At 4.3 million followers, Spanish social-native brand Ac2ality has one of the biggest followings among news publishers on Tiktok.
Only Ladbible (12.4 million followers) and the Daily Mail (4.9 million) have bigger followings among European publishers, according to Press Gazette research earlier this year.
Set up in 2020 by four friends, Daniela McArena, Gabriela Campbell, Paula Muñoz and María Murillo, after the first Covid lockdown, Ac2ality quickly grew its following amassing one million followers in its four months.
“Around a month and a half [after we set up] we went viral on the app,” explains Campbell.
How Ac2ality grew to become one of the biggest news publishers on Tiktok
Asked how the publisher has grown so quickly, Campbell says it was partly down to getting on Tiktok at a time when the app had just started booming.
Doing something that no other publisher was doing at the time was also was critical, she believes. There was "nothing at all" comparable in Spanish. In English, while "there were other accounts that were talking about what was going on in the world", Ac2ulity’s simple and colloquial way of presenting the stories resonated well with audiences, she adds.
Thirdly, Ac2ality tries to be "as objective as possible", she says. In a country where just 13% of people think that the media is independent from undue political or government influence, Ac2ality’s perceived objectiveness works in its favour. (The figure is 20% for the UK and 21% for France according to the Reuters Institute).
The inspiration for Ac2ality came from Campbell and her co-founders' own need for a source that "could tell the news in an easy way for younger generations". The idea for the brand was born while Campbell and McArena were living in London and struggling to find a news source that would help the two Madrid natives make sense of Brexit.
"We were trying to read the BBC and we were reading several articles, but you had to read 15 articles to understand what's going on," says Campbell.
"There was a need for us to understand what was happening in the world. That's why we decided to start this and then very quickly, we realised that there were a lot of people that had the same issue."
Ac2ality, which communicates the news to its mostly Gen Z audience through short and entertaining video clips, posts around six times a day on the popular video-sharing platform.
The four women initially started their news brand on Instagram posting pictures with short texts to explain stories but quickly realised that Tiktok "had a lot of potential, especially in 2020, during quarantine", according to Campbell.
Serious news meets influencer culture
According to the Reuters Institute, most news on Tiktok is generated by social media influencers, activists and ordinary people rather than journalists. Ac2ality says that borrowing from influencer culture while remaining a serious news source has helped the brand draw in young people. At 26, the brand’s four co-founders are from the same generation as the bulk of their audience.
While most of Ac2ality’s followers are aged 18 to 24, Ac2ality has a sizeable following among younger teenagers too. "They want to know what's going on in the world but they don't have the capacity yet to understand a newspaper article. That's why they love to watch our videos," says Campbell.
"Younger generations have this interest to understand what's going on and to learn about all these stories but they struggle with the language that the traditional media often uses."
In addition to being one of the most-followed news outlets on Tiktok, Ac2ulity's visual and short style has helped it to also become one of the better-engaged with news brands on the platform where the algorithm means follower counts are less important than on other social networks. A 2022 report by the Reuters Institute into Tiktok usage in news found that Ac2ality had the third-highest engagement rate on its videos among the publishers in its study.
"Our format is very visual and entertaining so in just one minute you can understand what is going on in very complicated articles that talk about Brexit or something like that. We will summarise it and also make it entertaining," says Campbell.
While explaining a complex issue in a one-minute video is a big ask, Ac2ality says its aim is to ground its young audience in a particular news story. Viewers can then explore an issue in more depth in other newspapers or articles.
One of its most successful formats and the one which initially helped the publisher to go viral are its "Five Things About Today" videos with its five most important headlines of the day, says Campbell. Its explainers which aim to tell its audience what they need to know about a specific news story in one minute with a 200-word script are also popular, according to Campbell.
While Tiktok has built its reputation and popularity on fast-paced memes and dance videos, stories such as the war in Ukraine have made the platform an increasingly important way for news publishers to reach coveted younger audiences. Just under half (49%) of mainstream news publishers publish on Tiktok according to the Reuters Institute.
Engaging its audience
Ac2ailty's editorial process is based on looking at the biggest stories in each day's newspapers as well as checking what’s trending on social networks such as Twitter and Instagram.
Audience feedback is also important for a Gen Z audience used to engaging with content creators and influencers.
"We really listened to what our followers want and we ask them on Instagram as well, ‘Do you want to learn about this? Do you understand what is happening with the banks in America? Do you want us to explain it to you, etc?'", says Campbell.
The team read as many comments posted on their Tiktok videos as they can and use this to develop story ideas and new angles. Ac2ality also asks its audience to weigh in on simpler questions such as the best fonts or colours for its videos.
"We engage with our audience quite a bit. I think that's something that has built a connection with us, not just as Ac2ality but as content creators and as persons. It’s more influencer kind of vibe or relationship with our followers. They know us a bit more, we listen to them and we interact a lot with them," she says.
Since launching in 2020 Ac2ality has spawned other copycats, including by El Mundo, one of Spain’s biggest newspaper brands which has amassed 946,000 followers to its Tiktok account. According to the Reuters Institute, some 86% of Spanish mainstream media publishers post regularly on Tiktok - one of the highest rates among the countries that the Institute studies.
Yet, while better-resourced competitors may have successfully tapped into what younger audiences want, Campbell believes that newer newbrands such as Ac2ality have more freedom than legacy publishers in how they create content for Tiktok.
"Some [legacy news publishers] struggle because they feel like they sometimes have barriers when it comes to the way that they can talk about things, first of all because certain newspapers have certain ideologies, and then second because they are not allowed to use a very colloquial language.”
None of Ac2ality founders are journalists by background. Campbell is trained as a scientist while her co-founders have backgrounds in marketing, acting and politics.
Asked what the future for Ac2ality holds, Campbell says there are no plans to exit the business although the women plan to sell the company - and its valuable audience - "at some point in the future".
Revenue generation: brand collaborations and investment
While generating revenue has been challenging - there is currently no ad-share model for Tiktok creators - the publisher recently received investment from Spanish commercial media giant Atresmedia. Brand collaborations with companies such as Red Bull, Prime Video and McDonald’s also mean the team behind Ac2ality are able to work on the brand full-time.
"We do brand collaborations as any other influencer would do. That's the weird mix. We do news and we are media, but we act as influencers as in we create content for brands and companies," says Campbell.
While its brand collaborations are mostly currently focused on Tiktok, Ac2ality is also looking into additional revenue streams such as sponsored podcasts.
Do Ac2ality’s brand collaborations tarnish its efforts to present itself as a serious news source for young people?
According to Campbell, the publisher carefully picks the brands with which it works. And while Ac2ality tries to make its brand advertising appear organic, it also makes clear when content is advertising. "We are very, very careful about that. We try not to put a lot of ads or anything that that doesn't look very organic in our profile."
While the publisher has focused most of its efforts on Tiktok, Ac2ality also has smaller audiences on Instagram where it counts 187,00 followers and Youtube where it has 120,000 subscribers.
"We've been also pushing and working on growing or other platforms because we know that there's a different audience there and also because we know that we shouldn't be relying on just one platform," says Campbell.
The publisher however, has no current plans to move away from social media as the main way of distributing its content.
"We want to remain on social media. That's where the younger generations are," she says.
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