TikTok Newsletter 35

Mistakes in Myanmar. Academia & Cultures. Case Study: Deutsche Welle

Hi subscriber,

you might (or might not) have recognized that there was no new newsletter for two weeks in a row. Sorry for that. Blame the bloody virus. But now: back for good.

This is Understanding TikTok your weekly dose 🍬 of TikTok related news. My name is Marcus. Inspired by Francesco’s international list of publishers and journalists on TikTok i set up a german version: Deutschsprachige Medien und Journalist:innen auf Tik Tok. Feel free to add accounts via mail until i have a fancy Google form. Thx!  If you want to start using TikTok as a journalist you can still book my workshop TikTok für Journalisten (german) at ifp via Zoom, April 20 (german).

Today we talk about:

🇲🇲 Mistakes in Myanmar
🏆 Academia & Cultures
🍦Case Study: Deutsche Welle
👔 Mixed bag

🇲🇲 TikTok’s mistakes in Myanmar

Domestic civil resistance efforts in Myanmar began in opposition to the coup d'état on 1 February, staged by the country's armed forces. More than 200 protestors have been killed by military or police forces since then and more than 2,000 people have been detained.

Soldiers have been using TikTo to threaten protestors. Soldiers Flood TikTok With Calls to Violence. Digital rights group Myanmar ICT for Development (MIDO) has found hundreds of pro-military videos with TikTok having been slow and inconsistent to enforce its own community standards (TikTok banning some accounts in Myanmar), writes Rest of World: TikTok is repeating Facebook’s mistakes in Myanmar. Quote:

TikTok’s failures are distressingly familiar to anyone acquainted with how Facebook was used to help drive an ethnic-cleansing campaign in Myanmar in the 2010s. Members of the Myanmar military spread misinformation across the platform, stoking division, hatred, and, eventually, violence. In 2018, United Nations human rights experts said that unchecked hate speech on Facebook contributed to the genocide against the country’s Rohingya minority. 

TikTok exploded in popularity in Myanmar in 2019 and 2020, after major telecoms networks began to bundle it with their services. Much like Facebook had done with its “free basics” model a few years prior, users could now access TikTok practically for free. Activists began seeing military-linked content moving on TikTok before the last election, when Facebook began more actively seeking out disinformation networks.

The videos come from individual accounts, rather than from official channels, making it difficult to judge whether they are coordinated or spontaneous. But they clearly show that TikTok is more and more becoming an important source of global information, misinformation and disinformation including all conflict parties involved and of course journalists and activists (see Newsletter 34).

🏆 TikTok Academia & Cultures

I always thought i had a reasonable good overview concerning academic papers on TikTok. Newsletter 18 included the Fifteen Seconds of Fame paper. Besides i have printed, read and underlined the Dancing to the Partisan Beat paper and the Stop licking the boots article and a couple of others. Well, little did i know. Until a Tweet by Dr Crystal Abidin (@wishcrys) struck me.

TikTok Cultures – what a resource: This research portal was founded in October 2020 by Dr Crystal Abidin and a group of Asia Pacific-based interdisciplinary scholars who are studying TikTok cultures from a variety of qualitative research methodologies. The full bibliography (Last updated 03 February 2021) includes amongst others 41 Published Journal Articles, 14 Conference Papers and 30 Theses and Miscellaneous Journals. 🤯

The research group hosts its second virtual event next week: TikTok & Youth Cultures in the Age of COVID-19 – 29 March 2021 if you are interested. On a broader note i found this article wortwhile: Platforms vs. PhDs: How tech giants court and crush the people who study them. It does not mention TikTok but you get the idea. 

🍦 Case Study: Deutsche Welle & Berlin Fresh

Newsletter 33 included a  🐼 Case Study: WWF Germany. Some of you liked the idea. So here is another one. Deutsche Welle, Germany´s international broadcaster started its first TikTok account in July 2020: Berlin Fresh. Little Disclaimer: I have been working with Deutsche Welle in various roles as a freelancer for more than 15 year. I was not involved in the TikTok part, so i mailed with Johanna Rüdiger, Head of Social Media Strategy at the Culture & Lifestyle Department of Deutsche Welle to learn more.

What is the goal of Berlin Fresh? 

With our TikTok account @dw_BerlinFresh we want to reach very young users – 14 to 24 year olds. These are mostly Gen Z users who we might not reach as much on our other digital platforms (YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, dw.com). Our account is called “Berlin Fresh” because we want to offer a fresh look at European culture and lifestyle from the heart of Europe - and from one of its most vibrant cities, Berlin. We want to show that Germany is a liberal democracy rooted in European culture, while promoting understanding and the exchange of ideas among different cultures and peoples. We also want to spark debates between young people and give them a platform to exchange ideas and experiences.

Who is the target audience? 

Our target audience is Genz Z users in the United States and around the world. As Germany’s international broadcaster, we are not trying to reach people in Germany - even though we are uploading our content in Germany. This is a bit of a challenge for us, because TikTok’s algorithm – unlike other platforms like Instagram – relies heavily on the location from which your content is posted. Videos are recognized and distributed locally within your geographic location because TikTok believes that your content will most likely resonate with people in your own region. Of course that’s different for us, since we are producing English language content for non-Germans. Social Media, as we understand them, are a global platform. That makes it a little hard to understand that there is one tool which makes regional restrictions a rule.

Since when do you run the account? 

We started the account in July, 2020. Today, we have over 68,000 followers, 1.5 million likes and millions of views.

How many TikTok videos do you produce per week? 

We aim for at least three videos a week to keep our audience engaged with our account.

