The Creator Series is a part of Pushing Paradigms, a collection of thematic conversations with individuals at the forefront of paradigm moving trends. The conversations are organized into independent series, the Creator Series being the first of which.
What do brands struggle to understand about Tik Tok?
I think a big thing that brands are missing is that they are still scared to pay for the types of marketing that will succeed on Tik Tok because they give Creators so many rules. As a Creator, I am constantly talking to brands and finding that they are too rigid in terms of what they think makes for a good advertisement. They want it perfectly executed to their script, but that comes off as inauthentic and lacks imagination. Tik Tok lives and dies on authenticity.
No Creator is even going to be excited to do a paid promotion or brand deal when 1) the company is being extraordinarily picky and hard on them and 2) they try to give them creative direction. The Creator knows their fans. They built that fandom and is why the brand is going to them and spending that money. Let them do what they do and make a strong, authentic video for your company.
For example, me sitting on Tik Tok and reading an infomercial for 45 seconds off a script will lose engagement from my fans. The content needs to be interesting. I once did a brand deal on Youtube for a noise canceling headphones company and created a whole script for it. I had one bit where the other guys were having a full on fist fight behind me, but I couldn’t hear them. I had another one where we were in the gym and music was blasting, and behind me Bryce [Hall] was failing on a set, but again I couldn’t hear him. My fans loved it because it was like my regular content, and it is a product that I actually use. Even if it isn’t a product I would use, but I get the creative direction, it will still resonate a whole lot better with my fans.
I have stopped taking as many brand deals because of that. Whether they are being too strict or won’t provide creative freedom, it will hurt my brand and the value I can provide to other brands.
Alicia Keys (Blackberry) and Lady Gaga (Polaroid) became the “creative directors” for two companies that couldn’t turn around their fortunes. You are now the CSO for Triller. The former examples didn’t go so hot, have you examined them at all and if so, what have you learned from them?
For me personally, I look at those but I also know the position I am in and what my goals are. I am not just a celebrity trying to get an exit off of an alcohol company because my team is telling me that this other actor started an alcohol company so now you have too. Because of CasaMigos, every celebrity is now trying to do alcohol.
There is no contrarianism in the space. I love to entertain, but I am an entrepreneur at heart. Being The Chief Strategy Officer at Triller, a billion dollar company at 18 years old is a huge responsibility, but it is exactly what I want to be doing. Getting the role is great, but it all comes down to execution. I am not going to let what people are saying in the press or previous precedents affect my performance.
“Getting the role is great, but it all comes down to execution.”
Talk about your approach to brand building. You are massive on Tik Tok, have a prolific Youtube channel, your own podcasts amongst fellow Tik Tok influencers, as well as BFFs with David Portnoy. How are you going about this omnichannel to develop Josh Richards?
It all started with Tik Tok. I was on Music.ly and saw it declining and at the same time Tik Tok began to blow up. Slowly but surely, I was thinking to myself: what if this app dies. I began to question whether it was sustainable, and realized I needed to diversify. So, I was sending people to my Instagram, and once I was able to build up my Instagram, I started looking for the next move to add more depth to my portfolio.
I started talking with Bryce [Hall] and we began researching where we could differentiate ourselves. Charli was the Tik Tok dancer and there were the Tik Tok houses, but there weren’t any Tik Tok Youtubers. We found Youtube to be a great medium to showcase our depth and authenticity. And after that came podcasts.
The strategy boils down to growing slowly but surely. As we develop more content, and become what I call Professional Content Creators, we are looking to focus on things that we are passionate about and not just things that will bring us views.
After the podcasts with Barstool, BFFs, I have had grown men approach me. At first I thought they were coming to confront me, but they actually were approaching me as fans.
The play of sticking to one social media platform is wrong. You aren’t going to get that depth as a content Creator.
Two major differentiators of Tik Tok, in my opinion, is that it is video-based and thematic in nature. Meaning, you make videos as part of an overall trend: a challenge, a song, or threads to another video. This creates content that is both personal, since you are presenting yourself in a live, three-dimensional form, and communal. As a result, a lot of the content is compounding. When you look at Ocean Spray and how they reacted to Nathan Apodaca’s (Doggface208) Dreams video, you see this equation executed at its finest. Do you think this is the roadmap that brands should follow — allowing Tik Tok to independently identify what’s important and then participating authentically?
I think that is definitely something brands should be looking for. The amount of publicity and love Ocean Spray received from that specific trend is phenomenal. They were just listening to that For You Page and seeing what was going on and trending and capitalized on a one-in-a-million opportunityI saw that and thought to myself, ‘that is probably the smartest move a brand has made since the start of Tik Tok. Period. And it cost them zero dollars.
Each of the different Social Media platforms stands for something unique. The experiences are unique to themselves. The content on Tik Tok is very raw, the cuts seem very amateurish in some ways, but that is the charm of it. Youtube is very much higher production, you know you are going to be inundated with advertisements, and it comes with a ton of editing. As a result, virality is different on each of them. What makes something viral on Youtube doesn’t necessarily equate to Tik Tok or Instagram. You obviously mastered the strategy on Tik Tok, but what did the education and adjustment process look like as you entered new social media platforms?
