I knew VidCon, the annual gathering of online content creators and their fans, was going to make me feel old, but I didn’t expect it to make me feel unsuccessful. YouTubers, TikTokkers, and Gen-Zers are often characterized as lazy, narcissistic, and entitled, but despite the viral videos from this year’s convention in Anaheim, CA (which included a dance-off and a near-uprising outside a party venue), this year’s crop of attendees was there to work. Vanessa, 16, didn’t know anybody at the convention, but came out for the panels and workshops that promised to help her grow her audience. Friends Ashley and Alyssa, also both 16, had the same goal, which was why they were excited to be classified as “creators” this year, rather than the standard “community.”
“This is my first year as a creator,” Alyssa explained. “[It] will be so cool to learn the techniques behind it and hear from people who are really successful.”
But if there was a classification beyond “community” or “creator,” — perhaps “running the damn thing” — that would go to 20-year-old Cossette Rinab (@cosette).
I met Rinab after noticing that TikTokkers were dominating the normally YouTuber-heavy convention. Rinab began her social media career at just 14 years old, running Instagram accounts for models and actors who used her parents’ headshot services. From there, she worked for Wilhelmina and TeenVogue.com, made videos on YouTube, and ran a travel blog, before putting it all on hold for college. Well — not all of it. While pursuing a degree in public relations from the University of Southern California, she interned at Hint water and wrote for a few blogs, but now in her junior year, her services have become more specialized. After making a key connection at a social media event, brands realized that Rinab knew something no one else at their company did: how the hell to use TikTok.
The 15-second video app is the spiritual successor to Vine that rose from the ashes of Musical.ly in August 2018. However, Musical.ly was a far cry from what goes down on the app today. Rather than following individual creators, TikTok encourages its users to explore blindly, with its “For You” tab delivering videos inspired by whatever trends are catching the most attention from creators — regardless of whether or not you follow them. It could be lip-syncing, dance videos, special effects, hacks, or anything else that fits within the allotted time frame. It’s less about individual videos and more about the collaborative, meme-fueled culture they feed. TikTok was this untapped well of potential content, and now brands are reaping the rewards with the help of actual teens.
If the idea of being a TikTok professional at a brand is still confusing to you, it’s like this: Imagine if your part-time job was uploading photos to your parent’s Facebook, or helping your great aunt edit a photo in Not Valencia. Currently, Rinab, who is constantly fielding Bella Thorne and Dove Cameron comparisons thanks to her wavy blonde hair and expressive face, has almost 465,000 followers and a “popular creator” tag on her profile, but she’s also the puppet master behind two significant TikTok accounts: So Yummy and Blossom, two of the most popular lifestyle brands owned by First Media, which makes video content for millennial women. All in all, Rinab has 2 million followers under her purview, and, thanks to her own prominence on the app, is trusted with picking what video content from the brands’ other social media platforms is then edited and repurposed for TikTok.
And she’s really fucking good at it.
"For us, TikTok was experimental at first. We were curious to see how pairing our existing videos, which already reach over 622 million viewers worldwide on other social platforms, with Cosette's understanding of TikTok would be received,” Yuval Rechter, Chief Product Officer at First Media, told Refinery29 via email. “By optimizing and curating our library content for TikTok, Cosette's work has accelerated our presence on the platform, where we're seeing 29% for Blossom and 50% for So Yummy growth in followers every week.”
Even though it sees impressive numbers in viewership, TikTok does not yet have a way to monetize content through the app. There are no ads that pop up before and after the videos like on YouTube (at least, not yet, although a creator could still feature a sponsored product), which is just another reason why it’s impressive that Rinab has already managed to make it her career. But while chatting at VidCon last month, Rinab was told me that she’s adamant to finish school with her PR degree, and then see where TikTok takes her from there. But if she keeps going at this pace, by graduation, she’ll be the one leading it.
Refinery29: When and what was your first TikTok video?
Cosette Rinab: “I started [on] TikTok seven and a half months ago. I had a sleepover with one of my friends who is a creator on Instagram, and we just knocked out a bunch of videos. [We] were like, Hey, this is a lot of fun. My first video was this silly Mariah Carey lip sync.
The first video that actually made me realize that this can be serious was also with that same friend, Mia. Her TikTok is @miafinny. There was a song that was really popular on a TikTok called 'Step In,' and there was this big trend. So I was talking to her, and I was like, What if we make an acoustic cover to the song? What if we hit glasses? It was such low effort. We weren't thinking about it as anything serious, but we posted it, and overnight my account gained 20,000 [followers].”
What were you doing before TikTok?
