- “How do you grow your audience?”
- “How do you monetize content?”
- “What’s your niche?”
These questions have haunted me for the past several weeks. After figuring out that I don’t really have a niche as a writer, I had a sort of analysis paralysis. I wrote a piece about learning in public and how the best niche was to have no niche, but it all felt wrong.
I resigned myself to the fact that I might never have a niche, and then thought about TikTok.
What creates a TikTok star? What’s the relationship between content and fame? What’s the secret?
The secret is that there is no secret.
The Strategy of No Strategy
Dixie D’Amelio was recently interviewed by Nylon. Dixie is the 8th most popular person on TikTok, with over 40 million followers. When talking about her interactions with the app:
Honestly, hours,” she says of the time she gives (to TikTok) — which, with each new follower, becomes more and more precious — to scrolling on her ‘For You page’ [TikTok’s homepage] “I could stay up all night doing it, which is a positive and a negative thing.Source: Nylon
TikTok creators are interesting. A large portion of them are young and tend to approach the app like Dixie does, as she described to Nylon:
“I just have fun with it. I try to keep my content the same as it always has been because that’s why people followed me. So I try to stay with what I know. I’m still surprised when the ones that take really no effort [become popular], where people are like, ‘Oh my gosh, classic Dixie.’ [But,] honestly, the ones that I do put effort in, I’m like, ‘Oh, this is, this is too much. I’m embarrassing myself.’ And then I end up deleting it.Source: Nylon
She doesn’t highlight a brand strategy or a particular niche.
I’ve had two separate ‘Twitter strategy’ conversations that sum up exactly what she’s said — the best content can often be off-the-cuff ideas, quick videos, and simple takeaways.
But Nylon highlighted that the more followers she gets, the more important it is for her to stay engaged.
So I wondered: does she need to spend more time on the app, uploading content, with each new follower that she gets? Do more uploads mean more followers?
No. No, it doesn’t.
Socialblade has a list of the top TikTokers, ranked by followers, uploads, following, and likes.
- Followers: # of people who are following the creator
- Uploads: # of videos uploaded by the creator
- Following: # of people that the creator is following
- Likes: # of total likes that the creator’s videos have received
A Brief Overview
I collected the data from Socialblade, threw it into Excel and looked it over in R, a programming platform. The sample size is 100 creators, who have an average of 24.9M followers, 1,408 video uploads, 961M likes received, and they follow, on average, 1,022 people.
Breaking Down the Data: The Top 10 TikTok Stars
Here are the stats of the top 10 TikTok creators by followers:
Dixie’s little sister, Charli D’Amelio absolutely dominates TikTok with almost 100m followers — besting #2 Addison Rae by 28.7M.
But the thing is, Charli doesn’t post that much. She doesn’t follow that many people. The explanation for her rise is way outside the scope of this article, but her strategy – post some videos, follow a few people – is interesting.
Number of Followers vs Number of Following
Charli only follows 1,065 people, much less than the amount that follows her.
In fact, the top 10 creators only follow about 1,175 people on average – skewed slightly by Spencer X.
Number of Uploads: How Do You Grow a Following?
So Charli, the most ‘successful’ person on the app, doesn’t follow a ton of people. But does she upload a lot of videos?
She’s actually #36 in terms of number of uploaded videos. The ‘Most Active’ (most uploaded videos) title belongs to Kyle Thomas, a British creator with 17.8M followers who has posted 7,430 videos.
Kyle does not have the most followers per upload.
The people who have the most followers per upload are celebrities. They automatically generate a following because of who they are. They aren’t necessarily “creators” who depend on the native app for success. Julesleblanc is probably the closest in-app creator, with 460k followers per each of her 32 uploaded videos.
There’s a bit of skew here because most of the celebrities can get away with not uploading much content. Ariana Grande has only uploaded 5 TikToks — but has 18.2 million followers – translating to 3.6M followers per upload. Justin Bieber is in second place, with 11 uploaded videos, giving him 1.6M followers per upload.
So is the Kyle Thomas strategy – uploading a ton of videos – the right one to pursue?
Content Strategy: Upload More?
Kyle and Charli clearly have different strategies. Which one is better? Does uploading more videos correlate with a higher follower count?
No. It does not. The scatterplot above shows the relationship between followers and uploads. The more followers you have, the less you tend to post.
More videos doesn’t necessarily mean a higher follower count.
The Negative Correlation Between Followers and Uploads
In fact, there’s a negative correlation between the two. In the table below, there’s a -7% correlation between uploads and followers — meaning that the more you post, the more likely it is that you have less followers.
If you run a regression on the data, you get a pretty gnarly equation:
The main takeaway here is that for every video that the creators upload, they lose 2,428 followers, holding all other variables constant. (The uploads coefficient of 0.0023 is expressed in millions here).
Subtracting Out Celebrities
Even if you take out all the celebrities (leaving you with n = 60), the same sort of relationship appears.
It’s actually worse with the celebrities removed – you lose more than 3,000 followers per upload!
The more you post… the more likely it is that you have fewer followers!
Of course, you can’t just not post. But in an increasingly content-heavy world, less content might be more.
The Laws of Content Supply and Demand
This is the scarcity effect — if you’re always offering up content, you reduce the gap between demand and supply. Ideally, the content demand is greater than the content supply. That keeps people coming back.
But if you’re constantly posting about your day, about something random that you see on the side of the road, people get less interested. There’s less mystery. You’ve got to keep the wonder alive.
The Strategy of Silent Strategy
This dataset does make an interesting point to the Nylon article . It is important for TikTok stars to watch other TikToks to check out the competition.
But that doesn’t mean they need to upload constantly.
As creators, we sometimes get wrapped up in our own voices. We focus too much on producing, and not enough time on consuming.
What Dixie and Charli seem to do well is stay on top of the TikTok trends. Most are ‘easy’ to replicate and are quickly consumed. They also carry well across other platforms, with further enables virality, and thus follower growth.
There’s probably a more scientific relationship between type of post and followers gained. Still, it’s interesting to consider the fact that the most popular influencers of this time don’t have a massive media strategy (that we know of) – they just have fun.
In some spaces, you’re encouraged to niche yourself into a box. And that makes sense — it’s good to gain deep expertise in one subject, because it’s an effective strategy for becoming an expert that people know that they can rely on.
But there’s also the point that some of us seem to forget — you’re supposed to “just have fun with it” too. Take advantage of trends, show people that you’re having a good time and that you enjoy what you do – There is no secret path to success. Don’t be so busy creating a niche that you forget to create.