November 28, 2023

  • TikTokers say they aren’t getting paid high prices on brand deals because of the app’s limits.
  • Creators also believe that the fans they build on YouTube or Instagram are more important than TikTok.
  • As a result, many are investing in other platforms — despite TikTok being the trendsetter.

TikToker Jack Neel has over 8 million followers in practicebut these days he spends most of his time on YouTube, where he has only a fraction of that audience.

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

The problem, he told Insider, is as much a technological one as a business one. TikTok is primarily a discovery app, which means it promotes relevant videos to the top of users’ feeds — regardless of who the creator is. This has, in a way, democratized the creator landscape. But it has also made it difficult for creators to deepen the parasocial relationship with their fans over time.

Neel has also struggled to sign TikTok-branded content deals that last more than a few months, he said. Although many brands are moving their ad budgets to TikTok, the influencer marketing deals that creators have been able to secure are often less lucrative and short-lived.

“There’s definitely no world where I can post a TikTok where I’m an affiliate and that affiliate will generate revenue for more than three months,” Neel said. “With YouTube, these videos last for years.” He also earns much more from YouTube’s direct monetization programs than from TikTok’s Creator Fund.

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

This ultimately led many managers and agents to more aggressively diversify their TikToker clients’ businesses away from the app than they would with other platforms. While the most popular creators are trying to build a presence and revenue streams on various platforms, the effort to do so is more intense among TikTokers.

TikTok is “such a discovery platform that sometimes you don’t even see what a creator posts”

The TikTok logo appears on a pink background behind a 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 TikTok’s boost to their careers, but said they struggled to build long-term relationships with their most loyal viewers and sponsors.

One TikToker who had been posting since the days of in 2017 — who asked not to be named so he could speak freely about the platform, but whose identity is known to Insider — said maintaining his career on the app it was a daunting prospect. They had to change their content strategy to emulate the thriving fan-creator relationships they had seen on other platforms.

“I started rethinking how I 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 super consistent approach and sometimes not as deep a relationship or a daily relationship with followers?”

One thing they are experimenting with is sharing more about their personal lives – something they might not have chosen to do if not for these barriers.

A key issue may be how the application interface is designed. Unlike YouTube, where the home page immediately directs you to new content posted by your subscribers, TikTok’s home page is an infinite scroll of AI-suggested videos. If you, the user, want to find what your favorite creators are posting, you generally have to search for it.

“It’s such a discovery platform that sometimes you don’t even see what a creator puts out — you might see it days later. A lot of talent is put off by that,” said Alexandra Devlin, brand agent for music and entertainment agency WME. Represents top acts like Addison Rae, Chase Hudson and Tinx.

Many creators and brands treat TikTok followers as less valuable

A graphic showing an influencer increasing her followers and comments.

Micro-influencers grow their account and reach it by working with agencies.

Shayanne Gal/Insider

Creators are starting to perceive their followers differently on each platform.

A second creator, who also asked to remain anonymous, said she believed building a relationship with a fan on YouTube was much more meaningful and could more easily translate into sales and brand promotions, compared to TikTok.

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

Neil has begun testing such theories. A short-form video he posted on YouTube nine months ago continued to rack up views and affiliate sales — something he said he would never have experienced on TikTok.

Neel and other industry insiders said brand deals for YouTube will generally have a longer queue than TikTok.

“When you buy a YouTube video as an advertiser, you’re buying a five- to 10-year ad campaign,” he said. “The affiliate link is at the top of the description and sales to your products will come for years to come. On TikTok, bigger brands are pouring money into creating viral moments.”

“Brands still struggle to justify the fees they charge talent on TikTok,” Devlin said. “Whereas on Instagram there are proven sales and engagement.”

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

Eamon Brennan, the VP of creator partnerships at Collab, told Insider that his TikTok customers are often disappointed because of this.

“There’s something like that that hasn’t been said because there’s so much [TikTokers] that they should be cheaper,” he told Insider. “As a result, it’s kind of forced a race to the bottom. Many up-and-coming brands are low-key creators. These creators are going to jump at these deals and it’s bringing the whole industry down.”

He showed one of his clients on TikTok, Kevin Parry, a stop-motion animator with over 2 million followers, for example. Parry has received offers for TikTok campaigns that are 1/60th of what he would be paid for a YouTube campaign.

Other strategists and agents said they see these lower bids affecting mostly mid-tier and new TikTok talent, rather than big stars who are household names.

TikTok’s 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 partnerships and TikTok at media company Studio 71, said she believed many of the pricing issues were due to TikTok’s new status.

“Much like the early days of YouTube, brands are struggling to figure out what the standard price should be for a creator on the platform,” said LeMunyon. “The TikTok algorithm can be less predictable, which is different than a podcast or YouTube, which tends to have a relatively stable audience and therefore easier pricing.”

Creators and agents also said they hope TikTok will build better tools and algorithms to match talent and strengthen relationships with their niche audiences.

“Algorithms come from technology groups, which are far removed from talent,” Devlin said. “TikTok should improve their tech teams and have them talk to their creative and talent teams to get their feedback and implement it.”

Neel said he believed that having more TikTok videos could deepen the bond between creator and fans.

And increasing or stabilizing compensation could prevent TikTokers from overinvesting on other platforms.

“Never [TikTok] established their Creators Fund, it was a good step forward, but it remains on the weaker side of monetizing the platform,” Brennan said. “I think regulating and expanding the actual monetization system of the platform itself would help everyone.

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

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