In July, when TikTok announced it was launching a $200 million fund to compensate creators, many of the platform’s stars were elated. While the specifics weren’t totally clear, the fund appeared to be an exciting opportunity to make a living doing what they love. Vanessa Pappas, now the company’s interim CEO, said the money would support “ambitious creators seeking opportunities to foster a livelihood through their innovative content.” After receiving an “incredible response,” TikTok later said the fund would grow to $1 billion in the US over the next three years, and double that globally.
One month after the program formally launched, some TikTok influencers say they’re disappointed with how the Creator Fund has panned out. Creators have complained on social media that they’re earning only a few dollars a day, even if their videos rack up tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of views. TikTok has not explained exactly how it calculates payouts.
The lack of transparency around the program, as with past TikTok efforts, has led to theories and speculation. Three creators who spoke with WIRED say they noticed their views drop after they joined the fund, and they wondered whether TikTok was intentionally limiting their reach to cap how much they could earn. Two of them have since opted out of the program entirely.
“I ended up leaving the Creator Fund. I’d much rather my followers see my videos than make a few cents on views,” says Tiana E., a TikTok influencer with over 50,000 followers. “I’m disappointed with the way it hurt people more than helped. I hope TikTok will do the right thing and make changes to the Creator Fund that will benefit their smaller creators as well.”
Some creators asked to remain anonymous because they believed the terms and conditions of the Creator Fund prohibit them from speaking about the program publicly, including to the press. TikTok’s agreement with creators says they must keep strictly confidential “the details of any reporting metrics that may be provided by TikTok” or “other non-public information contained or resulting from this program.”
TikTok declined to say whether the agreement forbids creators from speaking to the media. “Creators have already started sharing their thoughts about the program on TikTok as well as with members of the press,” Amelia Lukiman, a spokesperson for the company, said in an email. “Our priority is on continuing to optimize the program and improve the overall experience for creators.”
Lukiman says that any decrease in views creators have noticed since joining the Creator Fund is purely coincidental and not a result of their participation. TikTok also denied that creators in the program are held to a different standard of content moderation, another theory that was shared with WIRED. One influencer, who has roughly 100,000 followers, says that TikTok recently took down a video of an innocuous painting for unclear reasons; the company does not currently tell users which guidelines they violated. “The same day I got off of the program, I appealed the violation [and] got my video back up,” they told WIRED. TikTok says it’s working on ways to better explain Community Guidelines violations to users.
“Since launching the Creator Fund almost a month ago, we have been reading the comments and feedback submitted by creators that are part of the program,” Lukiman said. “We are working on a number of resources to help dispel myths and rumors about the fund, and in the meantime encourage creators to continue sharing feedback with us.”
To be eligible for the Creator Fund, TikTok users must be at least 18 years old, have a minimum of 10,000 followers, and have accrued at least 10,000 video views in the previous 30 days before they apply. The creators WIRED spoke to said the application process was seamless, but once they made it into the program it wasn’t clear how much they might earn. Last month, Business Insider reported that one creator was earning roughly 4 cents for every 1,000 views his videos received. TikTok says that views are only one metric it takes into consideration when distributing payments. Other factors include video engagement and the region where the video was seen. “Calculated funds are therefore dynamic and based on several factors, as a portion of the total Creator Fund,” Lukiman says.
Part of the issue may be how the Creator Fund was marketed. Some creators mistook the fund for a grant program rather than a more traditional revenue-sharing scheme. “I don’t know that the expectations were set in a realistic way,“ says James Nord, the CEO of Fohr, an influencer marketing platform. “A fund sounds like, ‘We’re going to give you $10,000 to shoot this series of videos you really want to create.’”
Is there something you think we should know about TikTok? Email the writer at email@example.com. Phone: 347-966-3806. WIRED protects the confidentiality of its sources, but if you wish to conceal your identity, here are the instructions for using SecureDrop.
Nord applauds TikTok for trying to find a way to compensate creators, even if the system isn’t perfect. “I’m glad that they’re trying to bake that in from the beginning,” he says. Influencers on older platforms, like Instagram and Twitter, have relied largely on outside sponsorship and advertising deals to make money. Instagram only began sharing ad revenue for some videos earlier this year.
YouTube is one of only a few platforms that have long shared ad money with creators, and it has faced many of the same controversies over monetization and view counts that are now plaguing TikTok. In some ways, the challenges facing TikTok as it figures out revenue sharing may be even harder. On YouTube, ads run before and in the middle of videos, like on traditional television. On TikTok, ads run when you first open the app and in between videos—they’re not tied directly to a specific creator’s work.
Outside of the biggest stars, TikTok is not particularly reliant on the personal brands of individual creators. On sites like Instagram and Twitter, users choose which influencers they want to follow, and their content is what populates their feeds. On TikTok, you can also follow people, but the primary feature of the platform is an algorithm that serves you videos it thinks you will like—no matter who happened to upload them. “For TikTok, the whole way it’s structured is for virality, and the individual creator is less important than the content on the platform globally,” says Nord. He says the Creator Fund is essentially a way to reward people in the rare instance when one of their videos goes extremely viral. “If you get one or two big hits in a year, at least they’re sharing some of that, and you feel like you’re getting something for it,” he says.
The Creator Fund may ultimately be one strategy for TikTok to keep its influencers from migrating to rival platforms like Instagram, but it may not be enough. This summer, as President Trump put TikTok’s future in jeopardy, many of the app’s competitors began gaining steam, according to the market research firm Sensor Tower. Some creators who spoke to WIRED seemed less worried about a geopolitical meltdown than the company not being forthcoming about how it operates. “If TikTok was more transparent about anything and everything,” one says, “I think it would relieve a lot of stress from me and other creators.”