Like many sophomores at Wichita South High School, Joyce Davis has a busy schedule.

She’s a cheerleader and a member of the Student Council. She’s a part of the drama club and the Mayor’s Youth Council.

On top of that, Davis is also busy curating content for her 107,000 followers on TikTok, where she makes cooking and baking videos.

“I came from a really long line of cooks. My mom was a cook. My grandma … grew up in the church, and she would just be making meals all the time for the people at the church,” Davis said.

“And so I just started thinking … ‘I can do that, too.’ ”

Davis is one of several up-and-coming content creators in Wichita who are capitalizing on the rise of social media – TikTok in particular. Davis, like many others, has been able to monetize her platform by securing brand deals and advertisements.

According to a recent report, while the creator economy has only been around for about a decade, the industry is one of the fastest-growing types of small businesses in the country. Another report found the influencer marketing industry grew 42% between 2020 and 2021, reaching $13.8 billion nationwide last year.

“Microinfluencers are just going to become more important,” said Ashley Abedini, the owner of Abedini Social, a social media marketing agency in Wichita. “The amount of return often you’re able to get with an influencer compared to paid advertisements is usually so much better.”

Davis got on TikTok in 2020 after her mom encouraged her to make a Facebook page dedicated to inspiring young women during the pandemic.

“I was like, ‘Mom, nobody’s on Facebook anymore,’ ” Davis said.

Joyce Davis 2
Davis films herself making fried breakfast potatoes for TikTok.

One day, Davis saw a video of someone recreating a meal from a Disney movie. She decided to give it a try and bake empire biscuits — Scottish cookies — from the movie “Brave.” She made a video of the baking process to sound from the movie.

It didn’t go viral right away. But her second Disney cooking video – spaghetti and meatballs from “Lady and the Tramp” – did. It has more than 470,000 views.

Since then, Davis has scored brand deals with Dillons and been offered free kitchen products like oil and vinegar dispensers. She also makes money from TikTok’s creator fund, which pays influencers per view on their videos.

TikTok has not announced exactly how much it pays but some creators have estimated it’s between 2 and 4 cents per 1,000 views.

“It has been pretty profitable for my age,” Davis said.

While Davis’s account is not a full-time job, others have turned their social media pages into sustainable businesses.

Lisa Nguyen transitioned from working as a paralegal to running social media for restaurants in Wichita in 2018. When the pandemic hit in 2020, she started making content about cooking on her personal social media pages. And pretty soon, her videos blew up with followers.

Nguyen’s TikTok page has 3 million followers. In addition to brand deals on YouTube and TikTok, she wants to expand her business by selling her own products like hot sauce or chili oils. She also hopes to hire an assistant to help her edit videos.

“Last year with everything, I was able to pay off student loans and credit card debt,” said Nguyen, who moved from Wichita to Kansas City last year.

Why are companies turning to influencers? Abedini said that they can offer something most companies can’t: authenticity.

“Those influencers, the people that follow them, they love them,” Abedini said. “They follow them because they think they’re authentic, and it’s hard to buy that authenticity with an ad.”

Brianna Anderson owns Beast Analytics in Wichita, a digital marketing strategy firm. She said advertising that features humans — instead of just products — normally has more impact.

“We do know that content with a face in it generally performs like three times better,” Anderson said. “So I’d imagine that a whole personality would be the same.”

But running a TikTok page is not easy. The most important thing? Anderson, Abedini and Davis all said the same thing: be consistent.

Posting constant content is doable for Nguyen, who uploads one to three short videos a day. But Davis says it’s tricky to fit in alongside school and extracurriculars.

What she does know, though, is the following she’s built will be a part of her entrepreneurial future. And where she can, she hopes the page will inspire other young people to pursue their business ideas.

“I kind of want to uplift other young people and let them know that they can do the same things I’m doing,” Davis said.

Story provided with our thanks by Celia Hack, with KMUW