• TikTok, a short-form video app popular with Gen Z, has been downloaded more than 1.5 billion times. 
  • Rules and possibilities for monetization are less clear-cut than more established platforms like Instagram. 
  • Some TikTok creators are finding new ways to monetize the app that take advantage of its unique, audio-based style, like the possibility of a “virality clause” in brand deals.
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For influencers looking to make money off their content, TikTok is the “wild west” compared to more established platforms like Instagram and YouTube, at least according to Eitan Bernath, a teen chef and influencer with more than 100,000 followers on both Instagram and TikTok. 

TikTok posts rise to popularity differently from posts on Instagram, so, Bernath reasons, his agreements with brands should be different. TikTok is engineered for virality — Bernath built a sizable following on TikTok in a month, reaching the same number of followers it took him nearly five years to build on Instagram. On TikTok, viewers primarily engage with content through the “For You” page, where an algorithm shows videos based on previous videos a person has engaged with. TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, have remained quiet about what elevates certain videos over others. In comparison, Instagram users open the app to see the feed of people they follow.

TikTok has quickly gained users since its US launch in 2018. It evolved from Musical.ly, an app where users lip-synced along to 15-second audio tracks. China’s ByteDance bought Musical.ly in 2017 and folded it into TikTok. ByteDance is the most valuable private company in the world, worth an estimated $75 billion. 

Now, TikTok has been downloaded more than 1.5 billion times, and it is the top free non-gaming iOS app. It might also be closing in on Instagram and Snapchat in numbers of active users, though TikTok hasn’t disclosed those numbers. Instagram reached 1 billion monthly active users in 2018, while Snapchat has over 300 million. 

But unlike on Instagram, influencers don’t have an established system to make money on TikTok. So some influencers on the platform are finding new ways to monetize the app that take advantage of its unique, audio-based style, like the possibility of a “virality clause” in brand deals. Some are even using livestreaming as a way to make money.

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