Social media has the ability to make anyone famous. TikTok is taking that notion and running with it. An app known for its community of young adult creators, it has become a new cultural beacon whose growth has exploded. The rise of TikTok has instigated a new wave of young adult personalities that has risen to the forefront of our attention. Virality has never been so easily attained or so casual.
No one knows this better than the popular TikTok creators who call, or have called, the 5Cs their (virtual) campus. Annika Oyung CM ’23, Anna Tulenko PZ ’23 and Linnea Uyeno CM ’20 each have unique stories of their rise to social media fame. Their respective growth as creators has led them to develop unique outlooks on their platforms and the responsibilities of creators as a whole.
Annika Oyung CM ’23 75K followers, 3.2 million likes
Armed with a casual style and an honest approach to creating content, Oyung built her platform without the goal of fame in mind. She has attracted an audience who empathizes with her stories of being a young person in 2020. From showing her thrift flips to detailing her journey in learning how to skateboard, watching Oyung’s videos is like seeing snippets of an indie film about growing up.
Oyung’s content is extremely approachable. It almost feels like she is having a conversation with the viewer as she speaks to the camera about her experiences with social media, fashion or sexuality. She described her process of making videos as informal. She even discouraged the label of “creator” and determined that the label belongs to those who put more production effort into their videos.
“I’m not even going to say create,” Oyung said. “I post whatever on TikTok; I’m not an actual TikTok creator. This is like a casual thing for me.”
Her rise in popularity on TikTok coincided with her hometown friends’. Oyung has a background in freelance modeling, and many of her friends previously had social media followings before joining TikTok. As they started making videos together, her follower count started rising.
“A lot of my friends are super wack and funny, and that kind of stuff does well on TikTok. So it was by chance,” Oyung said.
Her first viral video (which has since been deleted) has 4.1 million views and was about her “granola” lifestyle. A term that could be seen as a synonym for “hippie,” “granola” translates to a focus on incorporating nature into one’s daily life. For Oyung, this means raising chickens, maintaining a large garden and spending a lot of time in nature.
This viral video was Oyung’s first taste of interacting with such a massive audience. She was struck by the disconnect between her own view of her lifestyle and viewers’ idolization of her life. She received many comments from viewers about how they wanted to live a life similar to hers and were jealous of her living environment.
Oyung tries to stay cognizant of how the material she puts out does not reinforce some of the more toxic traits of TikTok. Like other social media platforms, TikTok can reinforce negative notions about standards of beauty. Self-critical comments from viewers are common, as viewers compare their own appearances to those they see in videos. Creators such as Oyung actively try to respond to these comments in a positive way that empowers and uplifts commenters. Although she recognizes that this problem is deeply rooted in all social media apps, Oyung still thinks it is vitally important to play her part in making TikTok a more inclusive environment.
Oyung is unapologetically herself. Her honesty and warmth invites viewers to take a quick glance into her life and leave with a feeling of excitement about what the world has to offer.
Anna Tulenko PZ ’23 20K followers, 2 million likes
From dancing to personal stories, Tulenko does it all. Her genuine, fun personality shines through in the vibrant energy she puts into each of her videos. With her ever-changing hair color and out-of-the-box style, Tulenko emits a creative energy that is both inspiring and extremely approachable.
Tulenko traced her inspiration back to the app that can be seen as the blueprint for TikTok. Vine has proven to have a big influence in the content she creates now.
“When I was mostly just a user, I would post really dumb stuff, which is pretty similar to what I post on TikTok — just, like, really dumb things that came up in my mind, but I was not popular at all,” Tulenko said.
Her first viral video, which has 1 million views, spoke to her deepest passion: 2014 Tumblr culture. A video of her and her friend judging music associated with Tumblr and the mid-2010s piqued the interest of many viewers on the platform. The creation of the video itself was spontaneous — Tulenko asked her friend if she would be willing to make a video with her, and the next thing they knew, it had a million views.
“We were both literally laying in our beds on our phones on TikTok, and I just saw the audio and I was like, ‘Hey, Rowan, would you do this with me?’” Tulenko said. “And she’s like, ‘Yeah, okay,’ and we both got up. We were just being stupid and dancing to the audio.”
Similar to Oyung, Tulenko is very casual and impromptu in her approach to making videos. Videos of casually hanging out with friends to more involved videos about style and music are just some of the content Tulenko creates.
She has found connections with accounts that interact with her videos consistently. Through these interactions, she has been able to connect with like-minded individuals who share her sense of humor and perspective.
“I see the same people liking [and] commenting on my videos, and it’s really fun to interact with them. Yeah, I don’t know; it’s a cool way to make the world smaller,” Tulenko said.
Linnea Uyeno CM ’20 13K followers, 760K likes
Uyeno makes content to inspire young entrepreneurs and techies all over the world. With a focus on product management, Uyeno makes content that gives advice in all realms of the tech world.
Her experience in the product management world has taught her many important lessons about what it means to be a young person navigating such an intimidating, unequitable landscape. Through her videos, she gives helpful guides and ways to reach one’s full potential in the employment field.
“A lot of the resources out there for product management, they expect you to pay, like, $400 for a course. And it’s, like, super inaccessible and really elitist. And, you know, it just got me thinking, like, ‘I would love to inspire more women to get into technology,’” Uyeno said.
However, not all of Uyeno’s content is tech-centered. One of her first viral videos was a fun loop of her encouraging her dad to dance to boost his mood.
She had to make consequential decisions about what kind of TikTok creator she wanted to be as her popularity grew. As companies reached out to her for promotion, she considered her next steps.
“It got me thinking, ‘What type of tech talker do I really want to be? Do I need to promote these companies and be like the classic influencer? Or do I want something that, like, kind of does more good in the world?’” Uyeno said.
She also carries a unique stance on the distribution of her content. She wants to make sure her content is ethical. Especially as a knowledgeable adviser on TikTok, she wants to make sure people know the advice she gives doesn’t necessarily fit everyone’s specific journey.
“You can’t even control yourself as a user, what you’re seeing, so your content gets served to people who aren’t even giving consent for it. So I really think about it from an ethical standpoint — someone is not giving me the consent,” Uyeno said. “So how can I make sure that I provide the right information for everyone?”
Uyeno’s unique outlook on the responsibility of her platform, combined with her positive advice, speaks to her genuine belief in the power of her videos.