Case Study: TikTok Millionaire

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While I am still having trouble typing “TikTok” (my fingers invariably type “TickTock”) there are folks making a million dollars a year and more on the platform.

I guess I’m a little bit behind the times, which is why I reached out to someone who is a TikTok authority and asked if he could point me to someone making serious money on the platform.

He got me in touch with Sandy (not her real name) and she agreed to be interviewed as long as I wrote nothing that would reveal her real name or niche.

While some TikTok-ers brag about their earnings, others don’t want to alienate their audience with their wealth. Imagine if you’re trying appear as someone who is 22 and just like your audience, for example, when in reality you own a dozen houses outright and you could retire today. The image they’ve carefully crafted would be in jeopardy if their viewers knew their income and they would likely lose some of their revenue because of it.

Research indicates TikTok stars may be making as much as $1M per post according to The Guardian. This is hard to fathom but imagine if it were only 1% true. That would still be $10,000 per post.

Just a quick recap of what TikTok is: Launched in 2017 by China, TikTok is a social media platform that has exploded in size with 1.2 billion active monthly users and $4.6 billion in revenue in 2021. 47.4% of its users in the U.S are between the ages of 10 and 29 and globally the average time spent on TikTok per day is 52 minutes.

Advertisers take note: TikTok has an engagement rate of 5.30% on accounts with 100,000+ followers, compared to Instagram’s 1.10% and Twitter’s 0.30%.

Like most on TikTok, Sandy’s channel is in the entertainment category. And while Sandy herself has no real skill at making music, dancing, acting or anything else generally associated with classic entertainment, she is especially good at creating these 30 to 60 second videos that go viral.

When Sandy first started on TikTok, she made a study of what sort of videos had a life of their own, garnering views and subscribers as they went viral. She made careful notes of these videos and spent a full two months on the app studying what was working and more importantly, why it was working.

In other words, she didn’t just jump in and start making stupid little videos, hoping something would spark interest.

Once she had a good idea of what would perform the best, she chose her niche and her target audience, same as any content creator who is planning on success.

Then she started making videos and getting noticed. When she hit the 1,000 subscriber mark, she began doing regular live broadcasts. On these broadcasts followers can gift her ‘coins’. TikTok users go into their profiles to purchase coins at 100 coins for $1.39. Then when a creator goes live, audience members can send them coins as a way of giving thanks for the content they send out on TikTok. This is a virtual currency that can be exchanged for real money via PayPal.

When creators go live they engage with their fans and call them by name, asking them questions and interacting.

The money made from Sandy’s first “Lives” wasn’t much, but as she gained more followers and ardent fans the income from just one “Live” started growing into the hundreds of dollars and eventually into more than a thousand dollars each time.

One way Sandy built her own audience was to watch for creators in her niche to message their fans and ask them to donate. Sandy would then donate to these creators in exchange for a “shoutout” on their live. When the creator doing the shoutout had a lot of followers, Sandy would then gain many of those followers as her own.

Once Sandy became popular, brands started to reach out to her, asking her to partner with them as an influencer. Keep in mind that top TikTok creator’s estimated earnings are about $50,000 to $100,000 per post for a brand partnership. That’s super easy money once you’ve built the loyal following.

The catch is that the content created by the TikToker has to relate to the brand in some way, and here is where Sandy reverse engineered her channel. In her research Sandy also took note of the businesses that were active on TikTok. She then chose to tailor her material to a particular set of advertisers, knowing it would likely take a few months before her channel was big enough to attract those advertisers. But when it did, her paydays became larger and larger.

A super basic and easy example of this is TikTok creator Charli D’Amelio who frequently mentioned her love of Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee in her videos. Sure enough, once she had a lot of followers Dunkin’ Donuts offered her a brand partnership and even named a drink after her.

Sandy made a major mistake when she took a sponsorship from a company she didn’t like with a product she didn’t use. Her endorsement of the product sounded like a paid commercial rather than an authentic endorsement, and her fans called her out on it and she lost several thousand viewers in less than a week. She immediately dropped the company, paid back the money and swore to never work with a product she didn’t use herself again.

Once Sandy’s followers exceeded 100,000, she received an invitation from TikTok to join the TikTok Creator Program. This opened up more avenues for brand sponsorship. She received a media kit from TikTok showing her who viewed her TikToks the most and how much engagement she was getting.

The TikTok Creator Program also pays creators based on the engagement each video receives. Payment varies based on a number of factors including how many creators are in the program. Estimated funds appear in the Creator Fund Dashboard three days after the day in which video views are accrued. Funds can be withdrawn 30 days after the month ends in which they were accrued.

