Tariro Mzezewa and Sam Cannon
Rickey Thompson, a 23-year-old who knows how to use social media to his benefit, posted a video captioned, “When someone flirts with me.” In the video, Thompson delivers a hysterical and relatable monologue about the confidence and awkwardness he feels when someone flirts with him. The video, one of his now famous 21st-century soliloquies, has more than 2.7 million views.
“Oh, my God,” Thompson says, looking straight into the camera in his empty dining room. He runs his hands down his body, playfully laughs: “Oh, my God you’re flirting with me. You’re flirting with me. Oh. You like what you see? Well, baby, this is a gourmet meal. This is delicioso.” Then he purrs, pretends to bite something, roars and turns his back to the camera, almost as if in slow motion. “Oh my God, you’re flirting with me. Oh, my God. Watch. Watch me walk away.”
Thompson’s Instagram videos are short, usually no more than a minute, and to the point. They work well on platforms like Vine (now defunct) and Instagram that value bite-size spicy takes, rather than in-depth examinations.
And, as people regularly comment under his videos, Thompson is funny. Some of his videos are close-up selfies of his face with him delivering a judgmental or bragging monologue into the camera, while other videos are of him dancing alone. They can prompt an action: like, comment, share and sometimes all three.
Before having Instagram as a performance outlet, Thompson had theater. He grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, and despite being a “quiet and nerdy” teenager, Thompson said he loved performing in high school productions. On the advice of a friend, he joined Vine and started posting videos in 2013 when he was 17. Less than a year later, Kylie Jenner shared one of them.
“I was in class looking at my phone secretly, and I freaked out because I was getting many notifications,” Thompson said. Seemingly overnight he was “the most popular kid in school.”
When Vine shut down in 2016, Thompson had 2.5 million followers and he wasn’t sure he would ever regain that following. He tried posting videos where he reviewed and talked about fashion on YouTube, but wasn’t keen on making long-form pieces on the topic. He knew what worked for him: short, pointed videos. He started posting on Instagram, where he currently has 3.1 million followers, including Sam Smith, Miley Cyrus and Diplo.
And some of the posts have amounted to payment, in the form of sponsored content and ads. Thompson would not reveal how much he makes, but Amanda Bodenstein and Gon Carpel,his managers, said in a statement emailed to The New York Times that he “makes a comfortable living doing promotional posts, acting, making appearances and with creative collaborations.” As for future aspirations, Thompson, who lives in Los Angeles, hopes to do more acting.
He recently shared some tips on how he thinks about online content.
Be relatable: When people see a video of me ranting in my car or bedroom or closet they think, “Oh, I do the same thing!” I film all my videos on my phone. For the dance videos, I place my phone on the windowsill and press record. It’s very simple. And I used to film in my room but got sick of it, so I moved out of my room, but I’m still at home, not a fancy studio.
When I rant, people love that, especially if I’m ranting about a relatable topic, like dating or friendship or work. The more relatable a video is, the better. But I also love ranting. I really do. Instagram is my journal, and if I’m feeling angry I’ll go to Instagram. People are so happy to see me being myself.
Don’t overthink it: I don’t really do multiple takes. My ranting videos I can definitely do in one take, and for those, there’s no plan. I turn on the camera and talk, and it’s done. There you have it. Cute idea. Done.
Give the people what they want: I monitor my growth and views and comments and all that. It’s honestly so crazy. I cannot believe I actually have this many followers. It really drives me to do better and better. People love the ranting videos. People love the dancing videos. They say I have great moves. Seriously, a lot of people like them, and if I can put a smile on your face I’ll keep doing it.
But don’t “do the most”: I don’t have a strategy behind what works for my Stories versus posts. For me, what works in Stories [videos that disappear after 24 hours] works as posts [posts are online until deleted]. So there’s no need for extra posts or different kinds of posts. For the dancing videos, I choose a song that makes me feel good and go with it.
Acknowledge others in the content game: There’s a lack of realness on Instagram, so I love that people are starting to embrace their unique personalities. I feel like some people are lacking originality on Instagram, and that happens off Instagram, too. They see what’s doing well and say, “I’ll do that, too.” They’re just trying to follow trends, and you don’t need to do that. Be you. Do you.
Some of my favorite accounts to follow are my best friend, Denzel Dion (@denzeldion), Vena E (@yesimprettyvee) and Cardi B. I mean, Cardi made it out here being herself. I also love that people are starting to embrace their unique personalities. I love how Amber Wagner (@jstlbby) always will mess around and post an inspirational video, and Donte Colley (@dontecolley) too.
Add a bit of aspiration: I make sure that every time I make a video I have a good look on. It shows people your personality, and people are drawn to that. My look tells people that I’m funny and I can dress. Most of my looks are thrifted and inspired by my dad. I see old photos of him and draw from that. I’m obsessed with the looks of the ’90s and early 2000s.
Keep your eye on the big picture: As a kid growing up in North Carolina I was shy. I was bullied for being gay and being an extra-loud person. People would say, “You’re so annoying,” and pick on me for how I looked.
When I look back, I wish I could tell myself not to change myself. You will be loved for being yourself. Always keep your head up. I know that sometimes it’s going to be hard and you’ll beat yourself up, but your hard work will pay off. I went through it. I went through so many no’s.
Now I have my dream in my hands. And if people hate you for you, don’t listen. Focus on staying booked and busy.