Corinne Podger is a digital multimedia consultant and trainer specialising in mobile journalism, social media, and digital innovation at the intersection of audience engagement and reader revenue. This article originally appeared on Podger's Medium account on 2 January 2020, it has been edited and republished with the author's permission.
For media outlets hungry for eyeballs in 2020, the reality is that young audiences love TikTok, and even if they are aware of the risks – particularly around user privacy and freedom of speech - they are still signing up to the platform in huge numbers.
By November 2019, Sensor Tower reported that the TikTok app had been downloaded more than 1.5 billion times, and according to Hubspot it has 800 million active monthly users, around half of whom are under the age of 34.
The playful tone of much of the content being posted to TikTok also makes a refreshing change from flame wars on Twitter and in the comments on Facebook posts.
Tiktok has been REALLY good recently pic.twitter.com/ROyblLiQf2— Sally Elshorafa - inactive (find me on Theads) (@sallykuchar) December 20, 2019
Right now, publishers are piling on to the app; from big players like the Washington Post, USA Today and ESPN to smaller outlets like Florida Times-Union. In Europe, the list includes Germany's Tagesschau, and 20 Minuten in Switzerland. Hundreds of journalists are also creating content; two of my favourites are the BBC's Sophia Smith Galer, and Max Foster at CNN.
My advice is to get on TikTok, if for no other reason than to snap up your username, so you do not wind up like the New York Times or the Sydney Morning Herald, which both missed out on snagging their respective Twitter handles @nytimes and @smh.
It takes a while get to know how the app works – as a consumer and as a creator – so spend a bit of time lurking before you start experimenting with its possibilities. Taking it slowly will help your outlet – or you, the individual journalist – to find your voice and presence on the platform.
Of course, like any third-party social networking site, the onus is on you as the user to research and understand the risks as well as the benefits. Then you can develop a clear plan – ideally embedded in your outlet's social media policy – to manage known risks and new one as they emerge.
Unsure where to start? Here are some of best guides I've found for using the app:
- TikTok's own TikTok University launched in October 2019
- Your Guide to Using TikTok (Julia Alexander, The Verge, April 2019)
- A Beginner's Guide to TikTok (Louise Matsakis, WIRED, June 2019)
- The Ultimate Guide to TikTok, the hot app Gen Z is obsessed with and Facebook is terrified of (Paige Leskin, Business Insider Australia, June 2019)
- How to find your liked videos on TikTok (Jamie, TechJunkie, December 2019)
- If you prefer video tutorials, this playlist from Techboomers on YouTube is simple and easy to follow:
And here are seven tips based on what I have learned in the six months or so since a Twitter thread by Sally Kuchar inspired me to join up.
1. Share evergreen content
Content shared to TikTok does not display chronologically, so it is not ideal for breaking news, although one relatively new Australian account, NewsFlashAus, is giving it a try.
Evergreen content is a better bet. If you have access to exciting, funny or dramatic behind-the-scenes content like this drum rehearsal by Kolars, or this photoshoot by Mr.nycsubway, it is a perfect way to get started. Upload direct from the app or from your non-linear editing system, ideally as a vertical video. Even if it is a bit time-sensitive, posts like this special moment for teenager Cebby Johnson with his favourite football team will rate well for days or even weeks.
2. Use the app to create your own videos
While you can upload pre-produced content — like this explainer from the World Economic Forum (WEF) on tree-planting drones — TikTok users reserve their respect for creators who film and edit their videos using nothing but the smartphone app.
So this mildly NSFW (not-safe-for-work) explainer on the US Constitution by Cory Mane is as good or better than the WEF offering, because it is funny, clear, and was made using TikTok's own video editing tools. Another example — this time from a publisher — is this guide to impeachment by NowThis Politics.
Videos do not need to look too polished. TikTok is for authentic, real stories, not the airbrushed perfection of Instagram. If you search the hashtag 'tutorial', you will also find thousands of short classes and behind-the-scenes tips from users on how they achieved a particular shot — like this slow-motion backflip, or this reflection shot of Tower Bridge in London.