And you no longer need an invitation to join the TikTok Creator Program, but you must qualify and then apply. Eligibility requirements are that you be 18 years or older; be a legal resident of the U.S., UK, Germany, Italy, France or Spain; meet a minimum following threshold of 10K authentic followers; have accrued at least 100K authentic video views in the last 30 days; and post original video in line with the Community Guidelines.

Sandy sells her own merchandise based on her own brand. To do this she uses a company called Fanjoy. Her most popular item is actually a hoodie but she also sells shirts, sweaters, phone cases and more. Her income from this alone is now over $10,000 a month.

Keep in mind she’s been at this for awhile and none of this happened for her overnight. In fact, she made nothing for her first six months, but as you can see her work is now paying off big time.

Once thing Sandy tried that she said didn’t work well for her was building an email list. She found it difficult to get people to join her list, and when they did they weren’t nearly as responsive as they were on TikTok. She doesn’t know if it’s because of her particular niche, but she suspects it is.

Another TikTok creator and good friend of hers has had tremendous success building and monetizing an email list through TikTok. This friend is in the fashion business, and she sends out fashion tips each day along with an offer. Sandy, on the other hand, is in a niche that is much more entertainment than anything else.


Tips from Sandy on how to build followers on TikTok:

1: Cross promote by placing videos on Instagram and YouTube to get more followers. Then ask them to follow you on TikTok as well.

2: Consider using a content creation company. While Sandy didn’t take this route, she has several friends who did. It takes more money upfront to do this, but it can be a faster way to build a following. Content creation companies are agencies that help you figure out what kind of content you need to gain a large following.

3: Participate in challenges. This is when you ask or dare users to do or try something. Some challenges spread like wildfire, and some don’t. It just depends on how easily they can be recreated and how relatable they are. Put your own personal spin on your challenge to make it stand out and apart from others.

4: Use a branded hashtag for your challenge. This allows users to create content for you and in the process do your advertising, too. Reach out to popular creators and offer to pay them to create a video for your challenge and you could see a massive influx of new followers.

5: Use hashtags in general. Hashtags are easily searchable and make it easier for people to find both you and particular content in the topic they’re searching for. Use the in-app hashtag suggestion tool to find out which hashtags are trending. When you’re creating a caption for your video, hit the # and suggestions will pop up. Use those that are appropriate for your topic.

6: Create engaging content. Unlike YouTube and Instagram, TikTok accounts with few followers can still go viral with the right content. As always, make your content entertaining, relevant, trendy and high quality for best results.

7: Create lots of content. The more content you have, the better your odds of landing on the “For You” pages. For You Pages are individually curated for each TikToker based on the videos they’ve watched. When your video lands on this page, you stand a good chance of getting a new subscriber.

8: Don’t delete videos without a good reason. Sometimes a video that’s been posted for weeks suddenly goes viral and hits the For You Pages on a massive scale.

9: Quality rules. Users are more likely to interact and engage with your content if the picture is crystal clear, the audio is crisp and the framing is good.

10: Post when your audience is online. When you switch to a TikTok Pro Account, you’ll have access to TikTok Analytics which give you metrics and data insights, including the best time to post. Or you can use HootSuite’s TikTok scheduler to recommend the best times to post your content.


Advanced methods:

11: Consider using TikTok ads. This is only one of two paid traffic methods mentioned here, but if you have the funds, you can get your videos seen by the right people to grow your following fast.

12: Turn your best videos into ads with TikTok’s ‘Promote’ tool. Promote lets you turn any organic TikTok video into an ad. Note that costs on this are high, so be sure you know what you’re doing before you spend your money.

13: Use trending songs in your video. Some new songs are super popular on TikTok, and when you use one of these songs in your video, you have a greater chance of being played. To find out what’s trending, go into TikTok’s video editor, press the plus icon at the bottom of the screen, tap sounds and scroll through what’s trending.

14: Use TikTok Side-by-Side Duets. These are side-by-side videos. One video is the original and the other one is from a TikTok user like yourself. You can make these to comment, compare, compliment and respond to the original video.

15: Use TikTok Green Screen Duets. This option lets you make the original video into your background. Both types of duets should get you traffic from people who’ve viewed the original video.

16: Use Stitch. This allows you to clip and integrate scenes from another user’s video into your own. Like Duet, Stitch allows you to add to or contrast another user’s content, building on what they’ve done.

17: To learn more about becoming a creator on TikTok, you might want to check out the official TikTok Creator Portal here:

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this post as PDF to read at your leisure


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