Audience Growth

The Biggest Challenges Facing TikTok in 2023 — And What It’s Doing About Them

by Nicholas Bouchard · Published Feb 16, 2023

TikTok has had a meteoric rise through the ranks of social media apps, but it looks like the platform’s white-hot run is starting to cool.

While TikTok has been one of the biggest digital trendsetters for a few years, even beating Google as the most-visited website in early 2021, it has a challenging year ahead.

Just last month, Justine Moore, Consumer Partner at VC firm Andreessen Horowitz tweeted a graph showing two worrying trends for TikTok: plateauing user base and decreasing downloads.

Read on to find out what’s lurking around the corner for TikTok, and what the platform is doing to make itself more resilient. Content creators, take note.

TikTok still struggles to capture older users

It’s no surprise to anyone that TikTok’s demographic skews young, but did you know by just how much? According to a Pew Research Center poll from 2021, there’s a huge gap between TikTok’s biggest demographic and older social media users:

  • 48% of adults aged 18-29 use TikTok.
  • 22% of adults aged 30-49 use TikTok.
  • 14% of adults aged 50-64 use TikTok.
  • 4% of adults aged 65 and above use TikTok.

And in a more recent survey, Pew Research found that 67% of American teens use the platform.

So why is this a problem? Well, it means TikTok is way behind some of its competitors in some demographics. In that same poll from 2021, over 80% of adults across all demographics — except those aged 65 and above — said they use YouTube. That means TikTok is losing out on advertising dollars that could be targeted at those demographics.

What is TikTok doing about it?

A few things, but there are two big ones to keep in mind. First, a push towards what TikTok is calling PGC — or professionally-generated content — internally. Unlike the lo-fi content that made the platform famous, this kind of content is meant to replicate the slick production value you’d typically see on YouTube.

TikTok is also trying to attract reputable media brands and publishers to the platform, hoping they’ll create some of that professional content that’ll bring in older demographics — like the massive late-night talk show channels have for YouTube. However, some brands haven’t been too excited, citing the lack of opportunity to earn ad revenue on the platform.

TikTok creators aren’t getting paid enough

While many of the top creators in 2022 were TikTokers, it seems like the platform isn’t generating as much revenue for them as some of its competitors.

There was a lot of buzz around TikTok’s Creator Fund when it first launched back in 2020, but the hype has quickly died down. Many influencers and content creators took to social media to complain that the fund wasn’t at all what they expected — some creators reportedly only made $10-20 a month.

Speaking to Wired, Tiana E., a TikTok influencer with 50,000 followers, expressed her disappointment with the Creator Fund: “I ended up leaving the Creator Fund. I’d much rather my followers see my videos than make a few cents on views. I’m disappointed with the way it hurt people more than helped.”

It seems like TikTok isn’t the best place for creators to make money, and they’re starting to wise up.

What is TikTok doing about it?

Improving the way it pays creators is a big focus for TikTok. According to sources that spoke with The Information, TikTok is exploring two initiatives to improve the way it rewards creators for their content.

The first one is a revamped Creator Fund. This new program could launch in the U.S. as soon as next month, aiming to better reward creators than its predecessor did.

The other initiative is a potential paywall feature that would allow creators to restrict access to certain videos unless followers pay a dollar or more.

The U.S. might ban the platform outright

Disappointed creators and a demographic that skews too young are almost insignificant compared to this huge challenge. It seems like American governments have it out for TikTok, and this might only get worse in 2023.

Kentucky is the latest state to ban TikTok from government-issued devices, citing concerns that the Chinese government might use TikTok to funnel in American user data and spread pro-China misinformation. This makes it the latest of over 20 states that have also banned the app on government devices.

But it’s not just state governments that are looking into the platform. After the Chinese spy balloon debacle, Congress might ban the app from all U.S. devices.

What is TikTok doing about it?

TikTok is scrambling to show that it takes these concerns seriously. Back in July 2022, the platform published a press release stating how it restricts access to user data within TikTok, to soothe fears that it’s sending data to Beijing.

The platform’s latest defensive play? Project Texas, a $1.5 billion effort to satisfy the security concerns of the American government. Through this project, a new subsidiary of TikTok — TikTok U.S. Data Security Inc. — will have sole access to the user data of American users, moderate content on the platform, and access TikTok’s code and systems. This division will be overseen by an independent board of directors and will be managed separately from the broader company.

Time will tell if this will be enough.

A short-form piece of the content pie

One of the things that made TikTok so popular in its earlier days was the short length of its videos. The challenge of making a 15-second clip inspired users to do more with less, remixing videos, sharing sounds, and turning TikTok into the place where countless trends were born.

However, with the short-form video format, TikTok is potentially leaving a lot of money on the table. A platform like YouTube or Twitch has fewer limitations when it comes to video length, allowing creators to explore all sorts of content. One of the best examples? ASMR videos.

In the 2022 YouTube Culture & Trends Report, 83% of Gen Z respondents said they use YouTube to watch content that helps them relax. The kind of content you put on in the background while you’re doing something else. TikTok just isn’t really the place to go for that kind of content.

What is TikTok doing about it?

TikTok already increased the maximum length of their videos to 10 minutes in 2022, showing that the platform knows it can only rely on short-form content so much. But there are a few interesting features they’re trying out right now that could help solve this problem.

The first is podcasting. In January, Business Insider reported that content creators are seeing TikTok videos with a prompt to listen to them as a podcast.

Another new feature TikTok has rolled out, Photo Mode, is basically Instagram-lite. Instead of posting videos, TikTok users can now post slideshows, just like they might on Instagram.

This is a sign that TikTok is trying to find ways to keep people on the platform for all sorts of content.

Up or down?

TikTok was the social media platform during the pandemic, and we’re just starting to see that explosion shrinking back in. But even if its user base is plateauing, TikTok is certainly still a trendsetter in the space, with other platforms frequently imitating its features. With 2023 looking to be a challenging year for TikTok, could the platform be eclipsed by another big player before December rolls around?

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Nicholas Bouchard
About the author

Nicholas Bouchard

Nick Bouchard is a content writer and marketer with a passion for creation. His hobbies range from writing fiction to wrestling. He can only be photographed in national parks and on mountains, and pictures of him usually come out blurry. Some wonder if he even exists at all.
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