Why TikTok Growth is Slowing Down

Why TikTok Growth is Slowing Down

Discover why TikTok is no longer the fastest-growing app. Understand the changing landscape and adapt your marketing strategy for 2024.

Since its explosive entry into the social media scene, TikTok has undergone massive changes — and it’s fair to say that it isn’t what it used to be. 

I won’t be the first or last person to say that the platform we all fell in love with back in 2020 has come a long way and made a few wrong turns along the journey. As of 2024, TikTok continues to grow — but its growth is decelerating.

The platform really changed the social landscape when it exploded in popularity in early 2020. By 2021, the platform had 656 million users. The impact of TikTok is most apparent in the fact that nearly every other social media platform now has a TikTok-esque feature that basically copies the blueprint of TikTok’s success.

TikTok made it easy for any creator or brand to reach large audiences of users without having to have previously built up a loyal following. TikTok’s algorithm emphasized discoverability, which made it an ideal place for creators to post on and try and find their audience. Many users were going viral overnight and it changed their lives for the better. This was the first time that it actually felt like anyone had a shot at becoming an internet sensation.

TikTok made the user experience better by having such an addicting For You page that really learned what each user liked. Its algorithm had the perfect mix of content that cycled through things the user might like, along with new content that helped them discover and dive into new topics and niches.

Since the beginning, TikTok has added many features to expand the user experience on the platform. They allowed users to Go Live and stream themselves. They made it easy to curate content by adding a playlist feature for creators to organize their content by topic. Their “reply with a video” feature allowed creators to address comments with videos, making it easy for them to engage with their audience. They also added a stories feature which allowed creators to post content for 24 hours only. 

With all of these great additions there also came some things that have caused a lot of debate on the platform.

TikTok Shops, increased ad cadence, censorship, a push for more long-form content, and continuous changes to the algorithm all have led users to question if the once great TikTok was starting to lose its charm. These recent updates, particularly TikTok Shops have started to rub off frequently. Many users even took to the platform to complain about all the changes that are hurting their experience. 

Now that Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts have been widely adopted by users and serve as alternatives to the platform, TikTok is no longer the only place to go for addicting short-form content. This increased competition might make users more likely to spend less time on the platform.

Let’s dive into exactly what TikTok is doing wrong with all of these updates and changes to their platform. 

Enter: TikTok Shops

Last year, TikTok introduced TikTok Shops on September 12th in the United States. It is currently only available in the United Kingdom, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. TikTok Shops is an entirely new shopping experience added to the platform. Its goal is to take all the convenience of shopping on Amazon and blend it with short-form video content, easily allowing influencers to link products in their videos. The users then can click on the link and be immediately redirected to a shopping page within TikTok. The influencers will then get a 15%-20% commission on every product they help sell. The entire shopping experience — from discovery to purchase — would all take place within the app. Big brands like PacSun and Revolve have already fully embraced this and begun selling an extensive catalog. Seems like a win-win for everyone involved.

From a business perspective, the addition of TikTok Shops is a brilliant move to help make your platform more exciting for brands to promote their products on. It’s a great way to condense the sales funnel and increase conversion on ads. For influencers, it’s a no-brainer: you can make way more money than before by simply linking products in videos. 

But what about the users? TikTok Shops’ goal was to turn all the influencer content you see on TikTok (“get ready with me” videos, unboxings, etc.) and make it way more streamlined for conversion and sales. But in the process, you take content coming from creators that started out as authentic and genuine and turn it into a promotionally heavy commercial. 

A lot of influencers gained their audience because their content was perceived as “real”. When they made videos about their “favorite sunscreen to wear at the beach,” it wasn’t because they were getting a commission on that product, but because they wanted to give people real advice and tips. In fact, the underlying pact of authenticity has fueled TikTok’s growth as a platform throughout its evolution — the platform scaled quickly because, during and post-Covid, users sought a virtual space for authentic connection and content consumption, and TikTok was quick to fill that gap. 

TikTok runs the risk of cannibalizing an entire category of content — organic, authentic, conversational — by encouraging transactional messaging such as “Buy Now! Take 25% off!”, paired with additional ad real estate like popups, links and banners. Burdening the content with heavily promotional elements, in turn, often goes against the user’s expectations for the videos from creators they have grown to trust, without the apparent call for conversion. Of course, there is a considerable user base eager to buy products on TikTok Shops; but it’s unwise to ignore the users on TikTok who have publicly shared their annoyance with the level of saturation of ad content on the platform. 

The frequency of TikTok Shops content appearing on the For You pages is very high. Chances are, if you were to go on TikTok right now, you wouldn’t get past 4 videos without seeing at least 1 Shop promotion — and this excludes the typical ads you see.

