Vicky Banham was surprised to receive the phone call. It was from a marketing company wanting to fly the 21-year-old out to Ibiza to attend the launch party of a new album by the DJ Sigala.
Within days Banham was on the Spanish island, partying at the DJ’s side. “It was so bizarre, so cool and so unreal,” she explains. “It was 24-hours of madness – so much fun.”
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Banham was asked to attend the event because of her 1.3 million fans on TikTok, a smartphone app from Chinese-owned Bytedance, where users share short videos, often based around memes, that has skyrocketed in popularity.
There was no formal deal linked to the trip beyond her expenses being paid, nor any requirements for Banham to post about the event on her profile: “He just wanted some TikTok people there.”
The invite goes some way to illustrate TikTok’s emergence as a more significant player on the social media landscape. In February, it was downloaded for the billionth time on Apple and Android smartphones, according to app monitoring firm SensorTower. More than 660 million downloads occurred in 2018 alone – 220 million more than Instagram over the same time period.
“The two immediate comparisons are Snapchat and Vine, both specialising in short content, both specialising in seemingly having a fast take-up by younger people,” says James Whatley, strategy partner at Digitas UK. “And it’s where you’re seeing genuine, quite fun creativity go viral.”
And with an avid audience of hundreds of millions mostly made up of teenagers and pre-teens, it's an advertisers’ dream.
The earning power of influencers on other platforms like Instagram and YouTube have been well documented – those with enormous followings can earn six-figure sums for a single sponsored post. So does the same apply to the TikTok stars?
Sponsored videos are how TikTok stars currently make money, which is different to rival video platform YouTube. “On YouTube, you get money from the views you get, but on TikTok you don’t get money from views right now,” says Javi Luna, a Spanish actor and TikTok creator with 4 million fans.
Luna began posting on TikTok in the summer of 2018, rapidly building up an audience enamoured by his quirky comedy sketches based on relationships and love. The platform is closer to Instagram, he says: “When you get a lot of followers or views, brands send you emails that they want to work with you.”
It’s an opportunity for entrepreneurs like Josh Shepherd, who founded a TikTok talent agency called Influentially around a year ago. His firm represents 15 of the site’s stars, who have a combined following of 15 million fans. They’ve run 35 campaigns in the last seven months, paying £1,500 ($1,937) to send TikTok stars to events such as Formula E races. Compared to influencers on other social media sites, that fee is tiny –Shepherd says that a YouTube influencer with a similar following could get £50,000 ($65,000) for a similar promotion.