The emergence of TikTok as a modern media giant is no secret. The rise of TikTok celebrities like Charli D’Amelio or Khaby Lame, with more than 142 million followers each, has only amplified perceptions of social media stars, or “influencers.”
According to a Morning Consult survey, 54% of Americans aged 13-38 would choose to be social media influencers.
However, not everyone considered a TikTok influencer holds the following of those who have become household names. A new subcategory of social media celebrity has taken off—the micro-influencer.
Viral Nation classifies micro-influencers as people with 10,000 to 100,000 Instagram followers and 50,000 to 150,000 TikTok followers.
Mendietta first grew her following in early 2019, right before her senior year at St. Brendan High School in Miami. This was less than a year after TikTok had merged with Musical.ly, a lip-syncing social media app, and became available worldwide.
While her Instagram had always featured her interest in modeling, Mendietta’s TikTok content focuses on dark humor and personal stories. She has had multiple TikTok accounts during her social media career, with her current account accumulating 6.5 million likes.
“I joined the app really early on…when it wasn’t popular yet,” she said. “I started accumulating all these followers really quickly because there was nobody on the app yet. The entire concept of being TikTok famous wasn’t even a thing.”
However, now as a Hillsborough Community College student working at a veterinary clinic, she considers her influencer days behind her. For the better, she claims.
“I took it a lot more seriously back then than I do now. Back then it was kind of my career. That was like my only job. I was making money off of that and stuff and just now with the amount of people on (TikTok) and the amount of people that are successful at it, it’s really not like a sustainable thing for me.”
While she has still maintained a relatively large following, at one point Mendietta had audiences of more than 100,000 followers on various platforms. It took a toll, she said.
“From the outside, obviously it seems awesome, but it does impact you. Not in the way of hate comments, because I know a lot of people say that. That didn’t really matter to me at all. What mattered to me was the validation from people that I’ve never had before in my life.”
Mendietta confessed, “In high school, everything I posted was strategic. Everything that I did was strategic. It was to get me more followers, get me more likes. Nothing was organic and nothing was me. Even the humor.”
The social media industry has long been the land of vanity, with the tally of likes often equated with personal value or worth.
“On Instagram, I have completely taken off the ability to see my likes, because in high school that was so important to me. I would take down posts I really liked because they didn’t have enough likes.”
Despite still being considered an influencer, Mendietta no longer views herself as one. She considers it a career she has left behind.
“I was making money and getting paid to do promotions and all these things. I was being invited to events. At that point in my life I would say yea, I was definitely an influencer…Right now I don’t think the amount of followers I have affects my life at all.”
While her follower count no longer plays a role in her life, this wasn’t always the case. When she first chose to pursue veterinary medicine, she noted the struggle to distinguish herself from her public persona, “It was always a topic of conversation whenever anyone mentioned my name, which I didn’t really like because I was here to learn, like anyone else…I’m trying as hard (as others) but they only viewed me as an Instagram model. They didn’t really respect me as an intellectual or as someone that was doing the same things they were.”
Moving to Tampa to pursue her degree and veterinary work helped give her a fresh start.
“Since I’ve moved, and nobody in Tampa really knows who I am, it’s a completely fresh slate,” she said. Nobody knows that I used to do social media.”
Mendietta still posts on TikTok and Instagram, but not with the same intensity.
“The people that I have now are just so much more important to me than the hundreds of thousands that I had before,” she said.