Le Monde newspaper has turned to TikTok: and it works!


Le Monde newspaper has turned to TikTok: and it works!

Le Monde newspaper has turned to TikTok: and it works!

Interview by Alexandra Klinnik – Published on 18 July 2020

"The news in a basic, simple form, and with music". Since 15 June 2020, Le Monde newspaper has been active on TikTok, the most downloaded application of 2019, with informative and fun videos. It's a channel that is being used to reach a new audience, Generation Z, who often don't know this venerable daily newspaper.

In just one month its account has received almost 30,000 subscribers. The team leading it consists of three journalists who also create content for the newspaper on Snapchat: Olivier Laffargue, head of the Snapchat & TikTok department at Le Monde, and Laetitia Béraud and Pierre Lecornu, video journalists for Le Monde on Discover. We caught up with Laetitia Béraud to take stock of things after the initial test month, when followers to the account have been able to watch short videos about Vladimir Putin, pollution in Paris, temperature rises, the municipal elections and even the plight of brown bears in France. A caveat, however: you won't find any journalists dancing in synchronised choreographies, nor any beauty tutorials or any zany, off-the-wall pranks: Le Monde remains Le Monde.

Why did Le Monde decide to launch this initiative on such a youth-focused new social media channel? After all, three-quarters of all TikTok users are aged 24 or under.

Laetitia Béraud: We had been thinking about it for a while now. At Le Monde, the strategy is to have a presence on all of the main social media platforms, to promote articles produced by our editorial team and to deliver verified news across all platforms: WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat etc. (Le Monde is one of Snapchat's historic partners). The ultimate trigger was the lockdown, as we saw TikTok become a roaring success beyond a young audience. Although the social media app is essentially aimed at young people, many other users have taken ownership of the platform too, publishing creative, original and light-hearted content.

At the same time, fake news has taken on new dimensions on social media during the lockdown. Our aim is to debunk this false information that is spreading so quickly, and to speak about it on social media, where the audience exposed to it can be found. We realised that TikTok was becoming extremely politicised regarding issues like the Black Lives Matter movement which, in just a few days, became a huge trend on the net, with 10.8 billion mentions. We said to ourselves: "Something major is happening here." The platform had gone beyond its original intentions: much like Snapchat previously, it was meant to be a fun network for young people to send funny material to each other. A huge community of people were now showing their hunger for news and educated debate. It's not because someone is young that they aren't interested in politics or the economy: the video featuring Jean Castex, the 24th prime minister of the Fifth French Republic, garnered a lot of interest (17,000 views). Le Monde can add its voice and offer reliable and verified news to a large audience.
«The goal is to present all of the main points in one minute»

Le Monde has been present on Snapchat since 2016, with a team of six journalists seeking to attract a younger audience. What is the difference between the content strategies that you employ on Snapchat and TikTok respectively?  

L.B.: First of all, we have the same goal with our activities on both platforms: to speak to a fairly young audience, with informative and easily accessible content. There is no need to speak about a topic exhaustively over ten minutes in order to understand it. The goal is to present all of the main points in one minute – on TikTok the time available is even shorter. At the end of viewing the content, the viewer needs to have understood the main ideas linked to the issue.

With regards to the differences, on Snapchat we stick more closely to the platform's "rules of engagement" so to speak, using motion design, special effects and editing. On TikTok, we favour more of a "do it yourself" approach: users often opt for practical content in the form of magic tricks and tutorials. We therefore distort the rules in the name of news, which we can do with pretty much any topic.

We also do a lot of data visualisation, with everyday objects. This is our editorial line, which was naturally adopted during the lockdown since everyone was stuck at home: and it was popular. More than the "challenges" content, we saw ourselves more in the tutorials and everyday tips content.      

And what are your sources of inspiration?

L.B.: Of course, we remain very aware of the content produced by our competitors. The best-known remains The Washington Post, which has succeeded in amassing 560,000 subscribers with a fun approach. Its goal is to manage a community and bring it to life, with lots of jokes and fun stuff and less news: it is very difficult to deliver the news via a social media platform which wasn't originally designed for that. We draw our inspiration more from user content than from institutional sources. Le Monde already has a lot of experience in the video content domain. This is useful when it comes to getting users "hooked" on subjects like deforestation or the nomination of a prime minister in under three seconds, within the context of people facing a constant stream of content.
From a personal point of view, I'm a big fan of the TikToker @detective_avec_larme: she tells very funny historical anecdotes by mixing them with lyrics from songs by modern-day music artists such as French rappers PNL and Booba. And she always seems to hit the nail on the head! She shows that it is possible to talk about a geopolitical conflict in a TikTok conversation. This type of informative approach is very effective in my opinion, but due to copyright issues it is still a bit complicated for Le Monde to adopt. This type of conversational approach has already been used in written form via Le Monde's Les Decodeurs ("The Codebreakers") section: they sum up debates in SMS conversations.

I also like the content created by @astroathens, who explains the principles of quantum physics using everyday objects.

After a month of testing what has the feedback been like?

L.B.: On Twitter, several journalists touched upon the fact that the majority of young people don't know who we are. As for young users themselves, a lot of them we asking via their comments who we were and why we had a certification. That made us smile! This spontaneous reaction reinforces our idea that we are not at all out of place. We want to be identified by our readers as a reliable news source. Our long-term strategy is to reach a young audience so they find out who we are and have an image of the Le Monde brand in their minds, so that later, when they have greater purchasing power, they will subscribe to us.

Overall, the feedback has been positive and we have received praise for our quick, concise, informative content. And our subscriber base continues to grow! All of our videos have received thousands of views and not one of them has been a flop. By way of comparison, for every seven or eight videos produced by our competitors (without naming names), six or seven are a failure, meaning they only get a few hundred or a few thousand views. Our videos generally receive in excess of 30,000 views, which shows that there is a general interest in them from users.   

It has to be noted that the overwhelming majority of our viewers watch our videos due to proposals made by the algorithm used on the "For me" page. They come across our videos by accident and have not initially gone out looking for them. This is the mystery of the algorithm which pushes the best performing videos.

With all of that said, it's no secret that the most successful videos are linked to pop culture and infotainment, like those produced by Konbini or Brut.

Over the past month, what have been your main constraints?

L.B.: Time: the enemy of the journalist. TikTok is all about videos that last a few seconds, one minute max. It's a major challenge to explain a concept in one minute. Otherwise, the application in itself is very funny and very easy to use. That's part of the fun of tests, getting to try out new things and adapting little by little to the platform.



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