Digiday+ Research deep dive: Publishers don’t make money on TikTok, but that’s not stopping them rushing on to the platform this year

tiktok captured users

This research is based on unique data collected from our proprietary audience of publisher, agency, brand and tech insiders. It’s available to Digiday+ members. More from the series →

While creating content is the name of the game for publishers, social media content can be complicated for media businesses — depending on the platform. In this edition of Digiday+ Research’s deep dive into how publishers are using social media platforms, we’re taking a look at TikTok.

Digiday surveyed 72 publisher professionals in June and found out far more are using TikTok this year than last year, but those using the platform said there is a big discrepancy between its commercial value and its value for building media brands.

After taking a look at publishers’ activity on Facebook and Instagram in previous weeks, the number of publishers actively using TikTok might seem far behind: 51% of respondents to Digiday’s survey said their titles posted content on TikTok in the past month, compared with 99% who had posted on Facebook and 86% who had posted on Instagram. But that 51% is a big jump from last year, when only 35% of publishers said their titles had posted on TikTok in the past month.

Not only are more publishers using TikTok, but those who are using it are also using the platform more often. Respondents who said they post content on TikTok every day jumped from 18% in 2021 to 34% in 2022. Meanwhile, those who said they post at least once a week dropped from 74% last year to 54% this year. It’s likely that many of those who said they posted at least once a week last year increased their frequency to every day this year, causing the shift.

One interesting finding from Digiday’s survey is that, while publishers are posting more frequently on TikTok, the number of respondents who said they don’t invest at all in original TikTok content has jumped significantly since last year. In 2021, 0% of publisher pros said they don’t invest any money in original content for the platform. In 2022, that number is up to 19%.

On the flip side of that, of the remaining spending categories offered to survey respondents, every one indicates that spending on original TikTok content is down except for those who said they spend a lot on original TikTok content. That category saw an increase from 12% last year to 19% this year — adding to the complexity of publishers’ use of TikTok.

To complicate things even further, Digiday’s survey found that publishers are also not investing in advertising on TikTok. Out of the 72 respondents, only seven (or 10%) said they purchased ads on TikTok in the past month. So not only are publishers not investing a whole lot in original content on TikTok, but they’re also not really investing in ads on the platform, either.

The lack of publishers’ investment in TikTok is likely due to the fact that TikTok doesn’t seem to bring in a lot of money: Digiday’s survey found there was a significant drop in those who said TikTok is valuable to driving their titles’ revenues. Only 12% of publisher pros said TikTok is valuable or extremely valuable to driving revenues, down from 21% last year. Interestingly, though, the number of respondents who said TikTok is either not very, or not at all valuable, to driving revenues remained relatively unchanged: 56% this year, compared with 54% last year.

Publishers’ complicated relationship with TikTok took a swing in the complete opposite direction regarding brand-building, however: 44% of respondents to Digiday’s survey said the social platform is either valuable or extremely valuable to building their titles’ brands, while only 19% said it’s not very or not at all valuable for brand-building. This is not significantly different from last year’s survey results, when 50% of respondents said TikTok was valuable or extremely valuable for brand-building and 21% said it was not very or not at all valuable. But it does indicate that publishers clearly continue to see the importance of TikTok when it comes to building their titles’ brands.

The number of publishers who said TikTok is not at all appropriate for their titles’ brands is also down significantly this year: Last year, 12% of publisher pros said TikTok is not brand-appropriate, compared with only 3% this year. However, we can’t end this deep dive without complicating things just a bit further: The number of respondents who said TikTok is only somewhat brand appropriate soared from 15% last year to 50% this year. Meanwhile, those who said the platform is extremely appropriate fell from 32% last year to 22% this year, and those who said it’s appropriate fell from 35% to 19%.


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