TikTok can be a powerful platform for creators looking to build an audience. But can its users actually make money?
That question has been top of mind for many influencers who have taken off on the app. Some turn to brand deals as a way to earn a living. Others look outside TikTok, joining platforms like YouTube or Twitch, which have more mature in-app monetization programs.
TikTok has introduced several features over the last few years to try to help creators make money. It rolled out in 2019 a match-making platform for brands and creators, and in 2021 a tool to streamline influencer marketing. It’s also introduced features like tipping, subscriptions, and “gifts” that allows users to pay creators in a virtual currency that can later be converted into dollars.
But all of those features put the onus of paying creators on outside parties, such as marketers and fans.
TikTok has also committed to compensating creators out of its own pocket, though its payouts thus far have paled in comparison to competitors like YouTube.
In 2020, TikTok launched a Creator Fund that it set up to pay its users a total of $1 billion over a three-year period.
The fund is essentially a big pot of money that TikTok uses to pay a subset of creators with at least 10,000 followers who have generated 100,000 video views in the previous 30-day period.
TikTok’s $1 billion commitment is small compared to YouTube’s overall creator payouts. YouTube’s CEO wrote in 2021 that the company had paid $30 billion to creators, artists, and media companies over a three-year time frame. It also set up a $100 million fund in 2021, meant to last through 2022, specifically for its TikTok-like feature, Shorts. Other platforms like Snapchat have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to influencers to incentivize the creation of short videos. Instagram also pays some creators based on the number of views their Reels generate, offering “bonuses” for hitting certain short-video view thresholds.
TikTok told Insider it considers factors like video view counts, video engagement, and the location in which a video was seen, when determining Creator Fund payouts.
Influencers who have revealed their Creator Fund payments publicly or with Insider over the last few years have reported earning just a few cents for every 1,000 views their videos generate. For comparison, YouTube creators who shared their revenue-per-one-thousand-views (RPM) rates with Insider over a similar period all earned at least a $1 RPM.
See how much six creators have earned through the Creator Fund
For creators with millions of views on videos, a lower RPM can still add up to more than $1,000 in earnings.
Personal-finance influencer Preston Seo, who now has 2.4 million TikTok followers, earned a total of about $1,664 from the Creator Fund between January 2021 and May 2021, according to documentation he shared with Insider. His TikTok account earns between $9 to $38 a day on average.
Read more about how much Seo has earned, including from affiliate revenue and sponsorships
Other top creators, such as MrBeast and Hank Green, have reported low Creator Fund payouts despite generating huge view counts.
“When [TikTok] established their Creator Fund, it was a good step forward, but it remains on the weaker side of platform monetization,” Eamon Brennan, the vice president of creator partnerships at creator agency and management firm Collab, told Insider. “I think regulating and expanding the actual monetization system of the platform itself would help everyone out.”
Read more about why some influencers have called out TikTok for its low payouts
When asked about creators’ concerns around low fund payouts, a TikTok spokesperson said in July 2022 that the company understood “how important it is that our creators are appreciated for their work and look to our creator community for valuable feedback to better serve their needs.” They pointed to other monetization features like live subscriptions that are available to users.
Read more about how much creators have earned through the Creator Fund:
In May 2022, TikTok announced it was launching a new contextual-advertising product in which brands could buy ads alongside “the top 4%” of content in different categories like fashion, cooking, and beauty. It agreed to split half of the revenue with the creator whose video appeared before the in-feed ad. Only creators with at least 100,000 followers qualify for the program.
Read more about how TikTok Pulse compares to other ad revenue-sharing programs, including YouTube’s
YouTube offers a similar contextual ad product called “YouTube Select.” It plans to roll out an ad revenue-sharing program for its Shorts feature in early 2023.
As with the Creator Fund, initial payments from TikTok Pulse have been underwhelming, creators told Insider.
Seven creators who shared their monthly payouts, view counts, and revenue for every 1,000 video views (RPM) from the program earned anywhere from a few pennies to $17. The creators each had hundreds of thousands of followers; several produced content around gaming, while others made lifestyle videos.
See how much gaming and lifestyle creators have earned through early payouts from the Pulse ad program
While most of the creators who shared payment data with Insider saw Pulse RPMs in the $7 to $8 range, one creator reported an RPM closer to $3. The creator RPMs were competitive on TikTok Pulse when compared to other ad programs like YouTube’s, but the revenue-generating views were comparatively low, often dipping below 1,000 views.
“I was super excited to join it, but I’m six cents richer today,” Betts Waller, a gaming creator who has around 380,000 followers on his TikTok account Forrest Dump, told Insider.
Waller only had eight video views qualify for Pulse earnings over the pay period between September 30 and October 30 2022, despite posting videos that garnered tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and even millions of views.
Other creators saw a similar pattern of Pulse-monetized views falling far below total video-view counts for a payment period.
A company spokesperson told Insider that even if a user’s video generates millions of views, it doesn’t mean that each video view is followed by a Pulse ad. Due to the nature of the TikTok algorithm, some videos will contribute to more ad impressions than others, they said.
“We’re continuing to work on improving Pulse so that we can better support our creators and advertisers, and look forward to expanding our monetization opportunities,” they said.
Read more about how much creators have earned from TikTok Pulse: