Is striving for TikTok fame barking up the wrong tree? For Oklahoma Baptist University senior Taryn Burks, the answer is no. Burks is experiencing the side of social media few get to see as the owner of a one-year-old miniature dachshund who is on the rise to TikTok fame.
Burks moved to Shawnee, Oklahoma from Leavenworth, Kansas in 2017 to begin her studies at OBU. Two years later, she found herself browsing miniature dachshund breeders near her off campus home. Burks brought Tucker Joe home in October of 2019 and the two have been inseparable ever since.
“I mean he’s my best friend,” Burks said. Burks did not know it at the time, but Tucker would soon shake up her life in a way she could not anticipate.
Burks started an account for Tucker on the popular social media platform TikTok January of 2021.
“I never really had any kind of motivation or desire to start a TikTok for my dog,” Burks said. “But my sister kept mentioning it and I thought it would be a fun way to save memories over the years with him.”
This is a trend among many TikTokers. Hayden Hopper, a popular Christian TikTok influencer, said she also did not have a desire to start making TikTok videos, but made an account to help her fundraise for a mission trip. Hopper, like Burks, did not expect to gain so much traction on the platform.
Burks uploaded the video that would send her and Tucker on the path to TikTok fame just a few weeks after creating the account.
“I had one follower at the time that I posted the video,” Burks said. “I just thought it was so funny because it was something that I never expected to happen off that video.”
The video now has over 150,000 views across various platforms including TikTok and Canines, a dog-based account on Instagram for the media company Lad Bible. “I just kept getting notification after notification” Burks said. “I was [thinking], ‘I don’t know what going viral looks like, but I think that he’s going viral.’”
Burks said she can’t take full credit for the viral video. The video shows a challenge where Tucker has to choose between several of his toys placed next to random household items. The Siri text-to-voice audio is placed over the video explaining the rules of the challenge.
Burks said her mom gave her the idea. She said, “My mom was like, ‘Hey, this would be a funny thing. I saw people do this with a baby and they put the baby’s toy [in front of them] and then they put a random object in front of them.’”
TikTok is a shared community of creators who make 60-second videos. According to TikTok US’s general Manager Vanessa Pappas, the company praises the community and creativity of the app’s users.
Creators accomplish this creativity and community by creating unique content, but also by taking the same sounds, dances and challenges and giving them their own spin.
Burks said she believes the community aspect of TikTok is why her video gained so much traction. Burks said she finds that her videos that follow popular trends do better in terms of likes and views, but she enjoys capturing Tucker’s daily life and quirks more.
She said she likes how the videos allow her to look back on the funny moments she spends with Tucker. Burks also said that challenges that involve the viewer guessing Tucker’s actions do well on the platform because other creators can use the idea.
Sharing and recreating ideas is the core concept of TikTok, but it is also where TikTokers can get into hot water. Licensing and copyright are terms thrown around a lot in the creative world. Musicians, filmmakers and other artists typically have time to mull over the fame of their work and have the time and resources to research the contracts they are signing or even have access to managers to help guide them through the process.
The same cannot be said for social media creators who are thrust into the limelight overnight and can leave the limelight just as easily.
According to Business Insider, elite TikTokers and those who are serious about using the app to make a livable income hire talent managers and agents. However, with over 52.2 million active users, it is impossible for all TikTok creators to have access to management.
Burks’ video went viral practically overnight and she said she was getting messages from brands about licensing her video within a few days of it going viral.
“Obviously I had no intent of creating a viral video, I was super new to TikTok. I had no idea the process behind licensing. I didn’t know what the rules were, what the legalities were.” Because of this lack of knowledge, Burks found herself navigating contracts blindly.
She initially licensed her video out to Lad Bible without realizing it. She thought she was only giving Lad Bible permission to use her video, not permission to own her video. This caused issues when Burks was later contacted by Rumble. Burks said she is thankful that both parties were very helpful and understanding, but the confusion was stressful for her.
“I don’t know if people necessarily realize the full scale of how social media is a business,” Burks said.
She said she might be interested in pursuing more of the business side of TikTok and the income that could potentially come from gaining TikTok fame. She said she is particularly interested in the financial and travel opportunities that would potentially come from Tucker’s fame and said, “I think it would be fun to do stuff like that with him.”
According to TikTok Newsroom, TikTok has a $200 million creator fund that they plan to grow to over $1 billion in the next three years. The app has a list of criteria creators must meet in order to apply for the fund. Hopper shared her experience joining the creator fund and said she has made $160 from the fund since joining in December 2020 and recently gained an influencer partnership that pays $700 a month.
Despite the stress and confusion of navigating TikTok as a business, Burks said TikTok has had a positive influence on her life.
“It’s showing me that maybe things that I don’t initially think would be fun or good for me can actually turn out to be something that I enjoy doing,” she said. Burks is not the only person to say TikTok has been a positive influence. Hopper also said she has been positively impacted by TikTok and other social media platforms.
“I’ve gained lots of friendships…I love using my social media to share joy and make a positive impact on people.” Both girls have said they truly appreciate the opportunities social media has given them to use their voice.
Burks said her main takeaway from her experience with her viral video is that “Social media is much more powerful than I initially realized and we have to be careful how we use it because it can cause so much good, but also so much damage.”