A trillion views in, Complex looks to make money from its booming TikTok audience

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

Complex Networks created its first TikTok account in June 2019. Eight months, eight accounts, 3.9 million followers and a trillion views later, the publisher is rolling out its first sponsorship product for the platform.

Called the Complex Tokover, the sponsorship includes brand mentions and advertiser input on the creators, content or challenges done in videos around a desired theme. The goal is to make the product a flat rate in the future, but Complex currently sells Tokovers based on an expected number of views. Because its channel ranges anywhere from 1 million to 5 million views per day, brands would be charged based on the expected average for the day they are looking to purchase the Tokover, said Jonathan Hunt, evp of marketing for Complex Networks.

A Tokover gives advertisers a 100% share of voice for a day of Complex’s videos posted on the platform. Complex hasn’t sold any Tokovers yet, Hunt said, and he declined to share what the current price range is for the product. Custom content can also be added in, but that is priced at a premium.

Its main channel, @Complex, has 2.6 million followers at the time of publication and posted over 1,000 videos. Between the main channel and the company’s second-largest account, @FirstWeFeast (which has 1 million followers and posted over 400 videos), the two profiles have brought in more than 1 trillion views to date.

The Tokover model doesn’t rely on one video that may or may not perform well, according to Paul Greenberg, CEO of digital video firm Butter Works. By giving the brands a day’s worth of content, there is a better opportunity that at least one of the videos will go viral. Additionally, branded content is a “huge opportunity for brands” on TikTok because “no one wants to watch pre-roll in front of a 15-second video,” he said.

To get to the point where Complex felt like it was ready to start selling its TikTok inventory, Arman Singh Walia, senior director of social media at Complex Networks, said that the use of hashtags is a big part of the publisher’s current TikTok strategy. This is because TikTok promotes well-used hashtags to feature on the For You discover page.

With coronavirus driving people into their homes and onto the internet, Singh Walia said that Complex is now prioritizing using hashtags related to the pandemic, such as #washyourhands. In the last week alone, Complex’s daily follower growth has increased 300% and its main channel saw four to five times the number of daily views. To continue that growth, he said his team aims to use coronavirus-related hashtags on all of its posts, so long as the content relates to it.

Singh Walia said that the sweet spot for the publisher’s posting schedule is between three to six posts per day on its main channel. Similar to NowThis’ TikTok strategy, most of the content is curated from third-parties, but posts also include original content for the platform and repurposed intellectual property from Complex’s franchises.

For the curated content made by other content creators, Singh Walia said his team looks to identify videos that aren’t already viral but could potentially become viral if it was spun in the right way with certain music or sound overlays, text and hashtags.

“Instead of sifting through the endless feed of TikTok, Complex is a curated place of TikToks” that its audience will love, said Hunt.


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