What I learned from TikTok about money?

Over the last several weeks I have been exploring TikTok particularly in the world of personal finance and in this story I wanted to share some of my findings.

What prompted my interest in exploring TikTok?

As I have been looking to expand my social media presence, I have been exploring numerous social media sites.

I had been putting off TikTok for a while due to the impression I had of the platform. I viewed the platform as an avenue for teenagers and perhaps those in their 20s to express themselves through short dance videos. As you can imagine this didn’t align with my niche. Further, I was a little spooked with some of the media coverage around the perceived ties or affiliation TikTok has with China and potential privacy concerns.

However, what prompted me to look into it was the platforms continued exponential growth and a video I saw from the platforms CEO which reduced some of my paranoia on the privacy side of things. I can’t say I am entirely convinced on the companies messaging on privacy, but it’s also not significant enough for me to dissuade performing further research.

What were my initial impressions?

Once I had completed the download and account setup process, what struck me the most was the simplicity of the platform. The ease with which videos can be uploaded, the numerous options on video customization, and the simplicity with navigation all struck me as highly desirable qualities. The loose copyright standards was something that caught me by surprise but since I am not a lawyer, I decided to put that consternation to the side.

I decided to test the platform some more by uploading a few videos to see what happens. It was amazing how quickly you are able to get views, likes, comments and followers. This could be a reason for the platforms exponential growth since everyone likes immediate feedback. Perhaps it has something to do with the innate desire to be appreciated.

As I explored the platform further it did support my initial premise on why I had been putting the platform off which was the numerous dance videos by the younger generation. Don’t get me wrong as I am definitely not “hating” on the platform for that. It simply didn’t support my objective of increasing my social media presence in the personal finance space.

But I hadn’t used the search feature yet so further diligence was needed prior to arriving at any conclusions.

What were my impressions after several more hours of research?

There’s a “discover” button which is a feature to identify other communities or hashtags on the platform. It also shows trending hashtags along with their number of views.

Since I am in the personal finance space the hashtags that specifically struck my interest were finance related. These hashtags included #moneytok (3.0B), #moneytiktok (28.7M), #personalfinance (3.3B), and #finance (1.3B). The numbers in parentheses are “numbers of views.”

I couldn’t believe the number of views. Could this make sense on a dance platform? Perhaps my initial impressions were incorrect, and there’s more to this than young adults expressing themselves through dance. Perhaps this is the way of the future and an incredible platform to share your teachings with the world.

I had to learn more. Much, much more.

Then I started clicking the videos within those hashtags. The videos fell into several categories including:

  • Obvious business promotions
  • Leads in’s that didn’t go anywhere
  • Lacking any or adequate context
  • Circular reference videos
  • Dance videos with a finance overlay
  • Practical output videos

I know that’s a lot to unpack, so let me try to explain each of these categories.

  • Obvious business promotions — this is the simplest to fathom. There were numerous commercials about Acorns.com. I didn’t get much out of these commercials but what was clear was that Ashton Kutcher is a spokesperson and likely an investor. I don’t think there’s a way to escape these commercials, so be prepared for it. I also saw other commercials about the trading platform WeBull. In my view there’s nothing wrong with this category as ad revenue is a way to sustain most social media platforms.
  • Lead in’s that don’t go anywhere — this one is a bit trickier and the best way to describe it is with an example. Someone would come on the screen and would say something like — to learn more about a particular topic to follow them. They would flash some money usually in a briefcase or potentially a withdrawal from an ATM. In almost all instances, they would put their money into a fan and say something akin to, “If you want to learn about how I made $100k a month, click on the follow button.” Now I am discerning with whom I follow so I did want to see some of their videos in an effort to vet the content creator. Also, it goes without saying that, yes, I do want to make a $100K a month, so please show me how. However, in looking at their other videos, it was almost impossible to find the answer. Frequently, you would see videos with links to the creators personal website where they would sell something completely unrelated.
  • Lacking any or adequate context — there were several videos from individuals who were presumably very successful, but the videos lacked any meaningful context. For example, a content creator would say they made millions by the time they turned 25. Then that content creator would point to a pop up on the screen that said they own 5 properties and nothing further. Personally I would have liked to know, how did they get those properties, how did they start, did they use a cash-out refinance, what about taxes, do they rent those properties. So many questions, yet so few answers.
  • Circular reference videos — this is a category where the content creator would have a compilation of videos and the creator would encourage you to check them all out. I know what you are thinking, finally, we are getting somewhere. Some much needed answers. Then I started clicking and the videos would basically go in a circle and not answer the lead in. The worst part was it wasn’t an elaborate ruse. Usually the circle was 3 or 4 videos. These videos are all about 60 seconds long, so it goes by quickly. They seemed to be overwhelmingly in the drop shipping industry. They would discuss the money made through sales but not cover off on their expenses or profits before taking the viewer back to the lead in. That feeling of being incomplete can certainly be disappointing.
  • Dance videos with a finance overlay — I don’t know what to make of this category beyond simply saying, “wow”. These videos would literally have someone dancing and you would see pop ups with absolutely no meaningful information. There was one instance where someone, who I am assuming is the content creator, was dancing and there were pop ups that surrounded him which showed how much money he apparently made. Perhaps providing “value” beyond entertainment isn’t a highly sought after trait on the platform.
  • Practical output videos — these were certainly my favorite as I actually got something concrete out of these videos. But the most appalling part was how few views they had. The other categories had hundreds of thousands, if not millions of views and tens of thousands of likes. But this category had significantly lower metrics in both of these categories.

For my unscientific research, in several instances I did want to learn more about the content creators and would google them and look them up on other social media platforms. Often, I would end up on their Facebook, Instagram, on Pinterest pages where they would have lots of pictures in front of fancy cars, mansions, and “mad stacks of cash.” That’s some lingo I picked up on TikTok. Cool.

While I don’t claim that my research was statistically significant by any means as it was driven off about 4 hours of observation it was excruciatingly draining. So to readers of this story, I do want to say, “I took one for the team, and you are welcome.”

What was my verdict?

My takeaway from my research was TikTok has a lot of opportunity but needs more structure. Its like walking through a busy market with your senses on overdrive. It’s difficult to focus and the videos are short 15 to 60 second flashes, and difficult to recollect. Viewers with a short attention span would undoubtedly do well.

But is it a venue for personal finance videos? In my view, it potentially is if the creator can figure out a way to crack the sensory overload by providing value in first few seconds and make it interesting enough such that it doesn’t get lost in the deep dark crevasse’s of social media.

The platform has too much traffic to be ignored. I plan on continuing to publish content there and see where things go. If anything, it makes me feel good with the positivity inspired metrics the platform provides.

You likely won’t see me doing the futsal shuffle or the mop any time soon. A more probable outcome is boring videos where I help with spreading the words of personal finance and hopefully educating people and increasing the number of market participants, similar to what I do with YouTube, Quora or other mediums, no pun intended.

But never say never, as dance does release endorphins which makes me happy just like the metrics.

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