Lohanny Santos: Gen Z grad who went viral on TikTok now sees herself in Hollywood

by NEW YORK DIGITAL NEWS



When Lohanny Santos, a Gen Z graduate and aspiring influencer, hit the streets of New York with a stack of résumés earlier this month, she was at wit’s end. 

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m unemployed’,” the 26-year-old recalls the now-viral moment to Fortune. “I’m trying to pursue TikTok, I haven’t made any money—I need to be realistic with myself.”

Santos says she unexpectedly lost the babysitting job she’d held since 2020 in November, and with money for her rent and bills drying up, she was coming to the conclusion that her dreams of becoming an influencer might be over. 

So she went knocking door to door in New York City in a last-ditch attempt to find a job, after having no luck on the likes of Indeed and LinkedIn.

But Santos soon reported back to her TikTok fans that even with a dual degree in communications and acting, as well as three languages up her sleeve, she was still getting turned down for work.

“This is the most humbled I’ve ever felt in my life,” Santos cried.

Her candid video struck a generational nerve.

Within hours of posting the video, it racked up millions of views and her follower count tripled practically overnight. Santos went from having 50,000 followers to 160,000 and counting. 

“A lot of them share their stories with me and they told me that they’re in the same position that I was in,” she tells Fortune. “That they still can’t find a job.”

What happened after her viral video

Before long, Santos’ inbox was bursting with opportunities. Followers were sending her referral links to join their company and she landed her first brand partnership with a contraception-pill company.

“I got over 2,000 emails for sure,” she said. “It was intense.”

One “insane” offer Santos was thrilled by was from a California company that offered to pay for her moving expenses and dog-sitting if she would “just come see what (his) office looks like.”

But the offer disappeared as quickly as it arrived in her mail.

So is Santos officially off the job market? Yes, but it’s not because she’s landed a full-time gig.

Securing a two-days-a-week social media consulting role and a brand deal with a contraceptive-pill company has further fuelled Santos’ motivation to become a TikTok star—even if the big bucks still aren’t rolling in just yet.

“I feel like it only has just begun for me,” she says.

Aiming to be the next Addison Rae

Santos aspires to be the next Addison Rae—an influencer who rose to fame on the app in 2019.

Today, Rae is the fifth most-followed person on TikTok, having amassed over 88.6 million fans on the app. She’s also about to star in the movie Animal Friends alongside Ryan Reynolds.

“Just seeing a regular girl become so well-established in Hollywood or in the social-media space, it makes me wonder: I’m a regular girl, and if TikTok can give people opportunities like that to them, then why can’t it happen for me?” Santos says. 

“I want opportunities to lead a creative life, to do all the things I dream of, whether it’s starring in a movie or being a full-time content creator or being in a Super Bowl commercial,” she adds.

“I see myself as one of the biggest stars in Hollywood”

As Santos recently learned while job-hunting in real life, becoming a TikTok star is much tougher than she anticipated. 

“I really was hoping it was going to happen sooner,” she laments. “I was hoping it was going to happen the moment I downloaded TikTok.”

Becoming an overnight sensation has been three years in the making for Santos, who says she posted every single day yet “was stuck in 200 views jail.”

Santos even deleted her account and started from scratch five times, convinced that her account “was broken” because it hadn’t yet gone viral. 

“After the fifth, I was like, okay, well maybe my account isn’t broken,” she says. 

Her first taste of virality came when she jumped on TikTok’s “Tube Girl” trend last September.

“For the first time ever, my videos were no longer getting 200 views, but millions,” she says. Still, momentum was slower on the follower count.

Born Social’s executive strategy director Callum McCahon cautions those bidding for viral fame: “You might go viral on TikTok from one successful video and think ‘this is it’, but maintaining that interest is really tough.

“There is most definitely still a big chasm between creators who secure one-off deals with brands, and those who are bagging long-term contracts with significant compensation.”

Nevertheless, Santos, now armed with a talent agent at Missmanaged LA and nearly 165,000 followers on the back of her experience with unemployment, feels like finally “people are seeing in me what I’ve always seen in me”.

“I’ve always been so hardworking and so ambitious and I see myself on TV screens, I see myself in red carpets, I see myself being an A-list influencer like Addison Rae, I see myself as one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, I see myself under a huge spotlight—and I feel like for the first time people can see that in me.”

Gen Z’s risky obsession with making it big on TikTok

Santos’ ambitions to become a TikTok star might seem unusual to older generations, but it’s all the rage among those her age. 

If you type “How to make money on TikTok” in Google’s search bar, it will throw out over 1.2 billion results. Last year, it was one of the most-searched side hustles on Google, and its popularity shows no signs of waning.

Years of data now back it up: More than half of Gen Z say they would become full-time influencers if they had the opportunity, and the percentage has only gone up in surveys dating back to 2019.

Despite the massive pool of over 1 billion TikTok users vying for attention, interest in making money on the app reached unprecedented levels this January, with a 73% surge in Google searches compared to January 2023.

“I see the life that people lead, that they show on social media where they have the freedom of time to wake up when they want, do what they want,” Santos explains. “Some of them, all they seem to do is go shopping … I want to spend as much time with my dog as I want and post when I want.”

The appetite for a relatively stress-free life on social media comes hot off the heels of various TikTok-led trends encouraging workers to “quiet quit,” take on a “lazy girl job,” and manifest their best lives.

However, experts warn that social media stardom is an ambition that Gen Z should probably avoid. 

“The odds are tiny of being truly successful on any form of media. Ergo, we may advise not to try,” says Dr. Franziska Frank, a lecturer at The European School of Management and Technology who has been teaching executives worldwide about influencing for more than 15 years and author of 24 Karat Success.

Even in the event of achieving substantial success in the industry, Frank cautions it could come at the expense of your happiness.

“Being on TikTok catapults you out into the open,” she says, adding “the danger for health comes less from the industry than more from how you need to be seen by others.”

“It nudges even more to compare yourself with others in terms of followers, impact and visibility,” she says. “And research is clear: Comparing yourself with others will make you unhappy.”

Manfred Kets de Vries, a psychoanalyst and Professor at INSEAD, lays out the myriad mental-health issues that can hit those who excessively use social media, including “reduced satisfaction with appearance, low self-evaluations, negative mood states, feelings of insecurity, and general feelings of anxiety.”

“Adding to their sense of discomfort is the feeling of being invaded,” he warned.

Several majorly successful influencers have publicly struggled with their mental health, including TikTok sensation Dixie D’Amelio, who has spoken candidly about ‘extreme anxiety, depression, and losing the will to live’.

“Extremely Online,” a recent bestseller from Taylor Lorenz, the pioneering digital culture reporter, profiles many of the first wave of female online influencers, now struggling with mental health issues.



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