Don’t be surprised if you hear a member of Gen Z saying the Daily Mail “slays” on Tiktok or that it’s gone “hard af” with its “fire edits”.
The broad translation is: “The Daily Mail has become the largest publisher of news in the world on Tiktok and a surprise hit among millions of under-25s.”
No longer just the newspaper of choice for Middle England (with an average reader age of 56 for the print edition), the Mail now wants to reach every generation in a family – and Tiktok has become a major part of that strategy.
Phil Harvey, who joined Mail Online as head of social video in March, told Press Gazette’s Future of Media Explained podcast: “We’ve really invested in Tiktok as a platform and that comes right from the top of the business. For us investing and diversifying the way that we reach audiences is part of future-proofing the business,” adding that this explains why they are “also investing heavily in our podcast strategy”.
“For us, it’s about reaching our audiences in places that we currently aren’t reaching them. Now, the kitchen table is a great place to catch up on the newspaper but for us, we want to be in the ears of our audience when they’re driving to work, so they might tune in to our podcast. We want to be on the mobile phone when they’re taking ten minutes to swipe and scroll on the bus.
“We’re hitting every member, every generation of that family through our different mediums and that is really exciting for us as a business, to really test and learn and explore these places and ways to reach an audience.”
The Daily Mail (as Mail Online is known outside the UK) has been on Tiktok since the first quarter of 2020 – but ramped up its strategy with the appointment of its global Tiktok lead Lucy White in 2022 and again further with Harvey’s arrival this year.
As a result, Harvey said, the Mail has increased its reach on Tiktok by more than 1,500% in the past six months. The Mail said on 4 October it had become the largest news publisher on the platform – excluding the likes of Ladbible which has more followers (12.8 million) but has decided to focus on viral clips and entertainment for Tiktok despite producing news elsewhere.
Analysis by Press Gazette of the biggest Tiktok accounts among the top 50 news publishers in the UK and US shows that Daily Mail (6.8 million) is followed by Sky News (5.1 million followers), ABC News (5 million), and NBC News (4.4 million).
On Facebook the Daily Mail has a huge global audience of more than 20 million followers - eclipsing the 6.8 million it reached on its main Tiktok account this week. It was at 4.3 million in mid-January.
The Mail has about 7.7 million followers across all its Tiktok accounts, with sub-feeds for UK news, crime, sport, royals and showbiz - which Harvey said allows them to "target our audience's interests a little bit better" with crime in particular "a big area of interest that we've seen potential on the main page".
But whereas Facebook is moving away from working with publishers and has an diminishing audience for news, Tiktok is a fast-growing news source both among Gen Z (those approximately aged 18 to 25) and other sections of the general public.
Harvey said that at the Daily Mail, similarly to other legacy publishers, it has become "clear to us that there was a huge amount of opportunity here to reach a new audience that we don't currently reach in our current mediums".
He added: "For us at the Mail, we want to talk to as many people as possible and bring our brand and our journalism to the masses, and actually Tiktok gives us a huge cross section of society. The difference is they're consuming that content in a different format."
The Daily Mail has 18 social video producers based in London, New York, LA and Sydney with, Harvey said, plans for "further growth to build engaged audiences on other short-form video platforms beyond Tiktok".
This team, which is "reflective of [their] target audience", has grown over the past six months and is made up of 50% journalists and 50% social media specialists some of whom previously built their own communities online, Harvey said.
After investing in that team, Harvey said they are "able now to produce a lot more content, but produce that in a more structured way", pointing to the use of data to guide editorial decisions and the development of different storytelling formats.
"It's very easy to talk about video as one thing, but within video there's tonnes of different ways we can approach a story," he said.
"A great example of that is the brilliant Tiktok explainers that we're making seven or eight times a day. These are really short form, very highly optimised pieces of content that give the viewers exactly what they want to know.
"But then we build our storytelling formats to tell the story in different ways. We've recently returned back to bread and butter journalism, hitting the street, doing those vox pops, talking to members of the public, and finding out what they think about the big trending news stories of the day."
