TikTok-famous Iowa State students


Iowa State students share what it’s like to balance fame on social media with school.

Hannah Scott

At first, it was teens getting famous from dancing in their rooms and doing makeup transformations. But now, TikTok has developed a life of its own and helped its users develop their lives along the way.

“It’s been amazing,” said Linda Tong, senior in event management. “My account has grown exponentially from zero to 100,000 followers in six months, and it was a big catalyst for my business. It is really cool being known and hearing that my friends have seen me on their ‘For You’ pages.”

Tong is the CEO of her own company, Linda Tong Planners LLC. Originally, the business started as just a fun side gig to bring in extra income; however, as her customer base started to grow, she realized the need to expand her reach on social media beyond her own website.

“I knew TikTok would be essential to market my planner business,” Tong said. “My target market browses the app often, so I started making behind-the-scenes videos of my planner making to get people more interested.”

While TikTok may seem like just a simple app, it has allowed young individuals a platform for building a business and social presence that was not available even a few years earlier. 

TikTok is especially good for growing a brand because the algorithm allows for videos to get picked up quickly and then find exponential growth. It is different from other applications such as Instagram or Twitter where you really only see posts from users you follow. Instead, TikTok has a built-in “For You” page that constantly feeds users new videos it thinks they would be interested in.

Though TikTok has brought many individuals overwhelming positivity just like any other social media, there are always downsides to putting oneself out in the open. For many, gaining a following can sometimes create a feeling of obsession and validation one may have to learn to balance.

For students, this challenge can become even more difficult because as young individuals, trying to prioritize what the most important aspects of your life are can already be difficult. Now, with the added pressures of online followers, it can sometimes seem impossible to know where to land.

“It has definitely been an interesting experience for me,” said Isaac White, a freshman in animal science. “I did get to a point where I was basing my work on followers, and if I saw somebody surpass me in followers, I would get upset. A lot of times, there is that validation from getting followers, and you have to realize that there is more to life than just an app.”

As TikTok and social media have become more popular ways of making income, it has often been seen that many influencers will leave school or their regular nine-to-five jobs once they find success on an app. However, some individuals have tried hard to keep their internet popularity from affecting their other aspirations.

“I really try to keep in mind that my primary focus is school and making social media content is not the reason I’m in Ames,” said Liam O’Donnell, a senior in civil engineering. “While it feels good to get a bunch of likes on TikTok, I find it more rewarding to get a high score on an exam that I’ve studied 15 hours for.”

Through the process of gaining a presence on TikTok, oftentimes, individuals will have to deal with criticism and hateful comments being thrown at their videos. 

Dealing with harsh comments can create a difficult mental state for the users they are given to. While the comments may not say anything true, they can still put you down if you are not prepared.

Though the rising popularity can bring on less than satisfactory comments, it has also allowed young individuals a way to make money doing what they love. For some, it is simply a way to gain side cash, while for others, it has become more of a full-time job.

“TikTok isn’t necessarily as much of a priority for me as it used to be,” White said. “But it’s definitely nice because I do get some income. I do brand deals, but I really don’t take them that often because it’s normally not what my content aligns with.”

Ultimately, TikTok has given individuals another path to finding success through social media and building their brands and businesses right alongside it. Though the positives and negatives can sometimes seem hard to weigh, it is for certain that as time goes on, even more small businesses and personalities will find their place on the app.

“I think it’s a great platform to connect small businesses to customers and give people a place to build their brand,” Tong said. “It is a bit scary how well it knows its individual users, but I hope it stays a unique platform instead of becoming like all the other social media options.”