance stats. Meta announced during its Q1 2023 earnings call that Reels was responsible for a 24% increase in time spent on the platform.
Investments made into acquiring the skills and technology to produce content on TikTok can therefore be put to productive use on other platforms where short-form vertical videos have been incorporated.
The results of our publisher survey reinforce this. For 47% of publishers, creating video will be more important this year than last.
The time is right
In the here and now, how can publishers take advantage of TikTok’s popularity and increase the potential virality of their content?
The most fundamental difference between TikTok and Facebook is the nature of its “recommender algorithms” that determine what content is served up to a given user. Instead of relying on who you follow to determine what content you should see, per Facebook’s model, TikTok relies purely on opaque algorithms to serve up content without a user having to follow anyone; the single imperative on TikTok is to watch.
This removes a barrier to publishers who want to increase their exposure on the platform. Not having the potential visibility of content circumscribed by follower numbers means that, theoretically, it’s easier for any publisher to produce highly-viewed, or even viral content.
Timing is everything
Achieving high performance on TikTok is all a matter of timing.
The process by which TikTok promotes content is simple: it shows content to a small sample of users in its For You feed. Then, if engagement and watch time is high, the video gets promoted to a larger group and so on. Posting video at a time in which a high number of engaged users are active means that the potential for virality is immediately increased.
Utilizing AI-powered social media management tools to optimize post timings is therefore a simple and cost-effective way to increase visibility. The fact that a publisher’s TikTok follower count has virtually no bearing on which content is promoted allows greater opportunities for AI systems to maximize the potential visibility of a video and help its performance snowball.
The future of TikTok remains uncertain, but the platform is rich in immediate benefits. With over a billion (predominantly young) users, publishers have the opportunity to meet new audiences where they are congregating. With a combination of AI smarts and a forward-looking strategy, publishers can become trusted and indispensable news sources with or without TikTok.
About the author
Ashley Kibler is the Marketing Director at Echobox, the leading solution for publishing automation used by over 2,000 publishers and media groups worldwide to automate and optimize content curation and distribution.