More than just a ‘song and dance app’: Public media stations leverage new audiences on TikTok

Amid crowds of young people dancing and lip-syncing to popular songs on TikTok, public media organizations are sharing local content on the app in a bid to reach audiences who may not be familiar with their programming from traditional broadcast.

The popular app is a gateway to a large audience of young viewers. TikTok announced in September that its users had surpassed one billion. A 2021 Pew Research Center survey found that people between the ages of 18 and 29 used the app at a significantly higher rate than other age groups.

TikTok’s focus on short and generally silly videos has created a niche where public media can test small content sharing approaches. The platform has garnered contributions from national public media producers such as Boston’s GBH, WNET’s Nature and NPR Silver Planet in 2020 with grants from the Creative Learning Fund.

Since then, stations have also taken to offering TikTok content with local appeal. Station producers post up to several videos a week, relying on contributions from colleagues in their organizations. Some also re-share the videos on the stations’ Instagram accounts.

The goal is to engage viewers even if they don’t become donors, said Anne Guttridge, associate producer at TPT in St. Paul, Minnesota, who manages the station’s TikTok account.

“It was never really about marketing for us,” Guttridge said. “We’ve really tried to focus on it as an audience engagement tool and a tool to expand the type of content we create…across different platforms.”

TPT’s TikTok account has attracted over 33,000 followers since Guttridge started creating content about the 2020 election. After the election, she did a TikTok asking followers what content they wanted to see, which helped. TPT’s account to gain views and subscribers.

Guttridge began creating videos focused on local arts and culture and was inspired by classic TPT content, such as the show How to talk about Minnesota. Seven TikToks based on the show have garnered over 600,000 views. Another video in which Guttridge explains how Betty Crocker was a fictional person created in Minnesota for a marketing campaign has received over a million views.

Guttridge credits TPT’s rapid audience growth to its efforts to keep up with app trends. This increases the chances of the videos appearing on a TikTok user’s “For You” page, which is curated by an algorithm. In one video, Guttridge referenced a dance that was trending on the app at the time. It received over 157,000 views.

“It’s cool to see people being surprised that we’re on the platform and paying attention to trends and playing into things like story formatting and timing and how to caption things. “said Guttridge.

Creating content that sets you apart on the platform is key to success on TikTok, Guttridge said, while acknowledging that people interact with TikTok differently than traditional media.

“The strategy is a bit more about having fun with it, making it a place where people can learn but also hopefully be entertained,” she said. “Because most, if not all, people go to TikTok because they’re killing time. They want to learn something. They want to see something funny. They don’t sit the same way they would for an hour-long documentary, so we have to approach it differently.

KQED: Reaching younger audiences and keeping them weird

Before Anna Vignet started creating TikTok content for KQED, she got hooked on the platform. When KQED asked staffers for TikTok ideas, Vignet, a social video producer, jumped at the chance.

KQED has gained over 17,000 followers on TikTok since it started producing content for the app in September 2020. Videos have covered science, cultural events, current affairs and public affairs. In one, Vignet described 10 California laws that went into effect in early 2022. Some of KQED’s TikToks were in Spanish. The videos serve as standalone content while complementing KQED’s radio and digital offerings.

By using TikTok, KQED aims to reach a younger audience who may not watch the radio or read articles on its website, Vignet said.

“The way we consume information is changing, and a lot of young people aren’t driving, and that’s mainly where people listen to the radio,” she said. “And even though we’re a radio station first, it’s becoming less and less of a way for people to find us. … A lot of young people are spending a lot more time on social media, so finding a way to get them into journalism just makes for a better society as a whole.

KQED’s TikTok videos also help viewers better understand the role of journalists. Vignet hopes to create more videos highlighting the daily lives of journalists.

“One comment was like, ‘That girl in her house is from NPR?'” Vignet said. “So there’s a bit of dissonance about how someone in their house can also just be a reporter, because it’s not in the context of news that we traditionally understand. … News on TikTok is not something that people really associate with TikTok.

Reluctance to see TikTok as a legitimate platform for news outlets may stem from a generational divide, Vignet said, with older journalists not understanding how popular the platform is with Gen Z.

“A lot of people see it as ‘this song and dance app’ and they don’t take it seriously,” Vignet said. But ignoring his popularity ” defeats the purpose of journalism “, she said.

Vignet said viewers have generally responded positively to KQED’s videos. As she creates more videos, she wants to include more KQED employees, showcase more departments, and get “a little weirder” with them.

“I think public media, TV stations, and radio stations can find success by really focusing on the human side of TikTok, because that’s kind of what’s happening on radio already,” he said. she declared. “…Someone is talking in your ear. It is a very intimate process.

GBH: Being where the audience is

As Boston’s GBH settled into the TikTok groove, they experimented with formats and ideas to see what sticks with audiences. It started on the platform with behind-the-scenes videos of life at the station, then grew into science videos with its TikTok grant. Last fall, producer Emily Schario began producing and appearing in Boston-focused videos. The station’s Emerging Platforms team continues to create more TikTok content that draws inspiration from productions across the station.

In a video that has garnered more than 106,000 views, Schario climbs Heartbreak Hill, part of the Boston Marathon route, while explaining his story and how he got his nickname. In other videos, she cycled around the city while talking about issues with bike lanes and breaking down what Boston’s newly elected mayor can and can’t do.

“They all kind of revolved around a very simple question: What’s the history of Heartbreak Hill? What’s the significance of the mayoral race? What can the mayor actually do?” Schario said. a very simple question gives you plenty of room to be creative.”

News organizations interested in joining TikTok should think about how people spend their time and get information, said Tory Starr, director of digital and social content innovation at GBH. TikTok has room for the kinds of journalism and storytelling that traditional media platforms are also known for, she said.

“We can be educational, and we can be smart and do good journalism…in a way that’s relatable and sometimes funny, but sometimes really interesting to watch,” Starr said. “Don’t take yourself too seriously on TikTok, and just extend the journalism you know to a platform that truly puts interest first.”

Journalists shouldn’t see creating content for TikTok as an added burden, but as a chance to grow and experience new things, Schario and Starr said.

“It’s not ‘What are we going to add to our plate?'” Starr said. “It’s ‘How are we going to change to be where the audience is?'”

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