TikTok-native publishers look to expand business on other platforms after building audiences

Illustration of a rocket launching with the TikTok logo on the side.

TikTok-native publishers like Flighthouse and SongPsych have reached a milestone in the maturity of a modern media company. Like the YouTube-native, Facebook-native, Instagram-native and Snapchat-native publishers that came before them, these outlets that have amassed large followings on the ByteDance-owned platform are now expanding to other platforms in order to build their businesses.

One of the earlier media companies to devote itself to TikTok, music-focused channel Flighthouse has accrued 27.6 million followers on the platform since launching on Musical.ly in 2016, which ByteDance merged with TikTok in 2018. But it was not until early 2020 that the company was able to attract deals with notable brands like Hollister and Tinder, according to Flighthouse CEO Jacob Pace. Then six months ago, Flighthouse started repurposing its TikTok videos for Snapchat’s Discover platform as well as YouTube. “The more platforms we’re on, the more platforms we can monetize,” Pace said.

Flighthouse’s followings on Snapchat (more than 288,000 followers) and YouTube (435,000 subscribers) pale in comparison to its TikTok base, but unlike TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube operate monetization programs in which Flighthouse is able to receive a cut of the revenue from ads sold against its videos. 

SongPsych, which debuted on TikTik last spring and has 730,000 followers, similarly took that leap from TikTok to YouTube in November. The music-centric outlet relies on TikTok for revenue. The money it received through TikTok’s Instructive Accelerator Program is SongPsych’s primary funding at the moment, and it has also sold sponsorship deals on TikTok, including one with Def Jam Recordings earlier this month. Nonetheless, the property made its push to YouTube because the Google-owned digital video platform has a “strong and mature monetization structure,” said Peter Conforti, founder of Good Content, which publishes SongPsych. 

“We are really trying to diversify the outlets while still trying to grow our core TikTok page such that we are able to accumulate better sponsorships over time,” Conforti said.

However, expanding from TikTok to YouTube is not so straightforward as cross-posting content. The SongPsych team is currently testing a bunch of different formats on YouTube because the same format that the team “nailed” on TikTok isn’t as successful on YouTube, Conforti said. Its YouTube channel has less than 7,000 subscribers.

“It’s very tough to pull an audience from one platform to another,” Conforti said. “To get people to watch on both, you need to do something different on each platform — content may not translate perfectly.”

Conversely, it can be easier to pull an audience initially on TikTok than on more established platforms like YouTube. Conforti and James Cadwallader, chief creative officer of Kyra Media, which launched its first TikTok brand in January, touted the discoverability on TikTok in comparison to other social media platforms. “You can go viral at any given point. The same does not apply to Instagram or YouTube,” Cadwallader said. “For a new publication starting out fresh, TikTok made a lot of sense to us,” Conforti added.

When media publishers launch a new brand, they might “find success in being narrow and focusing on a niche target audience, with specific content, on a single social media platform like TikTok,” said Jessica Liu, senior analyst at research company Forrester. “For others, that approach might not work.”

5-Minute Recycle found that launching on TikTok can initially work better than launching on YouTube. The outlet first debuted on YouTube in 2019, but struggled to attract an audience. It then relaunched on TikTok in March 2020 after seeing that videos on reusing and recycling items were doing well on the platform. “It’s a great place to build new media brands,” said Michael Boccacino, director of content partnerships at TheSoul Publishing, which runs 5-Minute Recycle. It now has 8 million followers on TikTok and more than 6 million subscribers on YouTube.

A brand is not a business, though. 5-Minute Recycle has made money on TikTok through the platform’s IAP initiative (two other The Soul Publishing properties are part of the program’s latest round), but 5-Minute Recycle has not signed any brand deals for TikTok exclusively. That makes operating across other platforms important for improving TheSoul Publishing’s pitch to sell advertisers on branded content, which can be cross-published across platforms including YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. In addition to its 6 million-plus subscribers on YouTube, 5-Minute Recycle has attracted more than 600,000 followers on Snapchat after launching on the mobile platform in January 2021.

Not all TikTok-native publishers are quite so quick to move beyond the platform that earned them their audience. Kyra Media launched fashion outlet Rag Report exclusively on TikTok and has garnered 464,000 followers as well as a sponsor. On Apr. 16, the company signed its first brand deal with clothing company Diesel. It’s a “sizable deal,” said Cadwallader.

Despite Rag Report’s success in securing a sponsor, media outlets with footprints spanning multiple platforms stand a better shot of attracting advertisers. “More touch points will have a bigger campaign impact than one touch point on one platform,” said Clair Bergam, associate media director at Media Kitchen. 

“I’m not sure I would recommend running a 30-second video in a creator-led, TikTok-only channel,” Bergam added. “But if it’s integrated into a series, with a dedicated TikTok following, it could work either as a standalone test to see how that platform works for you or part of a larger integrated buy.”


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