It was 5 a.m. ET, just hours before Hurricane Ian was due to make landfall in Florida, as TJ McCormack, 44, was preparing to head south from Venice Beach — not to escape the coming storm, but to take it head-on. to cope.
He lives in Denver and had traveled to Florida to chase the storm, although he is not a meteorologist or journalist. He is a roofer by trade, but also a budding influencer, someone who has amassed more than 280,000 followers on TikTok, where he posts videos of what he thinks people would like to see.
And what he knows people want to see — and what TikTok’s algorithm prefers — are live streams. He was one of dozens of people who livestreamed Ian when it hit Florida.
“When people look at me, they expect to see the very last, real, live, authentic stuff,” McCormack said in a phone interview Thursday. “I like the thrill of the chase, the adrenaline rush and the ability to document things as they happen.”
McCormack is one of the many people who have found some success as a part-time TikTok personality. When he’s not roofing, he works as a social media consultant for companies looking to achieve the same virality as him, something of a business-oriented version of the small-scale influencers that have become famous in niche communities.
Through TikTok, he has become a jack of all trades and posts anything and everything to see how his content performs. He said his viral moments increasingly come from live streams and videos about what’s in the news. It is a path that has led him to become something of a TV personality for TikTok.
“I’ve had over 160 million views in the past year and a half. It’s always something different,” McCormack said. “I had a viral video about Covid vaccines. I was in Hurricane Ida last year and had multiple viral videos there. It just happens to be what’s trending right now that I’m best at.”
TikTok has already been considered a threat to TVof some research show that it has become a crucial news source for young people. And news events have taken off on TikTok, most notably the war in Ukraine and the Supreme Court overthrow of Roe v. Wade.
TikTok’s live streaming feature has also proved popular. The company said that an investigation of Ipsos, a market research firm, found that 1 in 5 users had watched live streams on the app and that 62% of that group watched a live stream every day. TikTok is currently counting more than a billion monthly users.
The popularity of news and live streams on TikTok allows people like McCormack to be on the scene as quickly as major news organizations, often using only their smartphones. McCormack said that gives his videos a raw and unfiltered feel.
“I had a little over a million people watching me yesterday,” he said. NBC News could not confirm the number, but TikTok shows one of his recorded videos praising that his live streams have more than 1.5 million views.
His TikTok videos from Wednesday show him driving through the streets covered with running water, standing by a flyover Floridians were stranded underand walk around a beach that retreated from the shoreline during the storm. He plans to post more images of the devastation as he makes his way to Tampa away from the hurricane.
“No one expected this hurricane to be as bad as it was. Nobody here was really prepared,” McCormack said. He described camping in a hospital parking garage for eight hours on Wednesday, filming through the 140 km/h wind and rain and watching the hospital roof “peel off this building” and “blow everywhere”.
While chasing Ian, he said some of his followers asked him to check on their families. He said he drove from house to house for that. He said he sees social media as a way to help people. His first video to reach more than half a million views, at Easter 2021, was a video of him bring flowers to his elderly neighbor.
Right now, McCormack said, he is looking for more businesses in the area to work together and provide resources and support to communities affected by Ian.
His TikTok success has also helped him. He makes money through the Creator Fund, TikTok’s way of sharing revenue with content creators. When users have more than 100,000 followers on the platform, they can receive payouts, but usually they are small only a few cents for a few thousand views. Live streams provide another way to earn money by donating gifts to viewers’ streamers.
on his websiteMcCormack advertises free consultations for roofers and other businesses to learn how to “use social media to generate consistent revenue.” He said he is sponsored by and affiliated with a number of companies in the roofing industry, including a property insurance training center in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
He said that virality is becoming increasingly important for all kinds of people and industries, and that investing in TikTok and creating content is valuable for any kind of business.
“I’ve seen a shift over the past year where companies have to learn to interact with social media the way it’s being created now, which is to create short videos and live video,” McCormack said. “That’s really appealing to people, the point of view.”