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How did the Washington Post become ‘big news’ on a social media platform usually associated with make-up tutorials and silly dances?

How did Dave Jorgenson channel his inner David Brent to become every Gen Z’er’s favourite “wannabe cool uncle?”

And how can you too beat the clock to harness the power of TikTok before your competitors get in first?

This is Xtra-Ordinary Marketing, a series which explores how innovative brands are shaking up their industries with the most clever, creative and compelling comms around and, in this episode, I’m exploring the social media platform TikTok.

If you know any young adults, if you’ve ever heard of some bloke called Donald Trump, or, frankly, if you just exist in the world, you will at least be aware of TikTok.

And if you are the founder, owner, director, CEO or CMO of an innovative challenger brand – and I know you all are – you will have no doubt had someone suggest that your company joins it at some point.

But I know what happened. You Googled it. You thought, this seems a bit weird. You then listened to a Gary Vaynerchuk podcast in which he told you it was the biggest thing in marketing right now and you needed to be on it. And you were kinda swayed, but then you were kinda put off by his sweary, over-energetic style. You probably downloaded the app, fiddled about on it for 20 minutes and got completely lost. And then you decided to maybe come back to it again later.

And that was six months ago.

If this is you, TikTok probably failed to register for one of the following reasons:

Number 1: The content is unlike other platforms. The video is in portrait dimensions and often a bit lo-fi. Creators also add effects to the image that aren’t quite the same as the filters you’re used to from Instagram. They’re sampling audio from pop music. And comedians. And politicians (!) And, is that… other users?

The second reason why it probably felt alien was because the feed isn’t like other platforms. Although you can follow specific accounts, the default stream is the ‘For You’ one and that just appears to be showing you stuff from everybody on TikTok, whether or not you have any idea who they are.

And the third reason why you probably didn’t take to TikTok was because the only companies you saw on there were make-up and fashion brands. And the platform undeniably works well for companies in those arenas.

But, in this episode, I’d like to propose that you don’t need to be making make-up or mini-skirts to takeover TikTok. What you need is the correct approach to content and a very clear understanding of why you are doing it (and, of course, how you’ll measure success).

If you have that, I believe any brand can benefit massively from embracing the fastest-growing social platform out there. And, in the next section, I’m going to illustrate how one company did just that despite being a boring, stuffy old newspaper.


It’s no secret that traditional hard-copy journalism is struggling. In the digital age, we get our information in so many formats and so quickly that the idea of buying a 40- or 50- page ‘document’ that contains a bunch of stuff I’m not really interested in, that might be 10 hours out of date… for the news!… just seems kinda bizarre.

But, as that industry struggles to stay relevant, there are also pretty well-founded fears that a generation of younger adults who are on the cusp of joining the workforce aren’t engaging with hard news in the same way and THAT may have fairly obviously problematic repercussions for society.

The Washington Post’s reaction to this issue was to join TikTok.

According to an article in current affairs magazine The Atlantic, the publication saw the platform as being like two common, originally ridiculed but now extremely highly valued newspaper sections – the cartoons and crosswords; in other words, a “seemingly light-hearted side project that serves, sneakily, to reinforce the paper’s journalistic mission and draw in new readers.”

Crucially, the editorial team realised that, while the average subscriber to the Post is “well over 40”, TikTok would be “a really good way to, at the very least, get [younger people] to trust… [and] know the brand.”

Spearheaded by in-house video producer, Dave Jorgenson, they set up an account and started posting short, satirical ‘takes’ on the news of the day.

By his own admission, Jorgenson tried to re-create the tone of the hit comedy series, ‘The Office’, reasoning that his target Gen Z audience had grown up “rewatching [the series] constantly” and that they would, therefore, respond to that type of humour.

Before you know it, the account had picked up more than a million followers and north of 50 million likes. It’s been nominated for numerous awards. In fact, the channel’s become so successful that Jorgenson is well known as being simply ‘the TikTok guy’.

