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How publishers are growing their audience on TikTok, the app with over half a billion users

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Tiktok, the short video app, has over half a billion active users worldwide, with two-thirds of them being under 30. Additionally, 60% of its US users are between 16 and 24. 

It became the most downloaded app in Apple’s App Store and hit one billion downloads on all mobile platforms, early in 2019. Engagement levels are also quite high, with users reportedly spending an average of 52 minutes a day on the app. 

The growth of TikTok is very exciting; it incorporates the viral nature of Vine and merges together the interactive elements of Snapchat. Young digital natives are really taking advantage of the interactive tools and using them to create interesting and original short videos.

Devran Karaca, Co-founder of Entertainment Network, Kyra TV

“Gen Z’s biggest platform”

Tiktok offers publishers the opportunity to reach and engage with younger audiences. However, since it’s fairly new, right now they are trying to find their groove on the platform by exploring different ideas. For Washington Post’s Video Editor Dave Jorgenson, who is spearheading the publisher’s push into the format, Tiktok is a way to introduce a newer generation to the brand.

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.

Dave Jorgenson, Video Editor at The Washington Post 

“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.’ I mean, why wouldn’t we use this app that — I think as of Friday — was number one in the entertainment section of iTunes,” Jorgenson told Digital Content Next.

He is trying to ease into news, “We want to expand on what we do best and include the news and have, not breaking news, but things people are talking about, and ease our way into that.” 

“Embracing the culture is really important. 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,” he said. 

The Washington Post on Tiktok:

Jorgenson films videos for Tiktok on his iPhone and uses Premier Pro to perfect timings and add text. Then he creates special effects in the app before posting. It can take anywhere between ten minutes to two hours to get a new video ready.

Going forward, he plans to create five weekly posts, three of which will be about news, and the other two would be entertaining clips featuring the newspaper.

“Not as serious, but still touching on a big topic”

Other news publishers that have started publishing content on the app include NBC News, the BBC, Kyra TV, The Dallas Morning News, and ESPN. 

Last year, the BBC commissioned a two-part series for its kids’ channel CBBC, featuring 14-year twins Max and Harvey Mills who have 5.8M followers on TikTok. MTV partnered with the platform to stream the MTV European Music Awards. It also plans to work with TikTok talent in future shows.

The Dallas Morning News is using local trends to create entertaining memes. Here’s a video of its audience engagement team introducing itself.

Mallorie Sullivan, Audience Engagement Producer with The Dallas Morning News told Nieman Lab that they were trying a humanizing approach. “You see police officers and firefighters on there [Tiktok] all the time. You think of these people as mean people who want to ticket you, but when you watch videos, it gives them more of a personality, and I hope that’s true for journalists too.”

When I was a beat reporter, I used to look at national news and say: How can I localize this? I feel like this is the other way around: What’s going on in our community that people can relate to across all platforms?

Elvia Limon, Engagement Reporter at The Dallas Morning News

NBC News has repurposed its daily news programme, ‘Stay Tuned’ for TikTok. The show was originally streamed on Snapchat and notched up a 25-35M mobile-first audience. It includes daily news updates, challenges, and fact sharing where the audience can discuss and participate. Stay Tuned currently has over 139K fans and 3.2M likes.

Angie Grande, Executive Producer for Stay Tuned says, “On Snap, we talk to the viewers, not down to them, and on TikTok it’s even more so. In Snapchat, we’ll be able to do a full episode on the presidential debate. On TikTok, we played around with how do you pronounce all the candidates’ names. It’s not as serious, but still touching on a big topic they’re going to listen to.”

Stay Tuned looks for hashtags trending on TikTok’s search page to identify the stories that they can align with. Grande adds that her team tries to create videos that will start a conversation, making the user say, “I actually learned something.”

Helping publishers get a leg-up

The platform has been very cooperative with publishers and individual content-creators. It helps them via online, as well as in-person support. 

Nathan Piland, a rapper with nearly 3M fans on TikTok told Digiday, “I have a lot of Snapchatter friends who used to be on Snapchat and [creator relations] was the main problem. I think apps working closer with creators is growing. I have a weekly phone call with TikTok or go into a meeting with a partner manager, and I can text them.”

TikTok has also been sending a weekly email newsletter to selected media companies. The newsletter presents trending hashtags that the platform plans to promote on its Discover tab, (like Instagram’s Explore tab) over the following week. 

Each hashtag links to a live post on the platform. It’s meant to serve as an example for the kinds of videos that publishers or individual creators could create to tie into the trend. This enables content creators to have a leg-up on upcoming trends. It’s helpful to publishers who are familiarizing themselves with the platform.

TikTok also gives selected publishers early access to new features like live streaming. For the first Democratic presidential debate in June, the company arranged for NBC News to become the first news organization to stream a live video on the platform.

“People on this app are the people of the future”

Till now news publishers have been exploring the potential to create original entertainment content to reach a wider, younger audience via Tiktok. Monetization venues are not clear yet, but there are opportunities for ad revenues on the horizon. The company has started developing interest-based targeting and pixel tracking to attract advertisers. 

The platform has also rolled out a native audience network for advertisers looking for a new avenue to reach TikTok-ers in China and Japan, reports Adweek. The network is similar to those in place for Facebook, LinkedIn and Snapchat. It lets advertisers target users across several third-party apps, rather than just within the boundaries of TikTok.

Also, TikTok users are willing to spend, they purchase in-app tokens to show support for live streamers. According to Sensor Tower, gross revenue from in-app purchases reached $11.7M in July 2019—an increase of 290%—compared to an estimated $3M spent by users in July 2018.

While there is still time before a clearer picture emerges on how publishers can monetize their content on the platform, Jorgenson points out, “People on this app are the people of the future, whether you like it or not. From a business perspective, I don’t know why you would ignore that.”