Why TikTokers struggle to make money and connect with followers

Why TikTokers struggle to make money and connect with followers

  • TikTokers say they don’t get high rates on brand deals due to app limits.
  • Creators also believe that the fans they build on YouTube or Instagram are more visible than on TikTok.
  • As a result, many are investing in other platforms – even though TikTok is the leader.

TikToker Jack Neel has more than 8 million followers on the app, but these days he devotes most of his time to YouTube, having only a tiny fraction of that audience.

why? Although Neel is more popular and visible on TikTok, he has struggled to build a sustainable community and career on the app.

He told Insider that the problem is technology and business. TikTok is primarily a discovery app, which means it pushes relevant videos to the top of people’s feeds – no matter who the creator is. This has, to some extent, democratized the creative scene. But it also made it difficult for creators to deepen their social relationship with their fans over time.

Neel has also struggled to sign branded content deals on TikTok that last for more than a few months, he said. Although many brands funnel their advertising budgets to TikTok, the influencer marketing deals that creators manage to strike often tend to be less profitable and have a shorter lifespan.

“There is definitely no world where I can publish TikTok where I am an affiliate, and that affiliate will generate revenue for more than three months,” Neil said. “With YouTube, these videos last for years.” It also makes much more money from YouTube direct monetization programs than TikTok’s Creator Fund.

Talent agents and social media strategists who spoke with Insider noted similar discrepancies. TikTok campaigns usually only last for a short time, because old TikTok videos usually don’t generate views and revenue, they said. Many brands pay TikTokers a fraction of what they pay for similar content posted on Instagram or YouTube.

This has eventually led to many managers and agents diversifying their TikToker client businesses further away from the app than they do with other platforms. While most of the famous creators try to create presence and revenue streams on different platforms, the drive to do so is more intense among TikTokers.

TikTok is a “discovery platform that sometimes doesn’t see what the creator is posting”

The TikTok logo appears with a pink background behind the silhouette of a person holding a phone.

tik tok

Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.


Several creators told Insider they were grateful for their careers boosted by TikTok, but said they struggled to build long-term relationships with their most loyal viewers and sponsors.

One TikToker who’s been posting since his Musical.ly days in 2017 — who asked not to be named so he could speak freely about the platform, but whose identity is known to Insider — said keeping their careers on the app was a daunting prospect. They had to change their content strategy to mimic the burgeoning relationships between fans and creators they saw on other platforms.

“I’m starting to rethink how to approach it as a business,” they said of TikTok. “I started thinking: How do I balance this difficult challenge of not being able to necessarily have a very consistent reach and sometimes not as a deep or day-to-day relationship with followers?”

One of the things they experience is sharing more about their personal lives – something they would not have chosen to do were it not for these obstacles.

The main problem may be how to design the interface of the application. Unlike YouTube, where the homepage instantly directs you to new content posted by the people you subscribe to, TikTok’s homepage is an endless scroll of AI suggested videos. If you, the user, want to find what your favorite content creators are posting, you generally have to look for it.

said Alexandra Devlin, a brand agent for music and entertainment agency WME. It represents top business like Addison Rae, Chase Hudson and Tinx.

Many creators and brands treat TikTok followers as less valuable

A graph showing an influencer who increases the number of her followers and interacts with comments.

Micro influencers grow and reach their accounts by partnering with agencies.

Cheyenne Gal / Inside


Content creators are starting to perceive followers differently on each platform.

Another creator, who also asked not to be identified, said she believed building a relationship with a YouTube fan was more meaningful, and easily converted into sales and branding deals, compared to TikTok.

“One follower or one subscriber on each platform are not the same,” said the second creator. “I think one YouTube subscriber is really equivalent in terms of real impact and influence, like 10 followers on Instagram and 100 followers on TikTok.”

Neil began testing such theories. A short video he posted to YouTube nine months ago continued to drive views and affiliate link sales — something he said he wouldn’t have experienced on TikTok.

Neil and other industry insiders said YouTube brand deals will generally have a longer tail than TikTok.

“When you buy a YouTube video as an advertiser, you buy an ad campaign of five to ten years,” he said. “The affiliate link is at the top of the description, and your product sales will be coming for years to come. On TikTok, major brands are throwing money to create viral moments.”

“Brands are still finding it more difficult to justify the fees that talent charges on TikTok,” Devlin said. “While on Instagram there are proven sales and engagement.”

This may be one of the reasons companies usually pay less for TikTok campaigns. Another might be the new TikTokers spree that is gathering followers. Social Blade, a social media data company, recently told The Information that more than 39,000 accounts on TikTok had at least 1 million followers — thousands more than YouTube and Instagram, despite the platform’s relative childhood.

Eamonn Brennan, vice president of creator partnerships at Collab, told Insider that TikTok customers often get plaudits because of this.

“There is a kind of this unspoken thing because there are so many [TikTokers] He told Insider, “They have to be cheaper. As a result, they’ve been forced to rock bottom. A lot of up-and-coming brands are inferior content creators. Those creators will enthusiastically accept those deals, and it will further deteriorate the entire industry.”

He cited one of his TikTok clients, Kevin Barry, a discontinued animator with more than two million followers, as an example. Barry received bids for TikTok campaigns equal to 1/60 of what he would receive for a YouTube campaign.

Strategists and other agents said they see these low performances as primarily affecting mid-level and new TikTok talent, rather than big stars who are household names.

TikTok algorithm makes monetization difficult, but some have high hopes

Some in the industry were optimistic that the TikTok content market would improve as it matured.

Kelsey LeMunyon, director of talent and TikTok partnerships at media company Studio 71, said she believes many of the pricing issues are due to the status of TikTok’s newcomer.

“Like the early days of YouTube, brands are having a hard time finding the standard price a content creator should have on the platform,” said LeMunyon. “TikTok’s algorithm can be less predictable, which is different from podcasts or on YouTube, which tend to have a relatively stable audience and therefore easier pricing.”

The creators and agents also said they hope TikTok will build better tools and algorithms to compensate for talent, and strengthen relationships with their niche audiences.

“The algorithms come from the tech teams, who are really far from talented,” Devlin said. “TikTok should focus on their tech teams and have them talk to their creative and talented teams to get their feedback and get it implemented.”

Neil said he believes that having more long TikTok videos can deepen the bond between the creator and the fans.

Increasing or stabilizing the compensation could prevent TikTokers from investing heavily in other platforms.

“When [TikTok] Creating their own Creator Fund, it’s been a good step forward, but it’s still on the weaker side of monetizing the platform, Brennan said. “I think organizing and expanding the monetization system for the same platform will help everyone.”

“All of the things that make TikTok great make it more difficult as a full-time income stream,” he added.

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