16-year-old Parker Pannell moved to Los Angeles to make it in Hollywood. But he didn’t become a star until he found the buzzy app TikTok, where he now has 779,000 followers.

16-year-old Parker Pannell grew up in Lexington, Kentucky with the dream of becoming an entertainer.

Last October, Pannell decided to chase that dream and convinced his parents to let him move to Los Angeles and finish high school online while taking acting classes.

His parents hired their friend to move out with him, and be his legal guardian, and every month after that, one of them would fly out to LA for a few days to visit.

"I moved out here for a career in the entertainment industry, and social media came along with it," Pannell told Business Insider.

But from weekly acting classes, to auditions, landing a gig in LA was difficult. Pannell decided to share his craft and love for comedy by posting videos to YouTube. But even though he was consistent with it, the few thousands of views he'd get online didn't help him get noticed in the industry.

Then he heard about TikTok.

Around the same time that Pannell was settling into his new life in LA, he heard about a new short-form video app taking over the attention of his teenage friends.

His friends encouraged him to give it a try, and join in on posting short skits to TikTok. Within a few days of posting, Pannell rapidly began gaining an audience, and in roughly one year later, he has 779,000 followers, and expects to hit one million by the end of 2019.

How to 'make it' on TikTok

Pannell is the perfect age demographic for TikTok, which attracts young teens and Generation Z (born between 1996 and 2010).

Simple comedy skits do well on TikTok's short video format, and Pannell's sense of humor, relatability, and willingness to poke fun at himself make his videos popular. He was also among the first group of creators in the US using the platform.

"If you're first on a platform, then you will blow up," he said. "If you're putting out good content you will be seen."

On TikTok, "likes" are displayed on each individual video, instead of views being the primary metric for how successful a piece of content is, like on YouTube. Pannell gains about 20,000 likes a video, although it's hard to pinpoint an average number. His content can hit millions of likes if it's picked up and pushed to the TikTok homepage.

One of Pannell's popular videos, with 750,000 likes, is captioned "never betray your friends," and set to the Pink song "Just like fire."

In the video, Pannell is standing with fellow TikTok star, Paige Mackenzie, by a pool, as another TikTokker, @mychaelade, approaches Paige. Pannell pushes him into the pool, and his friend tosses him his phone, which Pannell tries to save before it hits the ground.

Pannell said he plans out his videos, from figuring out a good filming location, to a catchy caption.

"A little bit of clickbait is always good," he said. "You are your own creative director and producer."

Pannell also engages with his followers in the comments section by asking them where they are from or how they found him.

Pannell said to stay successful on TikTok, he looks at what's trending on the "For You" page on the home screen of the app. He advised would-be stars to save sounds from popular videos and think about how to put your own spin on it.

He said natural lighting is important for a good video on TikTok, and that his videos filmed outside in the sun get more views than the ones that aren't.

Parker Pannell

A day in the life of a TikTok star

Living in LA is hectic, Pannell said, compared to his "normal" upbringing in Kentucky.

In Kentucky, he attended school, played baseball, and swam. Now, living in LA, he keeps a tight schedule and lives off the calendar on his phone, where he keeps a detailed list of his day and upcoming projects.

"I have to have a lot of time management to live out in LA," he said.

Pannell starts off his mornings by going to the gym, then spends around four hours a day on online school.

Some afternoons he'll take acting classes, work on his next standup comedy act, and film with friends who also have TikTok accounts and are trying to land gigs in the entertainment industry.

When Pannell isn't filming for TikTok, he's filming weekly episodes of his show, "Parker's Playground," which he films at a studio in Santa Monica with his management team, Creative Management Entertainment Group. Pannell also has a theater manager at Artistic Endeavors.

What does 779,000 followers make you?

Pannell makes "some money" from his success on TikTok, he said, but primarily his parents are the ones supporting him still.

When he does earn money, it's through brand sponsorships. TikTok, like Instagram, doesn't pay creators directly. Pannell landed his first one by reaching out to a local Kentucky beverage company, pitching them an idea.

"I'm currently reaching out to IHOP at the moment," he said. "I really want to get a brand deal with them because 'Parkers Pancakes' is such a great play on words."

Pannell said he generally reaches out to companies on LinkedIn to try to get sponsorships, by messaging the company and pitching his story.

But unlike some YouTube stars, who are earning thousands (and even millions) of dollars from YouTube ads and sponsorships, TikTok's economic ecosystem isn't as mature, so for Pannell it's more about gaining a massive following than earning money — for now.

Read more: A YouTube creator explains how he made nearly $50,000 in ad revenue from one video, without millions of subscribers

The app has allowed Pannell to reach an audience and make a name for himself. It's helped him gain an engaged following on Instagram (54,000 followers), which today is important for a young aspiring entertainer.

"Now that I've built up a following, I have so many new doors that are opening," Pannell said. "I'm so thankful it's paying off and I'm seeing my dream come true every single day."


For more on how to become a successful influencer, according to YouTube and Instagram stars, check out these Business Insider Prime posts:

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