TikTok’s Role in the Future of Influencer Marketing, feat. Sophie Wood - Ep. 24

James Nord
July 20, 2022
Updated Feb 09, 2024

Welcome to Negronis with Nord. Today’s episode is a light-hearted debate featuring two different generations clashing, James as the TikTok prosecution and Sophie as the defense. The two discuss the potential future of influencer marketing with TikTok at the helm, and what this looks like for creators long-term. You can submit your questions for future episodes here.

Below is a transcript of the full episode for your reading pleasure. Make sure to subscribe to the Fohr YouTube channel to get notified of new episodes.

Your opening statements, please...

James: You know, from a larger industry perspective. Again, something I think about is that like these platforms are, don't have a lot of incentive for creators to make money if they can make it so they can sell more advertising versus putting money in a creator's pocket, then like, that's what they want to do. Again, looking years down the road. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative> that like? Is it just gonna be like, almost like back in the Tumblr days when like every week there was like a new hot Tumblr that was like went kind of viral and people loved it for a week and then it like went away. You

Sophie: Know, I just think the idea that TikTok is based on virality is incredibly passe. Like I think we're, we're done with like the idea of like chasing virality and anyone who is chasing virality should not be a creator.

James: We could probably film now welcome to very sweaty, very hot Negronis with Nord episode 24, tropical edition

James: Is the HVAC broken? Is it just a fucking piece of shit? It's hard for me to really understand. I am $25,000 into trying to fix the HVAC system in this office. And yet it's so hot. I can't even wear my essentially see-through linen jacket. We're here. I have Sophie wood, our, our star strategist. Yeah. Resident gen Z expert, you know, Sophie and I have both been working on a pitch the last couple days more Sophie than me, but it was looking great. And what that means is we haven't actually talked about really what we're going to talk about today. So thank you for joining me in this very hot and sweaty experiment.

Sophie: Love, happy to be here.

James: Happy to have you.

Sophie: Happy to sweat.

James: Yeah. And maybe we can like tone down the reds, Aaron as the day goes on and we like our cheeks get flushed.

Sophie: Yeah. That was actually just happening in the pitch. I could feel my cheeks getting flushed as I was talking.

Building community on TikTok

James: What I have been thinking about just the future of social after years of undisputed dominance, Instagram has, I don't even know if we would call TikTok a competitor anymore. Cause it feels like Instagram's trying to compete with TikTok, right? Not vice versa right now. You know, we have a new platform, which is obviously moving into like the cultural spot that Instagram has held for so many years. It is obviously changing social quite a bit, which needed to be. But I do think it's worth examining what are the long-term impacts and what are these businesses trying to do, you know, generate value for their shareholders and how are they doing that? And what does that, what does that mean for influencers? My fear has been like, if followings get deemphasized for the For You page for this algorithm, which can like, you know, if you spend a week on the platform, it like learns you and it figures it out and it's serving you that like is perfect for you. Exactly what you want. If that continues to be what people want. And if followings become deemphasized, is it gonna be harder for creators to to make money on these platforms and monetize them? Your feeling was right off the bat generally. No. Explain to me, I guess your feelings on, like, what does that mean for creators three years from now five years from now?

Sophie: Well, I think a lot of the time, when we think about how TikTok is structured, we're like, there's the For You page, which like you're saying de emphasizes followers. It's like showing you to a new audience. But in the last few months I've noticed that they haven't prioritized For You page anymore. And it's more like the following and the friends tab. And then For You page, and then that's similar to how Instagram was structured with the explore page, where it was like, it was feeding you content of people you didn't follow. And then suddenly it was like, now we're all in our own feeds of people. We do follow. I think TikTok is following that same suit. And I think it is sustainable. I don't think it's deemphasizing followers. I think it being the beginning stages of the app, they were trying to get people to discover people on the app as they had first downloaded it by having For You pages, the main feed now that people know who they like, they have the friends, they have the following and they have the For You page. I think it's fine. I don't think it's an issue because I think that's how Instagram started. And it's still going strong 10 years later,

James: You mentioned earlier that you said that, you know, you felt like on TikTok, you really had to have something to say things I think feel either more substantive than Instagram or significantly less substantive. That's slightly concerning to me because the beauty of Instagram was that you really felt like you were building a relationship with a person. If you look at like a person you only have so much to say, you know, there is an, an infinite pool of insights and hot takes and things that you can do the power of Instagram is being able to follow the more mundane as well. Eva Chen who's obviously been hugely successful on Instagram. It is just like, I'm literally taking you along on my day, you know, and showing you exactly what I do be it doctor's appointments or the met gala.

