The Economist is reaching new audiences on TikTok

By Liv Moloney

The Economist

London, United Kingdom


You might wonder what a 180-year-old can teach users of the world’s most downloaded app. Plenty, it turns out.

TikTok is not merely for teenagers. About 75% of its users in Britain are aged 18 to 44, and about 60% are female. The overwhelming majority consume it as a single-screen activity: they are glued to the app for an average of around an hour per day.

The Economist launched on TikTok in July 2022. We sought to replicate the success we had enjoyed on Instagram: There, we had built an audience of 6 million followers, two-thirds of whom were between 18 and 34, and had established the platform as an important source of traffic and subscriptions.

TikTok allowed us to deliver our journalism to new and younger audiences in a format they were familiar with and comfortable with — and attract our next generation of subscribers in the process.

The war in Ukraine had cemented the app as a destination for news and current affairs, however, explaining Vladimir Putin’s invasion was only one of our intentions in a year when the economic downturn, cost-of-living concerns, and numerous political crises were dominating online conversations.

“Edutainment” was our goal — to distil our rigorous, fair-minded analyses into short videos that allowed users to quickly master the basics and left them with quotable insights. We would not compromise our brand: no dumbing down, no dancing, and no cliches. We would focus on stories rather than individuals, mirroring the byline-free approach of our journalism while allowing our personality — witty and erudite, fair and respectful — to shine.

The Economist uses data, graphics, and visualisations to bring stories to life on TikTok. This video on sleep is one of its most-viewed on the platform to date.
The Economist uses data, graphics, and visualisations to bring stories to life on TikTok. This video on sleep is one of its most-viewed on the platform to date.

This was a true cross-business initiative. The editorial strategy was devised and implemented by the social-media specialists within The Economist’s newsroom. (Jamie MacWhirter, our social-video producer, deserves particular credit for his work on the account.)

Our marketing team then created campaigns and paid-for activity to significantly increase the account’s reach and generate subscriptions for (and referrals back to) our owned products.

During our first six months on TikTok, we posted 50 videos, which generated a total of 26 million views. This propelled us into the top 10 for average views among news publishers on the platform, according to a Reuters Institute study from December 2022.

This was despite a lower frequency of posting and fewer followers than many of our competitors. An approach of “quality over quantity” was working for us. Collectively these videos gained 1 million likes, while the account as a whole has 220,000 followers.

Our analysis of the war in Ukraine shaped some of our most-watched posts — notably the film “Does the tank have a future,” a deep dive into the technical specifications of these vehicles. It gained 1 million views.

Other successful videos demonstrate the breadth of our journalism. How did chickens get so big, a data-driven overview of the changing food and farming industries, delivered 6.6 million views; the science-backed What happens when we sleep had 3.5 million; Why are women still paid less than men, again heavily featuring our data visualisations, picked up 1.3 million views.

We have also fulfilled our objective to reach different, younger audiences and encourage them to use our owned products. Content promotion and direct-response marketing activity resulted in more than 100,000 new visitors to, an estimated 60% of whom were below the age of 35. They are also subscribing to The Economist.

We are using analytics to devise “strands,” into which we will group themes that we know are resonating with our TikTok audiences. By focusing primarily on producing videos that fall under these headings — for instance, the secret economics of X, the origins of languages, and profiles of newsworthy individuals — we will further hone our output in the year ahead.

About Liv Moloney

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