These new TikTok influencers have millions of fans and are hustling for a fraction of the price of YouTubers


  • TikTok is the most downloaded social media app right now, surpassing even Instagram in downloads last year with its short-form video app.
  • The app has created a new breed of social media influencer, who can gain millions of fans for showing off a particular skill or niche.
  • Despite the app’s huge popularity globally, TikTok stars earn about a tenth of YouTube stars through brand deals.
  • One influencer agency chief told Business Insider that TikTok stars earn about $2,000 for an appearance at a brand event, whereas a YouTuber could command as much as 15 times more.
  • Business Insider spoke to two TikTok stars, Magic Singh and Pavan Henna, about what it’s like to become famous on the app.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

TikTok is the most downloaded social media app on the planet, surpassing Instagram in 2018 in volume of downloads, according to App Annie.

The company hit one billion downloads last year, charming users with its injection of pure, often surreal entertainment in a social media market beset by humblebragging, polarisation, and misinformation.

The app is similar to Vine, the now-defunct looping video service. TikTok opens into an infinite feed of short videos, usually showing people dancing, lip-syncing, or doing some other choreographed action to music. There is no introduction or explanation, and the videos often border on the extremely weird.

That weirdness seems to have fostered a sense of creative freedom in its users, with videos showing everything from American teens showing off cheerleader-style moves in their bathrooms to wholesome videos showing four generations of moms and dads, to a quirky viral video showing a gummy bear Adele singing “Someone Like You” to a big gummy bear crowd.

TikTok’s parent company is a Chinese firm called Bytedance, one of the most valuable private companies in the world. It gained a bigger reach in the West when it acquired another short-form video app,, in 2017.

The app has created a whole new generation of influencers, and they’re quite different from the pranksters on YouTube or the highly polished Instagram influencer. They’re also highly savvy about the money-making potential on the platform — and they come a lot cheaper than YouTubers.

“It just kept spiking, I was going viral all the time”

Amardeep Singh Dhanjal, aka Magic Singh, is a British magician who has found fame on TikTok with short, entertaining videos showing his capabilities. Each video regularly gets tens of thousands of likes, and his most popular was liked 2.1 million times.

He’s almost exclusively famous on TikTok. Though he now has 27,000 subscribers on YouTube, he only experienced an explosion in subscribers six months after joining TikTok, according to SocialBlade analytics.

For the most part, Dhanjal uses social media like any other business — to persuade more people to book him for shows, birthday parties, or other events.

“Perhaps in the last five years I started taking social media a bit more seriously,” Dhanjal told Business Insider in an interview. “Facebook, then YouTube, then Instagram, I was just popping up videos for promotion really to get more work. And it was working.

“Then at the beginning of 2019, when TikTok was still called, they got in touch with me via Instagram. I thought it was spam and ignored it — but they got in touch again and asked me to sign up for an account, which I did.”

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Dhanjal found that interest in his videos spiked. He liked the platform’s simplicity, and its focus on setting videos to music. “It just kept spiking, and I was going viral all the time,” he said. “It felt like it was the new Vine. Except that it utilises the whole frame of your phone, which is nice, there’s music, titles, stickers, lots of fun things. And you can edit videos on the app as well which is cool. There’s just more available.”

Dhanjal says he is increasingly recognised as “that guy on TikTok,” even getting clocked by a Deliveroo rider dropping off a takeaway.

His TikTok channel is a marketing tool, a way for him to drive real-world bookings. As yet, it’s not a moneymaker in and of itself. He says he did earn some money when TikTok flew him to Spain as part of a marketing campaign for Sony. He’s open to other brand deals if big advertisers come knocking. “I’ve been focusing on my live shows but definitely, if someone does approach me, I’m up for doing it.”

Dhanjal’s wife Pavan also happens to be a TikTok star, and equally alive to the commercial opportunities it offers.

TikTok stars Magic Singh and Pavan Henna

Pavan Dhanjal, posting on TikTok as PavanHenna, runs henna bars offering henna art services in the style of a brow bar. Her quickfire videos show henna artists painting patterns on people’s hands, neck, and even pregnant bellies.

Her main bar is in Selfridges, the upmarket London department store, and she says she often sees TikTok fans visiting the store. What makes TikTok users stand out is that they are younger than the average Selfridges customer.

“The first time was last summer,” Pavan Dhanjal told Business Insider. “I had a young girl come to the henna bar, she was 14 and came with her parents. She had henna done — and said that she followed me on TikTok. And I just thought that was amazing, just to be able to drive customers into the henna bar.”

TikTok stars don’t earn very much yet, but the company is cultivating them carefully

As its popularity in Western markets has grown, TikTok has started playing with pre-roll ads. Scroll past the videos of miming schoolgirls, and ads for casual games and phone wallpapers pop up.

Nico Cary, who runs an influencer agency called Influentially, said it’s pretty early days and that it’s clear TikTok is slowly developing its ad product.

For now, he said, TikTok influencers come cheaper than YouTube stars, earning around $2,000 to appear at a brand event and to create content around it.

Individual posts come in at about £500. An established YouTuber can earn ten times as much, Cary said. The most influential Instagram stars, celebrities like Kylie Jenner, can earn as much as $1 million per post.

“There isn’t much money in the ecosystem,” Cary said. “We have done brand deals with companies that can’t command too much budget.”

Part of the reason is that TikTok is yet to develop sophisticated analytics, which are available to advertisers and influencers on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. “You can see the high-level engagement of likes, but you want to know the demographics of who’s seeing posts,” added Cary.

He says TikTok cultivates its influencers carefully, not only handpicking them from other platforms but continually talking to them. “They have group chats with influencers,” Cary said. “It’s different to the other platforms, they’re quite involved.”

TikTok’s London office has a team dedicated to keeping on top of pop culture trends and keeping an eye out for new, potentially popular influencers, as well as keeping the current crop of influencers happy.

As yet, Business Insider understands there are no immediate plans to offer a YouTube-style partner programme where creators can make money from ads.

“We are still a relatively young business, we have launched in the UK in August 2018. At the moment we are focused on building the best possible experience for our users,” a spokeswoman told Business Insider.

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