The highest-paid five influencers on TikTok brought home a collective $55.5 million in 2021—a 200% increase from the previous year. They’ve penned deals with Netflix
What’s wild is that they’ve done all of this in a short amount of time while remaining surprisingly accessible and authentic. That’s the magic of TikTok, and it’s why so many people dream about striking it rich there.
But, becoming a TikTok influencer isn’t just posting quirky videos and keeping up with dance trends. There are serious benefits to TikTok, but there are also real dangers for influencers.
Benefit #1: It’s relatively easy to become TikTok famous
Until TikTok came around, non-traditional jobs like social media influencing or blogging were always seen as a long game. It could take months and months before you build a sizeable audience to make real money. But TikTok’s unique proprietary algorithm makes it shockingly easy to go viral and grow your following.
Put simply: it’s easy to get TikTok famous when you compare it to older social networks. It’s still a grind like any other platform, but you’re more likely to go viral in these early stages.
The way TikTok’s algorithm works is that it bases a user’s For You page on user interactions, video information, and device and account settings. By looking at individual users’ preferences and activity history, Tiktok serves users unique content that’s described as eerily specific to their immediate interests.
Additionally—this part is huge for new TikTok creators—TikTok has stated that diversifying recommendations is essential to their community.
TikTok reports that recommendations may not have a high number of likes, and that’s “an important and intentional component of our approach” because “bringing a diversity of videos into your For You feed gives you additional opportunities to stumble upon new content categories, discover new creators, and experience new perspectives.”
Prioritizing content that’s relevant to a user’s interests over popularity gives new influencers a way to break into feeds.
Danger #1: It can be a toxic environment
In 2021, the Wall Street Journal published a report on how TikTok’s algorithm sends at-risk teens down rabbit holes that contribute to the development of eating disorders or make existing ones worse. TikTok immediately responded with an announcement that it would be testing changes to its algorithm to prevent a steady stream of problematic content.
Besides breaking up problematic content in users’ For You pages, TikTok’s announcement stated that they are exploring whether their system is recommending content that “could have a negative effect if that’s the majority of what someone watches, such as content about loneliness or weight loss.”
Even if you aren’t creating content that’s actively promoting self-harm, platforms like TikTok breed self-comparison. It’s a dangerous environment for both creators and users.
Concerns about how social media affects users’ mental and physical health aren’t new, but it should give you pause before putting your time and energy into becoming a TikTok influencer.
Benefit #2: Brands are shifting their focus to micro-influencers
Micro-influencers are described as having anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 followers, but the definition varies and can include influencers with follower counts as low as 3,000. The important thing here is that brands have started pivoting to micro-influencers because they cost less and specialize in a particular topic.
Micro-influencers also have a significantly higher engagement rate: micro-influencers on TikTok have an average engagement rate of 17.96% compared to mega-influencers at 4.96%.
The appeal only increases as brands have realized that micro-influencers have a cult-like following, and that’s because they’re more likely to make connections with their audience that feel quite genuine. Consumers want to feel like they’re getting personalized recommendations from a friend, not a macro-influencer who has millions of followers.
According to Influencer Marketing Hub, micro-influencers on TikTok earned $25-$125 per sponsored post in 2021. A mid-tier influencer with 50,000 to 500,000 followers earns upwards of $125-$1,250 per post.
Danger #2: Cancel culture is a real threat
Rachel Hollis, author and TikTok influencer, was in hot water in 2021 after comparing herself to Harriet Tubman and Oprah Winfrey because they also lived “unrelatable” lives. It’s worth mentioning here that Hollis is a white woman. Her comment came after she referenced her twice-weekly housekeeper in a TikTok video and a fan called her “unrelatable” and “privileged.”
Hollis achieved fame in 2015 after posting a bikini photo of herself in Cancun that revealed her stretch marks, and her recent comments about relatability aren’t the first time she’s faced heat. In 2020, she posted “Still… I Rise” to her Instagram account and failed to attribute the line to Maya Angelou. As expected, Hollis’ popularity took a hit.
You can’t dismiss these comments and posts, and that’s what many influencers fear: that they’ll do or say something that essentially cancels them.
Cancel culture is a bit of a buzzword, but the threat is real to influencers who feel like they’re expected not to make any mistakes. There’s a lot of debate about whether or not influencers and celebrities should be held to higher standards than regular folks, but the reality is that they are.
Being a TikTok influencer means you’re willing to put yourself out in front of millions of strangers. There’s a real risk of doing or saying something that’s potentially offensive, even if you have the best motivations.
Benefit #3: TikTok is beginning to dominate the social media landscape
TikTok was founded in 2017, and it’s seen a meteoric rise in user growth. There are now more than 1 billion people worldwide using TikTok. It’s still behind Instagram and Facebook, but that gap is closing.
We’ve even seen other platforms introduce TikTok-like features to keep users on-site. Instagram, for one, launched Reels back in 2020 to keep up with TikTok’s style of short, fun videos.
Where TikTok currently leads is with younger users. A study by InsiderIntelligence found that TikTok leads with the 18-24 market. That same study predicts that TikTok will soon have more Gen Z users than Instagram and that by 2023, there will be more U.S. users on TikTok than Snapchat.
TikTok’s addictive algorithm has set it up as an entertainment destination. Between that and the growth we’re seeing, it means things are just getting started.
Danger #3: Burnout is high
If you read anything about how to become a TikTok influencer, you’ll see the same thing repeatedly: post at least 1-3 times per day, and the most successful TikTokers post 15-20 times per day.
Even though the average TikTok is less than a minute long, it’s incredibly demanding to produce that much content. There’s the time and energy it takes to create the videos, but you also need to be interacting with your audience and taking care of the business end of things.
TikTok’s algorithm quickly delivers fame, but that’s only if you’re willing to work with it and consistently deliver fresh content.
It’s no surprise that some of the biggest creators have started talking about their difficulties. One of TikTok’s most popular stars, Charli D’Amelio, who has over 136.8 million followers, admitted in 2021 that she has “lost the passion” for TikTok.
D’Amelio isn’t alone; Spencewuah, a creator with over 11 million followers, took a break from the platform in 2021 after issues with BTS fans.
The pressure to deliver is intense, and when you top that with bullying, harassment, discrimination, and having your content stolen, the threat of burnout is incredibly high.
TikTok creators are constantly worried about longevity and trying to balance their work with their mental health, especially as TikTok becomes a source of income.
The final word
There’s an intoxicating “high” that comes with fast fame on TikTok, but you must be ready to deal with the pitfalls. TikTok isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. Be honest with yourself and what you’re capable of dealing with before you dive in.