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How the 'Planet Money' TikTok account has become a breakout hit through careful scripting, engaging in the comments, and making a 24-year-old its star

Published by Business Insider on Sun, 22 Nov 2020


<p><img src="https://static5.businessinsider.com/image/5fb5859032f2170011f6fdf6-1018/t8.00_00_50_22.Still014.png" border="0" alt="Jack Corbett appears in a TikTok video for Planet Money." data-mce-source="TikTok video screenshot, courtesy of NPR." data-mce-caption="NPR production assistant Jack Corbett appears in a TikTok video for Planet Money."></p><p></p><bi-shortcode id="summary-shortcode" data-type="summary-shortcode" class="mceNonEditable" contenteditable="false">Summary List Placement</bi-shortcode><p>Jack Corbett doesn't dance on TikTok.</p><p>Instead, the 24-year-old NPR production assistant explains economics concepts to the app's predominantly Gen Z user base.</p><p>Corbett is the face of the "Planet Money" TikTok account, which has attracted 235,000 followers and millions of likes since the spin-off from the NPR podcast and radio show debuted on the platform in May.</p><p>"I'm really bad at dancing; that's what I'll say," Corbett told Business Insider. "Stylistically, I wasn't really looking to try and mimic anything that was on the platform."</p><p>"Planet Money" is one of a few "traditional" media brands that have successfully ported their content over to TikTok. The team's lo-fi content style (Corbett films at home using a bed sheet as a green screen), TikTok-friendly formats, and engagement with users in the app's comments section have helped the team build a fan base quickly.&nbsp;</p><p>"As a maker of audio journalism, I loved that there was a popular social-media app that was audio-on by default always," Alex Goldmark, the senior supervising producer at "Planet Money," said.</p><p>The first TikTok <a href="https://www.tiktok.com/@planetmoney/video/6827093247538646278">post</a> from "Planet Money," an explainer on how stock-market circuit breakers work, was originally slated for YouTube as part of the video team's "Planet Money Shorts" <a href="https://www.youtube.com/playlist'list=PLp-wXwmbv3z9XdaOhE_ylHMJrybGl2yzq">series</a>. But after seeing a draft of the post, the team decided its style would work well on TikTok.&nbsp;</p><p>Around that time, the "Planet Money" team also joined TikTok's <a href="https://newsroom.tiktok.com/en-us/investing-to-help-our-community-learn-on-tiktok">Creative Learning Fund</a>, a fund that pays creators, media publishers, and other institutions to post educational content on the app. Learning-focused content (a broad category that includes how-to videos) has become a focus area for TikTok. The company is <a href="https://techcrunch.com/2020/11/05/tiktok-tests-a-learn-tab-to-showcase-education-and-how-to-videos/">testing</a> a "learn" tab in some markets.&nbsp;</p><p>"Planet Money" was one of the first shows in the podcast space to test out TikTok. Other programs like "Freakonomics," "This American Life," and even NPR itself don't appear to have active accounts on the app.</p><p>"We scanned pretty hard looking for other economics explainers on TikTok, and there was like the World Economic Forum posting facts over slow pans of stock photos of cities," Goldmark said. "There was almost [nobody] doing something similar in our beat, and so it was a wide-open opportunity to just create a style."</p><h2>Playing with TikTok's short-video format, including 'looping' videos</h2><p>"Planet Money" uses reporting from its podcast to script its TikTok videos. But the team often edits scripts so that an explainer video will resonate better with TikTok's user base.</p><p>In one <a href="https://www.tiktok.com/@planetmoney/video/6854984846046022917">video</a>, the team explained the economic concept of "sunk cost" by comparing it to the experience of stumbling upon a less-than-satisfying video on TikTok's "For You" page and still watching it until the end. In another post, the team uploaded two TikTok videos back-to-back to illustrate <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2018/11/19/669395064/episode-877-the-laws-of-the-office">Goodhart's law</a>.</p><p>Unlike some TikTok creators who spin out videos in mere minutes, the video team at "Planet Money" doesn't rush its TikTok posts.</p><p>Corbett or another member of the video team will script a video, run it by "Planet Money" reporters for notes, film and edit the post, and then send it back to the original staff member who reported the story for approval before it goes live.