It’s important to understand the true intent and expectations that the TikTok user base has for the platform. The core audience on TikTok does not want to be explicitly sold to over and over again. The reason the users joined the platform was because TikTok originally positioned itself as a creative, value-driven (from education to entertainment), accessible content that existed nowhere else on the internet. 


TikTok has a MASSIVE problem, and it’s their own TikTok Shop videos #tiktok #tiktokshop #stoptiktokshop #content #contentcreation #sturdydigital

♬ original sound – Evan

In other words, users joined TikTok for a sense of community and discovery — and their ultimate decisions to purchase were a natural byproduct of the trust they built with the brands and creators on the platform (and not the other way around). Not all users open the app with the intent to buy, and most need more assurance than a single video to pull the trigger on a purchase. As it stands, TikTok looks more like the Home Shopping Network. This is not to say that ad content isn’t expected on TikTok —, rather, TikTok Shops take the regular creator-led and storytelling-driven content TikTok is known for and turn it into ads.

TikTok’s attempt at growing into a one-stop-shop (pun intended) app is no new concept. We’ve all seen this play out before on Instagram. It wasn’t that long ago that Meta’s main strategy was to turn Instagram into the next “all-in-one” app by adding a robust shops feature. And not unlike TikTok Shops, initially, the move made sense. Instagram is and has always been a go-to platform for brands and influencers alike, so why not make it easier for them to sell to their audience? What could go wrong? As it turns out, a lot. Instagram redesigned the app to add a shop button in the middle of the page, updating the oh-so-familiar user experience to push (read: enforce) the users to use the new feature more, while also frequently pushing traffic to this page. Users immediately hated this disruption to their usual scrolling. Even Kylie Jenner was so upset she felt obligated to post about it. Instagram eventually fully removed the Shops tab.

While all of this was happening, a new app called “TikTok” popped up on the scene, strategically filling the gap for quality, authentic content that Instagram was leaving behind. It was user-centric and had addicting short-form video content that users loved. In no time, Instagram was losing screentime to TikTok. This caused a massive panic within Meta, driving them to abandon the “Shopping” feature entirely in the US and redirect their resources into the development and launch of Reels, their TikTok competitor — and the rest is history.

It is a bit crazy to think that TikTok is adopting a failed strategy from its biggest competitor. A strategy that they caused the downfall of. And it’s even crazier to think the same situation is playing out again but with the roles reversed.

Ads on Ads on TikTok

Every platform needs ads. It is how they (and their partners) make money. And it is equally advantageous for both the platform, creators, and brands if the ads do a good job of marketing products. This can be a hard tightrope to walk for platforms. They want to satisfy brand partners paying for ads while avoiding alienating their users with low-quality ads.

Currently, TikTok fails to achieve balance on this tightrope — which is ironic given that not long ago, TikTok was shaping the new standard for high-quality, value-driven, and creative promotional content. With the high frequency of TikTok Shop content and other ad formats on the platform, TikTok is borderline spamming its platform with a large number of ads in the feed. At this stage, any TikTok session typically begins with a highly coveted top view ad (the large overlay ad space users see as soon as they open the app), followed by a frequency of 1 ad per 3-4 organic videos. 

This high frequency of ad content, paired with the addition of TikTok Shops and content adjusted to fit shoppable links, makes it very likely that an overwhelming majority of the content you see on this platform strives to get the user to buy something.

All of this comes at a cost beyond just alienating your users. While the high commission rates and opportunities offer new revenue streams for growing content creators, there is a risk of alienating creators who would like to continue growing without partaking in TikTok Shop campaigns or emerging creators early in their career who look to TikTok to support their career growth and self-expression.  A large portion of real estate on the For You Page is currently taken up by ads and TikTok Shops videos, making it harder for some creators to be seen. 

With Instagram becoming a better platform for content creators and for users to view short-form content. TikTok might want to consider how many ads they are willing to push.

The Push for Long-Form Content

Another interesting move by TikTok has been the push for long-form content. The platform now allows videos up to 30 minutes and even encourages users to make content that exceeds 1 minute. One way TikTok pushes for this is by creating the “Creativity Program” which pays creators who make content over 60 seconds. They have also pushed creators to turn their content into “series,” which allows users to binge all their content at once. TikTok will explicitly inform you when they boost a new content format they are betting heavily on at the moment, further incentivizing creators to continue distributing that content format.

From a format perspective, TikTok has even created ways to display horizontal content, which  is a major shift in delivery and content consumption for a platform so focused on vertical aspect ratios. This move toward longer-form content is very surprising considering TikTok is the platform that pioneered the short-form craze. It’s their bread and butter. Particularly, it was TikTok’s accessibility and lower barrier of entry to creating short-form videos that catalyzed the fast growth of the creator economy, making it easy for anyone to use a smartphone and good lighting to build communities online through their content.

Many see this as a move by TikTok to start taking on YouTube, even though YouTube has already cemented itself as the long-standing home of long-form content on the internet. I can understand wanting to expand and experiment with other delivery styles — but TikTok appears to be betting heavily on long-form content as the next stage of its evolution.

