Back in April, Benjamin Rein made a TikTok demonstrating how to wear a mask. He had only planned on sharing it with his friends and family. He didn’t intend to become a regular on the platform.
But TikTok had more in store for him.
Rein posted the 54-second video, assuming no one would watch it. But within days, his notifications were flooded with thousands of likes, comments and views.
Rein’s goal wasn’t to be TikTok famous. But after more than one million people viewed his first video and thousands of others followed him, he received an adrenaline rush.
“It’s funny, when [the video] first started blowing up, I was really excited,” Rein, a neuroscience Ph.D. student, said. “I actually had trouble sleeping for a while because I would post my videos in the night and then I would wake up in the morning and see how many plays they had.”
Rein is not the only UB student to go viral on TikTok. Other students have had similar experiences on the app. Although the content they produce is different, these students have all been able to reap the benefits of the hottest social media app of 2020. Their content resonated with thousands of people online and their success on TikTok paved a path for them to pursue passion projects and elevate their careers.
Going viral isn’t always something one can go back from.
For some, it’s life-altering.
Rein now educates his 156,900 followers on neuroscience-related topics and provides career advice to students pursuing the sciences. He uses his following on TikTok to connect with people across the globe and also created an organization called the Aspiring Scientists Coalition, which provides guidance to students interested in science and hosts panels and networking events.
“Normally I would’ve been able to get 50 students or something like that mostly from UB, but right now the organization has almost 700 students involved and [around] 55 countries represented,” Rein said. “TikTok has really opened these international doors that have helped me connect with people all over the world and expand my resources.”
But TikTok is a double-edged sword for Rein.
Although it has benefitted him in many ways, he fears the scientific academia community may not take him seriously.
“I don’t want people in the scientific community to look at me and think, ‘Wow, what a joke, you know this guy is on TikTok making videos,’” Rein said.
Vijay Kabaria’s aesthetic films stand in stark contrast to Rein’s educational videos. His content is vulnerable and full of personal stories.
But just like Rein, his first video went viral.
Kabaria’s first video was about mental health and his lack of motivation to work toward his goals or even function on the daily. That video has over two million views. More than 12,000 people have made videos using his voiceover.
“It was kind of a surreal experience,” Kabaria, a junior business administration major, said. “I had the video and it didn’t blow up the first time, it had 60,000 views but then it started to climb and climb.”
Kabaria is a man with many talents.
Although he’s majoring in business, his passion lies in filmmaking, music and art. He creates short artsy essay films, produces music and sings. He dreams of building a career in the creative industry and his TikTok following got him a step closer to fulfilling it.
So Kabaria took a leap of faith by taking a break from classes this semester to focus on content creation. He says he respects academia and loves learning but feels the traditional college route isn’t for him at the moment.
He wants to continue creating high-quality videos for his 100,000 followers, build a strong online presence and move to other social media platforms like YouTube. He hopes to make a career out of his online presence.
“I want to go to YouTube [to] make longer videos that talk about more subjects,” Kabaria said. “I want to write storylines, scripts and short films and make them really dramatic and well shot.
“Hopefully I could use the platform and the audience to make a career out of it by selling either merchandise, services, artwork, whatever else and just become financially independent and self-sufficient doing things I love,” Kabaria said.
Kabaria isn’t the only one fulfilling his dreams through TikTok.
Jacob Giller, a senior business administration major, has amassed over 400,000 followers. He posts funny relatable videos about college, relationships and sports. His goal is to make people smile.
“There’s just so much negativity in the world right now, and if [my viewers] can just go to my content as an outlet for positivity, that’s what I hope I can help with,” Giller said.
Giller has wanted to be in front of a camera his entire life. He pursued acting as a kid, but it didn’t work out.
“I tried acting when I was younger, [but] that fell through. So, I knew that I wanted to go into content creation or something of that realm,” Giller said. “So I was like, ‘You know what? Let me create a few videos.’”
Giller has used TikTok to accomplish his unfulfilled aspirations and explore new paths. He now wants to build a career in social media marketing, while continuing to grow his own online brand.
He hopes to help brands “expand their online presence and drive revenue.”
“Eventually my dream job is to become a social media manager,” Giller said.
It’s all about the algorithm
All three students credit their initial success to TikTok’s algorithm and timing.
The “For You Page” or FYP is a place where users can discover new content as they continuously scroll through videos. It is uniquely tailored to users based on their previous interactions, location, account settings and preferences. If a creator’s video gets pushed onto many users’ FYP, it's more likely to get engagement and has a higher chance of going viral.
Kabaria says he posted his film on TikTok because it was built specifically for video sharing and is an emerging platform unlike other social media apps which are saturated.
“They have a fantastic algorithm that allows for the promotion of content to a very specific group of people,” Kabaria said.
Kabaria says TikTok has recently made algorithm changes which have lowered his engagement from his earlier days on the app. But he still thinks it's a great platform to drive organic traffic.
“They had algorithm changes that reduced the number of likes and views that you might get, so people's numbers are down,” Kabaria said. “But apart from that, when I first started, this was the platform [to be on] because it was so easy to get a following.”
Giller first started posting on the platform in August 2019 after his roommate dared him to becomeTikTok famous. Once his videos started blowing up, he was like, “I can’t stop now,” Giller said.
Giller says TikTok has changed his life for the better.
“It’s weird to say that a social media platform has legitimately changed my life, but if it wasn't for all the absolutely amazing people that follow me, I wouldn't be anywhere near where I am today,” Giller said.
Vindhya Burugupalli is the senior engagement editor and can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @vindhyab_
Vindhya Burugupalli is the engagement editor for The Spectrum. She loves traveling and documenting her experiences through mp4s and jpegs. In her free time, she can be found exploring cute coffee shops and food spots.