LICENCE FREED: What comms and PR can learn from how the BBC use TikTok

TikTok is surging in importance as a comms channel and a new study shows journalism as an unlikely hothouse for developing how to use it.

According to the UK Press Gazette data news brands have been experimenting with the platform and the clear trailblazer? The BBC.

It may feel counter-intuitive but it’s entirely in keeping with the corporation’s pioneering use of new technology.

The BBC leads the field in the survey with a 2,000 per cent increase in follower numbers in the eight months to January 2023.

Interestingly, the top 10 leading news TikTok embracers include a mix of traditional broadcasters and new media – such as LadBible, Huffpost, CNN and ITV News.

There’s no representation for UK local media companies such as Reach or LocalWorld in the top 30 list. Combined, such companies pack a fierce punch on Facebook and with their websites. A lack of resource, a focus on e-mail newsletters and the scattered nature of their audience may explain their position. 

But, still.

What can public sector comms people learn from this list?

A fair amount. 

What you can learn from the BBC on TikTok

National content is vertical as well as landscape

Firstly, people looking to pitch to national media now have the additional route of vertical video. With the BBC’s main account @bbc they have 3.8 million followers and 2,170 videos. Their main focus is to refocus and tease their iplayer content. However, @bbcnews has a news focus with almost 800,000 followers and 442 videos.


Not one channel but many

The BBC is a big organisation with lots of content. It’s quite right that it has a number of accounts as well as identifiable journalist accounts. This gives an additional route to the audience.

The BBC TikTok style book need offers tips

Often, people are nervous of TikTok for its dances, memes, trends and creativity. I get that. But there’s a very strong argument to embrace that approach to fully embrace the platform. South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue do this brilliantly.

But what BBC News does offer is storytelling that’s with more of a straight bat.

Here’s a few things you can learn.

  1. Branding

In training, I often talk about the need to park-up traditional branding approaches when dealing with social media. That’s true of TikTok too. But what BBC News have is a translucent BBC logo in the top left of the screen along with a translucent red strip down the side. Scrolling through their timeline, it’s immediately clear to the viewer that this is from the same place.

A logo jpg added in the edit before uploading to TikTok can do this for you. 

  1. No bongs

The BBC News content doesn’t start with BBC News Titles or theme tune. Nor should it. That works on terrestrial TV. It doesn’t work on social media where the scrolling subscriber is met with the same five or 10 seconds of intro they already saw twice that morning.

  1. A title

Each clip starts with a clear title with black text on a white background with red and black edging. You have a headline summary, literally.

This looks as though its been added in the edit well before the upload. You could alternatively add a cover in the TikTok editing tool itself. This is certainly helpful if you’re scrolling through old video. 

  1. A strong opening three seconds

The law of social video is to startly boldly with either eye catching footage or an eye catching quote from an interview. BBC News manage this quite happily. 

  1. Cutaways are king 

Cutaways or B-roll is the footage which helps paint a picture. It’s shots of the picket line or cars sounding their horns passing the picket line. Over this you can add a voiceover or text to tell the story.

Like this clip of Thor the walrus:

  1. And voiceovers are fine

Much of the BBC News TikTok content is fairly anonymously presented. There is content with a reporter asking the questions and reacting but for the most part there is no recognisable news anchor. Authority comes from the branding and the blue tick not the sight of the newsreader.

This is a good example for comms people not seeking the limelight.  

  1. About a minute or less

Timing is also key. BBC News don’t have space for lengthy content. The days of hour long interviews between Robin Day and Margaret Thatcher couldn’t be further away. About a minute is the length of most of their video.

  1. Understand the complex and tell with simplicity

This is not new. The journalist has always had to get their heads around the complicated and then explain the story clearly to their audience. It’s jargon free. This chimes with public sector comms’ need to do the same. 

9. Avoid copyright issues

I’ve written about this before, but having a standard account as an organisation is dangerous. You need a business account. This limits the sounds you can use but means those available to you are safe to use. BBC News do this, too.

In summary

So, in summary, there’s lots to learn from BBC News for public sector comms. It’s not the only approach open. But it is a good template to see how to cover news and sensitive topics when you need to avoid a trend.

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1 Comment

  1. Interesting point on v/o’s, but as seen with Washington Post’s TikTok which is cited as one of the first major news outlets to get to grips well with TT, there is a lot of presented content from their team of TT journalists. I would argue that it’s the one channel most associated with a human face and voice – and as sounds are such a key part of the platform, it’s hard to get away from the fact that you need people comfortable being infront of the camera as well as behind it for TT storytelling.

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