How big is the team? What are the roles?

We have four TikTokers who regularly contribute to Berlin Fresh - mostly young DW journalists, but we also collaborate with TikTokers who already have a big audience on TikTok. We also get help and support from our many TV reporters and journalists.

Who is responsible for taking care of the comment section?

At least two of our TikTok creators are responding daily to comments. We take our community very seriously and often use questions from them as another story idea for our next TikTok. For instance, one user asked one of our TikTok creators if she could afford her own apartment in Berlin or had to share, so we made a TikTok covering rent prices in different European capitals as a response. If we have videos with controversial topics coming up, we discuss beforehand in our editorial meetings how best to respond to comments and what further information we might be able to provide on the topic in the comment section, like additional studies and facts.

Could you describe the editorial steps from idea to a finished TikTok? 

Anybody from the TikTok team or even our entire DW Culture & Lifestyle social media team can contribute an idea or topic. At the beginning of each week, we hold an editorial meeting to discuss the ideas for the week and how we can execute and film them. Together with the head of our lifestyle department, Samira Schellhaaß, we develop a script for each TikTok. After our TikTokers film and edit, there is always a process of final checks. Like with everything a DW journalists posts or uploads, nothing goes out without another journalists checking it (”Four-eyes principle”).

Do you work with storyboards? 

We don’t work with storyboards per se, but we discuss how and where to shoot, what scenes we might need, in our editorial meeting prior to shooting. We basically treat our TikTok videos like all other content DW produces and adhere to the same journalistic standards. 

What was your biggest learning experience so far?

Our biggest learning so far I would say is that TikTok is much more of a platform for debate and information as, let’s say, Instagram. In the beginning, we not only posted culture topics and lifestyle explainers, but also more glamorous travel content from our DW reporters. But we stopped doing that because we learned that our users weren’t interested in travel clips, they wanted storytelling, information and faces connected to stories that matter in their everyday life. Dialogue with our users and among themselves is exactly what we want to promote.

What was the most successful TikTok video on the account and what do you think it was the most successful?

We actually had many TikToks that went viral – quite a few with over half a million views. I feel like anything about women’s rights or LGBTQ rights is always interesting for our audience, as well as our series on Jewish life in Berlin and Germany. Another one that performed well (over 700,000 views) was on the Erasmus student exchange program. We had many American students commenting about crushing student loans in the U.S. and so on. Our most commented on video was an opinion piece we did in the week of Oprah’s Meghan & Harry interview. It is the first in our new opinion series “Hear me out”. In this episode, one of our TikTokers argued the monarchy should be abolished - this video went viral because people on TikTok love discussing controversial topics and ideas.

What surprised you the most concerning your audience? 

I was surprised but happy to see how much our community likes to debate! We really did spark lively debates in our comment section, people discussing their lives withh each other and telling each other what it’s like in their country. I think many people still think of TikTok as a dancing and lip-syncing app, they don’t realize how hungry people are for information on this app, and how critical their questions can be. They frequently ask us: What’s your source? Where do you get your information from? I love that!

What accounts inspire you on a professional level?

How much space do I have? There are so many accounts that inspire me - I mean, I spend lots and lots of hours on the app each week, so it’s hard to choose. Of course there are lots of fellow journalists and media organizations on the app who I follow and who inspire me every day. But I also like a lot of the more education related content, so any creator that uses the hashtag #learnontiktok (or even German: #lernenmittiktok) is a good bet for me. I also like the young, alternative voices like18-year old Taylor Cassidy (@taylorcassiddyj) with her Black History Month explainers or James Jones (@notoriouscree) who gives Natives Americans and indigenous people a voice. Or 20-year-old Chrissy from @chrissycanthearyou, who educates people on the deaf community.


Actually, DW is currently looking for a TikTok Content Creator (f/m/d) for JaafarTalk - the multimedia-based Arabic talk show format. Besides excellent command of the Arabic language you should have “good command of the English and German language”. Probably Deutsche Welle´s german language learning TikTok account dw_deutschlernen might be useful here. 🎓

👔 What else? Mixed bag

Conviva is a company, offering solutions for online video optimization and online video analytics. They have recently published the 2021 TikTok® Benchmarks & Strategy Guide for Brands. A 45 pages PDF that you can freely download. It is worth a scroll. Not only because Insider has made articles out of it, like These are the 21 news-media brands that gained the most TikTok followers in the last year but because it helps you put together pieces better.

Take this Digiday article for example: TikTok brings back fund to pay 25 publishers. Quote: “TikTok’s Creative Learning Fund is returning with a new name — Instructive Accelerator Program — and another opportunity for publishers to get paid by the social platform to produce “instructive and informative” videos for its users...Last year’s program had media companies like Discovery, Insider and Group Nine Media participate.” Interestingly enough you find e.g. NowThis (Group Nine Media) and Insider on position 5 & 6 of the TikTok Top 20  News & Media in the chart above. TikTok’s support obviously helps.

Apart from that the entire and very successful Streaming section needs further investigation. For now let me just point you to this article: Netflix to Celebrate Tiger King Anniversary with TikTok Drag-Queen Musical.

Apart from that i liked the New York Times BookTok-article: How Crying on TikTok Sells Books. And Dunkin’ Donut´s  take on the superfan as described over at the Good TikTok Creative. Quote: They only follow 15 people on TikTok and they are true fans, creating a status to aspire to. Apart from that here is a question to ask yourself: Who is currently giving your brand free video impressions? You are not a brand? Lucky you. Then Lena has some Good Vibes Only 🌞. Just for you. Take care. Speak soon.

Ciao. Marcus 😷