How I gained 1 million followers on TikTok

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How I gained 1 million followers on TikTok

For those who are unfamiliar with my background, when I started this blog I was acting pretty much full time. My big claim to fame was a gymnastic show called Make it or Break it. My acting career took a detour in 2014 when I had a back surgery that unexpectedly took much longer to recover from than I would have hoped. It was then that I sought blogging as a creative outlet and Monkey Miles was born in 2015.

However, in the years leading up to Monkey Miles while I was establishing my acting career a little thing called social media popped up. I was reticent about Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and stuck to the legacy ideology that there should be a firewall between an actor’s persona on and off camera, and missed an incredible growth opportunity.

Actors who I worked alongside who leaned into YouTube, Instagram, Twitter around 2010 sat on 6 or even 7 figure accounts while I twiddled my thumbs saying this fad won’t last.

It was a big lesson that I learned again through blogging.

As I began writing Monkey Miles, I quickly realized that while not being exactly “late” had I jumped on the boat earlier it would have been much more beneficial. Not only were there the big bloggers in the space, but I quickly realized that there was a lot of people who blogged about points and miles long before me, and establishing credibility early was critical to scaling a readership.

@zacharyburrabel $10k worth of flights for points and $75 #United Polaris Business ORD-LHR with @elizabeth_henstridge #travel #travelhacks #creditcards #boeing ♬ Fly Away – Tones And I

If you can reach people early, establish trust, and garner a relationship, you’ll have loyal supporters going forward that you can serve.

Again a valuable lesson was learned.

I mentioned my back surgery because it changed how I exercise. I make a point of walking, on average, 10k steps a day. For the last several years I’ve been successful at reaching that goal. It means I have a lot of time to listen to podcasts, YouTubes, etc.

As fate would have it, the algos lead me to Gary Vee in the summer of 2019. He wouldn’t shut up about TikTok and how it was the greatest growth opportunity he’d seen in recent years. He also spoke about competing where no one else was, and that was currently TikTok.

I’d started a YouTube channel roughly a year before that and quickly realized that the algos weren’t favoring my content compared to those who had been using the platform for a long time.

@zacharyburrabel Who’s coming with? #travel #creditcards #travelhacks #singaporeairlines ♬ Sexual Healing – Kygo Remix – Marvin Gaye

I viewed TikTok as an incredible arbitrage opportunity on viewership – there were more watchers than content and that meant a lot of potential upside.

I hemmed and hawed because it was mainly kids dancing, etc. I couldn’t stop thinking about my prior missed opportunities. If TikTok truly took off, there was an incredible opportunity to be an early adopter and connect with people that otherwise I hadn’t connected with.

So I leaned in. At first I did funny trends, tried this and that, but ultimately I found my voice doing what I love…entertaining and travel. That’s the key. Do you and do niche.

I grew up obsessed with Jim Carrey, In living Color, Adam Sandler, and funny movies of the 90s. That’s the vibe and energy I took to TikTok, and it gave me the platform to uniquely present what I’ve been writing about on this blog for the past 6 years.

@zacharyburrabel Google Flight Hack for legroom #travel #travelhacks #traveltips #googleflights ♬ Sexual Healing – Kygo Remix – Marvin Gaye

I stuck to three principles

  • Educate
  • Inspire
  • Entertain

I consistently made videos every single day. In fact, some days I’d post more than once. Each video helped me curate my style, connect with my audience, and grow.

I also realized that with growth, comes haters, and that’s ok. In fact, it’s a sign of success.

I made a point taking a few months off at the height of the pandemic. No one was traveling, nearly every form of income was pulled from bloggers, and it didn’t seem sensible to promote travel. Then I changed my mind.

People need to be inspired including myself. I was a bit depressed not doing what I love, and looking back through old videos I needed to be inspired.

I started promoting travel again late 2020 and leaned in hard before the world opened up. I quickly realized that people not only felt the same way, but they wanted to strategize their point game to take those bucket list trips once the world reopened. I also realized that a loud few wanted to denounce that promotion, and could be quite acerbic in the comments section.

I didn’t stop. I kept putting out the content and connecting with the viewers that wanted the education. I still spend at least an hour a day just answering dms, comments, and connecting with my audience. That’s the most important thing, and they’ve stuck with me.

The blog was my backbone

Writing this blog for the last 6 years gave me the foundation and resources I needed to capitalize on massive opportunity when it came around.  I’ve spent at least 10k hours blogging, planning trips, and I could direct people to my site which reinforces my content. I went from being some random guy popping up on their For You Page, to someone that could steer traffic to a resource that could help them.

@zacharyburrabel Surprise Honeymoon Part 2 ( booked with points obviously ) @elizabeth_henstridge #travel #travelhacks #traveltips #creditcards #sixsenseslaamu #qsuite ♬ Paradise – Bazzi

So what’s the point of this article? Who cares if I have a million followers on TikTok?

Because anything is possible. If I can do it, so can you. The biggest risk I took was to potentially humiliate myself and flop. But that was the case when I started my acting career and again when I wrote my first blog post. Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from the pursuit of that little voice in your heart that says “go for your dreams!”

The opportunities to do what you truly love, from anywhere in the world, are only growing. TikTok was the conduit for me to have a chance to reach millions, and it can be the conduit for you as well. So could any other future technology that is in the pipeline.

But you have to start. And starting early is much better than late.

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  • dee January 7, 2022

    Maldives is on our list! Looks like a great trip…

  • Andrew Lock December 31, 2021

    Zach, thanks for sharing your journey on TikTok, and many congratulations on your success. I can see how hard you’ve worked, and it’s also apparent how you’ve maintained your own unique style, which is so important. Ignore the haters, they’re just jealous or don’t get it!

    Having 1m followers shows you’re doing something right, and these days when everyone is competing for attention, it shows that you have created content that many people enjoy!

    I’m on a similar journey with a new YouTube travel show, so it’s interesting to read your comments and experiences. All the best to you for 2022! – Andrew

    • Miles January 1, 2022

      Thanks so much Andrew for the kind words and wishing you success on YouTube!

  • Kate December 31, 2021

    Congratulations Zachary! My son’s girlfriend really enjoys your videos on TikTok. As she was educating me about the travel content she follows there, she texted me one of your videos.
    Good luck in the New Year!

    • Miles December 31, 2021

      Thank you so much! Please give my best to her!

  • CRM December 31, 2021

    Once you are able to prove those are all actual real people that actively pay attention to anything said, it’s just another meaningless number. In time to come the world (what I mean is advertisers since they fund it) will realize how dumb the idea of ‘followers’ is in a cyberworld of bots, Russians, Chinese, etc, that simply use our own media against us. Wow, 1M ‘followers’, so impressive. Lol.

  • John S December 31, 2021

    TikTok is allegedly collecting massive amounts of international users’ data on behalf of communist China.

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