But, most importantly, the efforts have put the Washington Post back on the map with an audience that previously would most probably have ignored it. And that ignorance would undoubtedly have affected sales dramatically further down the line.

So, what lessons can you take from the newspaper’s TikTok triumph, and how can you apply them to your own brand… whether you make lipstick, leggings or something completely unrelated.


Undoubtedly, the biggest reason the Washington Post has been successful on TikTok is because they had Jorgenson as the face of the brand. I talk about the importance of brands having a personality all the time but, in the case of TikTok, having a literal sentient being as the focus helps massively. The majority of people on TikTok follow ‘creators’ not brands. And brands whose videos feature only what they make don’t typically cut through here.

The lesson? If your company is starting out on TikTok, make sure you give it a ‘face’. This doesn’t need to be a human. It could be a character or an animal… be creative! Whatever it is, you need to be able to bring the product to life and engage with what you’re talking about in relatable and authentic ways.

And that brings us to the second point which is that you do not need high production values. In fact, in some respects the more simple and ‘hand-held’ the quality of the video, the better. Jorgenson himself admitted in an interview with Fox 5 Washington DC that he had to walk a fine line between making something that spoke the language of TikTok but was also “polished enough for a newspaper.”

His main take-away? “It doesn’t have to be this incredibly well-shot and edited thing.” As he says, “That’s what’s so great about TikTok… its that it rewards authenticity.”

So, if you’re starting your own TikTok account, don’t stress over making your videos perfect straight-away. The important thing is to start and learn on the go. Watching other creators on TikTok is as important – if not more so – than posting your own content. And it’s certainly much more important on TikTok than it ever has been on the established social platforms. So be reactive to trends and news, experiment and then be guided by what works for your audience.

And that, handily, brings me to my third piece of advice, which is to understand who that audience is and speak their language. According to statistics company, Omnicore, as of March 2022, three quarters of TikTok’s global audience is between 18 and 34. And this group of Gen Z’s and young millennials LOVE the channel. The platform enjoys massive engagement rates. In fact, more Gen Z’ers now use TikTok every week than Instagram.

So, if your target customer is in that age group, TikTok is fast becoming the place where you need to be seen. But, in fact, I’d argue that even if they aren’t in that age group, TikTok should still be a platform that’s on your radar.

This is why I think what the Washington Post did was so extra-ordinary. Sure, their “40 year old” customer wasn’t on TikTok, but a huge group of potential brand ‘custodians’ was. And, having clarity over why the paper was on the platform in the first place and who they were aiming at, meant that the strategy worked.

And so we come to measurement. And this is key. When Jorgenson talks about the platform “rewarding authenticity”, what he’s referring to is the feed element I mentioned at the top. You see, TikTok doesn’t work like other social media channels. Most people scroll through the ‘For You’ feed, rather than the one that curates content from accounts they’ve chosen to follow.

What that means is that, unlike Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn, the channel is far better optimised for discovery. So, whereas brands have worked hard for years to build an audience of followers or subscribers on other social media channels, on TikTok that’s not necessarily a pre-requisite for success. The platform is much more effective at proactively sharing popular content with an audience who has not had to seek it out. In that respect it is the most ‘viral’ of all the modern social media channels and therefore the easiest to gain traction on.

So while measuring success is partly about tracking follows, more important are the number of tribal engagements – namely likes and comments – a post attracts; it’s these that influence whether or not a post is pushed forward by the algorithm.

In my episode on the 11 Metrics for Marketing Success, I went into more detail on ‘tribal engagements’ but, essentially, these are, any engagement with content which is not designed to take the audience member closer to a purchase (hence differentiating it from a ‘transactional engagement’ like a click).

Tribal engagements are a measure of advocacy. They are – arguably – the closest thing we marketers have to being able to measure how much people like what we’re doing. And how much people like what we are doing is important because, over time, all that positive sentiment encourages purchase intent and long-term business value.

Why did the Washington Post take up TikTok? Because they knew it would give them credibility with younger audiences (remember, awareness can be bought – advocacy must be earned). And these young people are the paper’s customers of the future.

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