TikTok Just Got Serious About Making Money from Online Video

‘You can kiss goodbye to the innocent TikTok of today’

Image: Chris Stokel-Walker

The unstoppable march of TikTok continues unabated. Last night Fabian Bern, an expert in influencer marketing on TikTok, spotted the rollout of a an in-app shopping test — another option for its creators to monetize their content, and a way for the upstart shortform video app that has taken social media by storm to attact even more creators to the platform.

The one thing that TikTok has lacked isn’t an audience, but an easy way for those on the app to make money through their videos. The company has recently introduced some adverts, while brands can still make deals with individual creators, though it has begun testing a raft of different options, including one uncovered this week.

It’s not surprising news for those who work with TikTok regularly. “It’s basically the next progression of the platform that was very content-led,” says Josh Shepherd of Influentially, a London-based TikTok management agency. “There have been significant increases over the past three months with brands coming to the platform, and this is all good news for the influencers themselves.”

Until the introduction of more formal tools to monetize content, TikTok creators have been left in a halfway house, having to broker sponsorship deals informally outside the platform. TikTok has helped creators do that in the last year, including rolling out a suite of more sophisticated analytics to allow its largest creators to demonstrate to brands who they would be advertising to.

“It’s a great step for influencers as they have new ways to monetize their reach and engagement,” explains Bern. “This also means that influencers directly will start competing with brands, where larger influencers might focus on building their own brand, instead of collaboration with other brands.”

TikTok did not respond to a request for comment from FFWD, but its U.S. arm did confirm to AdWeek that the test was ongoing for a select number of users.

But as we’ve previously covered, the transition for TikTok from a rampant hub of creativity to a hard-headed place for commerce is likely to prove difficult.

Outsiders are also worried about the advent of explicit monetization on the platform. “Childhood is already taken hostage by the tech industry. Children love TikTok, and it’s the children we should worry about if the rumors are true and TikTok rolls out ‘link in bio’ and ‘social commerce URLs’ as a way of competing with social media giants for ad dollars,” says Mie Oehlenschläger, a Danish lecturer in new media.

“But then, at least it will disclose the commercial nature of an app that has so far succeeded in creating a brand that just seem cute, funny, creative and as a place where people can let their guards down — while in reality being highly commercial, opaque and a major exponent for surveillance capitalism,” she adds. “ByteDance’s apps collects massive amounts of data — many of them on children. And we don’t have any idea what happens to that data.”

It will also signal a more fundamental shift on the platform, reckons Matthew Brennan, a Chinese tech expert who has tracked how the Chinese version of the app, Douyin, has integrated various commercial elements over the years, including a similar feature in the Chinese app which has been live since 2018.

“Once influencers and Amazon sellers sniff out there’s money to be made doing short video ecommerce, you can kiss goodbye to the innocent TikTok of today dominated by goofy weird vids done by teenagers in their spare time.”

Chris Stokel-Walker

Written by

UK-based freelancer for The Guardian, The Economist, BuzzFeed News, the BBC and more. Tell me your story, or get me to write for you: stokel@gmail.com

FFWD

FFWD

Getting you up to speed with the world of online video

Chris Stokel-Walker

Written by

UK-based freelancer for The Guardian, The Economist, BuzzFeed News, the BBC and more. Tell me your story, or get me to write for you: stokel@gmail.com

FFWD

FFWD

Getting you up to speed with the world of online video

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store