Sophie: I mean, I think the way that you view TikTok is like through a lens of like hot takes, chasing virality, trying to like one up each other in like explosive content where I don't see TikTok in that way. I think TikTok is a platform that has so many different niches. We're like sure, some of that exists, but I think the most successful people are the ones that are connecting with an audience. And I think TikTok does a better job at fostering that than Instagram. Like to your point of being like you follow someone, cause you feel like you connect to someone TikTok does that. And then also offers you the tools to better engage with your community. So like TikTok is the one that introduced the idea that you could respond to a comment with a video.

Burnout on TikTok

James: I mean, we are seeing, I just saw at VidCon, there was a lot of talk amongst talkers. It sounds so stupid saying that. I think people who had six months ago been doing really well were really struggling now that's natural. Right? Obviously we see a lot of that on Instagram complaining about the algorithm. It's the algorithm. Why doesn't it shows to my followers when like the reality is it is hard to create engaging content TikTok's relevance in America is probably what two years old. Like obviously it's been more relevant for longer than that, but like mainstream America, two years old, like really mainstream probably a year mm-hmm <affirmative> I think it's just interesting how much faster there's like backlash and you're hearing about creators feeling burnt by a platform which took, I feel like a long time with Instagram. Like what do you think is happening there? Do you think that like, it's just that social is moving so much faster right now? What, what do you think is happening there?

Sophie: So I think with TikTok, there was this idea, like, especially with Victoria Paris, who was like, I will post three to six times a day on TikTok. And that's how I grew to a million followers in two months. And she has a community, like if she went to VidCon and was like, I'm here, like there would be thousands of people flocking to her, like that is true community. That's not like you had 2 million followers on TikTok and no one shows up to VidCon. Right. I think that will definitely foster burnout in a way that Instagram will not because Instagram, you can like batch create content and just kind of like post it, you know, three times a week, rather than three to six times a day. I think the burnout on TikTok is comparable to YouTube. Whereas like Casey Neistat was creating a vlog a day for years.

Sophie: And he got so burnt out that he left the platform essentially. Like he pops in every couple of months, but like that burnout was still there. And I think you can say that you can get burnt out in any career. Like it's a matter of you setting boundaries for yourself, but I don't think that's necessarily a fault of TikTok. I think it was kind of just like the nature of what people were saying would get you to get followers and sure. If you wanna burn yourself out, that's fine, but you can always stop yourself from doing that.

Fandom on TikTok

James: And what do you think is going on with like fandom on TikTok? Because I just don't think it happened on Instagram. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> the algorithm, the network effects on TikTok, which do help people create audiences significantly faster audiences that are potentially not as loyal to that person. I mean, I saw this with, you know, my friend doing the f*cking sync reviews who got 900,000 followers in three months or something and people got sick of sync reviews and they stopped watching it. You know, like it was just kind of like a flash in the pan. It does feel like it is like creating celebrities, not influencers mm-hmm <affirmative> and it does feel like, you know, I don't think that's, everyone's motivation. That's on the platform, certainly. But when you think about what is success on this platform? I wonder if you're talking to 16, 18 year old on the platform, if that's what success is for them.

James: Right. Because I feel like in the news, those are the stories you hear, right? The, like the people that built the million followers really quickly and they did a meet up and there was, you know, 5,000 kids that showed up and the cops had to come and like, that's, that's exciting, but that's not like sustainable. Yeah. That's not like an actual thing. We can build an industry off of. Where does that go in that, like that desire for that like fame that maybe it's more the press fetishizing that of like, holy shit, it's creating these like crazy communities of fans that are like rapidly following these people. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> that doesn't feel like super healthy to me.

