How to Be Famous Online, According to Rickey Thompson
Before having Instagram as a performance outlet, Mr. Thompson had theater. He grew up in Raleigh, N.C., and despite being a “quiet and nerdy” teenager, Mr. Thompson said he loved performing in high school productions. On the advice of a friend, he joined Vine and started posting videos in 2013 when he was 17. Less than a year later, Kylie Jenner shared one of them.
When Vine shut down in 2016, Mr. Thompson had 2.5 million followers and he wasn’t sure he would ever regain that following. He tried posting videos where he reviewed and talked about fashion on YouTube, but wasn’t keen on making long-form pieces on the topic. He knew what worked for him: short, pointed videos. He started posting on Instagram, where he currently has 3.1 million followers, including Sam Smith, Miley Cyrus and Diplo.
And some of the posts have amounted to payment, in the form of sponsored content and ads. Mr. Thompson would not reveal how much he makes, but Amanda Bodenstein and Gon Carpel, his managers, said in a statement emailed to The New York Times that he “makes a comfortable living doing promotional posts, acting, making appearances and with creative collaborations.” As for future aspirations, Mr. Thompson, who lives in Los Angeles, hopes to do more acting.
He recently shared some tips on how he thinks about online content.
When people see a video of me ranting in my car or bedroom or closet they think, “Oh, I do the same thing!” I film all my videos on my phone. For the dance videos, I place my phone on the windowsill and press record. It’s very simple. And I used to film in my room but got sick of it, so I moved out of my room, but I’m still at home, not a fancy studio.
When I rant, people love that, especially if I’m ranting about a relatable topic, like dating or friendship or work. The more relatable a video is, the better. But I also love ranting. I really do. Instagram is my journal, and if I’m feeling angry I’ll go to Instagram. People are so happy to see me being myself.
Don’t overthink it
I don’t really do multiple takes. My ranting videos I can definitely do in one take, and for those, there’s no plan. I turn on the camera and talk, and it’s done. There you have it. Cute idea. Done.
Give the people what they want
I monitor my growth and views and comments and all that. It’s honestly so crazy. I cannot believe I actually have this many followers. It really drives me to do better and better. People love the ranting videos. People love the dancing videos. They say I have great moves. Seriously, a lot of people like them, and if I can put a smile on your face I’ll keep doing it.
But don’t “do the most”
I don’t have a strategy behind what works for my Stories versus posts. For me, what works in Stories [videos that disappear after 24 hours] works as posts [posts are online until deleted]. So there’s no need for extra posts or different kinds of posts. For the dancing videos, I choose a song that makes me feel good and go with it.