Imagine walking past the Wilmeth Active Learning Center and seeing a student duct-taped to a light post, circling his arms like a basketball rim as other students throw basketballs at him.
That’s just another day for Sean Andrew Rodriguez, who goes by Sean Andrew, a senior studying mass communication and a TikTok creator who has amassed a following of more than 400,000 people on the app in the past six months.
He got his start with content creation on YouTube about two years ago, he said, but said his videos weren’t getting as much traction on the platform as he had hoped.
“I watch a lot of YouTube,” Andrew said, “and I think that’s how I got into all this. Growing up, that was just what I did.”
Andrew attributed much of his knowledge of how to be successful on social media to communications professor Doug Osman.
“(Osman) kind of took me under his wing,” Andrew said. “Then we started working together on a weekly basis and he would critique the videos. And then he suggested that I do TikTok last fall.”
Osman suggested he should pursue TikTok as a way to expand his following last fall.
Andrew said he resisted downloading the app because he thought it was “cringy,” but when he finally gave in and began to post videos, his following “blew up.”
Osman said TikTok has untapped potential for those wishing to work in social media. He described it as “low-hanging fruit” because of how easy it is to gain a massive following.
Andrew’s first video to “blow up” on the platform involved him telling people to wiggle their ankle for 20 seconds, snap their fingers and then stand up, supposedly to make themselves fall down. The premise of the video was a myth, he said, but it somehow sparked a TikTok trend.
He then moved on to demonstrating special effects and editing techniques in videos. Now he performs experiments and completes challenges.
TikTok videos can range from 15 seconds to a minute long, a contrast to YouTube videos that are traditionally much longer. Andrew said he has been posting videos “nonstop” for the last four or five months to acclimate.
“I’m filming multiple videos every single day in order to get ahead,” Andrew said. “Then after I finish homework and do everything I need to do for school, around 8 or 9 p.m., I edit until I’m pretty much asleep.”
Most of Andrew’s filming and video skills are self-taught, he said. He learned from watching other YouTube videos and tutorials.
“I shoot everything in 4K,” Andrew said, “I shoot a lot of things in slow-mo. I try to use the quality as a separating factor.”
Brayden Williams, a junior also studying mass communication, films many of Andrew’s videos. He said he’s been filming for Andrew for a year after they met while working on a project with the College of Agriculture and realized their shared connection to Osman.
Williams said he doesn’t want Andrew to pay him for filming, but just wants to film more of their “fun” content around campus this year, both to gain experience and lift spirits at the University.
Quality wasn’t translating into revenue from TikTok at first, Andrew said. Until recently, he was able to receive money only through paid sponsorships and brand deals.
“If you have over 100,000 followers you can start making money based on daily views,” Andrew said. “TikTok just incorporated that last week, and I got accepted.”
According to Osman, the creator fund will pay only a very small fraction of cents per view of each video.
But with a large enough following, that small amount could add up. Osman said Andrew might soon be making more money than he does as a professor. Osman made $106,373.91 as a professor in 2019, according to Exponent data.
“Our projections right now have him somewhere around two million followers in May,” Osman said. “He’ll be making enough for that to be his full-time job. And he’ll have a college degree from Purdue.”
Andrew’s ultimate goal, though, is to use his success on the app as a “stepping stone” to larger-scale production, perhaps television.
“You have to look at social media and understand that this is like a temporary thing,” Andrew said.
Osman said he has no doubt Andrew will make it in the media and entertainment industry.
“He’s by far the most productive, talented student I’ve ever worked with,” Osman said. “And this is my 31st year of teaching.”
Andrew said he always listened to larger creators on YouTube like Casey Neistat and David Dobrik, who talk about how success of their content can influence their mood.
“If your video doesn’t do well you’re in a bad mood, if it does well you’re in a good mood,” Andrew said was what he learned from larger creators. “That’s pretty accurate, and it’s scary that you just obsess over a number so much.”
TikTok isn’t going to be what Andrew does forever, he said, but it will be a good resource to help him in his future.
“At this point I’m trying to turn it into a legitimate business,” he said, “and it just takes a lot of time.”