Meet Traverse Metropolis’s TikTok Star
Local AT&T employee by day, global social media influencer by night? This is more or less the résumé of Shane Francis, a 24-year-old Traverse City resident whose following on TikTok, the bustling social media network, is the size of a city.
In 2018, Francis opened an account on Musical.ly, a social media app that focuses on short-form lip-syncing videos. This app was merged with TikTok and renamed this August. At this point, Francis said he had around 400 followers.
In the past few years, both Francis’ online platform and TikTok user base have exploded. TikTok rose from around 271 million users worldwide in December 2018 to an estimated 1.2 billion today. Francis now has more than 212,000 followers. To put this number in perspective: Michigan’s second largest city, Grand Rapids, was home to around 198,000 people in 2020.
TikTok offers a wealth of content ranging from musical performances to comedy skits and dance routines to parkour. The videos, which can be 60 seconds or less, are very popular with teenagers, who make up about a third of the TikTok user base. Francis, whose trail is on TikTok Comedy, built his following by targeting directly a youthful audience.
“My original audience, most of my followers, were 13-17,” Francis tells The Ticker. “So I had to think, ‘Okay, when I was 13-17 years old, what did I like?’ I liked Disney Channel; I liked [YouTuber] Jake Paul; and I liked all those silly, annoying videos. And so I said, “Well, Cringey videos it is!”
Francis says his first video that went wildly viral – with 2.1 million views and more than 20,000 new followers – was “About How God Made Me,” what he described as a light-hearted Saturday Night Live-style comedy sketch describes.
“I took some empty cups and put them on the table,” Francis remembers the video. “One said ‘funny’; one said ‘rich’; one said ‘popular’; one said, “handsome.” And then I had this bowl in front of me. The idea was that it was God who made me and these were the ingredients. So I said ‘Okay, he’s going to be funny’ and I went to pour that mug into the bowl and there was nothing in there. “Okay, he can still be popular.” Nothing in this cup either. And I kept reaching for all of these cups and there was nothing in them. So I said, ‘Hey Peter! What do we have in the back? We have to give him something! ‘And a friend of mine brings out this 1-gallon water jug that says’ fear’ on it. I threw that into the bowl until the last drop and then said, “Okay, it’s good! Send him down! ‘”
Francis says that this mix of self-deprecating humor and more serious subjects resonated with his young audience and ultimately set the tone for his TikTok style.
The most surreal thing about becoming something of a social media star? How “normal” life continues to be outside of the internet. While Francis says his friends, neighbors, and co-workers are aware of his social media personality – and sometimes annoy him about it – he is otherwise still a perfectly normal guy.
“It’s really cool because I have these kids who tell me, ‘I look up to you; You are my hero; You made me laugh today, ”Francis tells The Ticker. “And then my friends just think, I’m their weird, annoying boyfriend. Nothing has changed.”
When asked whether something should change in his daily life, Francis doesn’t know exactly how to answer. In the course of its meteoric rise, TikTok has shaped several real stars. Charli D’Amelio, for example, is a 16-year-old dancer and voice actress who became the first TikTok personality to reach 100 million followers. She makes millions of dollars annually on sponsorship and merchandising deals. Lil Nas X and Olivia Rodrigo are a pair of singers who became viral sensations on TikTok and led to record success for their respective signature songs “Old Town Road” and “Drivers License”.
Francis doesn’t aspire to that level of fame and fortune, but he does want to build on his success – especially as his followers get older and look for a different type of content. This year, Francis is hoping to get a sponsor for a new podcast called “Frantic Thoughts,” which he describes as his way of highlighting knowledge or skills in unlikely or overlooked places.
“I want to be able to show that everyone has knowledge,” says Francis. “Everyone has something to give, everyone has something to learn, and we can learn from everyone, no matter what. So I want this podcast to be shown, and I want to move my audience from those silly videos to something that people can take away, talk about, and learn from life lessons. “
As for TikTok? Even if the podcast explodes, Francis says he’ll stay on the platform – not only because it’s an effective place to build and grow a fan base, but also because he’s always at least one foot in its roots as a comedy Want to keep video.
“My biggest thing, if you ask my friends, is that I like to make people laugh,” explains Francis. “That’s my biggest motivation for this TikTok stuff. Because if I can make a person laugh, then I’ve made someone’s day. “