Sophie: I don't think it is. I think the reason that that didn't happen on Instagram, the idea of like a crazy fandom that feels obsessive and like knows every aspect of your life that happened on YouTube. And I think just because video in general, like offers up a new portal to your life. Whereas like when I think of classic heritage, Instagram influencers, I think of always being an arm's length away. That was something that Grace and I were just talking about. There could be people on Instagram that have 500,000 followers that I've been following for four years. I've never seen a picture of their boyfriend, of their fiance. Right. There's like a way to keep that at arms distance. And then on TikTok and YouTube with like video where it's like, you're documenting your life, you're showing your personality, you're showing your day, those personal aspects, seep into your content and become apparent, especially to people that like do follow you or are part of your community.

Sophie: And I think that's why like obsessive fandoms came out of YouTube. Like I'm thinking about how many, how much YouTube drama went down over the course of like 10 to 15 years that happened. And then now it feels like it's happening again with talkers where it's like, oh my God, Nessa broke up with so and so, and now like Addison Rae is beefing with so and so it's like so bizarre that it happened so quickly, but I honestly think it's the video platform in general, not necessarily like TikTok mm-hmm <affirmative> or Instagram, or like what's different. I think it's the video versus photo being the priority.

Sponsored content on TikTok

James: And you talked about burnout. And I think that, like, if you get to a point where you're making hundreds of thousands of dollars on this, like you also have to run the business, you know, you've got hours a day of email and events and then you're traveling for things like it is, it takes a like significant amount of time just to run that business. And I wonder just with how much TikTok asks of the creator for an influencer, let's say they're like on a brand trip and they check into the hotel and they can just like walk around with their Instagram and do a story and like show the room and be like done. Right. But like, there's an expectation now with TikTok, right? That like, how am I gonna make this really creative and interesting, which I think is great, cuz it's like, how am I going to make this better for my audience?

James: But again, not super sustainable potentially when like that quality level has to be so high. And I think you're right. We saw a lot of the big YouTubers felt like they just kind of like stopped and went to Instagram mm-hmm <affirmative> and we're like, this is just too much fucking work, you know, Instagram's not going anywhere. So do like people build a TikTok following and try and like move it to Instagram and commercialize and like get brands to pay more for their Instagram and use TikTok as like a way to grow their following. What's that future look like?

Sophie: I mean, I think that's what a lot of big TikTokers did. And it seems like they caught onto that early on where it was like they were constantly directing their TikTok followers to their Instagram because I think they knew that what they were doing, wasn't sustainable posting three to six times a day on TikTok. And also to your point, there's probably more money wn Instagram and it's easier to make than TikTok. So like if someone was posting a TikTok and someone comments and they're like, where's your dress from? They go, it's linked in my Instagram stories. I won't tell you where it's from. You have to go to my Instagram stories in order for you to know where like where this is from. And so that was a way that they were like transferring people from TikTok to Instagram and it worked. Yeah. And I do think that they find that monetizing on Instagram is, I don't know if the word is better or just like, I don't know, it's better for both them and the brand mm-hmm <affirmative> because like we were just talking about Instagram was an app before people really started monetizing it in the way that it is now where people will post a sponsored post once a week. Probably it took like years to get there for Instagram and for it to feel natural.

James: And that was partly the market forces in that like people just weren't spending, you know, significant money until 2016, 2017. So you had five or six years where like, there was just no money in

Sophie: It when TikTok really started picking up in 2020. And we were like, okay, we're gonna do like paid campaigns on TikTok. Now it was almost like, ugh, like I don't wanna taint TikTok. So early on, like the app just happened, like, why are we pushing, sponsored content onto it? Or even with like the comeback of, or it feels like a comeback to me of like newsletters and like Substacks when people are now talking about monetizing Substacks, I'm like, why are you tainting something that like is still so fresh?