</p><p>"Over time, everyone on the team is involved in making a TikTok every so often, depending on how often they do stories," Goldmark said. "It's a team effort, with Jack full time and then four people on the video team sort of offering help."</p><h2>Chatting with TikTokers about economics (and where Corbett buys his clothes) in the comments section</h2><p>As with <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/tiktok-media-strategy-music-employee-personality-production-trends-2020-4">other media brands</a> that have found success on TikTok, the "Planet Money" account is personality-driven. Corbett isn't the only host that appears on camera, but he's become the account's de facto mascot.</p><p>"I love this insomniac goth economist aesthetic," one commenter wrote beneath a video starring Corbett. Another TikTok user asked Corbett where he bought his clothes (the answer was thrift stores and hand-me-downs from his parents).</p><p>Like The Washington Post's TikTok <a href="https://www.tiktok.com/@washingtonpost'lang=en">account</a> run by Dave Jorgenson, "Planet Money" frequently engages with fans in the app's comments section, a strategy that stems from the fact that liking or responding to a user comment boosts its visibility in TikTok.</p><p>"Sometimes the comments are a callback to a joke in the video, and that's intentional because our style is meta," Goldmark said. "It's not just engagement to juice engagement. It's treating the comments as another platform, which they are."</p><h2>TikTok is an acquisition tool for new podcast listeners</h2><p>As TikTok continues to grow, some media brands have begun to explore whether it can be an effective tool for acquiring new customers. (The company said in a recent court filing that it had 100 million monthly active users in the US.)</p><p>The Washington Post offers a <a href="https://subscribe.washingtonpost.com/acq/'promo=tiktok_dave_may2020#/offers/promo/tiktok_dave_may2020">special subscription rate</a> to its TikTok fans. And "Planet Money" uses TikTok's comment section to link to podcast episodes using an NPR link shortener that lets the team track referral traffic.</p><p>"We were definitely aware that it would reach a different audience, and the overlap of who uses TikTok and even who uses Instagram is actually not super high," Goldmark said. "We're really excited that it seems to be working. My favorite comments are the ones where people said, 'I can't believe this is NPR; I'm going to go donate,' or, 'I'm going to go subscribe.'"</p><p>And there are some early signs that TikTok's Gen Z-skewing user base has an appetite for podcasts. Several of the app's most popular creators, including Charli D'Amelio, Josh Richards, and Addison Rae Easterling, have launched <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/inside-talentx-podcast-strategy-tiktok-group-sway-la-2020-10">chart-topping podcasts</a> in recent months.</p><p>"I welcome Charli to the joys of podcasting," Goldmark said. "I welcome all of the new celebrities who have discovered that podcasting is a beautiful way to tell stories."</p><p>"Tell Charli to do a duet with Jack," he added.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>For more stories on how media companies are engaging with TikTok, read these other Business Insider posts:</strong></p><ul><li><a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/whistle-brother-brand-tries-to-replicated-snapchat-success-on-tiktok-2020-7">Brother, a Snapchat-focused entertainment brand with 24 million fans, explains its TikTok growth strategy</a></li><li><a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/tiktok-media-strategy-music-employee-personality-production-trends-2020-4">The Infatuation shares how it's gotten attention on TikTok with music, employee personalities, and lo-fi production</a></li><li><a href="https://www.insider.com/the-washington-post-tiktok-account-has-a-surprisingly-popular-2019-6">The Washington Post's Dave Jorgenson on building the company's</a><a href="https://www.insider.com/the-washington-post-tiktok-account-has-a-surprisingly-popular-2019-6">&nbsp;popular TikTok account</a></li></ul><p><a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/planet-money-shares-strategy-for-podcast-radio-content-on-tiktok-2020-11#comments">Join the conversation about this story &#187;</a></p> <p>NOW WATCH: <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/what-its-like-travel-during-coronavirus-outbreak-planes-airports-virus-2020-3">Here's what it's like to travel during the coronavirus outbreak</a></p>
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