There is a rising tide of uncertainty surrounding the future of TikTok in the U.S., and some of the app's most popular creators have already jumped ship.
Most recently, 20-year-old actor Josh Richards said he was leaving the app and encouraged his mostly teen following to shift to Triller, a rising music video platform. Meanwhile, other TikTok influencers were reportedly being financially wooed by Facebook to join Reels, which is embedded in Instagram.
But will followers actually budge? Probably – but only so many, experts say.
“Every influencer has super followers, and I think those super fans do follow them onto other apps,” said John Acunto, CEO of the social media platform Tsu. “But it's a fractional percentage of the fans they have.”
Influencers hold a lot of power when it comes to keeping people entertained on social networking sites.
They are the social media equivalent to actors on TV, only influencers are also responsible for producing the content for audiences. The term influencer is sometimes used interchangeably with content creator, though valued influencers have the power to sway people’s purchasing behavior or other actions.
But the amount of pull they actually have is complicated.
Followers don't always follow
Drea Okeke is a Nigerian American content creator based in Los Angeles.
She boasts more than 5.4 million TikTok followers. But those numbers haven’t translated onto other platforms even though she has asked fans to follow her elsewhere.
“I still only have 100,000 followers on Instagram. That’s a huge difference from my fans on TikTok,” Okeke said. “It’s awkward, like why isn’t it converting?”
Thanks to Okele and hundreds of other major TikTok influences, the platform was a unicorn that was the No. 1 grossing app on the iOS App Store globally during the first quarter of 2020, according to AppAnnie.
Since it merged with Musical.ly in 2018, creators have increasingly cranked out a wide range of comedic content set to music, winning over teens and young adults. The quick rise caught the attention of Facebook, which tried unsuccessfully to purchase Musical.ly years ago.
Facebook's previous copycat version of TikTok, Lasso, failed.
"I've never seen an app build celebrities the way that TikTok built them in less than six months," said Ariadna Jacob, the owner of the influencer marketing agency Influences.com.
Even if all their followers don't convert, social media stars have a heavy hand in establishing which platforms are "cool" and which ones fall out of favor, according to Elma Beganovich, who co-leads the influencer marketing agency A&E.
In 2016, before Facebook launched Stories, content creators flooded Snapchat. Many of them placed ghost icons in their Instagram bios and urged fans to come over to the disappearing photo platform with them.
“Influencers are basically responsible for getting users on Snapchat,” Beganovich said.
Then, after Facebook launched its version of Stories, influencers came back for a wider audience.
Why influencers move
A glitzy new app isn’t reason enough to tell followers to try something new, expert say.
Most often, opportunities to build revenue from brand partnerships or other ventures push high-profile creators onto other services. That's why they try to take their fans with them.
Several TikTok-famous creatives, including Josh Richards, Griffin Johnson and Noah Beck, have announced that they’ve made the move to Triller, a 5-year-old, AI-driven entertainment platform.
Richards is the app's chief strategy officer, while the other influencers are shareholders.
News of the switch and increasing calls to ban TikTok sent Triller downloads soaring. Overnight, it became the most downloaded app across multiple countries.
“If TikTok does get banned, we will probably take their place,” said Mike Lu, CEO of Triller. “This weekend, we saw our servers literally blow up” as people flocked to the platform.
Triller’s sudden growth was “organic,” Lu said, while Instagram is reportedly taking a different approach to winning over influencers. Instagram is said to be paying influencers hundreds of thousands of dollars to use its Reels feature, the Wall Street Journal reported.
A Facebook representative told USA TODAY that the company has "a long history of reaching out to emerging creators and working to break new stars on Instagram." The company also said that in "certain cases" it pays influencers to cover production costs.
How much influencers make
The amount of money creators makes varies.
Micro influencers with about 50,000 can start to make money from brands, Jacob said. But mega influencers with several million followers can make $10,000 per post or more, depending on how much time and effort goes into producing the content.
In July, TikTok introduced a $200 million creator fund aimed at helping eligible influencers on the platform earn a livelihood. TikTok said it expects the fund will grow to over $1 billion in the U.S. over the next 3 years.
“Wherever influencers go, the user retention rate will jump and the social platforms will, in effect, be able to sell more advertising,” Beganovich said.
Everyday users play a role, too
Paying influencers to seemingly abandon TikTok would do some damage, experts say. But it's too soon to count TikTok out. Amid the escalating White House pressure on TikTok, Microsoft has voiced its intent to buy the app, which could keep more U.S. creators on the platform, and more people watching the content.
Influencers and their marketing agents say the uncertainty is scary.
“It’s a very real concern right now,” said Influences.com's Jacob.. “If you spent all this time to build your audience, TikTok goes away, and you only have 500,000 followers on Instagram, you aren’t going to be able to make the same amount of money.”
A platform’s popularity isn’t all about the people who create the most-watched content.
In fact, more people consume content than produce content on social media, experts say. So everyday users play a more vital role in establishing new apps than the stars getting paid to keep people entertained.
“There has to be something that is novel about the platform in order to lure people in,” Beganovich said. “You need to win over the early adopters who will attract the influencers who will then attract more followers.”
Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ban TIkTok: Can influencers get fans to shift to Triller or Reels?