How can TikTok users make money on the app? The answer isn’t so simple

Like YouTube, Instagram and Vine before it, TikTok has become a place where previously unknown glory hounds can make a name for themselves. With the right mix of content strategy, posting cadence and luck, virtually anyone can amass a large, devout following on the platform.

Becoming “TikTok famous,” though, is only one part of the equation. Having a large audience is important, but if you don’t know what to do with that audience or how to capitalize on it, it’s literally worthless — at least monetarily.

Back in July, TikTok announced a new initiative: a so-called Creator Fund. It’s pretty much what it sounds like: The app pledged $200 million (and later, $1 billion over the course of 3 years) to be distributed among U.S.-based creators on the platform who meet certain requirements. In September, a separate $70 million Creator Fund was launched in the U.K., Germany, Italy, France and Spain.

For TikTok creators looking to turn their burgeoning accounts into a full-time job, the Creator Fund sounded like a dream come true. In actuality, many users have found themselves disappointed by the payouts from the TikTok Creator Fund, as the CPM (amount of money paid per every 1,000 views) is meager.

According to Robert Benjamin, a social media consultant who’s helped creators like 13 Going on 30’s Christa Allen and artist Devon Rodriguez amass huge followings, TikTok users receive an average CPM of just 2 to 3 cents. (Using this CPM, a video with 2 million views would only bring in $40.) And, after working with thousands of TikTokers and examining their analytics reports, Benjamin has some insight into why people’s CPMs are often so low.

“TikTok is paying out an incredibly low CPM for people that are reaching an audience under 18 years old,” Benjamin explained. That’s not all: According to the social media expert, TikTok pays “almost no money” when a person’s audience is largely outside of the United States. The app’s Creator Fund also does not pay for duets and stitches on the app.

TikTok has been far from transparent about how the Creator Fund works, but it has admitted that things like audience demographics do come into play when CPM is being determined. Speaking to Wired, Amelia Lukiman, a spokesperson for the company, noted that “calculated funds are … dynamic and based on several factors, as a portion of the total Creator Fund.” In the company’s “Privacy Policy for Younger Users,” it also explicitly states that it only uses the information of users under 18 “to provide and support our services,” which might explain why this demographic is deemed less valuable in terms of the Creator Fund.

This isn’t the only problem TikTokers have run into with the Creator Fund. Many users enrolled in the fund have taken to social media to complain about how their video views and engagement dropped off as soon as they signed up to participate.

“Once I noticed that the videos that I was making began to get lower views than what they used to get, it kind of discouraged me just a little bit,” Quincy Moreland, a TikToker with more than 330,000 followers, explained to In The Know. “The rush to make videos as I was before the Creator Fund started was just not there anymore.”

According to Moreland, a video on his page that would get up to 30,000 likes before the Creator Fund now only gets 300 likes. Though he’s grateful for the opportunity to even make money on TikTok through the fund, he added that his diminishing views and likes have been “kind of discouraging,” and he posts far less frequently as a result.

When asked about the decreasing video views by Wired, Lukiman said that any changes in viewership or engagement are “purely coincidental.” Surprisingly enough, Benjamin agreed with Lukiman, noting that an overwhelming majority of his clients involved in the Creator Fund have not experienced a drop in views since joining.

“That has absolutely not happened,” Benjamin said. “The real explanation is, like, well, if you’re a big creator now, you’re gonna post more.” Naturally, he explained, posting more frequently is going to lead to fewer views on each video, and that’s just to be expected.

This doesn’t mean that Benjamin encourages his clients to rely on the TikTok Creator Fund as a primary source of income. He isn’t even the fund’s biggest supporter: On the contrary, he actually has his own Creator Fund of sorts that, for a one-time $50 fee, users can sign up to be a part of.

Benjamin’s program works a little bit differently than TikTok’s. Every day, registered users receive an email with paid post opportunities, all of which are either from music companies or people who want their posts duetted. On average, he says that the fund has a CPM of $1, though there are caps for each opportunity.

When it comes to his clients, though, Benjamin’s goal isn’t scoring them as many paid opportunities on TikTok as possible. For this social media strategist, the real end game is converting TikTok followers into YouTube followers, where the real money is made.

So what exactly makes YouTube so much more lucrative? For starters, Benjamin said that the average CPM on the platform for all content creators is $4.16, which is “way, way higher” than TikTok’s. YouTube videos obviously require more planning, editing and careful execution, but the payout is significantly higher.

There’s also the matter of content length. “If somebody watches a 10-minute video of you … they’re gonna be way more prone to buy something, spending that exact 10 minutes consuming your content on YouTube,” Benjamin explained. In his own experience, he typically finds that people buy something from his website after watching just “two and a half” of his YouTube videos.

Moreland has had a similar experience with YouTube. Though he still uses TikTok, he noted that he makes “way more” via his YouTube channel, even though it has significantly fewer subscribers.

For those who are still in the early stages of growing their TikTok following, Benjamin suggests consistently taking advantage of the Live feature to both attract followers and make money.

“It is totally feasible for anybody with over 20,000 followers to [go live every day],” he said. “What you need to do, you need to go live on a consistent basis, you need to get a feel for the people that join in and what they’re gonna be interested in, and then you need to gamify your live so that it’s based off of them donating.”

What Benjamin means is this: During your Live sessions, integrate the donations into your content so your followers feel like they’re contributing to your content. Some of his clients have set up “donation walls” where they write down the names of everyone who donates; others do dares for donations.

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Of course, users with blue check marks and followings in the millions can also monetize their accounts by working with big brands, as stars like Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae have already done. TikTok even recently launched its own Creator Marketplace, where select users can pair up with brands to collaborate on sponsored content.

For smaller creators, websites like TinySponsor, TimeBucks and PlaylistPush offer similar paid opportunities, albeit on a much smaller scale. Benjamin’s only tip? Stay true to your brand when you make sponsored posts and advertise products via affiliate links, because people aren’t going to buy the latest gaming console from a beauty blogger.

Like Vine, TikTok could disappear in the blink of an eye, so whatever you do, make sure that you’re building followings on multiple social media platforms. At the end of the day, the best influencers — David Dobrik, James Charles, etc. — transcend the specificity of apps and turn themselves into a brand.

If you enjoyed this story, find out how the mysterious TikTok “For You” page works.

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