The TikTok Experiment — From 0 to 11.4k Followers With 1-Minute Tech Hacks

TikTok screenshot

Posting occasionally over less than 6 months, a total of 22 videos, I ended up at almost 1 million views, 107k likes, 1.3k comments, and 11.4k followers.

As a late millennial, I have always distanced myself from TikTok. Not being part of the target group anyway, it had been easy for me to shrug it off and simply label it as toxic. However, being a tech professional working in solutions engineering, I have this urge to be able to understand how tech innovations work and how they shape our culture and economy. And while curiosity might kill cats, it is what keeps us humans moving.

So I downloaded TikTok. Just to be able to understand it before I condemn it. To me, the best way to learn something is always by doing it. So I started making videos. Since I am neither a dancer nor do I have the looks of an elevator boy, I had to do a quick brainstorming on what my videos would be about. What is something that…
a) …I can do or know about
b) …others might not
c) …brings people value or some kind of benefit
d) … can be packaged into the condensed short-video format that the platform is built around

Enter: Today’s Tech Hacks. 1-minute bite-sized tech tips for everyday life.

The goals of this little experiment were to learn about the platform and also to see if I would be able to go from 0 to some kind of monetization.

TikTok video screenshot

The Takeaways

What seems to have worked for me in terms of getting up to a decent follower- and view-count is authenticity. Making content that you are genuinely interested in and knowledgeable about makes it easier and more enjoyable to produce videos. It is also the only way to sustainably make content that maintains a high level of quality and continuously provides the audience with some sort of value.

After having met certain eligibility criteria, TikTok offers creators a few different ways to monetize their content. Ranging from a somewhat arbitrarily allocated creator fund to a marketplace for creators and brands to connect over sponsored advertising deals. While the fund seems to be more lucrative for massive creators with much higher view counts (I personally never made more than a few cents per day from the fund), the marketplace can even get smaller creators some appealing deals. I accepted a few brand deals, for which I created tailored videos showcasing the brand’s product. The compensation was either in the range of a few hundred pounds or based on a free product.

TikTok has also been introducing another form of monetization, which revolves around social live e-commerce in the format of QVC-style shopping livestreams. TikTok Shop should bear some new opportunities to make money for merchants, brands, and creators — centered around a product sale right within the platform.

Overall, I was surprised to see how quick and easy the path to monetization was. Scaling it to a level at which you can make a nice little side-income seems very much doable. Being able to live off TikTok full-time is a whole different story, though.

As a little side experiment, I uploaded the exact same content to Youtube Shorts as well. And for my particular case, it is safe to say that TikTok beat Youtube Shorts by a landslide. All parameters were equal: Content, hashtags, posting date and time, descriptions, headline. The only difference were the little extras in the TikTok video creator, such as the effects, stickers, memes, music snippets, and many more.

Statistics comparison: Youtube Shprts versus TikTok

Of course, this comparison is in no way representative, but perhaps an interesting side note.

TikTok’s greatest trick is the use of instant gratification as a tool. This does not only apply to the content-serving algorithms and keeping consumers on the app. It also extends to the creators. As a video maker, you keep receiving new views, new followers, and new comments, while also being served a gamified path to more creator tools. From the very start, the vision of virality always seems right around the corner. Which triggers the exact same levels of dopamine and instant gratification for video makers. And due to the nature of short-form videos and the way in which content is consumed on the app, the statistics on the platform reach outrageous levels insanely quick. Especially when compared to the overall levels of other social media platforms. Add to that the ongoing suspicion that a lot of the statistics on TikTok are artificially inflated, which would not surprise me. In the end, these numbers are the key to keeping the content creators engaged and the consumers glued to the screen.

Many of the accounts following and interacting with my content appeared to be quite generic

Closing Thoughts

There are many legitimate concerns about the platform and its practices. These include issues regarding data protection and privacy, the spread of misinformation, as well as the worrying effect of TikTok’s content and recommendation-algorithm on the attention economy and mental health. May it be for these reasons or for the mere fact that none of what is happening on TikTok has any real appeal to me as a person — I stopped making videos and stopped opening the app on my phone. I feel like I learned what I wanted to learn.

— If you have questions, feedback, or if you just want to say hi: Feel free to reach out.

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