Matt and Victoria Krath are just like any other married couple. They argue, they make up, and sometimes they need a little space from one another.
The difference between the Kraths, both 27, and most other couples in their age bracket is the content of their arguments, which tend to revolve around actual content. In addition to having been married for two years, Matt and Victoria make their living posting videos to TikTok, the wildly popular social media app that allows users to post short lip-sync and comedy videos. In summer 2019, the app attained one billion active monthly users, thanks in large part to aggressive advertising from its owner, the Chinese-based startup ByteDance, which is currently valued at an estimated $75 billion and is rumored to be eyeing an IPO.
The app’s interface is explicitly designed to promote virality, which means the Kraths are under pressure to create multiple videos a day in the hopes of appealing to a broad audience and attract brands eager to advertise on TikTok. That sort of stress has a tendency to amplify a couple’s differences.
“Matt is a dreamer,” Victoria told me when I spoke to the couple in a posh coworking space in Southlake, Texas, the tony Dallas suburb where they live. “I’m very logical. Sometimes those two balance each other out, and other times we bicker.”
“I have to bring Matt back down to Earth,” she said. “He’ll get this big idea that requires a lot of money, a full set, actors, everything. I’ll remind him we have to scale it back a bit, because tomorrow he’ll be on to another idea.”
Matt, an internet comedy veteran who was once big on Vine for creating a meme called “Let’s McFreaking Lose It,” recently passed one million followers on TikTok, while Victoria, who posts a blend of comedy clips and makeup tutorials, is approaching 400,000. The couple met in high school; Victoria has owned and operated a social media consulting company since graduating college in 2015, while Matt previously worked in sales for a hotel chain. While each of their accounts has a distinct brand, they often make appearances in each other’s clips, and Victoria helps Matt with the business elements of his TikTok career. (If a brand like Skittles wants to tap into Matt’s audience, they’ll pay him to feature the candy in one of his videos, for example.)
“She’ll often have to remind me to reply to companies that ask about stuff like that, because I’m so scattered that I’ll forget,” he said.
“Yep,” Victoria said, nodding. “That happens all the time.”
To return the favor, Matt will come up with ideas for Victoria’s videos. “Giving her content is my love language,” he says.
In one of their most popular videos, posted in September 2019, Matt outmatches Victoria in a game of Dance Dance Revolution, drawing the ire of his less video game-savvy wife. The video attained more than a million views, while others from the same month attained a fifth of that number. “Our most popular videos are the ones we make with each other,” Victoria said. “I think it’s because people love how we interact with one another. He’s the ridiculous one, and I’m constantly annoyed by whatever he’s doing. It’s a lot like real life.”
The Kraths are just one of many couples who TikTok together and, like some of them, they have turned the app into a major revenue stream. The couple has created videos promoting brands like the milkshake company f’real, and leveraged their audience into a clothing line that includes t-shirts, tanks and leggings, which range from $15 to $35. They also earn money through TikTok’s live streaming feature, which allows fans to “gift” them money via digital coins purchased on the app. Since early 2019, TikTok has served as the couple’s primary source of income, and while they declined to get into specifics about exactly how much they earn from the app, they say their TikTok money has allowed them to pay off some of their debts and upgrade their lifestyle.
“If we wanted to go to Taiwan together, we could both spend a couple of hours live streaming every night on vacation, and it would pay for the whole trip,” Matt said. “That gives us a lot of freedom to do what we want.”
“This is the new American dream,” Victoria added.
Scott, 30, and Moriah, 27, met on TikTok in 2018. Scott, who requested his last name be kept private, started making comedy videos, largely movie parodies and riffs on current events, on the TikTok precursor Musical.ly in 2016. For two years, he unsuccessfully tried to become a social media influencer, relying on his job as a Jimmy John’s delivery driver to pay the bills. In 2018, Musical.ly, his platform of choice, was acquired by ByteDance. The company, which created and owned TikTok, merged the two apps and migrated Musical.ly’s 100 million monthly users to TikTok. The broader audience possible with TikTok helped Scott quickly accrue a following in the hundreds of thousands. One of those new audience members was Moriah, an aspiring actress from Southern California. Moriah and Scott started talking via the comment section on Scott’s live streams. They bonded over their shared interests in comedy and acting, and started referring to one another as “my spirit animal.” Eventually, they shared phone numbers.
“Things got pretty serious pretty quickly,” Moriah told me. Scott’s plan was to buy an RV and traverse the country making TikTok videos, and Moriah wanted to join him. Despite her parents’ skepticism — to be clear, she was moving to Idaho to be with a dude she met on the internet and travel the country in an RV — Moriah packed a few belongings and moved to Boise. In their videos from the road, Moriah portrays a rational straight man and Scott plays her aloof, over-confident husband. Moriah’s parents remain skeptical, but the couple’s content has started to pay off.
“I’m making 10 times as much on TikTok as I was delivering sandwiches,” Scott said, talking on the phone from the RV.
At first, the couple maintained separate bank accounts. While Scott’s fanbase allowed him to make money via live streams, Moriah, a latecomer to the app, needed to build up a following if she hoped to turn TikTok into a career.
But as the couple explored the idea of getting married and having kids, Moriah told me, “We thought, ‘Let’s just join our bank accounts.’” So they opened a joint TikTok account, too. Under their new handle, @scottoriah, the couple has chronicled their relationship through comedy sketches that the duo has dubbed “relationship comedies.” They now have more than a million followers, and make money through live streams and branded videos with companies like the stuffed animal creator Cutetitos. Moriah is currently expecting twins, and the couple wed in early 2020 (the ceremony was not recorded for TikTok). However, they have no plans to move out of the RV, or to change their prolific production of videos, which they post to TikTok an average of three to four times per day.
