Screenshot from comments on The Markup's TikTok account

How to engage impactfully in the comment section

The Markup dives into comments on TikTok to build brand awareness

Skye Lucas is a 2024 RJI Student Innovation Fellow partnered with The Markup. The RJI Student Fellows will be sharing their innovative work throughout the summer in Innovation in Focus.

The Markup’s presence on TikTok is small. The Markup has 104 followers and 10 TikToks total on the social media platform. For this less-resourced nonprofit newsroom and others like it, there is less flexibility to invest the time, energy and people required to create high quality production TikToks.

Still, the app is a go-to for other reasons. Previously, our reporters have relied on the platform to drive investigations and acquire sources in the comments section. 

Following her story on the repercussions of web-filtering software in schools onto students, reporter Tara García Mathewson discovered the unnecessary hurdles many teachers face from the same internet filters in the comments section of a teacher influencer’s TikTok. From the TikTok’s nearly 300 comments, she contacted several users and eventually wrote a follow up on how “Online Censorship in School Leaves Teachers in the Lurch.”

“TikTok is another way to find people affected by an issue… And it’s very much a way to meet people where they are consuming information and get our content in front of them,” said Mathewson.

Beyond sourcing, we wanted to explore if we could leverage the platform to broaden its reach without needing to create high quality production TikToks. We ran a small experiment aimed at highlighting its impact-driven reporting by engaging with users in the comments section. 

Identifying stories and topics

To promote The Markup and its stories in the comment section we first selected three articles to determine which TikToks the newsroom would comment on. These articles were either published within the last three months and/or we imagined they could easily connect the newsroom with new users based on the topics. 

For example, The Markup published a story informing readers on how to protect their privacy while protesting. Given all the recent student protests across U.S. colleges and universities, the story’s relevance made it a compelling subject for identifying a recently published TikTok and engaging with users in the comments. We also selected an article on how to discern Deep Fakes and an investigative report concerning the inadequate safety practices of gig service nursing apps like Clipboard and ShiftKey. 

Screenshot from TikTok phone privacy settings

Selecting which TikToks to comment on

According to TikTok, recommendations on the For You page may be up to roughly three months old. However, videos usually peak in virality soon after they are posted. 

So, we chose TikToks less than a month old using date filters on the app and opted for TikToks created within the past week and month. Besides the videos’ relevancy, we also entered key terms and phrases into the search bar for matching hashtags. 

So for “How Do I Prepare My Phone for a Protest?” terms like “encrypted communications,” “phone privacy settings,” “surveillance tactics,” and “law enforcement” were used. Similarly with the nursing story, “What Happens When Nurses Are Hired Like Ubers,” terms like “Clipboard” and “ShiftKey” as well as “gig work” and “nursing algorithms” were used.  

From the search results, we then selected videos with at least a few comments because the newsroom’s account was more likely to be spotted by other users in a engaged comment section. Because our focus was the comment section, we did not use parameters such as likes and view count. 

Third-party cookies

We also wanted a variety of comment sections: one TikTok only had about 300 comments, while another received more than 1200. This allowed the newsroom to both comment within subthreads and start a new comment.

Joining the conversation

When entering an online conversation, we wanted to strike a balance of playing an informative role while being authentic, without forced self-promotion. 

After looking closely at the TikTok, we drafted a comment tailored to each video’s existing comments. For example, when users expressed frustration or concern, we sympathized with that sentiment. The newsroom also posed questions or made recommendations drawn from our own reporting when entering the conversation.  

Additionally, the makeup of the comment section determined how The Markup joined the conversation. In a TikTok with hundreds of comments, there were opportunities to join a subthread rather than comment under the video. Since the algorithm holds popular subthreads at the top of the comments section, The Markup’s account was more likely to gain exposure by commenting on a popular thread than being one out of hundreds of comments listed below. Conversely, a TikTok with only a handful of comments warranted a singular comment. 

Screenshot of TikTok comments

Metrics of success 

We ultimately commented on seven separate videos. From that, the newsroom received two replies which is nearly a 28% reply rate. 

This return indicates that commenting in the future will yield more engagement between users and the newsroom. It is also important to bear in mind that traffic from social media platforms to newsroom webpages is minimal so not to plan on this being a referral source. 

What’s next

This strategy was less about driving clicks and more about sharing information from the newsroom within the app. To have greater reach than in this experiment, we’ve learned that we will benefit from commenting on TikToks as soon as videos are posted and as they get their initial push into the platform’s “For You Page” algorithm. This is because comments early on will have greater visibility and engagement as other users view the video. 

For our next go, we plan to follow and interact with creators whose content relates to the newsroom’s focus: technology and accountability. That way, reporters wanting to share information can simply log in to the organization’s account, find videos that resonate with their story, and engage through the “For You Page”. 

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Cite this article

Lucas, Skye (2024, June 25). How to engage impactfully in the comment section. Reynolds Journalism Institute. Retrieved from:

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