Report

Jumping on the bandwagon: insights from a TikTok media launch

Lessons learned from hromadske’s first two weeks on TikTok

Editor’s note: TikTok is one of the fastest growing social media platforms on record, and an increasingly interesting option for media to reach a younger crowd. Together with hromadske, who launched an account to cover local elections, and International Media Support, The Fix developed a brief how-to guide on launching TikTok for media. Find the full report here

Media can no longer ignore TikTok. The short-form video platform, with more than 850 million monthly active users and over 2 billion downloads, has become increasingly interesting for media companies seeking to reach out to and build relationships with a younger audience. 

A growing number of global heavyweight media are jumping onto the new platform. In September this year, the BBC joined the ranks of Le Monde, NBC, The Washington Post and The Daily Mail in trying to use the platform to engage with audiences in unconventional ways. 

Most media, however, don’t know what to do once they’re there. In the hyperactive world of 15-second videos it’s not easy to both convey a meaningful message and stay trendy. The move to TikTok can be a daunting challenge for news media used to fact-filled texts and lengthy films.

In markets like Ukraine, almost no big national media are present on the platform. Some smaller niche players tried – mostly to test the platform capabilities rather than to establish a noticeable presence – and didn’t amount to much. 

Yet didn’t dissuade hromadske, a large national media in Ukraine, from seizing the opportunity to get ahead of the competition. The team launched its TikTok in the middle of October – just ahead of local elections – and in less than two weeks they managed to get 36,5 thousand likes and over 350 thousand views.

The Fix had a chance to observe the process of the launch and the first steps on the platform in real time and note a few lessons that might be useful for other media planning to jump on the high-speed social media bandwagon. 

Context behind the launch

The idea of being present at new emerging platforms is part of hromadske’s DNA. Initially launched in 2013 as an attempt to create an independent communal (“hromadske” means communal in English) public broadcaster, hromadske quickly became one of the loudest voices of the Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine – streaming street protests on YouTube (a novel solution at the time) around the clock.

But TV is steadily losing its positions globally, and Ukraine is no exception. In Ukraine the share of people who use TV as a source of news went down from 85% in 2015 to 52% in 2020 according to a study by Internews. 

Young Ukrainian citizens with age from 16 to 24 are one of the two core audiences of hromadske, which made TikTok an obvious choice for expansion. 

More from The Fix: It’s time you get on TikTok and get creative: Both businesses and users are flocking to the platform

“We launched TikTok because we need to reach our youngest segment of the audience. We are strong in video content, so we believe that we can be successful there,” says Mariia Leonova, Head of Social Media and Communications at hromadske.

One of the reasons why the team decided to launch its TikTok in October were the upcoming local elections. Interest in voting is low among young people, so it was important to engage them on this topic. 

TikTok with its impressive engagement (see graph below) seemed like the obvious platform. Moreover, despite no longer being “social media for teens”, almost two thirds of TikTok’s active users are between the age of 10 and 29, with many of them having an opportunity to vote for the first time. 

The hromadske team says local elections coverage on TikTok was also important to tackle related gender issues. Politics in Ukraine are not very balanced – the administration of President Volodymyr Zelensky is overwhelmingly male and so are mayoral positions. To balance this, Hromadske made sure to emphasize the voters, including young women

What hromadske is doing on TikTok

There are few schools of thought on how media should act itself on TikTok. Some, like Le Monde or Radio Svaboda (RFE/RL’s Belarusian service, which runs a great TikTok), have a number of journalists regularly appearing in their videos. Others, like The Washington Post or Argentina’s La Nacion, mostly feature a single host who becomes the face of the media. 

hromadske opted for the latter, and is represented by one person – Olha Ptashka, who runs the account. This turned out quite successful, with many videos passing the 10 or even 20 thousand like bar (a solid result, particularly given the smaller, Ukrainian-language target audience). The top performer, however, was not about the elections themselves but rather on Ukrainians’ mask-wearing habits.

@hromadske

Одноразову маску рекомендують змінювати 2-4 години. Зізнавайтеся, скільки її носите ви? #коронавірус #covid19 #україна #маски #hromadske #новини

♬ оригінальний звук – hromadske
hromadske’s most watched video about mask-wearing habits

The team has played around with a few formats for the initial launch, including vox populi (asking people questions on the street), humorous sketches, and short educational videos on different topics. Vox populi were one of the most successful and distinguishable formats so far, receiving the most views and likes. 

This relates to hromadske’s strategy on the platform. 

“What we managed to learn is that you have to work for recognition. Create your ‘trick’ in the content, stand out in terms of color, format, appearance, music – not to get lost in the thousands of recommendations that your subscribers see,” Leonova explains. 

Screenshot of hromadske’s TikTok account

Another interesting finding from the first two weeks is the fact that TikTok seems to work in waves, at least if you look at a smaller language constricted market like Ukrainian TikTok. The team noticed that the traffic is increasing and decreasing in certain periods of time (notably early evenings and some mornings, but not always consistently) and would load up on videos ahead of time and release them when they noticed traffic picking up.

Looking forward, the team aims to constantly revise and rethink their strategy, to keep learning and innovate, Leonova noted.

Check out a report outlining the first steps for media on TikTok, as well as useful resources, case studies and tips and tricks, produced by hromadske, International Media Support and The Fix. You can find it by following the link

More from The Fix: 5 media TikTok accounts worth following

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