The Kiwi TikTok stars pulling in 'serious money' on the social media app

Three young Kiwis are are making "serious money" promoting brands on social media app TikTok.
Three young Kiwis are are making "serious money" promoting brands on social media app TikTok. Photo credit: Instagram

As the world slipped into lockdown around March last year tech companies thrived. Zoom, Netflix, Amazon, and social media apps all saw massive growth.

One app to emerge as a true boredom-buster was dance and lip-synch app TikTok.

While the app doesn't report user numbers publicly, app revenue estimate company Sensor Tower predicts TikTok's first quarter in 2020 would have been the best for any app ever. 

The app has been downloaded more than 2 billion times globally, and with everyone holed up inside for months last year looking for new forms of entertainment, it's difficult to imagine anyone hasn't heard of it. 

And contrary to popular belief, it's not just lip-synching to your favourite movie scenes or learning dances to Benee's latest hit that's creating a buzz. 

Users with large followings are growing faster than ever, creating another curve in the ever so lucrative influencer market. 

The app's most-followed user US 16-year-old Charli D'Amelio has hit a whopping 104.9 million followers and the interest continues to climb.

So what positive has this TikTok whirlwind done for New Zealanders? Are TikTok creators the new Youtuber?

Newshub spoke to three Kiwis who turned their TikTok hobby into a career as well as head of the leading TikTok influencer agency in Australasia, Born and Bred Talent to get an idea of TikTok's influencer potential. 

Joshua Allport - 83,600 followers - @joshua_allport

Like many Kiwis, Joshua Allport was bored at home during level 4 lockdown. He couldn't work and was looking for new ways to entertain himself when he decided to start uploading videos to TikTok.

"When I first started I was like 'oh my gosh, this is so cringe'." 

Allport says at first the app was "just something to do".

"I just started posting random videos of me talking and realised I was getting a lot of attention." 

His followers lept from 200 to 80,000 in just eight months.

Growing up in Rarotonga he never imagined this future for himself. 

"I come from the smallest island, and I never thought that I could do this or have a following."

He says he was shocked to find he could make some "serious money" by making videos for brands.

"Posting every single day from being bored in lockdown has helped me work with brands such as Samsung, Tinder, Subway. That was at a time where everybody was kind of made redundant during lockdown, I wasn't getting paid for my jobs and I was honestly fine and more than comfortable literally just making videos for companies and getting paid to do so."

He says that while those looking for TikTok fame need to be able to handle negativity and have a "strong spirit" anyone can do it as it's easier to grow than other apps.

"It is so hard to grow on Instagram. Tiktok you can just post one very good video and you blow up in a way. Definitely, the algorithm on TikTok is so much better than any other platform."

Allport posts a range of videos from comedy, to dance and whatever else is on his mind. He also likes to use his platform to raise awareness to issues the LGBTQ community face in a comedic way.

Lydia MacNeil - 70,400 followers - @lydiaamacneil

Lydia MacNeil was early to the TikTok party, her account began to grow after a video went viral in 2019. Since then she has gained 70,300 followers.

As a recently-qualified makeup artist 20-year-old MacNeil uses the platform to share her makeup looks, it also reignited her passion for dancing and acting in the form of TikTok dances and lip-synching.

"TikTok has helped me regain that passion I had and spread a little joy."

While working on her makeup career is her first priority MacNeil says she's "flattered" people like her content and never expected to make a job out of the videos.

Like Allport TikTok came at a time of boredom for MacNeil, 

"Tiktok turned into a small side job for me when I left university and was waiting to start my make up diploma at the New Zealand make up school when I had plenty of time on my hands."

MacNeil is stoked with the opportunities TikTok has given her. 

"It’s awesome because it’s a little side job that I do and I’m so grateful that I’m able to sit down and create content that’s appreciated and loved by 70,000 people."

MacNeil agrees it's easier to gain followers on TikTok and believes it's down to the versatility of the app. 

"I think it’s a lot easier to gain traction on TikTok than other platforms as there are so many video ideas and so many categories throughout TikTok that you can interpret in your own way."

But while it may be easy to attract followers, turning it into a job can be the tricky part. 

"Finding work through TikTok is a competitive process as there are so many talented creators in New Zealand and I feel like your content has to be super original to be able to make it a full-time job," MacNeil says.

"In saying that a lot of Kiwi creators have done so well for themselves and I feel as though I’m doing pretty well for myself as well. Who knows it could be the new YouTube?"

At the end of the day, MacNeil posts because she loves the platform. 

"I love TikTok because it’s a social media platform where I personally don’t receive a lot of hate and you can just be so authentically yourself without judgement."

Bella Howarth - 84,100 followers - @bellahowarth

Bella Howarth's unique Kiwi humour was what caught the attention of more than 80,000 people. 

Posting a few random videos in November 2019 that got "barely any views" sparked her love for the app and after a while, her content started to get more and more attention.

"The first videos that got attention on my account were in December 2019, where I read out texts from my boyfriend and I that were really silly, and then I progressed to roasting people for various reasons doing "what your ___ says about you" style content."

She believed her "blunt aggressive, Kiwi humour" struck a chord with TikTok users and set her apart from the rest. 

"I did around 6 that each got over 1.5 million [views] each, and a few other random ones that went viral."

She says TikTok has impacted her life "drastically" and while she doesn't think she has a "crazy amount" of followers she still gets recognised in the street and has been able to pursue social media as a job.

"I'm now able to work with brands and companies and make an income through video creation. I have always wanted to pursue social media to some extent, so having this opportunity by attaining these followers is so exciting to me."

Howarth says that while users can grow fast on the app it's less consistent and sustainable than Youtube.

"You can follow people on TikTok and never see their videos on your app in the future, which is why some creators like myself don't get as many views on a video as the number of followers they have," she explains. 

"YouTube is harder to gain traction on, but TikTok fame appears to be 5 minutes rather than a lifetime."

Overall Howarth is just "so grateful" for her followers and encourages Kiwis to give TikTok a go as they can "definitely make a respectable amount of money out of the app."

Newshub also spoke to Clare Winterbourn, head of Born and Bred Talent agency, the leading agency for TikTok creators in Australasia. 

Winterbourn knows a thing or two about influencers and says TikTok has seen "massive" interest from brands.

"For Born Bred Talent, 70 percent of new clients are either bookings for our TikTok talent roster or partnerships with brands for a dedicated TikTok launch strategy, so it’s a major part of our business."

She says Tiktok has allowed for a "new generation" of content creators, ones that aren't so perfect, show more realness, and more personality.

"TikTok has created a new generation of content creators, and particularly creators

from a younger demographic or who aren’t a 'typical influencer.'"

A type of influencer that COVID-19 allowed to emerge.

"I do feel like part of the growth and proliferation of TikTok here was

because of the COVID-19 lockdowns, because it forced people to look for new and different

forms of entertainment, which allowed TikTok to have its moment."