One twist on that format was when one of the Mail's producers walked around the streets of New York wearing a t-shirt of Donald Trump's mugshot the day after it was released, capturing the reactions of members of the public.
"In a way," Harvey said, "it was a form of storytelling through a social experiment and it helped our viewers not only just understand what happened - a Trump shot has been released - but it helped them form an opinion of the trending news story."
Harvey teased the idea that vox pops could become the basis for their own Daily Mail Tiktok sub-account one day.
The news publisher frequently produces content in Tiktok native formats - often known as "Tiktok edits" with the use of certain sound effects, voices and transitions - rather than repurposing videos made for its other platforms.
As a result, Harvey said, the Daily Mail account is receiving countless comments from young people amazed at the types of videos it is producing.
For example: "I'm loving this, give marketing a raise. Do more edits please, they slayy", "Damn Daily Mail, didn't realise you were chill like that", "Daily Mail with a fire edit", and "YO DAILY MAIL W [win]".
Others have included: "This is how I want to receive all my news" and "Daily Mail went hard af [as f**k]".
"For us, that's a big achievement," Harvey said. "It means that we're talking to this new generation, the Gen Z, we really connecting with a new audience through the kinds of communication that they use with their friends."
When news publishers first began experimenting with Tiktok it was generally more about building brand awareness than making revenue, although more opportunities are now emerging.
Now that the Daily Mail is the number one news publisher on the platform, Harvey said they are "looking at how do we scale even bigger from here and commercially too - that's quite an exciting area for us to develop in the next 12 months".
Since May some publishers have worked with Tiktok on its Premiere Pulse product, which puts ads alongside their content and gives them a share of the revenue. However this is still in beta testing and has so far focused on more lifestyle-heavy publishers such as Buzzfeed, Conde Nast and Vox Media, meaning the Daily Mail and its news cohort are not currently taking part.
However Harvey said: "We’re actively working with Tiktok on its strategy for news in 2023 and beyond."
The brand is increasingly working with clients to boost revenue from Tiktok and has "made several successful commercial deals", Harvey said, adding that the question is "what is it within that realm, within that medium, that we can specialise and start to own?"
The vox pop format, for example, has already been sold to "several" commercial clients. The Daily Mail's normal vox pop videos might ask people about trending global news stories - but they can sell them asking about products and brands.
"It's proving to be really, really popular," Harvey said. "A lot of commercial brands are still getting their heads around how to use this platform and with 7.4 million followers across all accounts, 6.5 on our main account, we're really demonstrating that we know this platform like the back of our hand."
The investment in Tiktok has been supported across the business, Harvey said.
Mail Online publisher and editor Danny Groom said of the Tiktok growth: "This is a fantastic achievement and a huge credit to Phil and our teams around the world. They have worked tirelessly to harvest the best of our journalistic talent to produce consistently engaging content and build a new audience for the Daily Mail brand."
While Mail Newspapers editor-in-chief Ted Verity said: "The moment which for me summed up what we’re trying to achieve across platforms came when Boris Johnson’s 30-second video promoting his brilliant Saturday newspaper column on dangerous dogs got nearly four million Tiktok views with 373,000 likes and almost 15,000 comments."
Harvey said Groom "is a big believer in the digital global newsroom" while Verity "has got incredibly behind Tiktok" - possibly because "Boris and his dog, they're proving to be very popular in our cast of characters at the moment on Tiktok".
Where will the Mail go from here? "In a way, you know, this year, this last six months, we've introduced great storytelling formats in a way that's allowed us to build a hygiene of content, which is what we call maybe our day-to-day content," Harvey explained.
"The next level and the way for us to really grow from here will be targeting more original content, content that is maybe more episodic in its nature, it's more personality led, it allows us to build that connection with the audience in a way that , you know, a voiceover might not, or just a vox pop... So we've done great journalism and we're going to continue to do that.
"Where we go from here, it's super, super exciting and I can't give too much away but next year is going to be going to be really, really big."
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