Prioritizing creators

James: What we were talking about earlier? Like what concerns me from a pure business perspective is that like, it's not gonna make a lot of sense for TikTok or Instagram to take a cut on the money. Influencers are making it's too complex, right? They're always gonna be selling ads. I think TikTok's on track to do close to $30 billion in ad sales up from 10 last year. So it's like obviously blowing up only thing TikTok cares about. The only thing is getting people to spend more time on the app. My fear is, again that they have this incentive to obviously show people the best content they can to keep them in the app and not get them to move to Twitter or put the phone down or whatever it might be if they continue to lean on that and followings do get de-emphasized, they will still be able to sell a load of advertising against those impressions.

James: If average viewership on TikTok is 10% right now, again, we have to check. I'm not sure if that's just sponsored that we have, I think about like Insta stories as five to 7%. So you're, you're already at tos being like getting as much viewership as Insta Stories. If that halfs in the next three years, followings become like almost worthless, seems like they're starting to try and push against it for the last few years. I think what people have loved about TikTok is that the algorithm could help you build the following so much faster on Instagram. I mean, how many people I've talked to that are like, I've been grinding on Instagram for seven years. I have 50,000 followers. I got that in three weeks on TikTok, right? The same algorithm the Lord giveth, the Lord take it away. Like I just don't want people to be naive and think that like, oh, but like the TikTok algorithm has really helped me and it will continue to help me actually. It won't that they're going to get everyone sucked in and, and like hook to this platform and creators are gonna be left flapping in the wind.

Sophie: I mean, that's what Instagram did. And you just said, Instagram's not going anywhere.

James: Yes. Viewership has held decently. Well, they're already now putting more and more sh*t into your feed that you don't follow. I don't know if you've seen, like, if you've noticed that, but like I'm getting like every 10 posts is just a post from someone I don't follow, you know? And so again, let's like take that years from now. Do, are they doing a lot more of that? And now Instagram viewership goes from 20% average to 5% average stories are at 2% again. And then it just becomes like much harder for anyone to build a business on these platforms. That's a very fatalistic view. I'm sorry to be a bummer. I mean, we could just talk about the recession, but

Sophie: The main difference to me between Instagram and TikTok fundamentally is that TikTok from the beginning, acknowledged that all the credit was to the creators of the app. Like they knew that their app would be nothing without the creators that consistently make on it. I don't think they're gonna leave them in the dust. I think Instagram kind of did that. They're kind of trying to backtrack now, which is why they're putting like random people's content in our feeds. But I think TikTok understands that and they've understood it from the beginning. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> Instagram offers. I mean, I think they are now within like the last six months, just because I've been seeing DonYe, getting invited to Instagram events, which never happened. They are now putting an emphasis on creators. Right? TikTok has always done it. They like assign people, account managers for TikTok. So they have a connection with TikTok. If I ever tried to get in touch with Instagram, have you ever tried to get in touch with Instagram? Not through a connection. It's literally, there's no point you're never gonna get in touch with anyone.

The main difference to me between Instagram and TikTok fundamentally is that TikTok from the beginning, acknowledged that all the credit was to the creators of the app. - Sophie Wood

James: Luckily I'm very connected.

Sophie: We know he's verified. <Laugh> see. That's awful. See, when I had an issue with TikTok, I reached out to them and someone got back to me in two business days.

James: Yeah. Which is how it should be.

Sophie: Yeah. Which is why I do not think that they will leave creators in the dust. I think they fundamentally understand that they need to nurture that relationship.

Measuring effectiveness on TikTok

James: On TikTok. I would like to see more consistent delivery to followers 10%. I think if that is the benchmark. And I know that is like, I actually am confident for us. That's our benchmark of the, you know, probably 10,000 TikTok accounts. We have connected to the platform. That's an embarrassment. That's not okay. It's not okay. That only 10% of who follows you sees your content similar with Instagram, 20% is not okay. If you built that following, we should have more tools as creators to reach that fucking following for the industry. What we need is better ways to track through, to sales. We need to be able to prove this works. I think everyone in the industry right now is still in a place just crazy 10 years later of like, I know this works. I can't prove it. Yeah. I mean, TikTok you, I mean, I mean, you can't even put a link in anywhere. Yeah. And TikTok just walked away from their e-com, which is concerning. We need to be able to show how buying something three months after seeing it on Instagram and be able to attribute it to seeing that Instagram, like that's the unlock. Cuz I think for those of us who are consumers of all of this content, we know how directly our decisions are influenced by these platforms. But it is literally impossible to track that influence.

