Earning Money on TikTok
The video sharing TikTok app has made enormous strides in popularity since its release for Android and iOS in 2017. In their own words, “Tok is the world’s leading destination for short-form mobile videos.” The idea behind TikTok is for people to be able to quickly and easily create short videos using their smartphones, enabling everyone to be a media creator. As of July 2019, there are more than 500 million active monthly users of the app, making it a leading contender in the video creation world.
In this article, I will discuss the basic ways in which one can make money on TikTok. Please note that there is no “magical formula” or get-rich-quick scheme; there isn’t a secret technique that lets you post a TikTok video every day and in a month retire to your Tuscan villa to ride around on speedboats in the Mediterranean. If there was, I’d be using it, not telling you about it. Rather, I’m going to talk about the basics and give you some suggestions for how to think about monetization of the platform, so that you can decide how to proceed. Making money on TikTok is like making money anywhere else – it requires work, creativity, some luck, and – most critically – on creating value so that other people want to be part of what you’re doing. If you don’t create value, you don’t make money.
1. BE AN “INFLUENCER”
Being an “Influencer” online is actually a legitimate approach to monetizing your online presence, although the term “Influencer” has gotten a lot of bad connotations in recent months. Mainly this is because sometimes it seems like every halfway-attractive young man or young woman decides that they want to be an “Influencer”, buys 50,000 fake followers on Instagram, and then tries to con the makers of actual goods and services into handing them over in exchange for reviews and exposure. Unless you are Kim Kardashian, however, it is really difficult to become influential and famous simply by virtue of asserting your influence and fame.
True influencers are people who have actual organic followings of actual human people who actually value and respect the “influencer” when they talk about their area of expertise. There are a lot of true influencers in the world, on scales large and small. The friend you have whose musical taste you trust implicitly – that person is an influencer, whether they have three other “fans” like you or three million. Food critics for major newspapers (or even minor ones) are usually influencers, as are movie critics. On the larger scale, Martha Stewart was once a hugely powerful influencer, and she still has a great deal of clout. Oprah Winfrey was probably the most far-reaching influencer; a mere mention of a book on her show was enough to turn it into a #1 bestseller and the author into a media figure in their own right. Today the trend seems to be towards smaller influencers, but still people of considerable reach.
Notice something that all of the influencers I’ve mentioned have in common? They all add value with their opinions. You don’t listen to your musically-tuned-in friend because she has a cool website or because your other friends told you she was great, you listen to her because you found that she has really good taste, and so when she recommends an album or an artist you know it will be good. She is saving you time and money every time she opens her mouth, and that is why you pay attention to her.
Food critics and movie reviewers steer people away from crappy restaurants and bad films and towards good ones. They add value to the world by having an opinion that has proven itself to be a usually-reliable arbiter of whether something is worth your time and money, or not. Martha Stewart produces amazing recipes and fantastic craft projects that people could aspire to. Oprah Winfrey almost always recommended books and authors who were actually really, really good.
So, while “Influencers” are real, and it is entirely possible that you could be one, you have to be aware of the fact that if you aren’t adding value by virtue of giving your opinion, you aren’t actually doing anything worthwhile in the influencing line, and you aren’t going to be able to gain, or maintain, popularity other than through flukes of luck or manipulation. You have to actually have something worthwhile to say.
If you do have something worthwhile to say, and you do have real human beings who pay attention to your opinions, then TikTok gives you a very straightforward method of monetizing your video appearances in the app. All you need to do is recommend products and services that you genuinely do use and think are good; those brands, stores, artists or whomever will then be very glad to compensate you for your advocacy of their product or service. You need to have a genuinely large and engaged following – a bunch of pretend followers you shilled for on Tinder just isn’t going to cut it. But with a real influencer presence, you can easily earn thousands or tens of thousands of dollars at a shot for boosting someone else’s product.
