4 media companies that have grown quickly on TikTok share their strategies for engaging users with news, sports, and economics content

  • As TikTok has grown in popularity, both upstart and legacy media companies are joining the app.
  • Insider spoke to 4 media publishers to learn about their strategies for building audiences on TikTok. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

TikTok has become a launching point for a new crop of internet stars and upstart media brands. Many are using the app to build out full-fledged businesses. 

But TikTok’s recent growth hasn’t only benefited newcomers. The app has also been a boon for some traditional media companies.

Publishers like The Washington Post, NPR’s “Planet Money,” and Yahoo News have turned to TikTok to reach new audiences, adapting their existing content to fit with the app’s culture and short-video format. 

“45% of our new audience growth in 2020 was from TikTok,” Barstool Sports’ CEO Erika Nardini told Insider last month. 

Many publishers have made inroads into TikTok by tapping into its trends, whether that means including popular songs in videos or enlisting TikTok stars to appear in podcasts. Some have focused on personality-driven content, putting an employee front-and-center in TikTok videos to serve as a brand ambassador. And many publishers engage directly with users in the comments section of their videos.

“TikTok doesn’t have to bear the pressure of monetization,” Nardini said. “I’m more interested in TikTok on creating content that people like there that works there and then finding ways when we do monetize that it’s accretive to the experience.”

Insider spoke with 4 media publishers to understand more about their strategies for building an engaged audience on TikTok:

Barstool Sports (12.8 million TikTok followers)

Barstool Sports has built a following of more than 12 million TikTok fans on its main account (and millions more fans on the TikTok accounts of its podcast shows and on-air personalities).

The company told Insider that TikTok was its top source for new audience growth last year. 

To build its TikTok audience, Barstool has focused on posting content that fits with what’s popular on the app, rather than repurposing its existing IP.

“You’ve got to study the platform,” Barstool Sports’ CEO Erika Nardini said. “If you look at a more traditional company or a legacy company or a league, they think about it the opposite way. They’re like, ‘What do we have rights to and how can we cut this thing up and put this thing in all the places that we can?’ They start by looking at themselves, and we start by looking at the platform.”

The company’s work on TikTok has extended outside the app as well. Barstool is currently partnered with TikTok star Josh Richards to co-host one of its new podcasts, “BFFs.”

Read more about Barstool’s TikTok strategy: Barstool Sports’ CEO says TikTok has fueled recent audience growth and she’s looking at OnlyFans as another potential platform to expand the brand

Brother (1.4 million TikTok followers)

The media brand Brother already had tens of million of subscribers on Snapchat when its parent company Team Whistle decided to venture onto TikTok. 

The company has since attracted more than a million followers. Brother’s main TikTok account is a mix of reshared user-generated content and original videos with on-air personalities who host short segments. Recent videos have featured daredevil mountain biking and an impressive display of back flips. 

Brother pays close attention to TikTok trends when it considers what videos to post. 

“I think you want to be able to participate in trends as they’re taking off,” Joe Caporoso, EVP of content and brand platforms at Whistle, told Insider. “To properly manage any account day-to-day, whether it’s TikTok or any other platforms, a big part of the community management is just kind of having your head in the app every single day to see what’s taking off.”

“With Brother, it feels a little less like an actual media-publisher brand,” he added. “We try to drive it more with the personalities and the people who are actually on camera.”

Read more about Brother’s TikTok strategy: A media company explains its TikTok growth strategy, including mixing original and user-generated content and getting funding directly from the app

NPR's "Planet Money" (309,000 TikTok followers)

NPR’s “Planet Money” joined TikTok in May 2020 and now has around 300,000 followers.

The team built this audience on TikTok by converting its podcast and video content into short, funny economics explainer videos. The group is also part of TikTok’s Creative Learning Fund, a fund that pays creators and media publishers to post educational videos on the app. 

“We scanned pretty hard looking for other economics explainers on TikTok, and there was like the World Economic Forum posting facts over slow pans of stock photos of cities,” Alex Goldmark, the podcast’s senior supervising producer, told Insider. “There was almost [nobody] doing something similar in our beat, and so it was a wide-open opportunity to just create a style.”

The “Planet Money” team enlisted its 24-year-old production assistant Jack Corbett to host videos. Corbett has become a TikTok star on his own, making a guest appearance in a recent video on The Washington Post’s TikTok account.

The team’s explainer videos, lo-fi content style (Corbett shoots videos at home using a bed sheet as a green screen), and chats with users in the app’s comments section have helped the brand grow.

“Stylistically, I wasn’t really looking to try and mimic anything that was on the platform,” Corbett said. 

Read about the brand’s TikTok strategy here: How the ‘Planet Money’ TikTok account has become a breakout hit through careful scripting, engaging in the comments, and making a 24-year-old its star

Yahoo News (1.1 million TikTok followers)

Yahoo News recently passed 1 million followers on TikTok after joining in March.

The news publisher told Insider that it had grown on the app by using TikTok’s built-in features like livestreaming and by posting videos on stories that appeal to a younger audience. 

“We play close attention to the topics in the news that Gen Z cares about,” Julia Munslow, special projects editor at Yahoo News, told Insider. “So looking at things like social justice issues [and] student loan debt.”

Like “Planet Money,” the company regularly interacts with users in the comments section of videos. And The Yahoo team often broadcasts events like the White House press briefing using TikTok’s “live” feature. Munslow will also use TikTok’s “green screen,” “duet,” and “stitch” effects in videos to drive engagement.

“We’re keeping a close eye on trends on the platform to begin with, and then we’re really just leveraging all of the features that TikTok has to see what resonates with our audience and what helps us to deliver the news in the most effective way possible,” Munslow said. 

Read more about how Yahoo News grew to 1 million TikTok followers in less than a year: How Yahoo News hit 1 million followers on TikTok by covering breaking news, going live, and messaging fans


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