The global influencer economy is booming. According to Statista, it’s doubled since 2019. It is worth about $16.4 billion in 2022 – and TikTok is a locomotive of this market, where anyone can “blow up” overnight.
Some content creators go as far as dropping out or forgoing college when they realize how much they could earn right now compared to their projected earnings as fresh graduates minus the exorbitant tuition fees. For example, Mark Setlock had plans to graduate from the University of Michigan with a dual degree in finance and accounting and work on Wall Street as an investment banker. Everything changed when he realized that TikTok might be a more lucrative plan. Mark gained 60,000 followers during his first month on the platform and began earning $40,000 a month within the first year. Now he can negotiate six-figure sponsorship deals with no degree whatsoever. Setlock’s followership is 1.2 million at the moment. He says that an added bonus to all the money he is making is the feeling that he is “genuinely making an impact in the world.”
Brianna Seaberg has always seen herself in the entertainment industry and enrolled in the University of Southern California to pursue the business side of showbiz. She says creating TikTok content for brands has given her financial freedom and the ability to do more things in life, like trips and fun activities. Now she sees creating content full-time as her future career.
These success stories might make you think, “Hey, why waste my afternoon to write my essay when I can be shooting a viral video and making it big on TikTok?” Yes, the platform is indeed a launching pad for many talents, yet before you consider it as a viable career, let’s hear what influencers themselves say about making a steady income out of their popularity. Here is what you need to become a TikTok sensation – straight from the horse’s mouth.
Doing Your Thing
Just do what you are passionate about regardless of trends. That’s the main thing every successful influencer keeps talking about. No matter how niche your interest is, you will find your audience – that’s the beauty of TikTok. Historical costumes, sports humor, comedic dances, vintage recipes, college rites of passage, or your gorgeous cat – whatever makes you tick can be your thing on TikTok.
It’s great if you have deep expertise and know what you are talking about. Still, you don’t have to be an expert to make an engaging TikTok video. Just being genuinely enthusiastic about it and having a warm personality is enough, judging by a whole host of creators risen to stardom. Being often called the most authentic social media, TikTok values sincerity and drive, so faking it won’t do.
Editing Skills Help but Aren’t Required
Some creators use professional cameras and editing software. Still, even they say you must not “overdo” it for TikTok. Unlike Instagram or YouTube, the platform doesn’t pressure creators to produce “really polished” glamorous videos. Most influencers do everything with the help of TikTok tools: record, edit, add stickers – good to go. A certain roughness around the edges is part of the appeal. Raw passion and authenticity, remember?
Still, You Might Want to Take a Class
If you are going to be serious about it and build a business on your online presence, you might benefit from some solid marketing, negotiation, and entrepreneurship skills. After all, your revenue as a creator depends on sponsorship deals.
Luckily, schools have finally stopped seeing TikTok as another passing fad and embraced it as an entrepreneurial opportunity. They’ve started offering courses, such as “Building Global Audiences” at Duke University, dubbed a “TikTok class” by the students. Other schools have also acknowledged the massive role of influencer culture and started dishing out media-focused classes on digital marketing and communications. As a college student and a TikTok sensation in the making, you definitely should consider signing up for one of those. On top of getting some practical knowledge, you will earn academic credits. Moreover, shooting videos, comparing analytics, and analyzing the newest trends as a part of the preparation for your finals does sound fabulous.
However, suppose your school isn’t one of the enlightened yet. In that case, online courses on platforms like Udemy and SkillShare also exist, teaching anyone how to gain followers, build community, use specific TikTok features, speak the platform’s language, seem “cool,” create ideas, and market yourself.
Being Young and Beautiful
As much as I would love to live in a fairer world where people are less vain and shallow, beauty is still only skin-deep when it comes to visual media. Youth and attractiveness are vital components of TikTok stardom. According to Chase Hudson, a 20-year-old TikTok celebrity with over 32 million followers, you need to be young, have a lot of energy and… be a little weird. “The weird people get the furthest on the internet. You either have to be talented at something, a weird-funny mix, or extremely good-looking.”
“If you have all three, you’re a TikTok god,” adds his colleague, a 21-year-old Alex Warren, currently boasting 15.5 million followers. They say this in an interview to The New York Times made over two years ago, when they were 18 and 19, respectively, and even then, they were already concerned about “younger kids” pushing out the “older creators” from the limelight. So when they say young, they mean younger teenagers. Yeah. This makes your old auntie Lissa want to crawl back into her prehistoric cave. Still, I might stand a chance. I’m reasonably good-looking and mighty weird.
