For You: the life of a TikTok creator

Lily Rafferty, aka MyCollegeLife, on what it takes to go viral

Ever since lockdown 2020, TikTok has changed the way we use social media. Becoming an overnight internet sensation is now easier than it has ever been before. Under the username “MyCollegeLife”, third year NCAD student, Lily Rafferty, is one of Ireland’s most popular TikTokers amassing a following of over 25,000. Speaking to Trinity News, Rafferty explains the ins and outs of the popular social media app.

Rafferty set up her TikTok account in the height of lockdown 2020. She has always been interested in creating content and “used to make Vines and have”, both precursors to TikTok, so uploading videos on TikTok seemed like the natural progression. Rafferty’s success grew quickly despite only “posting for fun at the start”. Rafferty began to create skit videos that “did really well and got a few hundred thousand views and [she] began to get a bit of a following”. A key part of her TikTok success is consistency: “I would post maybe three times a week, sometimes almost every day.” 

Rafferty explains that there is a “very small creator community on [Irish] TikTok, so [she] very quickly became friends with other Irish TikTokers because [they] were the only ones consistently posting”.

“You could even have 100,000 followers and could be making money, but because you live in Ireland, you’re not.”

Rafferty’s video content is inspired by a large variety of sources, but specifically by “looking at the ‘For You’ page on TikTok”: “Every day there is a new trend or a new trending sound or style of video.” Her content is “inspired by the audio, trends, comments and [her] own sense of humour”. The ever-changing trends on TikTok are a starting point to which she asks herself: “What can I do with this?” She also takes inspiration from trending TikToks in different countries, for example, if she sees a video created in the USA about going back to school, she would create her own version crafted for an Irish audience. Rafferty knows her audience and caters her content to “an Irish following”.

Rafferty’s friends and family find her success on TikTok “hilarious”. “I’ve always been quite a humorous person and I’ve always made videos – YouTube videos, Instagram, Snapchat vlogs or sending annoying videos to my friends,” she explains. Rafferty jokes about how even her granddad knows what TikTok is: “He sometimes calls me ‘TikTok’ like it’s a nickname.”

Although she has gathered a substantial following online, Rafferty describes how “crazy” it is to be recognised on the street by followers and fans, and how she “didnt ever think [she] would be recognised”. Rafferty explains how she has had a “handful” of experiences where “people have come up to [her] and said, ‘Oh my god, you’re the girl from TikTok’”.

When asked if this bothers her, she replies: “No, I think it’s really cool.” Rafferty explains how she “would rather someone came up to [her] and said ‘hi’ than comment on [her] videos saying that they saw [her] in town today”. Some experiences with followers result in Rafferty and her friends being “shocked” as a lot of the time these interactions are “completely unexpected”.

When discussing the opportunities for TikTokers in Ireland, Rafferty explains how she does not think that there are enough. She points out: “There is an area for Irish TikTokers to make money from TikTok. There is a thing called the Creator Fund on TikTok which means that once you have over 10,000 followers you can start to make money off the views you receive, but this has not been introduced into Ireland, which isn’t great.” 

She further emphasises the point: “You could even have 100,000 followers and could be making money, but because you live in Ireland, you’re not.” However, on the upside, “companies are realising the power of TikTok, especially when selling products – they will look for influencers and people on TikTok to promote their products to their following”. She further explains: “Many Irish TikTokers are very close with their following and interact with them, so companies reach out to people like that.” However, “Irish TikTok is a small community with a small pool for opportunities”. Rafferty hopes that “in the coming years there will be a lot more events and opportunities, and TikTok will become more normalised”, and she expresses that there is definitely “room for improvement” in this area. 

“Rafferty has already begun to ‘branch away from humour’, making more aesthetically-pleasing and travel videos.”

The TikTok algorithm is very specific and precise and is biased towards a certain type of content – in particular, favouring typical “Irish Mammy” humour. Rafferty often feels pressured to create a certain style of content as the algorithm “prefers” it, and this results in your content being shown to more users. Rafferty explains: “From the very first video you post, it pigeonholes you into a certain category.” She feels that “once you start getting into a niche area, it’s very hard to get out of it”. She began creating videos based on Irish stereotypes, specifically centring her content around Dublin. However, “whenever [she] would post anything outside of that area, the numbers would just never do as well – there is no comparison”. Rafferty has an interest in photography and videography and would post content involving this, however, “the only [videos] that would do well were the ones based in Dublin”. Rafferty says that people “immediately label [her] as the girl who makes the Dublin videos”. She explains how she could “post videos every day about illustration or photography, but people will still always know [her] as the girl who makes the Dublin videos or the Irish skit videos”. She confesses: “It’s hard to branch out, especially when the algorithm will only push out videos within the niche which you’re posting to.” That feeling is “annoying” but, unfortunately, “there is nothing you can do about it”.

Although the majority of comments Rafferty receives are positive and her content is well-received among viewers, there are people who leave hateful, nasty comments on her videos. She describes it as “inevitable when posting on TikTok”. Her advice is to “grow a thick skin” as “people, specifically Generation Z, are ruthless on TikTok”. She discusses how “cancel culture is a really big thing” online at the moment: “You could say one wrong thing and you would be cancelled. Your whole life could come crumbling down because of one thing.” Rafferty explains how she would get “hate comments, hate direct messages (DMs) and people would message [her] hate on Instagram and comment on [her] posts”. People “comment for the craic” and have “nothing better to do”, so she reminds herself: “These people don’t know me, they have no idea who I am, so they can’t comment on who I am as a person or my life because they have never met me.” It “took [her] a while” to grow this thick skin and to “not take what they say to heart”. Luckily, Rafferty still manages to find the humour in their comments and “has to laugh at what they’re saying”. 

On her account, Rafferty has already begun to “branch away from humour”, making more aesthetically-pleasing and travel videos. She expresses how it is hard to “branch away from the content that TikTok likes”, which would be Irish stereotype skit videos. Ultimately, she wants to “keep making videos that [she] loves”. Rafferty says: “I wouldn’t want to force anything, because people can tell if you force humour or are trying to force what you think people will want. The audience will know if you are not being true to yourself.” She enjoys “keeping a mix” of different videos on her account – from videos of her and her friends going on a trip to skit videos. Rafferty has a positive attitude towards her recent shift in the type of content she is posting, explaining: “If something does well, great, and if it doesn’t, oh well – there’s nothing I can do about it.”