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Art by Clark Miller.
Art by Clark Miller.

The Million-Follower Factory: TikTok Is Making Everyone Famous—But Few Creators Are Cashing In

For TikTok’s growing army of influencers, “fifteen seconds” of virality doesn’t count for what it used to.

Art by Clark Miller.
July 22, 2022 9:05 AM PDT

Three years ago, Owen Holt was finishing up his junior year of high school in Orlando, Fla., when his older sister encouraged him to try his hand at TikTok. He posted a video of himself in the bathroom, lip-syncing to an a cappella cover of Justin Bieber’s 2009 hit “Love Me,” and then he went to bed. The next morning he woke up to 10 million views and tens of thousands of new TikTok followers.

“I had no idea how social media worked,” said Holt, who is now 20 years old and has 4 million TikTok followers. “I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m basically TikTok-famous now, so I’m going to roll with this until I can’t anymore.’” He kept on posting, and soon expanded his reach onto other social networks, eventually climbing to 124,000 followers on Instagram, 10,000-plus subscribers on YouTube and a hosting gig on Paramount+’s “Next Influencer,” a reality competition for up-and-coming creators.

For Holt, timing was everything. If he started posting on TikTok today, he says, he wouldn’t break through in the same way. “TikTok is becoming so saturated,” he said. “There are so many [more] influencers and micro-influencers than ever before. It’s so much harder now to use it as a stepping stone.”

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