TikTok’s Reach Won’t Last Forever
And it will most likely become an overly monetized platform like Facebook and Instagram
Recently, I’ve been reading and watching lots of content about how social media should be redesigned. Because of the opportunities of TikTok, lots of users and marketers get frustrated with Instagram and Facebook because of how hard it became to grow on these two platforms.
Naturally, lots of users and marketers gave up on Facebook and Instagram and started to spend all their time and energy on TikTok.
It may seem like a great move at first: if TikTok provides reach and massive exposure, why would you bother with Facebook and Instagram?
The thing is, these people seem to forget how Facebook and Instagram used to be the same way a few years ago. Growing on Instagram in 2013 was quite easy, and lots of accounts grew to hundreds of thousands of followers in just a few months. It was crazy back then.
But as time went on, Facebook and Instagram (but really, it’s the same company) started seeing the business opportunity. They knew they had a massive impact on their users’ businesses, so they decided to limit the organic reach so they could sell ads. It was a genius business move, but it got lots of professionals and users upset. The reason is quite easy to understand: why would you now have to pay for something that used to be free?
The thing is, social media became such a significant marketing channel; lots of companies started paying for these ads. The truth is, buying ads on Facebook was a great move as you could target the audience you wanted to reach very precisely, and the ad costs were the cheapest on the market.
Over time, the average price of ads doubled, then tripled, and kept on rising. Facebook (and Instagram) ads are now the most expensive they’ve ever been. This leaves less room for trial and error ad strategies, where you just buy ads to test out a market, then focus on only what works, as you now need a lot more marketing budget to make it happen.
Is TikTok going to be such a place of opportunities forever?
I doubt so. Because of the recent popularity of the platform, and the recent release of TikTok’s ad platform, it seems quite evident that the next step in their business is to monetize all these users, data, and content.
If you were to release a new social media platform in 2020, the only way you could do so would be to simply follow TikTok’s strategy: you provide users with extreme virality. Once they get lots of traffic on their account, and once their business relies heavily on the platform, you can now decrease the organic reach and start selling ads.
TikTok Needs Content and Users
Social media platforms capture attention. To do that, they need content. To attract users to publish content on the platform, they guarantee massive organic reach, allowing users to gather a big community, encouraging them to keep producing content for the platform.
TikTok is no exception, and that’s precisely how they got the best content creators on the platform. That’s how they got Gary Vaynerchuk to recommend to the platform to everyone in his recent talks, videos, and conferences. By allowing Gary Vee to get more reach and expand his audience, he became an advocate of the platform, recommending the platform to thousands of content creators, artists, and marketers, that are now going to provide more content to the platform.
Now that TikTok has lots of content and a bunch of loyal content creators, it only needs to attract more spectators. But that’s a lot easier since the creators are mostly doing the job. Because of the reach and attention they get on the platform, creators are likely to advertise their TikTok profile to their audience, just like Gary Vee. This recommendation system allows TikTok to get new users consistently without having to spend fortunes in Marketing.
It’s a positive feedback loop: by attracting new creators, TikTok is attracting more users and more audience. Some of them may become creators, while others will remain spectators.
Without creators, TikTok has nothing to offer. Without spectators, TikTok can’t attract creators. That’s why offering a massive reach was crucial for TikTok.
TikTok Won’t Be Able to Maintain This System Forever
These opportunities led to more creators, more content, and, therefore, more competition, which means that it now becomes complicated to distribute all this content to their spectators.
If your number of users starts plateauing, but the number of creators increasing, you now have a problem as the platform needs to become selective in the way it distributes content. This unbalances between the amount of content, and the amount of spectators limits the ways TikTok can deliver outstanding organic reach.
There are only limited ways to increase the reach on a social media platform: either you don’t identify what your users want, and you show them content that they might not be interested in. This allows you to fix the issue of having a small audience on a particular niche. Or you can work on increasing the average time users spend on the platform. The more time people spend on the platform, the more content they get to see.
The first solution will affect the user experience, which might become an issue as it can make users leave the platform. The second solution is rather hard to achieve as retention online is probably the hardest and the least documented and understood aspect of digital marketing.
TikTok is now facing a problem: it provided lots of opportunities to new users, but the platform will become less and less likely to give those.
TikTok Became Essential to Some Creators
TikTok has to find ways to know which content to show first to its users. The first way to do so would be to do like every other social media platform: content that’s viral needs to be pushed first because if it’s viral, then it’s probably high-quality, and it keeps people engaged in the platform.
The second way would be to start selling ads on the platform. Just like on Facebook and Instagram, you could pay to increase your reach, conversion, engagement.
Or it could be a mix of these two things. Which would make TikTok work just like Instagram. And because of the unbalance we talked about previously, the organic reach will decrease slowly but surely, and sooner than most people think, you will have to pay for ads to experience the decent reach and acceptable growth on the platform.
Lots of people don’t believe in this theory, explaining that TikTok got famous because users and creators got bored with heavily monetized platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
The thing is, TikTok can’t keep their opportunity model forever. But because of how popular the platform got, and because of the incredible reach it was able to give to some creators, some of them are now dependent on the platform to run their business.
This means that even if TikTok were to start an ad program, some users would have to pay for it to keep their business alive.
TikTok is the Perfect Example of the Shiny Object Syndrome
Because of the visibility TikTok was providing to its creators, lots of them gave up on their other social media platforms to focus their attention and work on TikTok alone.
The problem is, TikTok is going to become just like Facebook and Instagram. And that will happen sooner than later.
Lots of creators fell into the trap of TikTok, and they gave up on everything else they had. The problem is that their TikTok isn’t going to grow forever and that it will plateau eventually, leaving these creators with full dependence on TikTok to be able to operate their business.
Because of the heavy competition in today’s market, platforms and businesses need to find ways to be better than their competitors to get some market shares. After a while, though, these ways might not be sustainable. If you were to launch a wholesale grocery service, you would probably focus on having lower prices, or quicker delivery service. But after a while, at a bigger scale, such promises might not be sustainable for your business.
The same thing happened with TikTok. The platform tried (and succeeded) attracting new users and creators by giving them more reach than other social media platforms for free. But this model is not sustainable, and TikTok is just going to become a slow-growth platform like Facebook and Instagram.
Do you feel like you tried everything to grow on Instagram? Hopefully, what follows will be the last thing you will have to do to reach your goals.
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