Part of it comes down to knowing that you don’t know the field. You have to be open to learning because there are so many variables you have to consider. What is the best time to post on Youtube? What is the best way to style my thumbnail? What do I call the video? What words or punctuations should I be putting in my clickbait and description?
All of these variables are so important and it took me a long time to develop some semblance of knowledge. I still am far from mastering it and Youtube is a platform that I am learning new things from everyday.
Tik Tok is the platform of Gen Zs. It is the community that speaks to their values. What would you say Gen Z’s values are?
The thing about Gen Z is that they can never be told no. Some people view that as a negative, and that they are stubborn and unresponsive. But, the fact that there are kids that are super successful and not taking the traditional school route is the personification of Gen Z.
Tik Tok has been the conduit for this. People were tired of high production content, and not everyone could do that, so what did Gen Z do? They found a way to make viral content without having to post a three hour edited video. They could use their iPhone to film a video in their kitchen and get more eyeballs than a $100 million budget film.
Gen Z is not just rule breakers, they are rule makers. You can be both a jock and emotional. You can identify yourself in terms of gender and sexuality however you want and also step into a boxing ring or influence millions of dollars in sales.
It comes down to this overall trend of demystifying taboos. You have access to any community you want. Teenage angst and growing pains are not to be hidden, but embraced. For an entire generation, that is becoming more and more the status quo.
You have so much access. You can get your word and opinion out if you want to and stand for what you believe in.
“People were tired of high production content, and not everyone could do that, so what did Gen Z do? They found a way to make viral content without having to post a three hour edited video. They could use their iPhone to film a video in their kitchen and get more eyeballs than a $100 million budget film.“
A good way to look at the spectrum of many Creators’ commercial strategy is the difference between merch and brand. Merch lacks certain components of a brand, it is very much dependent on context and lacks permanence. Brand, on the other hand, survives beyond the moment and endorser, and takes on a life of its own. I equate it to buying an I Feel Like Pablo shirt at a Kanye concert vs. buying a pair of Yeezys. They both are manifestations of Kanye, but one transcends beyond a concert, or even Kanye himself, and is its own brand. I see many Tik Tok Creators doing really well selling merch, but what is your strategy to further develop a brand?
I think we are doing exactly that with Ani. That is the first move in a larger journey. We saw that when we were drinking Red Bulls in our Youtube videos, it was creating trends on the internet. There were videos on my For You page of kids drinking Red Bulls and tagging us. The crazy thing about us is that we already have the customers acquired, we just don’t (or didn’t) have the product yet. What we were able to do was listen to our customers and see how they would interact with the different aspects of our Vlogs that we were putting on Youtube. As a result, we created the Ani Energy drink.
You and Bryce Hall invested in LendTable, a company that gives cash advances to help individuals get their employer 401(k) match and ESPP. On the surface, that doesn’t seem to be in your wheelhouse. What drew you to this company, and do you think the best opportunities for your value-add are with companies that you can consumerize?
I think that part of my and Bryce’s journeys is making financial literacy sexy. Bryce has his own podcast called Capital University where he is going on and teaching kids about investing, Bitcoin and angel investing funds. They wouldn’t watch or listen to content about these topics if Bryce wasn’t the one leading the conversation.
It’s the same with our investments. We know that people are going to read these articles. They have blessed us with their fandom and will read articles that are names are on. So, they are going to learn about entrepreneurship, they are going to learn about investing, they are going to learn about LendTable. We have gotten to the place where we have disposable capital to invest and can use that as a mechanism to help companies that share this mission. In a way, if I learn something that I think has improved my life in some sort of way, I feel like it is my duty to also educate my fans on it as well.
What are a few brands that are doing a great job on Tik Tok right now?
Fashionnova is doing a really good job and it is often overlooked and not taken seriously. But if people looked at the revenue they have done on the platform, they would change their minds.
Manscape is also a brand doing well. They have done a lot of paid promotion and marketing, but they understand how to format their content to Tik Tok, which is really smart. of content that they create and format it to Tik Tok is really smart. Their ads are funny and play into tropes and innuendos, and go viral on the app because of that.
You are seeing Instagram launching their commerce marketplace. HOw do you see commerce and content merging going forward and changing how users interact with social media?
I definitely see it becoming a larger thing. I have caught myself scrolling through the Instagram shopping section because I saw something cool in a post.
They are keeping users within their app and replicating the experience of online shopping.
Yes. I will be interested in seeing where it goes but I think it could be huge and another way for Creators to market products and build their own brands.
What is the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
Dropping out of high school at 17 and moving to LA within a span of one month. Is that spontaneous?
What fictional character do you identify with?
Iron Man. He does a lot of stuff behind the scenes and is always working. I would often miss dinners and different social events, and sometimes would get ragged on for it, but I knew that working that extra hour or night is going to pay off in the long run.
- Medium – Social Media 3.0: We’re Living in A TikTok World
- NY Times – How TikTok Is Rewriting the World
- Dexerto – TikTokers Josh Richards & Griffin Johnson become Royal Ravens co-owners
- Forbes – Josh Richards Wants To Be The First Influencer Billionaire
- Techcrunch – How Ryan Reynolds and Mint Mobile worked without becoming the joke
- Social Media Examiner – TikTok Content Marketing: How to Grow Your Business With TikTok
- Shopify Plus – Caitlin Strandberg on Capturing the Elusive Gen Z Buyer on TikTok