Note that a lot of influencers have run into trouble by accepting branding deals, and not disclosing the deal to their followers. While it somewhat reduces the value of your opinion to many people, I think that in the long run you do have to disclose that you are accepting these kinds of deals, because the fallout from a deal being revealed that you DIDN’T disclose is a huge scandal which will horribly damage your reputation, undermining the very thing that makes you an influencer in the first place.
2. LIVE STREAMING
Oriented mainly around musical performance (whether lip-syncing or live), live streaming on TikTok used to happen via the live.ly URL but has moved to musical.ly since then. The actual exchange rates vary with time, but the basic system is simple: TikTok users can buy “coins” using actual money via in-app purchases. They can then use their coins (and other derivative in-app currencies) to tip TikTok creators, in essence giving them a small amount of real money as a thank-you for creating some good live content. TikTok passes 80% of the value of the tip on to the person doing the live stream, building their account (and not incidentally, signaling to brands that this person is actually growing in influence.)
It’s not generally a fortune but it can be an income stream, although you have to take the money in the form of digital gifts rather than cash; it’s not too hard to turn that into cold hard money, however.
3. PROMOTING / SELLING YOUR OWN VENTURES
This is probably the most realistic way for most people to make money via TikTok, even without accumulating a huge following and becoming a national-scale influencer. The secret is to have some other line of business or store, and use TikTok as an absolutely free way to promote and sell your products or services, or to promote your existing business. The great thing is that this can be just about any (legal) business or service, whether it’s nerdy, crafty, techy, or just crazy.
For example, you may have a river rafting service that takes people on raft trips down the Colorado River every summer. Well, you can take videos of every raft trip you make, and make 15-second clips showing how much incredible fun people are having. Post that on TikTok, along with some promotional frames showing where you are, how to get in touch with you, what you charge, and when your next trip is, and you can find your bookings filling up like magic. TikTok isn’t directly paying you for anything, but your business is now making thousands of dollars on the referrals and new customers that you’re attracting with your videos. (And of course you can also put the videos on your Facebook page, your YouTube channel, etc.)
Another example is someone who has a crafts business – say you make cool glass sculptures with melted glass. You can make super-fast How-I-Do-It videos showing your techniques (and how good you are at it, highlighting your best and most beautiful work) and casually mention that you also sell these sculptures via your website, which you then provide a link to. Not only do the how-to videos attract people who like your work, but you also can directly sell product right from your videos, and instead of you paying for the bandwidth, TikTok covers it for you.
Finally, you can in essence advertise any business even if it isn’t something that translates well to video. By putting up a video that’s fun, funny, creative, or musically great, you’ll attract attention – and then you can have a few frames at the end pitching your product or service.
4. AMAZON REFERRAL LINKS
It is possible to make a lot of money from Amazon referral links if you do it right, although some people might be confused by the suggestion that you could do it on Tik Tok. How are you going to promote anything when your video and your bio can’t have links? You can’t expect your viewers to laboriously write down the link and then type it into a browser by hand – and even if they did do that, it could end up costing you your Amazon account! Amazon’s rules prohibit any link system that obscures or spoofs them from being able to tell where a given link came from. A manual link entry does just that – you want your viewers clicking and/or tapping, NOT writing down and retyping. So how do we do that?
Your bio is the primary place where you can have written information on TikTok. (You can add text to your videos, but it tends to distract from the video itself.) However, you can’t have links on your bio page, either – you can have text, but it’s not clickable/tappable. Users can’t even select it to copy and paste it into a browser later. So what can you do? Basically, you want to focus your bio on one short text string: a shortened URL to your affiliate marketing landing page if your basic URL is unwieldy or non-catchy, or just the plain URL if it is catchy and short.
On your affiliate marketing landing page, you put the actual Amazon referral links. You’re definitely going to lose some sales momentum from people not being happy about having to type in your URL – so the shorter and sweeter you can make that URL, the better off you will be. Cross-marketing your links now becomes just a matter of making sure to have the right affiliate links for your video audience. Say you’ve done a 20-second lipsync of a Justin Beiber song. That’s probably not going to inspire anybody to want to go to your page and order football equipment from Amazon – but it may inspire them to want to buy Justin’s album directly.