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How TikTok is changing how creative talent is discovered

ITB's Managing Director Emma Shuldham gives perspective on how Tiktok has become the creative incubator for emerging acts to find fame inside and outside of social media in this latest article published by Creative Moment

Born on TikTok

Lil Nas X, Charli D’Amelio and Lil’ Huddy; they might not be Drake, Jennifer Lopez or Kim Kardashian, but they have quickly become as much of a household name as their superstar counterparts.

So, what’s the difference?

This next generation creative talent pool was born on TikTok.

When TikTok made its debut on the international stage (outside of China) in 2017, it took some time before it really caught on. Fast forward to 2021 and now we couldn’t imagine how we would have gotten through three national lockdowns without our daily TikTok scroll to seek out the latest trends that ‘make our day’.

But TikTok is also making its mark in another way; it’s changing the way talent is discovered, opening up new connections and avenues for the trailblazing creators behind the trends, touching all areas of culture from music to fashion, cooking to crafting, and beyond.

With around one billion monthly active users (a milestone which took Instagram eight years to achieve since launching in 2010) and over 2.6 billion downloads worldwide, TikTok’s phenomenal success – particularly during lockdown when the platform saw a 129% increase in users between January – October 2020) – is in no small part due to its clever design and community of creative users.

TikTok is a platform built for creators (both existing and emerging) and to proliferate the network effects of creativity.

Because of this, the platform acts in many ways as an incubator for creativity and a launch pad for emerging acts to find fame outside of social media – be that helping 16 year old dancers like Charli D’Amelio become the most famous teen in America or launching music artists like Lil Nas X, who has gone on to win an AMA, multiple billboard music awards, Grammys and VMAs after the success of ‘Old Town Road’ – now the most platinum-certified song ever – was propelled by the platform.

Barriers to entry have gone

At its core, TikTok offers a wealth of features which easily facilitate and openly encourage remixing and responses of existing content – fostering a sense of collaborative creativity and furthering the virality of memes, original sounds and breakout songs.

We saw this early in 2021 with the astonishing success story of Scotsman Nathan Evans. Evans went viral on TikTok with a cover of the traditional sea shanty Wellerman – kick starting the popular ShantyTok trend, racking up millions of views on his covers and then breaking out of social media to sign a record deal with Polydor Records and release a Top 5 single. The 26-year old has since quit his job as a postman and written a song for pop star Kelly Clarkson.

By lowering the barriers to entry for original video creation and editing, even a total amateur could quickly grasp the basics and create compelling content.

While for those already proficient creatives – even better – they could thrive and build new audiences. Take for example, Wisdom Kaye – a 19 year old from Houston, Texas; he used the platform to share videos of his latest outfit choices to try and change the conversation around men’s fashion. He quickly became a sensation, dubbed the ‘Best Dressed Guy on TikTok’ by Vogue, and was signed by one of the largest talent agencies in the world, IMG Models.

And even for established stars, the likes of Jason Derulo and Gordon Ramsay have found new levels of fame and appeal through their content on the platform. Singer Derulo has amassed a following of 43.6 million on TikTok for his comedy and dance filled videos – almost six times his following on Instagram. For celebrity chef Ramsay, another regular TikToker, he now has twice as many followers on TikTok than Instagram.

Becoming an overnight success

The FYP (For You Page) algorithm on TikTok not only levels the playing field but democratises exposure to allow for anyone to become an overnight success and amass thousands or millions of followers within a short period of time; in contrast to apps like Instagram where audiences have to be carefully cultivated and many creators find themselves reaching a plateau with stagnant follower growth.

The numbers for TikTok megastars like Charli D’Amelio (106M followers), Lil Huddy (30M followers) and Addison Rae (77M followers) are meterioc in comparison to other platforms, where this level of following is reserved only for the Super A-list, like Chiara Ferragni (23M followers) and PewDiePie (22M followers) on Instagram, which have taken years of cultivation.

Successful brand activations with creators on the platform are a space for creativity to flourish. 

When MilkPEP looked to relaunch the iconic ‘Got Milk?’ advertising campaign for the Gen Z demographic, TikTok was an obvious platform to start a viral challenge, encouraging creators to show off the most impressive ways that they #gotmilk. ITB supported this by engaging influencers and creators including Michael Le, Jason and Caleb Coffee, Crissa Jackson and Kheris Rogers. To date, the #GotMilkChallenge has racked up 4.5 billion views on TikTok.

TikTok’s design and content capabilities help to foster a joyful creative community of self-expression, which is aided by steps TikTok is taking as a business to support and empower its users. In the last year, TikTok has actively helped creators to build their profiles and understand how best to use the platform, as well as launching an above the line advertising campaign celebrating the wealth of creativity on the platform.

In addition, the launch of the Creator Fund in September 2020 enabled those approved to start earning from the performance of their content, allowing creators to take their creativity, imagination and ambition to the next level. Taking all of this into account, it’s no wonder people are enticed to work within the TikTok ecosystem.

With US President Joe Biden pausing legal action against TikTok, the uncertainty over the future of the platform has been allayed for the time being, and with Instagram effectively shadow banning content that’s repurposed from TikTok, this will surely only serve to focus creators efforts within the TikTok ecosystem. But given that it’s still a relatively young app, unlike Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter, a question mark remains over what measures TikTok has in place to tackle hate and misinformation, which could be problematic.

That being said, from the current vantage point, it looks like TikTok will only continue to grow, with a bright future ahead not just for the platform in terms of creativity and self-expression, but for those new stars who have successfully managed to launch a career from it.

It’s time for us all to get a little more creative and there’s a lesson for all of us; don’t make ads, make TikToks.

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