Show me the Money, TikTok
Don’t be Vine.
If you are in charge of a Social Media company in the ‘20s, that’s pretty much your mission statement. Whatever you do, do not end up like the once popular, but now no longer with us, short video sharing platform.
If you don’t remember Vine — things move quickly on the Internet, so it’s possible you don’t — it was basically billed as YouTube on speed. It had a 15 second limit to videos and was designed to be quickly absorbed. It was perfect for taking a quick look at on the bus, or between classes.
Unlike YouTube, which was starting to evolve into the longer form videos that now dominate the platform, Vine was short, disposable and fun.
It was also accessible to creators that might have found YouTube and it’s established star system intimidating. Why spend hours producing a video that gets 6 views when you can whip something fun off in a fraction of the time and have a better opportunity of being discovered (or so it felt, anyway).
The formula worked well for a couple years and it seemed like Vine was going have a permanent place in the Social Media big leagues, along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. But, there was one problem. Creators started to lose interest. Without fresh, new content the viewership dried up and Vine eventually collapsed. In the end, it only lasted four years — a fast and wild ride.
The reason that creators stopped using the platform was pretty easy to work out. They couldn’t make money. It didn’t offer an advertising option and outside of directly appealing for donations there was literally no way to make money from your creative effort. At the same time, YouTube started to make people very wealthy and Instagram debuted Stories, giving clever creators even more opportunity there.
Why would you stay on Vine, when there was so much more opportunity elsewhere? You wouldn’t.
Herein lies the biggest challenge for the platform that most resembles Vine, TikTok.
TikTok does a lot of things really well — its algorithm is the best of all the platforms and it’s managed to maintain a positive vibe in the space, when YouTube has turned increasingly political and divisive and Instagram gets more and more about vacant people posting the same bikini shot on the same beach.
It’s still difficult to make money on it though. The company has tried to address that through the establishment of TikTok coins that can be gifted to creators, but they can only really be used to exchange for gifts. You can’t feed yourself with TikTok coins.
They remain reluctant to give creators the ability to make cold, hard cash. That’s likely a cultural hang-up. TikTok is a Chinese company. The idea of allowing regular people to access a free market without any external control is completely alien to them. That’s a difficult thing to get past for the company, but one it’s going to need to address if it is to continue to be a Social Media giant in the Western world.
Creators are going to move on, either to the established platforms, or to a TikTok copycat that gives them the ability to monetize.
The potential for TikTok to become the biggest Social Media site of them all is there. But, so is the possibility that it becomes another Vine.
What they do in the next year or so will likely decide their fate.