TikTok Aims To Create 1 Billion Shopping Influencers

TikTok is reworking the antiquated affiliate marketing model. It aims to turn every one of its more than a billion users into a shopping influencer.
Influencers promote products. Previously, an influencer would share a unique discount code (“link and discount code in the bio”) because that was the only way to track the sales back to them. Brands would work only with a few creators because of the resources required to find them, agree on the details, and manage sales driven by them. TikTok is changing that with TikTok Shop, which launched in September 2023.

Anyone with over 1,000 followers can earn affiliate income by promoting products sold on TikTok Shop. Earlier in May, TikTok dropped the followers requirement from 5,000 to 1,000. It is still more than zero, but effectively, anyone who puts effort into creating content can meet the requirement.
Creators want to promote products that are likely to sell and thus earn them an affiliate commission. In turn, brands want creators who can expand their reach and get their products in front of new buyers. TikTok has a marketplace for brands and creators to meet, request product samples, agree on affiliate rates, communicate, and track affiliate sales. There are no discount codes on TikTok. Since the sale happens in-app, each sale can be directly attributed to a specific creator or even an individual video.
In July 1996, Amazon launched the first affiliate program on the internet. Anyone could start a blog, add links with an Amazon tag, and earn extra money. It remains the biggest affiliate program because Amazon is the biggest e-commerce store. However, as creators moved away from starting blogs to Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok, the Amazon affiliate program didn’t fit. Many creators link to their Amazon affiliate store in their bios, but there is no clean way to link an image or video to the product page.
The importance of the Amazon affiliates program is the most visible as Prime Day approaches. Affiliates are, in large part, responsible for creating Prime Day. Creators — mostly internet publications — promote it because they know many people will be looking for deals. Their content further grows the event. On TikTok, once a product starts selling thousands of units daily, influencers want to promote it because they know users have likely seen it already and are likely to buy. Their content accelerates the product further.
TikTok is removing the disconnect between shopping, affiliates, and creators. Affiliate link tags and discount codes are replaced with in-app tracking. The relationship between a brand and a creator is codified inside the app. Other social media platforms have also tried this or are starting now. On TikTok, influencers and their content, not brands, drive shopping, and thus influencing is a lot more transactional.
Top products on TikTok Shop already have thousands of creators promoting them with dozens of videos each, unlike a highly curated and selective set of creators the brand might be working with on Instagram, for example. Many of those videos are low-effort reviews rather than polished campaigns, too. They are closer to someone leaving an Amazon review, but this time, as a video and with a link that pays them if someone buys the product.
Influencers make up a minuscule share of social media users because of the friction of becoming one, finding brands, creating high-quality content, attributing sales, and having enough followers even to begin these conversations. With the loss of friction, there is necessarily a change much more significant than the number of influencers.


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