Morgan Eckroth is a full-time college student who works part-time as a barista during the school year. She’s also a barista competitor and photographer who has garnered 615.4k followers on TikTok (@morgandrinkscoffee) in just a few months. In exploring a new social media platform, I thought they’d be a perfect candidate to do a Q&A with.

A few months ago, I heard rumblings of an up-and-coming app. It was, in essence, a coagulation of all of the things I dislike: videos, sound (music) required to be on, lots of teens, memes, and some UI that was confusing to me but not to younger folks. I opened it once to see what it was about and immediately closed it. 

But, for whatever reason, I reopened it and slowly found myself addicted to the app. I sing TikTok songs in my head. I have some favorite creator accounts, many of which are just dogs having fun. In all of this, I thought, wow, there are a lot of great opportunities in the future here for companies. There aren’t a lot of brands on it yet, which might add to its appeal. But for the most part, the videos are casual, have wholesome content, and are generally uplifting in nature. 

TikTok began as in 2014 and then was acquired by ByteDance in 2018. ByteDance already had a similar app concept called Douyin that was only in China. The two apps merged, Douyin still exists in China while the rest of the world uses TikTok. The app helped launched “Old Town Road” to fame. And in September 2018, it had already surpassed Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat in monthly downloads (more than one billion). You don’t need an account to watch public videos. Demographically, 66% of TikTok users globally are under the age of 30 and in the US, 60% of the app’s monthly active users are 16–24 year-olds.

I just knew that there were coffee people on TikTok who could make some great videos and one day, Morgan Eckroth’s familiar face came across my For You Page (FYP – a feed of the most viral content that the app thinks you’ll like). I had met Morgan once in person in Kansas City last year as a barista competitor. 

Morgan started her account in February 2019 but didn’t start posting videos until late May/early June. At the time of this writing, it means that she grew her account to 615.4k followers within four months. Side note, I edited this the day after I wrote it and the follower count had already increased by 3000 followers. It’s meteoric growth for any social media account. Her videos routinely receive views in the hundreds of thousands to million range, tens of thousands of likes, and hundreds of comments. I probably don’t need to say that these metrics are amazing for a new social network. 

Morgan tends to post videos about being a barista, sometimes throws in coffee knowledge, and has even gotten interest from teens about working in the coffee industry. And yes, her boss is aware of her account. 

I hope you enjoy the interview.

Jenn: From planning to posting, how long does it usually take for you to make a video?

Morgan Eckroth: It’s generally a pretty quick process. I usually come up with video ideas throughout the day and just collect them on my phone’s note app. Then, once I’m at work, I’ll just make whichever ones seem most interesting to me. The longer, comedic sketch videos probably take me about 10–15 minutes to film while tutorials/educational videos are a lot quicker. The TikTok app makes it extremely easy for users to make creative videos without needing someone to hold the camera. I also film multiple videos at a time and store them to post throughout the week, that way I don’t have to constantly think about what I’m going to post day-to-day.

J: What appeals to you the most about TikTok? 

M: I’ve always gravitated towards short-form, Vine-like content and humor. TikTok is the perfect storm of memes, trends, dancing, comedy, music, and art. It’s a growing platform where I saw the potential for coffee-based content. It’s a highly addictive app that will continue to feed you an endless stream of content with a younger audience that has the time to consume and interact with said content.

J: Have there been any unintended consequences (both positive or negative) from having a popular account? 

M: Positive: I’ve been able to meet a lot of amazing people through the app and I love being able to share my love of coffee with others. I frequently see comments from people who didn’t know coffee could have art on it or that barista competitions exist. Whenever I see a comment along the lines of “Now I want to be a barista!” it makes me super happy because that’s exactly what I thought a few years ago. I love creating humorous content that all of us customer/food service people can relate to but it’s even more rewarding to be able to show others why I love my job so much.

Negative: The main negative I see is the loss of some of my privacy. I’m pretty careful not to share where I work but, you know, it’s the internet. It’s out there and it’s not difficult to find. I once had someone message my business email with my full name and work address. So that was pretty creepy. However, I’m aware that’s the risk I’m taking on by posting publicly on the internet. The only other thing is that I get teased a lot more by my coworkers about TikTok, but that’s a welcome side-effect!

J: Have you seen an increase of customers who recognize you? How does the conversation usually go? (I’m imagining it’s something similar to “I follow you on Instagram!”)

M: I haven’t seen a large increase at my work but that’s mostly due to our customers being slightly older than the main demographic that uses TikTok. More often than not I have regulars saying, “My (insert child’s name) watches you!” I get recognized a decent amount when I’m in areas with a lot of middle or high schoolers and it’s always a lot of fun. I usually like getting to know them, finding out what types of videos/creators they like watching, and taking pictures with them if they want.

J: What do you think about TikTok being used as a marketing tool for brands & companies, more specifically cafes? Currently there doesn’t seem to be much brand presence but do you see that changing?

M: TikTok is an incredibly young platform, it’s just barely a year old now. Over the past few months I’ve seen large companies begin to advertise on it but I’m not sure what the success rate is. A lot of TikTok’s draw is its random virality, it’s the perfect example of how the internet will grab onto a seemingly meaningless clip and turn it into a massive meme. It’s interesting to see companies adopt TikTok trends to promote products but their videos often feel like the equivalent of that Steve Buscemi “Hello, fellow kids” meme, it just doesn’t feel organic.

I’m really curious to see how the advertising scene on TikTok changes in the next few months as it continues to grow. I see a lot of potential in cafes promoting themselves through video content and I would love to see more coffee, especially specialty, on the app.

J: For those who would be interested in starting an account, what would you advise them in terms of effort to put in, planning, and engaging?

M: I definitely recommend that users spend a good amount of time watching TikTok and keeping track of trends and trending audio clips. Think creatively, share your talents, share your art, be original, and don’t be afraid to get weird. TikTok rewards originality, don’t be afraid to do something just because you haven’t seen it before. Take advantage of the in-app camera capabilities and filters. Don’t steal or copy content. Find creators that you enjoy.

But, first and foremost, post what you want to and have fun with it.

Thank you to Morgan for the insightful interview. I hope you enjoyed learning more about TikTok and Morgan’s experiences with it. If you’re interested in getting a TikTok account started for your own company, here’s a good guide for it and another for understanding its analytics. For inspiration, here are how some brands are using TikTok