The Washington Post’s TikTok account serves as a window into the newsroom, with comedic takes at the hard news its reporters cover, silly riffs from the internet or kids being interviewed about how much they would pay for a T-shirt printed with the face behind the account, Dave Jorgenson. (Answer: 1 cent).
Though the account is an editorial product, it’s served as an organic marketing tool for The Washington Post, all while being clear not to stray too far from stating what WaPo is and why they’re on the platform. “We are a newspaper,” it reads in its TikTok description.
“It creates a level of accessibility to the newsroom and the process of news gathering that is hard to capture in just reading a news story. Particularly for younger audiences, it breaks down some of the enigma behind reporting and some of what we do,” said Miki King, chief marketing officer. “Much like social media, it gives a window into the lives they’re interested in.”
But the publisher took the app a step further in growing its brand when it released a video five days ago featuring Jorgenson dressed as an elf with a promo code for new WaPo subscribers.
The URL—washingtonpost.com/dave—redirects to a site that will give new subscribers a steeply discounted digital-only package. It’s part of a site-wide holiday sale that will also redirect to that landing page, King said. The TikTok ad, as of today, has over 23,000 views, though the post doesn’t explicitly call it an ad.
“It’s another opportunity for us to continue to assert The Washington Post as a paid subscription product,” King said. “We recognize that younger audiences, particularly the TikTok audience, access news media on a variety of platforms. We want to be where those audiences are.”
The website lets new subscribers sign up at a steep discount.
The TikTok account, with a strategy led by Jorgenson, went live in May. Its videos took off over the summer, with some reaching 1.8 million views within 24 hours. While King said the latest TikTok post, in particular, isn’t expected to “get large numbers of direct response subscribers,” it’s a way to build the brand for potentially younger readers.
Publishers have created brand marketing campaigns as more turn to their readers to pay for their journalism, introducing membership models or paywalls as they continue to compete for ad dollars. This includes The Wall Street Journal, which released a widespread TV and OOH campaign to “read yourself better”; The New York Times, which showed how its reporting is done with its “The Truth Is Worth It” campaign; and The Atlantic, which created a mural to tout its new magazine design and focus. The Washington Post also put an ad in the Super Bowl last year to honor journalists who had died in their line of work.
While some Washington Post journalists appeared in the Super Bowl ad, King said that there might be additional future opportunities for the publisher to use journalists, particularly from lifestyle and commentary sections of the newspaper to tout subscription drives as they also build their brands and become their own forward-facing entities.
King’s team will keep track of the number of people and where they come from that sign up for subscriptions from the URL Jorgenson promoted in addition to other staffers who also shared URLs for the subscriptions. But that “is not something we’re communicating to the newsroom,” she said, later adding, “or in any way creates a metric for their performance.”