3. Use first-person narratives
TikTok is changing fast. There are lots of organisational accounts arriving as more brands and outlets sign up, but the best-performing content at the moment tends to be first-person narrative.
My sense is that this will continue into 2020, so if you can find a great brand ambassador with a gift for selfie journalism, that is a winning combination, whether you are Dave Jorgenson, who manages the hugely popular Washington Post account, or a doctor like Dr Leslie, a police officer like Ofc_lamb, or a United Methodist pastor like Grant, whose cheerful posts and dry sense of humour have earned him nearly a quarter of a million followers.
4. Share a skill
The platform is crammed with tutorials — from hairstyling tips to clever photography ideas to ab workouts. There are also loads of tutorials by TikTok users about how to use the platform — even what equipment to buy! If you or members of your team have a skill to share, consider creating short standalone TikTok classes.
5. Find new talent
The filming and editing tools that TikTok offers makes it a powerful shoot-edit camera, which millions of content creators are using right now to share their concerns, passions, interests, and sources of frustration and happiness.
That makes TikTok a great place to discover and connect with talented, creative people, and you can filter for specific interests using hashtags. That includes geographic hashtags like #manchester, which is how I found this beautiful midnight ballet by a dancer called Jonathan Silva. In Australia, where I live, a lot of Indigenous creators use the tag #aboriginal, which has introduced me to the work of brilliant singers, actors, comedians, artists and activists.
6. Post your TikToks to other platforms
I specialise in teaching mobile journalism, so I am interested in TikTok's enormously powerful in-app video creation tools, and the ease with which you can download and reshare your content to other platforms.
Downloaded videos will come with a TikTok watermark, but if that does not bother you, any video created with the app can be easily saved to your phone and reposted natively to other platforms like Twitter. This terrific video from the Netherlands Red Cross picked up half a million views on TikTok, but cross-posting to Twitter earned it another 1,000.
A word of caution: downloading TikTok videos is extremely easy. You can save any video on the platform — no matter who created it — by long-pressing and choosing to save it. However, the creator's name will be burned into the video as well as the watermark, so if you are using TikTok as a source of user-generated content, check that the user name matches the name of the account you saved it from before you cite it as a source. Check the comments on the video post, too —users tend to be quick to call out content that's been reshared without attribution.
7. Generate revenue..?
There are already plenty of ads on TikTok, and last year the platform established processes for advertising and hyperlinking, so it has potential for publishers that already have, or are exploring, branded content offerings. Meanwhile, there is nothing to stop you putting a link in your bio to revenue-generating spaces like a website, Instagram or YouTube.
For media outlets, though, paying customers are unlikely to be on TikTok — and even for brands, the advice from Social Media Examiner in October 2019 was to prioritise brand exposure over sales, at least until you understand how the platform works and whether you have a monetisable audience using it. TikTok represents a great opportunity for publishers to build a brand relationship with a new generation of digital citizens in their teens and early 20s. These audiences, according to the most recent Reuters Institute Digital News Report, are less likely to be buying newspapers or watching TV.
As Abhik Choudhary wrote in this piece for Quartz India in November 2019, in two years every major brand will have a voice on TikTok, so now is the time to experiment, find your voice, and decide if TikTok is a good fit for you and your brand.
I will finish up with one of my favourite TikToks from the Washington Post, and hope you found this post useful!
This is my favorite TikTok we made this year. It makes no sense and got 2.2 millions views.— Washington Post TikTok Dad (@davejorgenson) January 1, 2020
Happy New Year! pic.twitter.com/zsuFK8J47K
Corinne Podger teaches digital-first journalism technologies and workflows as a consultant and educator for newsrooms, media development agencies, NGOs and businesses. She has trained more than 4,000 reporters and communicators since 2013. She can be reached on her website, Twitter and LinkedIn.