Reinventing Local TV News

Learning from TikTok: Lessons for TV News in How #BookTok Broke Big on Social Media

Growing up, Kayla Agnoli’s head was always buried in a book. She spent hours immersed in different worlds, captivated by different storylines. While her time was spent transporting herself through literature, her classmates couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t just watch TV. 

Joining TikTok gave her a community of over 6,000 followers and 627.4k likes, where being a bookworm, for the first time, was the status quo. 

While traditional news media has declined in popularity and viewership in recent years, social media has boomed.  A decline does not necessarily mean Americans aren’t watching, reading, or wanting the news, but they also aren’t seeking out traditional forms to do so. Half of adults choose Facebook to stay informed, regardless of potential misinformation.

TikTok, with over 1 billion monthly users, continues to climb in popularity. Many attribute its success to the engaging combination of short-form content, a continuous influx of new videos and a finely-tuned personalized algorithm, all of which contribute to an enjoyable user experience. This focus on personalization has given rise to distinct communities within the platform, with #BookTok emerging as a notable enclave drawing viewers. 

TikToks under “BookTok” search and #BookTok

Agnoli (@kay1aareads) offers a unique perspective on navigating the changing landscape of media consumption, in her blog, “How Social Media Has Changed the Way We Read.” More importantly, she discusses how social media can revive sales of traditional media forms, like literature. 

Agnoli writes how a decade ago, bookstores and publishers were afraid that their jobs would become redundant when the first digital reading devices, such as the Kindle, entered the market. However, just one year after the rise of #BookTok during the pandemic, 2021 book sales rose 8.9%. Books didn’t reinvent themselves, instead, their audience found a new way to connect and drove up sales. 

TikTok is slowly growing as a medium that individuals turn to for news, with the number using the platform for news more than quadrupling from 3% to 14% between 2020 and 2023.

To explore how news outlets could cultivate a dedicated following akin to #BookTok, which amassed a staggering 231.7 billion views since 2020, Storybench sat down with Agnoli to talk about the revitalization of books through social media and what lessons TV news could glean for enhancing its own social media strategies.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

In your opinion, how has social media contributed to the resurgence of interest in literature, particularly through platforms like #BookTok?

One of the big things that got me into reading when I was younger was YouTube specifically, people talking about books on YouTube which came from the surge of people reading young adult dystopian [novels] after movie adaptations came out like “The Hunger Games.” I joined early on with the social media aspect of people starting to read again. Over the years it has transferred from platform to platform. With TikTok no matter what you post, you can reach a huge audience. The short-form content is really helpful with getting people interested fast and then they’re influenced by that to buy the books that they see on their feed. People linking their books on TikTok Shop now is a big thing, and that also makes people buy – the fact that you can buy on the platform that you see the books that you want is really pushing people to read more. 

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What specific lessons do you think local TV news can draw from the success and dynamics of #BookTok in terms of audience engagement and community building?

I think the biggest push that these companies need to take is to have younger people involved in their social media because they’re in touch with what’s going viral and know what’s funny. If you want to get that younger audience onto your social media pages and engage with the news, you have to have a younger person at the forefront. 

From your observations, what innovative storytelling techniques have you seen in the realms of social media and books, and how might these apply to local TV news reporting?

If we’re talking books specifically, I’ve seen TikToks where somebody will say, “I have a storytime for you” and then tell a story that ends up being a plot of a book. You’re interested at the end of what seems like such a crazy story that you want to read the book. 

Overall, being able to emulate formats would be helpful in expanding the reach and engaging the audience earlier because they’re already familiar with that format. I mean, TikTok’s very accessible, because the trends are often based on an audio already. If they could get the audience somewhat emotionally attached to the people on their screens, then it would help them [create engagement] in their content overall.

Can you elaborate a little more about your own experience in building an audience online? How did you find what resonates with people?

I found that it didn’t really matter what books I talked about, it would find the audience that also enjoyed those books or people who wanted to get book recommendations would sometimes comment on my page [asking for recommendations]  and then I’d be easily able to reply to those. For the connection part, there were a couple of consistent watchers and commenters. Just by engaging with their comments, they kept coming back which helped grow the audience more… Books have connected us, especially for people like me who didn’t really have anybody who liked books growing up. It’s so nice to finally see a community that is [bringing together] people for reading. I now feel like a cool kid on social media because I read.

Recognizing that it’s not as straightforward as newsrooms merely creating TikTok accounts and reposting stories, what tips can you offer for news outlets seeking to prioritize effective engagement on platforms like TikTok?

I think they definitely need to reconstruct the prepackaged news story. It’s not going to keep the viewers on the screen because the serious tone is very much not the tone of social media. So for some tips: first of all, vertical video. If you don’t want your social media to be crowded with trends or trying to be topical and relatable, then the number one tip is to connect with people in real life in your videos because telling an interesting story is more than just repeating it to the screen. For example, Matt Shearer, a news reporter in the Boston area, talks to people in the community and sometimes gets in their cars and drives around with them.  It’s just about creating that human interaction on screen.

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WBZ TikTok is a great example of how Local TV News can utilize the platform to curate an engaged community. (Check out Storybench’s interview with Matt Shearer here: From Radio To TikTok: How Matt Shearer Has Transformed WBZ’s coverage).

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