Updated: Aug 16, 2021
By NICO GOUS
Global Business Journalism reporter
Part 1 of a 3-story special report
Matthew Power, 22, was in a hurry to return his rental car to the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, when he drove over a stop sign.
“It was complicated. I was looking at the GPS,” Power said in an interview.
Blue lights flickered and the police pulled him over. Power tried to explain to the police officer that he was in a hurry, when the man in his 40s interrupted him.
“Now you have to get out of the car and dance like you dance on TikTok,” the police officer said.
Power was shocked. He got out, danced and the officer let him go.
“I probably got out of the ticket just because the guy recognized me from TikTok,” Power says.
Power is a professional, full-time dancer who has become an influencer on short-form video platform TikTok, who recently namedhim as one of the top 10 most popular creators in the country in their 2020 year-end rewind. Power (@matthew_j_power) has over 461,000 followers on TikTok, making him part of a select group.
According to influencer marketing analytics tool HypeAuditor, only 3.43 percent of South African users on TikTok have over a 100,000 followers. Power has worked with various brands, including Universal, Sony, Warner Music, Dickies, Vodacom, Cell C and Coca-Cola, and charges about R5,000 per post on social media. He has incrementally increased his rates as his following grew. “It depends on what the brand wants. Most of the time they’ll give you a brief, which is like a skeleton, and then you work it out,” Power said.
According to the Quarterly Employment Survey for Q2 2020 by Statistics SA, the average income in the country is R21,455 per month. Power first used the app after his girlfriend’s teenage sister told them about it in December 2019.
He made his first video after coming home from a dance rehearsal, doing one of the TikTok challenges at the time. Challenges are when many users make videos trying to do the same thing. The challenges can either be created by TikTok users or driven by brands.
Power made fun of the videos on TikTok when he first used the app.
“I used to see these TikTok dances and I was like, ‘These people all think they are dancers.’ As a professional you’re like, ‘People are famous for belly dancing’,” he said.
He was used to Instagram where your videos and posts are largely visible to your followers, to those who discover it via hashtags or if someone share it.
When he posted his first video on TikTok, he only had two followers and about 2,700 followers on Instagram, but within a few days his video had over 60,000 views.
“That’s what made me stay on the app, just how quickly you can get a lot of views,” Power said. “The video views are great, but it's really unpredictable. Even if you have a million followers, you can post a video and get 50,000 views, so it’s not really predictable.”
Power’s tips on becoming a TikTok star:
Don’t delete your videos;
Post content you enjoy;
Find a niche and stick to it;
Collaborations do well;
Don’t take your views to heart; and
Know your worth, because brands come to you for a reason.
According to technology research firm World Wide Worx and brand intelligence company Ornico’s ninth annual study on the South African social media landscape published in June 2020, TikTok has about six million users in South Africa.
This means it only lags behind messaging service WhatsApp (10.1 million users),
Facebook (9.1 million users) and YouTube (9.1 million users). TikTok was released in the country in 2018.
According to the latest estimates by Statistics South Africa, the country has a population of 59.62 million people. According to DataReportal, South Africa has 38.19 million internet users, so about one in six local internet users are using TikTok.
Power at first posted once or twice a week, but now tries to post daily. How much time he spends on a post varies, but he tries to keep his posts authentic.
“You can see from a viewer’s perspective, if the thing is edited like crazy, and shot with this amazing camera. It’s not relatable, but if someone looks every day and shoots their content, you’ll relate to the content,” Power said. “People can see when I just did a video just to do a video and those videos usually don’t do well,” Power said. “I don’t know how, but it’s like they (viewers) can see [it].”
He believes this makes the app more appealing, because the content is more everyday versus the often glamorous content on Instagram. Power said more and more people are starting to recognize him in public.
“People will stare at me or come up and greet me to ask for pictures, so it happens a lot now,” Power said. “There’s actually a group of people that wait outside my house sometimes when I’m not home, because of the area I live in. They recognize the house,” he added.
Power said people prefer and engage more with local content over more Westernized content.
He has used his platform to start a trading and a marketing company. Power spends little time on TikTok, often only browsing after posting a video.
He said one of the biggest misperceptions people have about influencers is that they are on a pedestal and that you don’t care about your followers for some reason.
“When people come up to me and take pictures, I enjoy it more than just staring at me and commenting, ‘I saw you at the mall’,” Power said.
“A lot of people think because they see all your videos all the time, they know
you,” Power added. “A lot of people don’t understand that they only see what you want
them to see.”