Simultaneously adored and despised by millions, TikTok is having a moment. Publications and entrepreneurs alike are now realizing the app is more than a repository of random dance challenges and are asking themselves if they should adopt the platform and move into the world of short-form filmmaking via vertical video.

The Harvard Business Review, as per usual, is killing it. This is a top industry publication with notoriously rigorous author standards. Yet their TikTok profile leaves this prestige at the door; it feels more like a person, which is great.

tiktok-strategy-1
Screenshots from the author

The Harvard Business Review is smartly repositioning some of its article content to better appeal to TikTok’s core demographic.

For example, here are some screenshots of a story that outlined research from three separate HBR articles that zeroed in on brainy topics like mirror neurons, CEO narcissism, and biohacking’s influence on employee sick days.

tiktok-strategy-2
Screenshots from the author
tiktok-strategy-3
Screenshots from the author

These articles were originally written months and years ago. Yet this 60-second video racked up thousands of shares and tens of thousands of likes, which surely led to clicks and searches for the original content.

So should publications expend time and mental energy to establish themselves on TikTok? And should you?

Why TikTok Will Become the Next Instagram

Publications must continuously solve for traffic. No traffic to articles means no page views, which means no display ad revenue, which means trouble. In 2019 alone, 7,800 media professionals were laid off; publications are now more revenue-focused than ever.

TikTok is a sensible next step. I’ve written before that TikTok will become the next Instagram because it gives users with little to no technical skill immediate fluency, which empowers them to create.

Instagram did this ten years ago; all of a sudden, everyone was a good-enough photographer. TikTok accelerates skill acquisition in a similar way, except this time it’s with (very short) filmmaking.

However, TikTok also has the Hunger Games-like survivalism of Twitter. If your posts are witty and high in quality, the potential for virality is huge, and the home page of the TikTok app is a scintillating curation of viral videos and endless entertainment.

tiktok-strategy-4
Screenshots from author. A Harvard Business Review TikTok on home office productivity.

TikTok knows that a lot of its Western audience is on Instagram, so its interface has a deep integration with the social media giant.

Profiles have a direct Instagram profile link, and TikTok lets you publish content you find and like to Instagram stories with just a couple quick clicks of a button.

Which Publications Are Doing TikTok Strategy Right

Some publications are leveraging a TikTok strategy beautifully, and others surprisingly haven’t started yet.

Cosmopolitan is crushing the competition on TikTok, with over 360,000 followers. Whereas Harvard Business Review produces more videos in the 45 to 60-second range to enable deeper storytelling, Cosmo gets right to the point and lands the entire piece in 15 seconds or less to better perform in feeds.

tiktok-strategy-5
Screenshots from the author

Their platform has gotten so big, so fast that now some videos are overt product advertisements, which are surely paid placements.

I imagine “TikTok paid placements” is now a revenue line item on Cosmopolitan’s profit and loss sheet. Jealous!

tiktok-strategy-6
Screenshots from the author. A “stain removal lightning round” TikTok from Cosmopolitan.

The New York Post is also off to a great start. They successfully grossed me out with one video that pondered the viability of a White Claw slushie.

tiktok-strategy-7
Screenshots from the author

Mouth agape, I watched the whole way through. Twice. So I guess it worked?

Other publications haven’t jumped onto the platform yet. Wall Street Journal just has a placeholder, and Forbes doesn’t even have a platform yet — I searched for them and couldn’t even find an account.

tiktok-strategy-8
Screenshots from the author

Just like us, publications are looking at what it takes to succeed on this new platform and weighing their pros and cons.

What to Consider When Exploring TikTok Strategy

1. Make it native or don’t even bother

Footage recorded on your phone is embedded in TikTok’s DNA, and users are used to seeing grainy, less-than-perfect feeds.

It doesn’t matter if you have a premium brand; editors at the biggest publications in the world are recording videos from their kitchens and bedrooms, and it’s working. Large businesses and establishments that route all their marketing creative through an agency are actually at a disadvantage here.

In this example, a pilates instructor supplied some hip stretch videos to Well+Good, a health publication whose website gets about six million views a month.

tiktok-strategy-9
Screenshots from the author

The instructor gets the exposure,Well+Good gets content that can help capture new market interest, and it was all done while wearing pajamas. Everyone wins.

2. Light storyboarding will take you far

TikTok’s secret sauce is that you can edit and mock up all your video clips within the app’s interface. This process will go far faster if you do some light outlining before you get started.

Just as you would with an article or video, create a simple outline or template and map out your ideas before you go into production — even if your definition of production currently means futzing around with your phone for a few hours. You’ll thank yourself later.

3. Embrace compact storytelling

There’s no time for non-essential details on this platform! Slap a caption on a frame to reinforce your storyline in three seconds or less, then move on. TikTok is a great storytelling tool but requires that you be lean, fast, and visual with your content in order to be effective within its parameters.

Whether you’re obsessed with TikTok or want to stay a mile away from it, the fact that some of the biggest media outlets in the world are turning to it is a clue about its future potential. It may time to look into a TikTok strategy.

Publication TikTok profiles are here to stay, and that means there’s yet another way to get in front of new consumers and drive interest back to your brand or business through earned media.