Collaborating with Other Creators
Influencers often gather into content creator collectives and even move in together to collaborate on videos, create an atmosphere conducive to artistic expression and productivity, and support each other against burnout. As a group, they can afford luxury mansions in Los Angeles, where they have both stunning outdoor scenery and visually appealing interiors as a backdrop for their videos. Moreover, this makes them nearer to TikTok’s US head office.
Hype House, Sway House, Clubhouse BH, Shluv House, Kids Next Door, Clubhouse Next, Byte Squad, V@ult House, Vibe Crew LA, Not A Content House, Wave House, Icon House, Bay House – the list goes on and on. Participants band together based on age, gender, interests, styles, talents, or goals. Being a collective gives them a wider reach and team synergy. Plus, the additional hashtag, brand, and merch to sell.
Although drama is unavoidable when so many gifted young people compete for a place in the spotlight and aim to create hype, TikTok is not your typical Mean Girls environment. Collective houses might remind you of cliques, but they are only being frenemies ironically. Even leaving one collective to establish your own is staged as growth and moving on, not as a breakup and scandal.
Positivity and easygoingness are also part of the platform’s appeal. That is why influencers steer clear of drama and prefer to err on the side of caution. TikTok creators are meticulous about who they film with, how they act in front of the camera, what they wear, what gets in the frame, and how every little detail might be interpreted online.
Being Chill About Online Nastiness
Controversy still happens, despite all the precautions. The attention that comes with overnight fame can also be stressful in and of itself. When you reach large numbers of views, it opens you up to negative comments, even if you make very neutral and cozy content. Criticism – constructive or just vile – is an unfortunate byproduct of fame, so if you want to be a star on TikTok, you must come prepared for all sorts of comments.
Tony Wilson, known on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter as TonyTechBytes, advises you to develop a thicker skin and continue doing whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. He attracts 446 thousand followers doing tech product reviews and says that even with this non-inflammatory content, he has to deal with lots of negativity.
Algorithms like predictability, so coming up with new content regularly is an absolute must. Most TikTokers agree that consistency and frequent posting are vital to appease the platform’s content display algorithm and become visible. How often? At least two videos a day. They don’t have to be flawlessly edited masterpieces with viral potential, but they must be there, rain or shine.
Some creators stick to the “quality over quantity” rule and say that posting just to post anything isn’t a viable strategy to keep your fans happy and attract new audiences. Still, others keep churning out two 7-second videos daily, even if it takes only 15 seconds to film and edit each. The jury is still out on this one.
Knowing Your Worth
Natalia Hauser, known as @natisstyle on Instagram, and Twitter, has over 200,000 followers on TikTok. Her content is focused on personal beauty and fashion. She is a student and doesn’t devote her entire time to the platform. Still, she earns anywhere from $1,000 to $7,000 a month through brand partnership videos, with some particularly lucrative deals bringing in as much as $5,000 for a single post. Her advice to other creators is confidence in negotiations. “I don’t think people understand how much money is in this industry,” Hauser said.
Leon Ondieki, a student at the University of Georgia and a content creator with more than 1.6 million TikTok followers agrees. He skyrocketed into stardom overnight after his parody fitness video went viral, but since then, he has become a full-time influencer with his own distinct style, earning between $10,000 and $30,000 a month. However, it wasn’t just a Cinderella story. As a Black content creator, Ondieki had to deal with discrimination. Brands were offering him two or three times less for a campaign than they were prepared to pay his White friends with fewer followers. Now he sees his mission in elevating other aspiring influencers, creating a supportive community, showing the possibilities that TikTok offers, and serving as a role model for Black teenagers.
Not expecting too much
Ella Rekow, an engineering major and a content creator with nearly 100,000 followers, uses TikTok to educate others on programming in a fun and entertaining way. She firmly believes that no matter how passionate you are about your subject, you should also maintain personal happiness. “It’s supposed to be a fun platform. This isn’t life or death.” If you feel the pressure is getting too much, Ella advises you to take a break and calibrate your goals. It is essential to check in with yourself and make sure you receive from it as much as you put in. Her approach can be summarized this way: just have fun and don’t put high expectations on it. If a full-time influencer career doesn’t work out, you can still leverage your online presence to build your personal brand and land jobs in the future.
I want to leave you with this wholesome and positive message. Have fun, explore your passions, and spread the light without pinning all your hopes on this one platform. Remember that it was conceived as a space to goof around and find new friends and interests – not to build business empires. Stay curious and creative!