The TikTok algorithm favors frequent posters, so creators seeking virality often feel the pressure to produce content at all costs.
“Moriah was pretty sick during her first trimester, so we had to repost a bunch of old content every day,” Scott said. “It’s hard to make videos when you have to go to the hospital seven times in one month, but we didn’t want to get behind with the algorithm.”
“I don’t think people wanted to see the pain I was in,” Moriah added. “We like to post pregnancy videos, but we like to keep them light and fun.”
Their biggest concern is not money or besting the algorithm, but maintaining a sense of normalcy while living in public.
“I think about the kids we’re going to have, and you always want to protect your family,” Moriah said. “Doing this full time means you have to be on the app full time, and we’re constantly figuring out how that is going to look for us [once we have kids].”
In Georgia, another, younger TikTok couple is still figuring out how to leverage their online presence for financial gain. Kamar and Emma’s joint account, @kamar.and.emma, has about 350,000 followers and nine million total likes. Both are college students, albeit at different schools: Kamar plays basketball at Mercer University in Macon — he was recently added to Mercer’s starting lineup — and Emma attends Georgia State in Atlanta.
Their relationship has blossomed in tandem with their TikTok following. Kamar and Emma began dating as high school seniors in May 2019, and they started publishing videos from a joint account in early June. “We started making them for fun, but people liked them and started following us, so we made more and more,” Emma told me over the phone. (Currently, their bio reads in part, “CEO of cute couples.”)
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The couple’s videos are seemingly organic glimpses at their lives at college: Emma surprises Kamar by cleaning his room, the couple dances to music in a dorm, and Emma uses a cute puppy to distract Kamar from playing video games. Though they haven’t monetized their account so far, they hope to grow the account to the point that they can.“Brand deals are definitely the goal,” Emma told me over the phone. “And we want to get as many followers as possible.”
In order to achieve that, they’ll likely need to up the production value. The Kraths and Scott and Moriah produce videos with multiple cuts and scripted comedy, creating clips that feel organic yet professional. That combination is attractive for advertisers.
While TikTok allows companies to advertise on the app for $10 CPM (cost per thousand impressions), corporations are likely to attain more bang for their buck if they partner with creators directly (this is also better for creators, as TikTok currently doesn’t share ad revenue with its most popular, unlike on a platform such as YouTube). While there isn’t a market standard rate for sponsored TikTok post — an account’s follower count and engagement rate helps determine how valuable it is to advertisers — the Kraths and other creators interviewed for this story can rake in thousands per month making branded videos.
The highest I know of is one of our friends for $10,000 for a 15-second video for a major brand,” Victoria says. “Typically, we do not do videos for under $1,000 each, and most people negotiate bonus pay off of videos, so if a video hits one million views, you get more money.”
Still, even for popular creators like the San Francisco-based Scott and Zach Artice, money from TikTok can be inconsistent.
“The money is nice, but not nice enough to not have to work day jobs,” said Scott.
Scott, 30, and Zach, 27, make content as drag queens named Minnie and Tink. Their account, @minnieandtink, has 2.5 million followers, and the couple has created branded videos for Candy Crush, the CW, and Taimi, a social networking and dating app for LGBTQI+ folks. Their day jobs — Zach is a ballet dancer and Scott works for a local school district — allow them to pick and choose what companies they work with.
Who would U try this on?! 🤣I never realized how awkward my laugh is! 💚 Insta: Minnie and Tink♬ original sound - minnieandtink
“We want to work with someone we know our viewers will like,” Zach says. “We can’t wake up one day and be like, ‘I like football,’ because our viewers know we don’t like football. We’re drag queens.”
The Artices know that most couples cannot afford to pick and choose, but refusing to rely on the app for income puts less pressure on their relationship.
“TikTok could be over tomorrow,” Scott said. “It works well for us now, but we don’t do this to become rich and famous. We do this because we like it, and whether we’re living the rich and famous life or living in a trailer, we want to be happy.”
Like the Kraths, Scott and Zach did not want to share exactly how much they make per video. They also do not know what most creators charge for videos.
“The rates are super inconsistent right now, and that’s an issue,” Victoria said. “Lots of brands don’t understand the value of the app yet, so I’ve had brands unwilling to even pay me. They still ask me to make four videos for them, and when I ask what their rate is, they say they’ll give me free products.” (It’s worth noting that none of the couples I spoke with used agents to help them negotiate deals, which may help explain this lack of industry-wide standardization.)
Victoria and her husband caution couples who are looking to join TikTok just to make quick money. Staking your livelihood on a TikTok account is risky enough on its own, given the reliance on fans to tune in and offer their own money on a consistent basis. That risk can multiply when you’re a couple in your late teens or early 20s. “If things don’t work out, where does the money go?” Victoria asked.
While the app has incurred financial benefits for the Kraths, they realize that such an arrangement could be a strain on a couple. “I don’t think it’s for everyone,” Victoria said. “If you like making videos and you’re in love, that’s great. But TikTok shouldn’t be the reason you [stay] together.”
“We’re lucky because we’re married, so we don’t have to worry about how to divide money,” Victoria added. (“We’re Christian, so we don’t believe in divorce,” she explained.)
Nevertheless, she and her husband have structured their finances with a built-in contingency plan. “We have our own TikTok business accounts, and we deposit funds into a joint account, too,” Victoria said. “So, if we split up, we would still have our own TikTok money.”