Sophie: I think the reason that TikTok did that is because they tested it in UK, I think. And they were like, this didn't work. But I also think that they look at Instagram and look at their mistakes and learn from them in the way that Instagram does not. I think Instagram integrating, shopping into literally every piece of content ruined the app and they were like, wait, let's not do this. And I think TikTok is gonna invest in pixels, which means that no one is like shop through this blah, blah blah, is basically like I did a sponsored ad with L'Oreal where I like use this lipstick. And then there's a pixel that knows that that ad was served to that person. And then that person within a 30, 60 day window ends up buying it elsewhere just through their phone because everything is tracked through our phones that will bridge that gap. And it won't feel so in your face, by this, through the app. Right. I think that's the direction that TikTok is gonna go in. I don't know if they've even like, thought about that technology, but I know that it was mentioned at the Business of Fashion conference that we went into and we were like, yes, cuz we need to bridge that gap in a way that doesn't feel so pushy.

James: That's gonna be pretty difficult just with what Apple's doing, which is basically like outside of your specific app, unless you link out to a website, go f*ck yourself, you don't get anything, which is a completely bad faith argument. I mean, I like that apple campaign about privacy is obviously complete and utter bullshit. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> Apple is like, we care about privacy. Like yeah, we, we want to be able to sell you advertising, not Facebook. So yeah. You know, I think for me, what I really hope with TikTok because yes, there are people making really good money. Not as consistently. I think a lot more TikTok creators are being taken advantage of by brands because they're younger because the industry isn't as, as evolved. But like I want people to be able to build sustainable careers. I think that's always been my fear in the influencer space is that like 10 years from now will influencer marketing be more powerful or less powerful than it is today.

James: Exponentially more powerful mm-hmm <affirmative> in 10 years from now will creators who are killing it today, be able to have careers. I am much less confident on that, that, that time when you can monetize your following, get shorter and shorter and shorter and shorter. And so for influencer marketing and for us, we're good. Right? We are always going to be able to work with individuals who are at the forefront of culture, who are creating content that is crushing it that have great viewership. Like we're always gonna be able to do that. That's not a problem, but for those individuals, are they gonna be able to build sustainable careers or is it gonna be a kind of 15 minutes of fame? And like, you can use that to like springboard to something else, but you can't make millions of dollars over 10 years and really build a business off of it.

James: I think that's my fear. And, But my hope is that that is possible and that those people that, you know, never hit the million, but have 200,000 followers in a community that really, you know, is invested in them. And they invest in that community that like theyaare able to monetize it and we're able to work with those people. Cause I, I hope we don't have to just constantly be like reaching for that like next big thing, you know, with that. Thank you all for joining as always. We will bring Sophie back from time to time when I need to be an old man and yell at her to get off my lawn. So thank you for sitting through the, the heat obviously. Like, I don't know if I drank this or if it just evaporate. Yeah.

Sophie: I don't remember you ever putting that to your lip. So I'm confused. I

James: Think it's just in the air somewhere.

Sophie: Goodbye. I would like to be on here again. So comments saying you liked me, so James will have me again. You can follow me at Goodwoodx and follow my book club at book bimbos club. We're currently reading funny. You should ask. And I'm currently reading lap lap Bon. I think it's called anyways. Thanks for watching. Imagine if we got to just like do campaigns and not disclose that it was sponsored, we would make a fucking killing.

James: I mean, I don't even have to think about that. That was what it was. I know, you know, for so long we didn't do sh*t. You know, we were just like, you know, brands would be like, oh, we can't say it's sponsored cuz we want it to look like it's not. And we're like, yeah, duh. I mean, why would we skip them to say it's sponsored? Although it feels like luxury fashion brands kind of exist in that space. Yes. Like they're all gifting and paying people I think. And like, just like, they're still the last ones that are like, Ooh, if you could not mention.

Sophie: Yeah, that'd be great.

Cheers, and thanks for watching.

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