The Drum’s next guest editors – six young stars of TikTok – tell us about lockdown life in the UK’s first influencer hype house as they work on our October print issue.
Don’t bring your work home with you. A common piece of advice, and one many of us took for granted in the days when the office and the home were separated by miles of subway tracks and city streets.
But as much as you might be missing the border between work and play, few of us have considered locking ourselves inside the office.
That’s what TikTok creators Monty Keates, Sebastian Jon, KT Franklin, Lily Rose, Loz Kearns and Emily Steers embarked upon as London went into lockdown in mid-March. They are each members of the ByteSquad, a collective of influencers that live in the UK’s first ‘hype house’ – a production studio-cum-office concept developed first in the US.
The six entered the ByteHouse – the squad’s central London headquarters – in a move planned at the beginning of the year, but which landed in the first week of the UK’s nationwide shutdown.
“We moved in the week before lockdown, and then we’ve just been quarantining together throughout the whole of lockdown,” says Lily.
Since then, they’ve been working to keep creating new content for their hundreds of thousands of followers. They’ve also been working on a different project – the October print edition of The Drum.
Pre-order now and get your hands on a copy of our next issue.
Working from home
While each of the creators wield impressive individual followings, they regularly pair up. Lily works primarily with KT, with the two appearing in each other’s videos and photos and, in normal times, co-hosting fan events in London and beyond.
“It's great because we’ve been surrounded by our friends who we were lucky enough to go into lockdown with,” says KT. ”So it has been a really nice experience because we’ve been able to spend a lot of time together and I definitely think it’s brought us a lot closer as well.”
According to Em, each of the creators spend every day shooting and editing new work to ensure a healthy pipeline of content for Instagram, YouTube and TikTok.
She says: “We all aim to get up and get ready for 11am so that we can film at least five videos, so we have enough to push for that day and then we can even post a couple the day after as well. We spend around two or three hours filming. And if we have ideas during the day, we will add these to the list we are creating. With the new ideas, it means we have to create things quickly and make sure everyone is ready so we can post that evening.”
A turbulent summer
The story of the last six months – of outbreaks, lockdowns and political unrest across the world – has also been the story of TikTok’s rise. With its young target market left to their own devices (and not much else), the platform has exploded in popularity. Since the end of last year, the app has gained 200 million new users worldwide, with 2bn downloads globally and 700 million active users – 100 million of whom reside in the United States.
It has proven to be 60 seconds of bottled lightning. TikTok’s combination – an incredibly well-made distribution algorithm, easily parsed creative limitations and powerful native editing tools that make filmmaking as simple as making a meme – means that everyone with kids or an interest in the business of the internet now knows about the app. And that interest has paid off. ByteDance reportedly saw 130% year-on-year revenue growth, raking in $5.6bn for the first quarter of 2020 alone.
This sudden rise to prominence is just one of the reasons why The Drum is dedicating our October print edition to an in-depth look at the platform. As well as a social phenomenon, the platform is the next frontier for marketers looking to reach young audiences.
You can pre-order your copy of The Drum’s October issue here.
When countries around the world began entering lockdowns and enacting travel restrictions, many predicted that influencers deprived of fancy junket trips and location shoots would have a hard time striking brand deals or holding the attention of their audiences.
But, according to Seb, the limitations of producing in a single location have provided inspiration. “We can’t really be doing stuff outside, like we can’t go to any sort of theme parks, cinemas or do any sort of filming anywhere outside. So we kind of had to think about things that we could do inside, which then brought our creative sides out a bit more.
“We do a lot more things now with makeup, cooking and things inside the house that make the videos fun. We don’t have to go outside to make engaging and fun content.”
Monty makes a similar point. “I guess the only thing that was difficult was collabing with other influencers, but when there’s six of us it isn’t exactly necessary. We have everything that we need with each other.”
Seb suggests the period has also provided valuable planning time for each of the creators. “It has also allowed us to focus on what we would like to do post-lockdown – in terms of outdoor content but also what we can do inside in future.”
Monty agrees, saying: “We’ve all got much more time to talk about ideas, plan things ahead and have brainstorming sessions. Of course, we could do all of these things outside of lockdown, but it’s just the fact that we have to spend a lot more time inside. It just gives us much more time to think.”
And with their young fanbases also stuck indoors with nothing else to do but watch TikTok all day, the Squad have seen audiences grow and engagement increase.
“Purely because, as people are in lockdown, they have nothing to do, so they’re on their phones more and we’ve got more engagement from it,” says Loz.
Rising audience figures aren’t the only sign of success, however, as the next issue of The Drum magazine can attest. With photos shot and words penned by the Squad’s creators over the last six weeks, it’s likely the first magazine ever produced in a hype house.