Josh Richards may be a TikTok star right now. But his vision for the future goes way beyond making viral videos.
Richards, 17, recently made an appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. He went viral for his efforts. He teamed up with Stan Bharti, Alex Mashinsky and crypto billionaire Brock Pierce to give three fans $5,000 each. All they needed to do was post a video with two hashtags where they explained what they’re doing to help the environment.
Richards, after all, is all about trying to save the environment. He has used his platform to do so, sharing videos with his 11 million followers in hopes they’ll spread awareness and tips on how to protect the planet.
Richards’ videos are a variety of different genres, including comedic stunts, situational humor, tricks and funny dance moves. He often plays on viral TikTok trends, using songs or recorded audio that have gone viral elsewhere. He plays on the trends of the app, targeting a widespread audience to gain as many followers as possible. Most of them are filmed at the Sway House, a home in Los Angeles where TikTok stars help each other make content. It’s similar to the Hype House, a TikTok mansion that The New York Times’ Taylor Lorenz wrote extensively about in the past.
Richards is also a partner for TalentX Entertainment, a talent agency for social media stars. The company includes YouTube, TikTok and Instagram stars.
“Josh is like a really big part of the actual parent company,” said Michael Gruen, who represents TalentX.
Gruen said Richards helps younger and newer talent build up their brands. He explains what went right, what went wrong and what each member can do to improve their product.
“I’ve seen every TikToker in the world, like literally every one of them, and I can tell you there’s nobody more charismatic and charming than Josh,” he said. “He’s one of the smartest. That’s why I tapped him for this.”
We spoke with Richards over the phone in January about how he uses TikTok, why he thinks it’s a success and what the app can do as far as pushing social messages.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity:
Deseret News: What happened at CES?
Josh Richards: We were trying to just raise some awareness for climate change and how we can make a difference. We want people to make a video about what you’re going to do to save the environment, like I said, then we were going to pick the top three people that we thought had a really good example of how to change.
DN: You spend a lot of time on TikTok. Do you think there is a big environmental protection audience?
JR: There was a whole trending hashtag, and we tried to put our video on it as well. It was called #globalwarming. And it was this whole trend about actually what the world will be like in 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years if we continue on the path that we are on. It was getting millions of likes. A bunch of people were making videos about it using makeup or using effects to just kind of show what is going to happen to Earth and what we’re going to lose if we continue on the path that we’re on.
Yeah, there’s definitely an audience. I think teens are a lot more keen on helping the environment.
DN: Do you see TikTok as a place where you can spread positive messages? Is it a place where you can spread more optimistic ideas about how teens want the world to be?
JR: 100%. I think TikTok has become a really raw platform in the fact that people aren’t trying to make it such high production value. They’re not putting all this camera quality, all this stuff. So anybody can make a video. It’s not like YouTube where, you know, you’ve got to get a camera, you’ve got to get lighting, you’ve got to get, maybe, a nice desk sitting area where you need a videographer. Or it’s like anybody can post easily, and it can get millions of likes. It can be the worst quality of camera, it can be the light or dark, it doesn’t matter. It’s just about kind of more about that interaction with the people that are watching the video.
So people are interested in that topic. They’re going to interact well with it, and it doesn’t matter about all that kind of fancy stuff. So I would say that it’s probably one of the greatest social media platforms for talking about these type of issues because there’s so many kids and there’s such a wide range of ages on the app. It ranges from probably 6 years old all the way up to adults and seniors. Like, it’s pretty crazy how big the app has become.
DN: I’ve seen a lot of TikTok videos where people hang out with their families or promote their family interactions. Do you see it as a place where you can share family videos?
JR: Yes. Families have fun and make videos. It’s just a high-energy platform that really anybody can use. There’s so many family videos that like, I’ll laugh so hard. The family making it probably has such a great time. So I just think that’s kind of a cool aspect of the app.
DN: You have 11 million followers. There are some concerns with TikTok about surveillance, data privacy and more. Do those concerns cross your mind when you’re using the app?
JR: I try to like be as honest as I can on the situation. But at the same time, like, I just want to be able to use that atmosphere, that kind of positivity, fun vibes, all that stuff. So that’s kind of what I try to focus on with my videos and in social media.
Let’s say I have 11 million people following me. I know they’re not going to delete the app. So why not try to make some videos that are going to put a smile on their face or make their day better?
DN: So you currently live in a place called the Sway House with a number of other collaborators. What’s it like?
JR: Yeah, so that’s me and my friends. We all are under a company called TalentX Entertainment. ... We have this house now in Bel Air, which has been awesome. We moved in about a week ago. It’s been pretty amazing.
DN: So is this like the Hype House, where you’re all creating content together?
JR: Yeah. We’re always filming. We’re always doing YouTube. We have videographers who come back and take photos. It’s really cool.
DN: Let’s say someone wants to use TikTok for the first time. What videos should they watch? What would you recommend?
JR: The genius thing that TikTok did was create that For You page that has this great algorithm where it will produce videos that you only like and that’s why people can get lost in the app for so long. It’s because of that For You page. You can scroll down that thing for hours and you’re just going to be constantly fed with content that you would enjoy because they can kind of read the videos that you’re liking, you’re engaging with, all that stuff.
Videos that they’ll enjoy watching depends on what you like — if it’s comedy, if it’s like the girls doing their makeup, if it’s like me, my friends goofing around, whatever it is. Those videos and the For You pages will then adapt to what you enjoy.
DN: What’s next for you? What do you hope comes next with all of this viral fame?
JR: I would say my next thing is entrepreneurship. Since I’ve been a kid, I’ve had my little side businesses here and there. And then I decided to use social media. So to me, this is so cool. I built up my social media, and now it’s kind of cool because I’m able to use those numbers and all these followers that I’ve been blessed with to go back into that entrepreneurship.