“My parents are both fashion photographers, so every night when I got home from school, we would shoot a bunch of looks, and then I'd write out the blog posts and schedule them out. That's how I got connected with a lot of other bloggers, and started working with Teen Vogue. I actually started a jewelry line out of that — [I] was 14 years old. A lot of the models and actors that came through my parents’ front doors for headshots would then come to me, and I would manage their Instagram. I did that for about two years, and the college application process came around, and it was just way too much for me. I actually had to pull the plug on all of that and focus on the college process.”
Are you in school right now?
“I go to the University of Southern California. I'm going to be a junior. I studied film in high school so I thought that's really what I wanted to do, but then when I got there and started working office jobs within the publishing industry, I realized that public relations aligned a lot more with my interests.
When I first got to USC, I joined a social media club called Reach. The founder is Markian Benhamou. He decided to make this social media club to have a community of influencers, creators, like-minded people, whether they were on the back end of social media or creators themselves, just have a place to share knowledge and support each other. Very shortly after knowing him, he gave me a ticket for this social media conference in Culver City, and there was a speaker there who at the time was head of digital for First Media, which runs So Yummy, Blossom, Blusher, and BabyFirst. When he saw me using my personal page on TikTok and how quickly it was growing, he was like, I'd love for you to come in for a meeting and just talk about TikTok because it's so new for everybody.
I put together a competitive analysis for them: a deck on why they should be on TikTok; examples of the first few posts. After we went through all that initial preparation, they were like, Okay, you just do your thing.”
Based on your experience as a popular and lucrative TikToker, what are the hallmarks of a successful channel?
“When TikTok came out, I just put all of my time and effort into [it]... I considered it research — sitting on my phone going through videos, understanding what works best, understanding what the captions are. TikTok is a collection of very quick digestible content, so you have to be able to go through and understand what is happening in a video in the first three seconds. So just keeping that in mind, finding short quick clips that would work best, and then pairing them with a fun caption, asking a question to engage the audience.
But for my page I started [at] zero and I was like, What type of content am I going to be posting? I know what I like to post, but what will I enjoy that will also make my page grow? The videos that were going viral that I was making [were] silly hack ideas. [For instance,] pretending that if I pressed a certain button on my iPhone, it would make a song play in the Apple Store. Ideas that obviously are not true, but little kids find so fascinating to watch over and over.”
I don't even hope that TikTok is going to be big. It's already big, and I know it's going to [get] even huger.
Since you spend all day choosing and posting videos on TikTok for So Yummy and Blossom, does it ever feel like more work to make videos for your personal TikTok?
“When I'm at work, and I'm sitting at my desk posting TikToks for Blossom and So Yummy, it doesn't feel like work. And then when I'm doing my own, it doesn't feel like work because I enjoy TikTok so much. I'm not sitting reading out of books all day. It's very much this new social media era has given people a lot of freedom.”
When you are just consuming TikTok content, do you follow specific creators or more so general trends?
“In the beginning, I was really just following my friends on TikTok. But as I started consuming more content, I saw the same faces [in] content that I just really liked. So I followed a few of the big creators like @BenOfTheWeek, @KevBoyPerry. They're all very comedic. I wanted to watch what they were doing and hop on the trends myself in my own way.
What I really think makes TikTok so fun is that, yes there are these trends, [but] there's a very fine line between stealing content and hopping on a trend, which has been really difficult to navigate.”
Do you have that typical creator/fan relationship with your followers?
“I'm at the point where I know the followers who have supported me from the beginning and I'll recognize their faces and names at this point. If one of them comments on my video like, Oh my God. This is so great. I can comment and be like, Thanks Alex. You are such a great supporter."
I'm a very big supporter of always being really nice to everybody. I had a misunderstanding with a fellow creator. I had a situation where I felt like somebody kind of took my idea, but I ran into him yesterday, and he wasn't [initially] responsive when I was trying to confront him about it, but then seeing him face to face, he was so nice about it and apologetic. He was like, I'll give you shout-outs on my next 10 videos if it makes you feel better. So I think that TikTok has harvested such a supportive community both with the creators and the fans, but also the creators themselves.”
Do your fans know that you are behind all these other accounts?
“I'm at the point where I manage three different accounts, and two of them are growing so quickly at a rate that people are commenting ‘Face reveal at 1 million followers.’ I can't do a face reveal.”
TikTok has only been around in this form for about a year. How do you see it growing in the next year?
“I'm honestly very excited about where TikTok is going. TikTok is comedy, dancing; it's everything. I don't even hope that TikTok is going to be big. It's already big, and I know it's going to [get] even huger.”