Niches, networks and the secrets of TikTok revealed

Useful reading on the future of publishing, the secrets of TikTok and the growth of online community during the pandemic.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Time, reach and the flight to niche

It's easy to slip into thinking of the arrival of the internet as a massive point of discontinuity that disrupted the journalism and publishing worlds.

And, to some extent, that's correct. But the impact has been a process not an event. And no single person, organisation or technology is solely to blame for the woes of the industry. Indeed, it seems likely that our continual quest for a culprit — a scapegoat — might well be a massive distraction from the twin goals of:

  1. Understanding what is happening
  2. Adapting to it

Why am I writing about this now?

Two pieces have crossed my radar in recent weeks which have stuck in my head, because they pushed this notions right to the front of my cerebellum once again.

Unbundling content  

The first was a good post from Om Malik reminding us all of the compex journey that led us to the current media crossroads. We do like to find companies to blame — Google and Facebook, mainly — but the underlying structural issues are just as important. And probably more so.

Napster’s long-arm & the unbundling of content
Especially as post-pandemic problems pile up, many media companies blame the Internet giants as the cause of all their troubles. Of course, almost nobody blames their own short-sightedness in ignor…

In my training and consulting work, I find that this unbundling — what I sometimes call atomisation — is one of the most under-appreciated factors in how people consume media.

Niche is nice

And if you want to understand the build-up to that situation, Ben Thompson heads back to the 19th century to explore the roots of the current media crisis in how the newspaper and magazine industries developed in the US.

Never-ending Niches
The Internet changed how media competes to focus and quality, but quality is defined by your niche.

His piece is a good reminder of the likely outcome of the current disruption: a small number of very large outlets doing mainstream news (this is the "winner takes all" part of the subscriptions analysis in the recent Reuters Institute Digital News Report) and a much more diverse group of small and micro publishers catering to niches.

An awful lot of businesses are going to die in the transition, though.

Self-organising networks on social media

One of the most interesting things, from a community management point of view, about the current pandemic is the way it has accelerated change that was already in progress. In particular, it's forced neighbourhoods to start self-orgnaising in a more useful way, as we've all been obliged to spend much more time at home.

There's lots of useful research in progress on this, but I'm interested in some of the preliminary findings of the dynamics that have emerged. For example:

"Groupsourcing" is a term derived from "outsourcing" that has been used to describe this phenomenon, where groups on social networks are created around user needs by the users themselves, rather than being coordinated centrally.

For niche publications, the question must be: how can I facilitate the condistions that allow those groups to self-organise?

Coronavirus has revealed the power of social networks in a crisis
The declaration of the novel coronavirus as a pandemic was a call to arms for governments to take urgent and immediate action. However, many feel the response from some countries was too little, too late.

TikTok secrets revealed!

The viral hit spills (some of) the beans on its mysterious algorithm. Health warnings:

  1. Companies never tell us everything - it makes it too easy to game it
  2. These algorithms never stay still
How TikTok recommends videos #ForYou
TikTok’s mission is to inspire creativity and bring joy. We’re building a global community where you can create and share authentically, discover the world, and connect with others. The For You feed i

The Lean Back Read: Culture and Journalism

This is a thought-provoking and elegantly-written piece on the challenges of doing journalism in unfamiliar cultures.

When culture and journalism meet, it should be storytelling par excellence — It often isn’t.
In closed humidity, amid summerish heat of 32 degrees, and a cornucopia of distant sounds, the sun finally turns its golden yellow and begins to surrender for the day. In its diminishing glow hidden…

Today's Listening: In a South Downs Way

In A South Downs Way by Damian Montagu
Album · 2016 · 17 Songs. Available with an Apple Music subscription. Try it free.
In A South Downs Way
In A South Downs Way, an album by Damian Montagu on Spotify

I can — just — see the Downs from my home office window, so this feels appropriate.

social & digital lunchbreaknicheTikTokcommunity management

Adam Tinworth Twitter

Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.