Young social media influencers – often dismissed as vacuous, dolled-up narcissists – are swiping and posting their way into the top tax bracket.
17-year-old Rory Brown – or RoryEliza online – is one of the most popular TikTok stars in Australia.
Unlike Instagram where you selfie your way to stardom, TikTok is an entire world built on 15-second clips that let you sing, dance and duet with visual effects and viral music tracks.
The rest is the same as any other social media app, with likes, comments and followers.
It’s all about microdosing video, and it has Gen Z hooked with a scrolling feed of never-ending punchlines.
Ms Brown was flipping burgers at McDonald’s before she realised she could make a living off posting one short comedy video at a time.
“Ever since I was younger, I’ve always wanted to be famous, I just wanted to be an influencer,” she said.
“When TikTok first started, I said to my Dad, ‘I’m going to be big on this app, I want to be an influencer, I want to be famous on this app.’”
The Newcastle teen joined TikTok three years ago, before it exploded in popularity, and built her audience sharing videos of herself singing and playing the ukulele.
Ms Brown became an overnight sensation when a makeup transition video she posted went viral, rounding up 16 million views in just a matter of hours.
“So I went from just a plain, bare face and I smacked my head on the floor, and then had heaps of makeup on,” the TikTok star said.
“It just snowballed from there and got bigger and bigger,” she said.
“I hit 700,000 followers and I asked Dad, I’m like, ‘Dad, am I famous yet?’ and he’s like, ‘No, not yet.’”
Almost two million followers and 43 million likes later, Ms Brown decided to call it quits on school and pursue her TikTok career full-time.
“It was a big change … I’m like, I have to grow up and take on a lot of responsibility,” the 17-year-old said.
For Ms Brown, the decision was a no-brainer.
“I don’t really have any friends from school, they all kind of dropped me with the whole TikTok thing,” she said.
“They’re all like, you know, it’s just a kid app, you’re not cool for doing it … I always felt sort of like the outcast.”
The appeal is pretty obvious, free clothes, teeth whitening kits, weight-loss teas – and of course, fame and influence.
And as it turns out, influencers do just that – influence.
To date, Ms Brown has 20 brand sponsorships to her name and counting.
Brands are desperate to sell to the hard-to-reach Gen Z market, and will pay an eye-watering amount to influencers with the hopes they can tap into an “authentic” outlet to push their products.
Rory’s manager at Born Bred Talent declined to say exactly how much she pulls in per post, but said it was more than the average Australian wage and indicated it was on the “upper end” of the $200 to $2500 range Australian TikTok influencers typically make for a post.
“I would say it’s in the middle to high range of incomes in Australia,” she said.
“Mum and Dad were like, you know, you’ve won the lottery with this. You’ve got to bite the bullet and just go for it while it’s still here.”
AUSSIE INFLUENCERS RACKING UP FOLLOWERS
Even though Aussies on TikTok make up just 2 per cent of the global users, that doesn’t mean we’re running short on homegrown influencers.
While Ms Brown’s 1.6 million follower count might seem like a lot, plenty of lip-syncers, dancers and wannabe celebrities have found success on the app too.
TikTok royalty, the Rybka Twins from Perth, have more than 9 million followers thanks to dancing in co-ordinated outfits – a claim to fame that might leave more than a few people scratching their heads.
But they pale in comparison to US TikTok superstars BabyAriel and Loren Gray, who have nearly 70 million followers between them.
Admittedly, the seemingly overnight success of these teens is impressive. But there’s no telling how short-lived their 15 seconds of fame really is.
TikTok’s doomed predecessor, Vine, left a trail of influencers mourning the loss of their stardom when the video-sharing app was axed by Twitter in 2016 – a sombre reminder of how unpredictable the industry can be.
But for Ms Brown at least, everything is a bonus.
“I’d love to do acting on TV or maybe get into the TV industry eventually,” she said.
“But at the moment, I’m really loving it.”
Originally published as Video that made teen quit school