The report found that the platform is particularly popular among news publishers in western Europe, the US and Asia. Most leading publishers in Australia (89%), Spain (86%), France (86%), the UK (81%) and the US (77%) are now actively using Tiktok, it said.
Across the 44 countries studied, social-first publisher Now This topped the list for most followers (5.5 million), followed by Spanish start-up Ac2ality (3.9 million).
Mail Online was the most-followed publisher in Europe and the fourth-most followed worldwide (4.3 million). Other legacy names with large followings include Sky News (3 million), ABC News (4.6 million) and NBC News (3.9 million).
While news organisations from countries with large populations such as the US, Indonesia, and Brazil dominated the list of most-followed accounts, the research found that mainstream publishers from countries such as the UK where access to audiences is a key concern also did well.
Report author Nic Newman of RISJ told Press Gazette: "UK publishers are really worried about access and audiences and that's the imperative both from public broadcasters whose audiences are no longer coming to television, but also subscription publishers who are really looking for the next generation of subscribers."
When it came to average view counts per post, NBC News led the list with over one million views per post. Vice World News (671,320 views), Yahoo! News (653,480) and the Sun (616,249) also performed well.
Unlike other platforms, Tiktok’s algorithm means that very large follower bases are not necessarily needed to be successful. The Sun has 1.1 million followers but three times as many views per video as Sky News which has three million followers.
The Chinese-owned platform is one of the fastest-growing social networks worldwide but has until the past year or so been less used by journalists and newsrooms.
The war in Ukraine, the Covid-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the option to now make longer videos, have all made the platform more appealing to news publishers. Facebook’s drive away from news publishers and uncertainty over Twitter’s future direction under new owner Elon Musk may lead more publishers to turn to Tiktok as as a way of replacing that engagement, said the RISJ report.
The research, which draws on interviews with more than 20 newsrooms including the Washington Post, Sky News, the Guardian and Le Monde, is one of the first attempts to track news publishers’ use of Tiktok across multiple markets.
The report identified two main ways that publishers approach news content on Tiktok. Some brands such as the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times have adopted personality-driven "creator-first strategies", led by younger content creators and hosts.
Others such as the Economist and Sky News, which received 16 million views for a live broadcast of the Queen’s funeral and tens of millions of views for correspondent Stuart Ramsey’s video from Ukraine, have taken a brand-led approach and view Tiktok as another distribution channel for their main content.
Alan Strange, head of on-demand content at Sky News, told RISJ: “I was very keen that we didn’t fall down the trap that a lot of publishers do, which is to try to be something they’re not. We do journalism. And we put our journalism on multiple screens. Tiktok is another of those screens.” The platform, said Strange, is one of Sky News’ most important off-site channels.
Sky News recently reported that it is one of the fastest growing newsbrands on Tiktok, having grown its follower base from 22,000 to three million in 12 months.
While publishers differ in approach, the report said “grabbing attention early, using simple language, having a light touch, and being open to a conversation are key ingredients for a successful Tiktok account”.
Some publishers remain cautious about the platform, concerned about the implications of its Chinese ownership on the potential censorship of sensitive topics. Others cited the platform’s potential trivialisation of news.
Newman said: "Video length is getting longer so there are more options to do more in-depth journalism but most of the audience is not after serious formal news there - they are looking to have fun and learn a bit and that context is really important to remember. But maybe Tiktok can be a starting point, alerting people to a story that they then investigate in more detail."
Some publishers such as the New York Times have stayed away possibly due to limited prospects for monetisation, said the report.
While previous RISJ research has found that influencers, activists and ordinary people are responsible for most news content on TikTok, publishers are increasingly interested in the opportunity to tap into the platform’s fast-growing young user base, experiment with vertical video and counter misinformation on the platform with reliable news.
Yet, while most traditional publishers were not found to be looking to monetise the platform at this stage, there is, said Newman, a likely limit on how long some publishers will persist with a platform that currently does not pay.
"There's a certain amount of impatience from publishers," says Newman.
"Some publishers are very realistic and some are looking for new income streams, or at least some way in which they can get some benefit. I think what's happening at the moment is you've got publishers really looking at experimentation and just trying things out on the platform, but not committing 100% because they recognise that if they do, there's currently no business model that is going to bring recompense.
"We've been down this road before where publishers are expected to put in resources with no business model so people are wary but in many ways the current Tiktok offer is worse because there is not even the option to link back to a website for monetisation and you have to create bespoke content - a real extra cost in most cases. Broadcasters like Sky have it a bit easier because it is quite marginal cost to create content for this format."
On whether publishers need to be on Tiktok currently or not, Newman said it is a decision for each publisher.
"As with any platform you need to be very deliberate and strategic about which network you want to use and why. If you care about young audiences and want to engage them, this is where they spend much of their time. It's also worth joining if you want to experiment with new storytelling and vertical video formats. This is a much wider trend that may be worth investing in anyway.
"But if your main business is selling subscriptions to older people - or if you are looking for new revenue streams - Tiktok may not be the platform for you."
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