TikTok is no longer just a place for viral dance videos. More news organisations are flocking to the platform, sensing an opportunity to build relationships with a new generation of audiences.
But TikTok users have particular expectations about news appearing on the platform. If you want to embrace the platform, heed the words of a panel of promiment TikTokers speaking from a Women in Journalism event.
The most successful content creators have a stand-out quality about them, according to TikTok's own Sophy Silver. They lean into their life experiences, hobbies and wider skillsets as something which sets them apart from the crowd.
One of the most recognised journalists on the platform is VICE World News' senior reporter Sophia Smith Galer, who has more than 420k followers and 13m likes. She often shows off her language skills and cultural knowledge in addition to news explainers and educational videos.
What are these cities called in the language of the people who actually live there and why? Here is a quiz journey through Italian, Arabic and Thai…these city names have exonyms in English, which means we give them a name that’s different to what people living there actually call it. What other cities are like this? #languages #geographyquiz#learnontiktok #differentlanguages♬ Wes Anderson-esque Cute Acoustic - Kenji Ueda
Show the process
Being a journalist is a cool job to have, and people are very curious about how the profession works. Monika Plaha is a senior reporter and presenter for BBC Look North, and a journalist for BBC Panorama. She has built her 80k following in large thanks to behind-the-scenes footage while working at the BBC. Informal takes on the busy news cycle also work well.
Make sure you reply to people who send you questions about your job - better still, add the best questions to your stockpile of ideas.
TikTok videos come in four timed lengths: 15 seconds, one minute, three minutes and 10 minutes. Shorter formats tend to perform better than longer ones, so stick to the first two options.
Smith Galer says that no explainer video should exceed the one minute mark. Aim for 30 seconds for a behind-the-scenes video, and make it snappy and fast-flowing.
Those first 15 seconds are critical to the success of the video, adds Silver. Something like a "did you know" hook can be a great way to capture immediate interest in your topic.
Interested in kickstarting your own TikTok journalism career? Book a place on our Newsrewired+ TikTok training course with Kassy Cho.
Feed the algorithms
Regular and consistent posting to the platform will ensure steady growth, says Silver. But you also need to be actively engaging with other content to stay on top of fast-moving and in-demand trends.
"The more ad hoc you are, the more amateur you will be," says Silver. "You have to get under the skin of the community and the platform. Get to know the algorithm, so you can find accounts you like and plan an onboarding strategy."
Discover a goldmine
People often post to TikTok because they want to share their stories to the world. For journalists, this presents a treasure trove of story leads if you have a built a loyal following, or can trawl through hashtags and comment sections.
Be warned: you still need to do the due diligence of verifying their claims.
Give it a personal touch
Aim for personal. That means there is no need to have a separate personal and private account. In fact, TikTok's big selling point is that it provides an intimate insight into people's lives.
Make it a two-way discussion with your followers. Respond to them and do call-outs asking for their thoughts, input and questions.
Smith Galer says to invest in multi-purpose tools like ring lights, which double up as a useful gadgets for events and conference talks. Tripods will come in handy for a still shot, but a stack of books is a good workaround.
Good audio is a must. Make sure you are using headphones with a built-in mic to capture your audio, as you do not want echoey or background audio.
If you are trained in video editing, both journalists recommend editing all of your content in an external app, like CapCut or InShot, rather than the native editing tools. That includes overlays and transitions.
Part of TikTok's appeal is allowing users to download your videos so that they can "duet" it as a side-by-side reaction to the original. A good example of this as an engagement tool can be seen with teleprompter challenges.
The downside of this is that often this can lead to trolling, or people uploading your content to other platforms, namely Instagram Reels, before you have had a chance to yourself (and you may not have wanted it on there at all). You can challenge copyright infringement through the platform.
Stick to the guidelines
Smith Galer built her "TikTok fame" whilst working at the BBC, where she faced stiff rules on filming inside the building and reposting her own journalism. She admits that what you post can lead to potential or actual reputational damage for the organisation you work for. Remember to abide by your employers' guidelines.
Interested in kickstarting your own TikTok journalism career? Book a place on our Newsrewired+ TikTok training course with Kassy Cho, freelance journalist and former audience development editor at QuickTake by Bloomberg and BuzzFeed News.
Note: This story is an updated version of an article originally published on 6 May 2022