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As TikTok Becomes Influencer Marketing Hub; Here's Why Content Creators and Users are Annoyed

As TikTok undergoes a commercial shift, influential creators express discontent over the rising tide of sponsored content, likening the platform's atmosphere to SHIEN and AliExpress.
TikTok Photo Illustration | Getty Images | Photo by Chesnot
TikTok Photo Illustration | Getty Images | Photo by Chesnot

From a platform for short format danced videos, TikTok has evolved into a hub for influencer marketing but this has also left some creators with a substantial number of followers, dissatisfied over a surge in sponsored content. Users blame the influx of ads for transforming the once organic and creative space into something resembling e-commerce giants SHIEN and AliExpress.

In April, TikTok introduced the TikTok Shop along with a US affiliate program, enabling creators to earn commissions on product sales. The move aimed to capitalize on the burgeoning social commerce trend and is also being touted as TikTok's entry into a domain ruled by Amazon so far. It has been trying to make the most of Black Friday sales and festive sales through the shopping platform, as sellers ranging from major brands to smaller entrepreneurs are promoting their products on the platform. However, some users are now raising concerns about the unintended consequences of this shift, which is interrupting the experience of users as well as content creators.

Well-known TikTok creators, including Grace Brassel with over 500,000 followers, are vocal about the increasing prevalence of sponsored content. In a video, Brassel likened the platform to a hybrid of SHIEN and AliExpress, criticizing the proliferation of TikTok Shop advertisements and the 'NPC trend,' where influencers repetitively perform actions in live streams tied to digital gifts. The practice of simply repeating the same drill with different products is being perceived as something that stifles creativity and originality that once allowed TikTok influencers to stand out.

A man holds an Apple iPad Mini as he uses Taobao with AliExpress app | Getty Images | Photo by studioEAST
A man holds an Apple iPad Mini as he uses Taobao with AliExpress app | Getty Images | Photo by studioEAST

As TikTok takes over from other social media sites such as Facebook, reporters have conducted an analysis of 500 TikTok videos. One reporter found that approximately 30% of the content was ads, while the other observed a 36% presence of product-related content. The data suggests a steady rise in the integration of advertised material into users' feeds, but at the same time, the experience on TikTok is drastically changing.

Creators like Mile Taylor, who has nearly 14,000 followers, expressed discontent with the influx of Shop-related content. In a video, Taylor acknowledges the opportunity it presents but voices a desire for a more balanced content mix. Autumn Accord, with over 150,000 followers, expressed skepticism about the authenticity of reviews for sponsored content and lamented the overwhelming number of ads.

As social commerce gains traction globally, TikTok's current pivot towards sponsored content mirrors Instagram's previous endeavors in the same space. After facing similar criticism for the move, Instagram recently removed its "shop" tab after testing a home feed without it.

TikTok's evolution into a platform with increased commercial elements prompts reflection on the delicate balance between monetization and user experience. Creators and users alike grapple with the challenge of maintaining the platform's creative essence amidst a growing wave of sponsored content.