At one time, TikTok was dubbed “the million-follower factory” for its ability to catapult new users to fame and notoriety. Are those days gone?
Over the last several months, there have been grumblings among creators that views are on a steady decline and follower growth is lagging. A cursory look at the top creators seems to reinforce this: Of accounts with over 50 million followers, 20 out of 21 hit that threshold prior to summer 2020, more than three years ago, the one exception being Selena Gomez—and even she, a global superstar, has been on the platform for years.
It’s well known that emerging platforms offer a chance for early adopters to build audiences before saturation—the more established a platform is, the more difficult upward mobility becomes. Pre-TikTok, every platform’s feed consisted of content based on who you follow; contrast this with TikTok’s For You page (FYP), composed of algorithmically selected content.
Alex Zhu—founder of Musical.ly, which sold to TikTok—preached that the FYP finally broke the mold of the big getting bigger by focusing on the value of each piece of content individually, giving late adopters a fighting chance.
So are the golden years of gaining 10 million followers in a week over? Has growth stagnated for all creators on TikTok? We took a look at the data for answers.
A view into views
Looking back at the last year and a half, there has been a decrease in the number of viral hits (classified as any video with over 10 million views).
You’ll notice that videos with over 10 million views peaked in February 2022 at 9,259 per week; that’s dropped to less than 4,600 videos per week in April 2023. In short, just over a year ago, there were more than double the number of viral videos.
Fewer videos going viral isn’t likely to impact your everyday TikToker. Hitting 10 million views is an outlier scenario for even the savviest creator; most have zero expectation of hitting this benchmark, and if they do, there’s little expectation of it being repeatable unless you’re MrBeast.
It doesn’t explain why smaller creators with tens or hundreds of thousands of followers are seeing a decline. So, we looked at the mean and median views per video.
In this analysis, we looked at videos with more than 10,000 views and those with over 100,000 views, allowing us to weed out spam content, focus on content from more seasoned creators and create a more manageable set of TikToks to analyze. The result? In both categories, average views per video had fallen steadily since a peak in December 2022.
Is this out of the ordinary? The average views a creator is seeing now (212,000) is less than the average over the past 6 months (219,000)—but, is a 7,000 view difference normal or cause for concern?
For a data point to be considered an aberration, it needs to lie at least 1.6 standard deviations from the mean. While recent views are decidedly below average, statistically speaking, it can’t be considered an outlier, meaning this recent dip doesn’t provide a meaningful signal that views are actually in decline—at least for now. That said, this very well could be an early indicator of even bigger declines to come.
So why does it feel like views are down? We have a couple theories.
Increased content and competition
In mid-March, it was revealed that TikTok’s American user base had grown to 150 million and over 1.6 billion worldwide. With more users comes more competition for attention, but also more potential viewers. This influx of both creators and viewers means that some established creators may no longer be the big fish in a small pond—viewership can be spread more evenly among newer content creators.
For example, Alix Earle has significantly fewer followers than Charli D’Amelio but is getting a higher percentage of views and likes on her videos. Additionally, unexpected stars like 92-year-old Grandma Droniak have gained a large following with high engagement rates and shares.
These new creators may be diverting views from established creators, but their popularity could also be maintaining overall average viewership.
A ‘slow burn’ model
Many creators have noticed that their videos are taking longer to hit the FYP than usual. While their typical video in February 2022 would hit 10,000 views in 24 hours, now the same type of content takes up to a week to reach those numbers.
It’s led many to posit that TikTok has adopted a “slow burn” model, where video views see a longer growth arc as the algorithm takes more time to determine which videos have the engagement that merits the FYP. This could also be a byproduct of TikTok’s emphasis on search.
Over a three-week period, we found that videos were gaining views throughout the month after they were first posted. While many creators historically believed videos gained nearly all their views in the first week, videos posted in late January or early February are still seeing up to 20% growth weeks later.
Videos posted before November 2022, however, were unlikely to pick up more than 3% additional views, indicating that TikTok is no longer pushing them to the FYP.
Just a year ago, weekly TikTok views averaged between 180,000 and 190,000, a far cry from today’s numbers. The game has changed: Content distribution is no longer the same, and contrary to platforms like Instagram, established accounts aren’t necessarily amassing more followers—in fact, creators with 100,000 followers have seen a 30,000 average drop in views.
TikTok redistributing views as new creators join the platform keeps the “rich-get-richer” principle out of the equation, causing a stir among established creators, and views now take longer to accumulate, revealing a slower growth pattern.
Marketers need to adjust their strategies to this evolving landscape. The era of instant virality is receding, demanding a patient approach and realistic expectations. Vigilance is key in spotting rising creators for potential influencer partnerships, given the platform’s continual flux, and adaptability is crucial as tastes and preferences shift alongside TikTok’s expanding user base.
In this digital standoff between Davids and Goliaths, TikTok is the unexpected wind shift, the level playing field where creativity, not follower count, reigns supreme. It’s a platform where stars are born from obscurity and underdogs don’t just bark, they bite.
To every aspiring David and every seasoned Goliath, TikTok offers a unique landscape where opportunity isn’t a privilege of the few but a possibility for all.
This article first appeared in https://www.adweek.com
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