Tinker, Tailor, TikTok: Meet Social Media Star & Former NRL Player Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck
The 25-year-old with a rugby pedigree serves bite-sized skits to his more than 1 million followers — like a comedian carefully portioning out a limitless banquet of successful punchlines
TikTok is fostering a new generation of creatives and creators. For the clueless or confused, the platform allows its users to create and share short-form mobile video, easily edited and enhanced with music, filters and captions; the focus is on entertainment rather than perfection.
And, despite launching way back in 2016, its surge in popularity following global Covid lockdowns last year (it has 689 million global active users as of January 2021) means that it feels new enough for it to be slightly chaotic.
Remember when Instagram was fun? That is what TikTok feels like now. It's creatives like Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck, a 25-year-old former NRL player, who are making it the joyous space it is today.
When did you join TikTok?
When I stopped thinking that it was only for kids, haha, so at the start of 2020.
Why did you join?
Funny story, I joined because one of my mentors (who’s always right) told me that it was going to be the next big thing, back in 2016… but at that time I was one of those people who was “too cool for school” and replied, “Are you kidding! TikTok is only for 14-year-olds, I’m a grown a*# man!” Boooooy was I wrong.
What do you think makes TikTok so great?
For me, TikTok is such a creative space. When I first started creating content, one of the many challenges was creating a full-on “story” within 15 seconds. Some of the youngins might not remember the old days when videos could only be 15 seconds on IG and Vine, but it’s super-challenging creating a story with a beginning, middle and end within only 60 seconds. Seeing what people are creating within that timeframe is crazy.
As a platform, what do you love most about creating content for it?
I love that I’m able to change someone’s day by simply creating a funny little skit, from the comfort of my own house. I’ll probably never meet most of the people who follow me but the amount of messages I get about how I was able to change someone’s day because I made them laugh is why I do what I do, and will continue to do what I do.
How would you describe your approach?
Create s*** you wanna create. Have fun, stay creative.
It is huge overseas, with TikTokers becoming as influential on pop culture as some celebrities. Do you think TikTok’s impact has really hit NZ yet?
One thousand per cent. You only need to walk around Auckland city for like 10 seconds and you’ll see people with their phones leaning on whatever they can find and them dancing in front of it.
What — if anything — do you think the difference is between a TikTok influencer compared to an Instagram influencer?
Damn, I’m not sure if there is a difference? Although I feel like Instagram is definitely much more of a “grind” to become called an “influencer” whereas with TikTok anyone could have 100k followers within a couple of hours, which I guess is a good and bad thing.
Many young people have complex relationships with social media and the impacts it can have, particularly on mental health. What’s your take on that? How do you practise healthy social media habits?
There’s the million-dollar question. I think I was very, very lucky to have been taught at a young age that I’m not just “Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck” anymore; I’m “Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck … The Brand/The NRL player” representing an organisation, which at the time was the Sydney Roosters. We were taught through media training, how to build a brand, how to present yourself in front of thousands, the whole nine yards.
So I’ve been lucky because I’ve always looked at social media as a “job”, where I need to clock in and most importantly clock out. I’m 100 per cent still trying to master the clocking out part but I feel I’m at a good mental space where I can recognise that I’ve spent too much time on social media and need to go talk to other humans in real life.
What other social media accounts do you follow?
Mainly my family, and then people who inspire me. Who are, again, mainly my family and my friends — oh, and Will Smith. I mean, gotta learn from the best. Like I said before, my social media platforms aren’t really made for pleasure, it’s all business, so I don’t want my newsfeed being filled with what you had for breakfast, haha.
TikTok handle: @Johnnytuivasa