Vice News looks to Twitch, TikTok to develop audience trust and engagement

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Vice News is prioritizing its social media efforts on TikTok, Twitch and Instagram to build trust and grow its “core audience” of 18-to-35-year-olds, according to Katie Drummond, svp of global news and global editor-in-chief of Vice News.

Vice News started hosting livestreams on Twitch about a month ago. “We had a lot of people saying, ‘Twitch is a platform for video gaming, with a bunch of teenage boys. What are you doing?’ And I was like, ‘Teenage boys? Great!’ We want them to engage with the news that we make,” Drummond said Tuesday at the Digiday Publishing Summit in Key Biscayne, Fla.

Twitch, along with TikTok and Instagram, are “where we’re seeing traction, where we’re seeing growth, and where we’re interested in developing more of an audience,” Drummond said. 

Twitch may seem like an unusual choice for a news publisher, given that it’s a platform dedicated mostly to video gaming streamers. But other news organizations, like The Recount for instance, have been experimenting with livestreaming news shows on Twitch.

“The entire premise of Twitch is that there is that interactivity,” Drummond told DPS attendees. “We are really focused on developing a supportive, engaged, interested community in that [Twitch] chat who are interacting with our hosts and our moderators.”

Vice News is airing two-to-three-hour long livestreams on Twitch twice a week, according to Drummond. The streams often cut to Vice News’ on-the-ground correspondents around the world who interact with viewers. The publisher also has full-time moderators who oversee the chat feature on Twitch to monitor the quality of the conversation there. It’s their job to kick people out if they are posting spam or toxic comments, Drummond said.

So far, Vice News’ most successful Twitch stream had about 400,000 people tune in. Its most recent stream had about 110,000 viewers. 

“We’ve been cautioned by the platform that it is a slow burn kind of place. You don’t expect to just go from zero to a million subscribers overnight. It takes quite a while on Twitch to cultivate and develop that community,” Drummond said.

On TikTok, on the other hand, Vice News made the decision to not publish any user-generated content on the platform at the start of the war in Ukraine, given the difficult and time-consuming process of verifying those videos. Instead, dispatches came directly from journalists based in Kyiv and Moscow — part of Vice News’ strategy to hire journalists who have grown up or lived in different regions of the world to report on news happening there. “The points of view and the nuance and the expertise that it provides, for us, has been like a total game changer. I’m very glad we didn’t hire a bunch more people in L.A. and Brooklyn,” Drummond said during the summit.

About 240 million people watched that coverage on TikTok over a two-week period, Drummond said. She said to her, it was proof that Vice News’ on-the-ground reporting could reach viewers even while “misinformation was running rampant across the internet.”

“From that point on we started leaning into TikTok, as this is a deployment-first, a journalist-first place to put our news…What TikTok provides for us is a way for the audience to very directly, with immediacy and urgency, connect to a journalist who is experiencing the news that they’re covering. It is succinct, it is brief,” she said.

However, Vice has not found the same curiosity and engagement from its Instagram audience, Drummond added. She suggested this has led her to question the role Instagram will play in Vice News’ audience development strategy over the next year. Currently, Vice News uses the platform mostly to share breaking news. 

One challenge, though, is that TikTok and Twitch are not monetized platforms, so Vice isn’t making money from videos on those platforms — yet. 

“The last thing I want to do in my role — where I’m bringing people these tough stories on these new platforms and building that trust and having Twitch users get to know us — is say, ‘also sponsored by Colgate.’ Not yet. We’re not there yet. We really need to build that community and build that trust before we introduce that layer of monetization,” Drummond said.

But Vice will look at monetization opportunities on TikTok by the end of the year, and on Twitch in the next six to nine months, she said.

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