Question of the Week

How Did BU Student Irene Kim Become a Viral TikTok Influencer?

February 28, 2022 BU Today Season 1 Episode 13
How Did BU Student Irene Kim Become a Viral TikTok Influencer?
Question of the Week
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Question of the Week
How Did BU Student Irene Kim Become a Viral TikTok Influencer?
Feb 28, 2022 Season 1 Episode 13
BU Today

We talk to Boston University student Irene Kim (@ireneykim) about how she became a TikTok influencer and how she finds time to record her viral food reviews between work and school. Irene also shares her strategy for gaining followers, and how much companies are willing to pay her for munching on their products.

TikTok clips courtesy of @ireneykim

Show Notes Transcript

We talk to Boston University student Irene Kim (@ireneykim) about how she became a TikTok influencer and how she finds time to record her viral food reviews between work and school. Irene also shares her strategy for gaining followers, and how much companies are willing to pay her for munching on their products.

TikTok clips courtesy of @ireneykim

Dana Ferrante: This is Question of the Week, from BU Today

Amy Laskowski: How did BU student, Irene Kim, become a TikTok influencer? 

Maybe you recognize the name, you may have even seen her in your COM class. Junior Irene Kim has been recording viral food videos on TikTok since the early days of the pandemic, amassing over 360,000 followers and 9 million likes in the process.

When Irene first joined TikTok, she made videos on anything from Powerpuff Girls–inspired outfits to her attempts at lip syncing with her dog. But once her easygoing review of Crumbl cookies was watched more than 54,000 times, she knew she had found her niche.

TikTok Clip: "Let's cut the chitchat, I'm doing a Crumbl cookie review because it's been all over my free page and I need to know the hype.

“Here are the cookies of the week."

Laskowski: These days, she posts at least one new video a day, which could involve anything from sampling sodas and snacks from around the world.

Clip: “First, we're trying this oolong Pepsi from China. Cheers!"

Laskowski: From critiquing a local fried chicken spot or giving step-by-step instructions on how to make crab rangoon dip.

I'm BU Today writer Amy Laskowski. In this episode, I talk to Irene about how she finds time to squeeze her TikTok career in between classes and a job at Zara, her strategy for gaining followers, and how much companies are willing to pay her for munching on their products.

Clip: “Let's try BussinSnacks anime box! We're starting off with these scrambled egg potato chips. Okay, the egg flavor is pretty subtle and you have to really try to taste it, but seven out of ten…”

Laskowski: Hi Irene, I first wanted to start by asking you what inspired you to start making TikToks?

Irene Kim: So I started making TikToks when I was in quarantine and school was all pretty much virtual. I was very, very bored because for one of the semesters that we were all virtual, I stayed home, so that I could help my parents. We were moving and they were starting a business, so I was helping them with all the logistics and all that.

But on the side, when I wasn't doing homework, I was really bored, so I spent a lot of time on TikTok. And then eventually I got onto the side of food TikTok and all that. And so eventually, that kind of inspired me like, hey, I kinda wanna do that, I see this everywhere, and I wanna do it myself. And then I eventually just started posting on TikTok and just making random videos, and then eventually, the food TikToks did really well.

And then people were commenting, suggestions, and such. And I was getting inspiration from other food TikTokers. And then eventually that kinda just led into me always wanting to try new things.

Laskowski: So you're reading the comments and seeing what people wanted you to talk about?

Kim: Yeah, pretty much. I love engaging with my comments section and getting inspiration from my comments to "You should try this" or "Can you do this?" And I'm like, "That's actually a really good idea."

Laskowski: How do you describe your TikTok page to someone who's never seen it?

Kim: I would describe my TikTok page as a lot of food content. I do a lot of taste-testing videos, especially snacks from around the world. And then I also like to do eat-with-me videos. And even though I do a lot of food-related content, I also like to throw in other things, like trendy stuff that might be going on on TikTok.

And I also like to do day-in-the-life videos or get-ready-with-me videos. Clip: “Let's get ready with me for work. I did my makeup and now it's time for the hair, a second day hair, so I'm thinking curly. I work a full shift today and I close, so wish me luck.”

Kim: So I kinda just throw in stuff that I'm just like, I really want to film this in the moment, but overall, it's a lot of just food-related videos.

Laskowski: How quickly did it take you to get to 300,000 followers? You said you started during the pandemic. When did you start to see your numbers climb steadily?