There are a lot of reasons why this attempt to take some of YouTube’s market share is a tricky move. For one, users love YouTube — the user loyalty the platform boasts is unmatched.

TikTok grew because its short-form content was so addicting. A key reason why they want to move toward long-form is to keep users on their platform longer since user attention and hours spent on the app are the hottest commodity in the market right now. But the truth is, the same result can be achieved by continually perfecting their short-form content. TikTok does not need to be the new YouTube, and sticking to what they already do best is crucial in not losing market share and brand consistency.

We’ve seen the fight for long-form video happen before. Similar to its shopping escapades, itt wasn’t that long ago that Instagram tried to take on YouTube’s market share and launched IGTV. They wanted their users to post longer content in a vertical format — but as many know by now, it failed; the feature was discontinued as all efforts were directed towards Reels. Users just didn’t want to watch a 30-minute video on their Instagram; they would rather just do it on YouTube. 

The clear lesson here is — that pushing users to unlearn behaviors they have been practicing for years comes at a cost; and while TikTok and Instagram were better known for fast content consumption, the attempt to push for long-form either backfired or would have taken more time and resources to execute on.


Every platform has a set of community guidelines they try to adhere to to make sure their platforms are a safe place for their users. Most of the time these guidelines can be limiting with what they allow and what they don’t allow. 

TikTok used to be considered the Wild West in terms of content. When you would open the app, you would never really know what to expect. But since the platform has been under some heat the last few years, they seem to be cracking down on what is allowed to be posted. The efficiency and accuracy of the platform’s censorship is a work in progress, to say the least, and it can pose clear limitations on the type of content brands and creators can share.

As such, the fleeting mention of certain words or even topics seems to lead to an immediate violation, demonetization, shadowbanning and strikes against accounts. The appeal process for these violations is simplistic, allowing users to just press a button without allowing the creator to write or present their case. 

Creators have gone to various lengths to sterilize their content for fear of violating the community guidelines. This has led to the creation of alternative terms to convey the same meaning, such as “unalive” (“dead”) and “seggs” (“sex”). Meanwhile, the censorship process can oftentimes miss other profanity and subjects that can really offend the audience. This uneven treatment of content has made creators like myself more inclined to avoid certain content on this platform in fear of the repercussions.

TikTok’s competitors like Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts have a much more sophisticated and equal censorship process — as well as customer support — which is starting to attract more and more creators.

Lack of Organic Reach 

One of the biggest issues creators and brands face on TikTok today is the lack of opportunity for high organic reach. TikTok’s algorithm used to be its greatest feature — it was the first platform that, in its early days, showed how anyone had a chance to get their content seen and go viral if it was relatable, creative and different. It changed people’s lives overnight — but now it seems like it’s harder than ever to reach people on TikTok.

Even some of the biggest creators on the platform experience “low” periods, struggling to get their content seen even by their own followers, which begs the question: what is the point of having followers on this platform if they won’t even see your content? This makes it infinitely harder not only to get discovered but to also build a community of returning viewers who keep coming back for more.

By comparison, Instagram Reels has cracked the code on the balance between reach and community engagement. When you post on Instagram, your content is exposed to both followers and non-followers. This healthy mix allows you to engage with your loyal audience while simultaneously attracting a new one.

As it seems, TikTok hasn’t really found a good balance between acquisition and retention; the platform certainly boasts a stellar reputation for growth and reach (discovery), but its purpose from a community engagement and retention standpoint remains widely unexplored. From the perspective of a brand or a creator, the challenge is now to grow a captive and engaged audience — and see a return on the reach that the platform used to offer. TikTok runs the risk of being regarded as a platform you might go viral on every once in a while, and the lack of real audience growth is driving creators and brands to build communities (and encourage their existing TikTok followers to move to) Instagram and YouTube, where their work can actually be capitalized more upon.

So as creators and brands, how do you navigate the changes that TikTok is going through? Well, every platform will go through some type of experimentation and deviation from what it’s typically known for. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

As a creator and brand, you should make sure that you don’t rely too heavily on one platform. Your goal should be to have a good presence on all platforms. If you focus on only a single platform, all it takes is one algorithm change to make all the progress you’ve built feel meaningless. So diversifying your social strategy by posting content on as many platforms as possible will help you bear the brunt of any shifts in performance. It’s also great to define what the role of each platform is for your brand.

TikTok has always been a great platform for reach and discovery but it might not be the place to expect the most loyal audience. Instagram is a platform where you may not go as viral but you have the chance to really nourish your audience by communicating and engaging with them on a daily basis. YouTune Shorts is a platform that can drive users to some of your long-form content.

Understanding each platform and the advantages and limitations they have will help navigate the ever-changing world of social media.


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