Author: Jessica Gregory
20-year-old Sam Vicchiollo spent the first 15 minutes of every morning scrolling rapidly through his TikTok “For You Page.” Once he decided on a sound, he would brainstorm ideas as he walked to his college classes during the fall 2020 semester. Sam could expect that when he posted the polished video, hundreds of thousands of people, maybe even millions, would view it.
The first TikTok video Sam Vicchiollo posted on May 22, 2019 accidentally received one million views. Sam had zero followers the day he posted on his account @samvicchiollo. At the time, he was a senior attending Hortonville High School in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley. He recalled sitting at lunch with his friends that May afternoon, discussing how stupid the app was. A lot has changed since then. TikTok brought Vicchiollo brand deals, managers and celebrity networking opportunities. While attending UW-Madison for Communication Arts Radio/TV/Film, Sam grew his TikTok following to 1.8 million people.
Social media and video app TikTok provides users with a platform to create any genre of content imaginable and publish it with the possibility of going viral. The app is known for its machine-learning algorithm that recognizes user preferences and engagements to personalize a user’s “For You Page.” Its “discover” feature displays popular hashtags that users can post in their video’s captions to gain more traction within the algorithm.
Content creators cannot only rely on TikTok’s algorithm to boost their content; an understanding of social media marketing is necessary. Sam categorizes his content under “relatable comedy,” so he heavily utilizes skills of strategy, timing and creativity to optimize his reach to college students and young adults. He does not choreograph viral dances or participate in basic trends that restrict his creative freedom. Sam shared some advice on how to engage with a trend while making it your own.
“If you see a trend going on, you have to jump on it while it’s still fresh and while people are still enjoying it. You have to make yours unique enough that people stop to watch your video,” Vicchiollo said. “Make sure yours is worth watching.”
From December 2019 to early May 2020, Sam felt stuck at a standstill. His following hadn’t grown past 950,000 followers in five months, leading Sam to believe his TikTokking days were over. Coming from a small town, Sam worried that reaching his goal of a million followers would be unattainable. One viral video successfully resuscitated Sam’s profile, and his confidence in content creation, back to life.
On May 15, 2020, Sam posted his version of the “wipe it down challenge.” Sam stared into the mirror appearing as if he just woke up. He then wiped the mirror with a paper towel in a downward stroke. Suddenly, as he wiped, an alternate version of himself reflected. With his hair done, outfit styled and accessorized, Sam dominated the trend with his attractive e-boy aesthetic and smooth transitions. Receiving 18 million views, the video pushed Sam past his goal overnight, finally reaching 1.2 million followers.
A month later, Sam began monetizing his account. With over a million followers and many still to come, Sam couldn’t do it on his own: he needed a manager, or two or three. He hired his first manager, Ogo of Chugga Chugga Chukwu LLC, when he reached 300,000 followers but didn’t receive major brand deals until after surpassing the one million followers milestone. Ogo connected Sam with famous companies like Amazon, Cash-App and Smile-Direct, and secured Sam’s year-long deal with Bang Energy Drinks. His contract with Bang required featuring the energy drink in at least one TikTok video a week for a year with compensation sent monthly. The deal provided Sam with job security during COVID-19 and covered his rent payments at his college apartment.
Not even two years after leaving his hometown, Sam’s TikTok following is now 663 times greater than Hortonville’s population. Vicchiollo’s popularity is recognized and ranked on celebrity fact websites where his personal information is available. Anna Gorski, Vicchiollo’s friend from high school, describes him as a very likeable person who’s skilled at matching the energy of people both in person and online.
“[TikTok] introduces you as a personality, that is how Sam was able to go to LA and meet all of these people and build a good network,” Gorski said.
As his following grew, he received opportunities to connect with popular celebrities on TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat. He’s formed friendships and collaborative content with creators Hope Schwing, Anna Sitar, Tati Mitchell, Addison Rae and James Charles.
“If you want to name drop, I remember last year when James Charles DMed [Sam] on Instagram,” Gorski confirmed. “It was so crazy that [James Charles] was just in his network and could now make business plans with.”
Career-wise, Sam Vicchiollo is hoping to move to Los Angeles to work in the production and film industry. With an undeniable knack for creating short videos that receive massive attention, Vicchiollo is proving that hard work in combination with overnight success can lead to opportunities of a lifetime.