Kim: I started posting more frequently around March 2021 and that was still at the time when school was all virtual. I didn't have that many followers, I had 200 just starting off. And then eventually, I started doing Crumbl cookie reviews every single week. But I did those consistently, and I think those videos really helped me get to around 10,000 followers.

And then when school was back in person around September of 2021, I had around maybe 30-40,000 followers. But when I came back to school, I specifically remember one company sent me international snacks to try, snacks from all over the world. And I filmed that video of me trying all these snacks and those videos pretty much blew up—they got into the millions.

Clip: "Chinese snacks from around the world, part three. These are strawberry Oreo wafer rolls from Thailand. Look at how cute. Love the strawberry. This with the glass of milk." It was like I went from 40,000 to over 150,000 just within that week.

Laskowski: What kind of snacks are your favorite to try?

Kim: I personally have such a big sweet tooth. I don't think a day goes by where I don't have something sweet. So I love trying desserts, so cookies, donuts, cupcakes, those are always my favorite.

Laskowski: Is there anything you won't try or anything that if it comes to you, you're like, "No, this doesn't really excite me"?

Kim: I won't say that I don't like something unless I've tried it. So I'm always willing to try new things, but there are certain things where I hear the flavor, and I'm like, "ehhh." For example, I'm not a big fan of cucumber. And so when something's cucumber-flavored, I'm like, "ughhh," I know I won't really like this, but I will still give it a shot.

Laskowski: Talk to me about how it works: do companies send you products to try, do you go to the store and find your own stuff?

Kim: It kind of depends. Sometimes if I'm really intrigued by something and I see it at the store, or I see it online and I can buy it, I'll just go ahead and buy it myself if I'm really interested in trying it.

Sometimes if I am also interested in a certain product, I'll also reach out to the brand to see if they wanna do some sort of collaboration. And in a lot of cases, brands also reach out to me through my Instagram or my email. And then they'll just ask, "Hey, can we send you some product and can you just film a video for us?" And so it kind of just depends, but yes, I've bought product and I've also had things sent to me, so kinda both.

Laskowski: When did that start for you? When did companies start seeking you out?

Kim: In the beginning, there were a couple companies that wanted to work with me when my account was still pretty small, I think around 20k. But then eventually, once I hit around 100,000 followers, that's when companies started reaching out to me.

And I even made my own business email so that it can be easier for them to reach out to me. From the beginning, there were a few, but it started to pick up once I started posting more frequently.

Laskowski: When companies reach out to you, do they pay you for a post?

Kim: That also depends. Some companies, they'll say, "Hey, we want to do a paid collaboration." I know that sometimes as a content creator, you can ask. So it really depends. Some brands say that it's not in their budget and some brands will say, "Hey, we really like your content, let's work together in a paid collaboration."

Laskowski: Can I ask how much you charge for a post?

Kim: It kind of depends, I have done as little as $100 per video. And I actually had a recent video where a company paid me $1,500.

Laskowski: What?

Kim: So that's actually really crazy to me. So it kind of depends on the brand and what their budget is, how big they are, all that.

Laskowski: That's awesome. Do you know if you're charging the right amount? Should you be charging more? Could you get more for a post?

Kim: So I've talked to a couple people about this. From the beginning, I always was just like, "Hey, if you sent me free product, I am more than happy to make content for you." But I talked to a couple people and they said that with my engagement and the amount of followers that I have, that I should be charging more.

A lot of these brands are small businesses, and I want to help support that and I know sometimes it's not in the budget, so I kinda try to work with the brand. So I feel right now, I'm comfortable with where I am and if brands pay me sometimes, and so yeah.

Laskowski: How often do you post now?

Kim: Right now since I am going to school, and I'm a student, and I have all these different things to do, I try to post at least once a day. But usually during spring break or winter break when I'm back home and I have a lot of time, I post two, three times a day.

I had so much time on my hands.

Laskowski: What does your family think about your TikTok page?

Kim: My family loves it because there are time periods where I have a lot of boxes that come to our house and it's all just food. It's snacks and just stuff to eat, and so my parents were like, "Great, we don't need to go to the grocery store." And so they just love trying all the new snacks and stuff.

They also love watching my videos. When I'm at college, my mom loves to watch my TikToks. And since I'm away from home, she thinks of it as a way to be with me without actually physically being with me. So my family loves my TikToks.

Laskowski: Has anyone on campus recognized you?

