Taylor Loren sat down in front of a camera, blue and pink lights glowing behind her. From her living room to the screens of more than 8,300 students, she started to explain what a “meme mentality” was. This lesson, on cultivating a relatable online image, was part of Ms. Loren’s class on how to master — or even just understand — TikTok, currently the most downloaded app in the world.
Ms. Loren, a social media strategist in Vancouver, British Columbia, teaches people how to use TikTok. If things work out right, her students might even go viral. That is part of the curriculum. Being a star, she tells her class, requires several key skills: spotting trends, carving out a niche and, sometimes, playing up the culture battle between Generation Z and millennials.
“People are realizing that this is the future of social media and they need to learn now how to create video content,” Ms. Loren, 32, said. “I just saw a really big opportunity.”
The success of her TikTok class has led Ms. Loren to offer a new class about Reels, Meta’s short video competitor. Her Instagram classes from 2019, she said, no longer applied to the platform.
For a social media platform that values authenticity so much that being a little bit unfiltered while talking to a camera is enough to go viral, the how-to-TikTok-like-a-natural industry is booming. Forget learning how to film for YouTube or craft your feed on Instagram. TikTok is now so big that people are paying to be good at it — and influencer-instructors are saying that, for a fee, they can teach that.
These classes usually fall into three buckets: how to navigate TikTok, how to actually make videos for the app and how to make money from them. TikTok’s highly personalized algorithm — which recommends videos based on how people interact with content, rather than how large a creator’s following already is — has made more people go viral. As a result, influencers, new and old, are harnessing their moments of fame into another income stream and selling classes to people hoping to achieve similar heights.
For some instructors, these classes are a way to earn money from their expertise on a platform without actually using the platform itself. Along with TikTok, apps like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat pay people based on how much engagement their content receives. But teaching classes about content creation means income that is sometimes more reliable than sharing more posts or ads.
“You can get money for your videos, but it’s a very small amount,” said Karen Jordan, a toy design student from Menifee, Calif. She has more than 1.4 million followers on TikTok, where she shares videos featuring a cartoon version of herself, but they don’t always translate to money. On the other hand, she said, “I can always promote my class anytime.”
Ms. Jordan, 24, offers her hourlong class on the online learning platform Skillshare, where a monthly membership costs $32. She earns money when she refers people to the platform and when the company pays her royalties from her class, which has been taken by about 2,500 people.
TikTok declined to comment for this article. But the appetite to learn about the app is so big that the company offers free classes for creative agencies, brands and marketers — one of which is called TikTok Academy.
“Earn a Ph.D. in FYP,” reads one advertisement for its classes, referring to the For You page, a feed of algorithmically recommended videos.
On Skillshare, which recruits teachers and pays them a commission for classes they upload, courses about TikTok have increased 66 percent from a year earlier, while courses about YouTube have increased 43 percent and those about Instagram have decreased 27 percent, a spokeswoman said.
Udemy, which also hosts online classes, has experienced a 47 percent increase in classes about TikTok from a year earlier, more than triple the growth of classes about YouTube and Instagram, a spokeswoman said.
Prospective students are responding: on Skillshare, the amount of time people spend taking classes about TikTok has increased 120 percent from a year earlier; on Udemy, it has increased 83 percent.
Skyler Chase, 25, grew up watching vlogs and comedy sketches on YouTube. He wasn’t just entertaining himself. He was learning professional skills to run his Los Angeles-based marketing agency and teach social media classes. Last September, he started a course on TikTok, supplementing what had been his only offering, a class about Instagram. The class has taken off because TikTok and its lower barrier to entry have lured people who were intimidated by YouTube, he said.
“On YouTube, content creation is totally different,” he said. “It really comes down to having the quality of your video. You need to have a nice camera. On TikTok, you just need to use your phone.”
Mr. Chase’s two-hour-long class, which, according to the platforms, has more than 22,000 students across Skillshare and Udemy, borrows from his “YouTube background” but is meant to be “a little more accessible for the older generation,” he said.
Classes like Mr. Chase’s have attracted businesses interested in marketing on TikTok and young people who are focused on content creation, said Alicia Hamilton-Morales, senior vice president of content, community and brand at Skillshare.
“Even though YouTube is so dominant and hugely successful, TikTok has made the desire to understand how to create and optimize video greater in a much broader market,” she said.
Angalee Schmidt, 25, took Mr. Chase’s class at the beginning of the pandemic to learn how to dream up, then create TikTok videos. Her work in tourism had dried up, so she pared back her traveling and started living full time in Rochester, Minn., and sought a career change to social media marketing.
“Part of that was figuring out: How can I make money now?” Ms. Schmidt said. Her answer came on TikTok. “I was seeing all of these people make videos and I was like, ‘I can make that myself.’”
She found work creating content for local businesses like a consignment shop and a car dealership. Ms. Schmidt, who confesses that she is “not on CarTok,” said Mr. Chase’s class taught her how to reach niche audiences, as well as how to improve her filming and editing.
Erin McGoff, a documentary filmmaker in New York City, started sharing career advice videos on TikTok at the beginning of the pandemic. She now has an audience of 2.3 million people on the app, and the following is the primary way she promotes her two TikTok classes, which now have a total of more than 5,000 students.
In one class, Ms. McGoff, 27, teaches her students how to make a video. In the other, she explains how to develop a personal brand on TikTok, walking students through prompts like “find a video that went viral in your niche and name three reasons why you think it was successful.”
“Anyone can be a creator on TikTok,” she says in a lesson. “TikTok is kind of like playing the lottery. It’s like you’re constantly paying into the system and every now and then you’re going to hit the jackpot.”
To learn how to play the lottery of TikTok, they just have to keep taking her class.