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Learning From the Most-Followed TikTokers in the World

Technology is changing the world of art in a number of noteworthy ways. We are seeing the emergence of new, tech-based mediums for instance, such as virtual reality for painting, or 3D printing for sculpting. We’re also seeing the emergence of NFTs essentially as a whole new class of digital artwork that can be sold (often quite lucratively) online. Arguably the biggest way in which technology has affected the art world, however, is through social media and the possibilities it opens up for branding and exposure. This is not a new phenomenon, but it is one that seems to evolve and become more valuable with each passing year. Not all that long ago social media was viewed as something of an “extra” in marketing schemes. Now it’s viewed as a key cog in any marketing effort, whether for a major company pitching a new product or for an independent artist seeking to expand a budding fan base. Naturally, this has led a lot of people to pursue education in marketing , whether or not they’re actively working on professional pursuits. This has been made easier by the emergence of internet-based university courses that teach specific marketing practices on flexible schedules and timelines. Courses related to online bachelors in marketing degrees can cover market research, social media strategy, social media management, and virtually any other area that might be helpful in teaching modern social media skills. These kinds of courses certainly make for handy options for, say, working artists who want to learn the ropes to do their own social media marketing. At the same time though, even this sort of option can be quite time consuming, and makes for a significant commitment. And in the meantime (or in lieu of formal education), people exploring these ideas can also learn a lot simply by observing success on major social platforms. That brings us to TikTok — not the biggest social platform as of this writing, but arguably the trendiest — and what artists can learn from the app’s greatest success stories. What makes TikTok so interesting in a conversation like this is that the most successful people on it seem almost entirely random at a glance. The app — which for those who may not not essentially allows people to post short videos — has birthed its own celebrities. And at this point these celebrities are simply accepted as major creatives and influencers. But it’s when you dig into what actually made them famous that you can sometimes glean some intriguing tips about social media use. To illustrate how this can be helpful to artists today, well look briefly at three of the people with the very biggest followings on TikTok. Charli D’Amelio Charli D’Amelio is a 17-year-old from Connecticut who has amassed more followers than any other user on TikTok (more than 118 million as of this writing). She was not previously famous, and was not attached to any sort of larger project or company. She merely started dancing to popular music and using the app strategically, ultimately becoming a self-made social media celebrity. As to the question of why she’s so famous, one interesting theory from a strategy standpoint is that she has a way of breaking her dances down into simple parts. Lots of people dance on TikTok, but D’Amelio posts original choreography, and often does so in pieces that makes it easy to learn and imitate. This isn’t the whole explanation for how she generated 118 million followers, but it’s definitely made her content relatable in a way that artists can emulate. Videos that teach the arts rather than simply display them seem to do well.

Addison Rae Addison Rae is second to Charli D’Amelio with some 81 million followers on TikTok, and has more or less the same story. A few years older than D’Amelio, she started posting her own dances on the app with no prior fame or relevant connections, and became an overnight social media sensation. Rae has since progressed to new projects, including a beauty line, original music, and early hints of an acting career. What makes Rae stand out from a marketing perspective is that she’s been so willing to innovate. The young influencer realized — seemingly immediately — that followers follow. That is to say, an enthusiastic fan base on social media will be open to new things, and will continue to follow a person rather than any one talent that person displays. Rae has snowballed her audience by moving beyond her early TikTok dances, and has become more of a full-fledged talent. Not all artists are equipped to innovate similarly, but the idea of trusting an audience to accept new endeavors is an intriguing one.

Khaby Lame Khaby Lame sits just a little bit behind Addison Rae in terms of followers, and offers a different story than the top two on the list. Lame is a former factory worker who basically developed his own lane of comedy on TikTok. He began by using the app’s “duet” feature to tape himself alongside complicated “life hack” videos, solving tasks in comedically simpler methods than the “hack” videos show. From there Lame morphed into something of a general creator and comedian, and has since been delighting his 79 million followers with regular videos. Lame’s success is built on his unique brand of wit and his amusing facial expressions, which makes it more difficult to point to a particular strategy artists might emulate. However, the distinct type of TikTok parody Lame more or less invented does provide a nice reminder: Finding any kind of original lane and pursuing it visibly will at least give you the chance at developing a following.

Ultimately, TikTok is merely one example of many social media platforms that can create stars, and which offer marketing possibilities to artists. But the popular video app has done everything from helping to promote the #MeToo movement, to taking sea chanteys viral, to making worldwide stars of independent creators. It’s worth a look for artists of all kinds.


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