Kim: A couple people on campus have recognized me. Some people in class will be like, "Hey, you kind of look familiar, are you on TikTok?" I've had that happen to me on campus and outside of campus too. I actually work part time at Zara, which is a clothing store, and one time someone came up to me while I was working; she was like, "I watch your TikToks, you are Irene, right?" And then that was really cool, that was the first time someone recognized me.

And then that following week, even my manager was like, "You're on TikTok, right?" I didn't know how to approach that, cuz I was like, you're my manager, you watch my videos outside of work, that's so weird to me, but—

Laskowski: Just wait until a professor says it.

Kim: [Laughs]

Laskowski: And then I think you'll be really weirded out. So do you think people assume what you do is easy?

Kim: I don't think people think that way. I know my roommates, they always see me bringing in all these products and me planning out what I'm going to film. And sometimes they even overhear me filming, and they've sometimes been sitting in on me filming videos. And so they've told me before, I don't think I could do what you're doing. So I definitely think people think it's interesting to watch, but I don't think they think it's super easy.

Laskowski: So talk to me about the strategy of your posts. How do you decide what content you're going to do, when? How do you approach all that?

Kim: I kind of go with whatever I am kind of feeling in the moment. So if I really want to try a certain product or if I wanted to go to a restaurant and I really wanted to film that, then it kinda just depends.

But again, I like to engage with what my audience really likes. And so, for example, my audience really likes watching taste-test videos. So I like to go out and try and find new things for me to try.

Laskowski: What's in the pipeline, what are you gonna be tasting in the next couple of weeks?

Kim: I actually was sent this Asian-inspired oatmeal, so taro bubble tea oatmeal, match tea oatmeal, that was something. I also got Chamberlain Coffee. It's a coffee brand and they also sent me some coffee and hot chocolate and stuff to try. So I'm definitely very interested in trying that.

I also have some ice cream that I'm also going to be trying. So lots of sweets.

Laskowski: What advice do you have for students who want to grow their TikTok audience or monetize their page?

Kim: My biggest advice is just to be consistent with it and to just keep doing it, just keep pushing through. In the beginning, I know it's a little bit intimidating to be like, "I'm going to put myself out there and I'm gonna start recording myself," especially when you're just starting out. I know I was a little bit scared when I did that. But when I constantly posted and I was consistent about it, that's when my audience started to engage with me more and my videos started to go more viral and stuff.

So I'd definitely say the more that you post, the more chances you have that your video will go viral and then the more that your page will take off. So that's my biggest advice, be consistent.

Laskowski: Everyone knows that TikTok's algorithm is kind of a mystery. So have you figured out a way to hack it or to beat it in a way?

Kim: The algorithm is definitely really tricky. Not a lot of people understand how it works. Sometimes some videos will take off and sometimes some videos won't, even though it's almost the same kind of content. But I have gotten advice from other friends that I've made through the app.

And so some of the advice would be: it matters what time of day that you're posting. For example, some people recommend posting in the morning or in the afternoon rather than late at night. Some people have recommended using as many hashtags as possible because there are people that look at certain hashtags.

But overall, nobody really understands the algorithm.

Laskowski: How do you balance this with school and work?

Kim: I definitely have to make a calendar. I am a very organized person, I would say. I like to write down everything and plan everything out. So I have a reminders list of all the things that I have to get done and that includes the videos that I want to film.

In the beginning of the week, I'll plan out all of my videos that I want to film, everything that I have to do, and then I'll align it with my calendar. And then basically, all of the free time that I have, I like to make content. And at this point, I've gotten pretty used to being in front of the camera and the kind of content that I film.

And so it doesn't take me as long anymore, I just kind of have to find what time slot works for me. And usually, if it's an hour or more, that's more than enough time for me to film at least one video.

Laskowski: What do you hope to do after graduation?

Kim: After graduation, I really hope to be in a big city. I am a city girl. I want to work in the PR department, marketing, advertising, any of the communications departments of a bigger brand in a city.

Laskowski: And will you continue doing TikToks?

Kim: I can definitely see myself continuing making TikToks. I think they’re so much fun and I'm really passionate about it, so I don't plan on stopping.

Laskowski: Irene, thank you so much for talking with us today. This was super cool to hear about how you do this and the way you've grown your page. So thanks very much.

Kim: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. This is a very wonderful opportunity.

Laskowski: A huge thanks to Irene for joining us on this episode of Question of the Week

This episode was edited by BU Today executive editor Doug Most, engineered by Andy Hallock, and produced by Dana Ferrante.

Thanks for listening, and see you in two weeks.