Irish influencer Lauren Whelan: Begrudgery is stopping young people starting TikTok careers

Carlow native began treating TikTok as a job when Covid hit. Today her platform, which focuses on beauty and fashion, has 66 million likes

When 20-year-old influencer Lauren Whelan first started making TikTok videos in her kitchen, she could not have anticipated the whirlwind effect it would have on her life and booming career.

“I was filming videos in my kitchen of me dancing and just doing any trend that I saw, it was pure fun” says the Carlow native, “and that was around 2018 or 2019. But I only started taking it seriously in March of 2020 when Covid hit, that’s kind of when I started taking it as a job”.

The media and public relations student, who currently has 1.5 million followers on the platform, was in her final year of secondary school when her TikTok career took off. “At the time when Covid hit, I was in sixth year, so I had it in my head that I wanted to do sports rehabilitation and physiotherapy – that’s what I was studying for all the time,” she says, “and then when Covid hit my boyfriend was like, ‘Would you not want to do TV and media and stuff like that, because you’re already doing loads on social?’ I had around 200,000 followers at the time.

“I’ve always done shows and musicals, and things like that when I was growing up, I love being creative and being in performance. My boyfriend made me realise that.”


The social media influencer, who is currently doing a Bachelor of Arts in public relations and media in South East Technological University in Carlow, says balancing her TikTok life with college assignments can be tricky at times, but to some degree, they go hand in hand. “Sometimes it [college] gets in the way. Not really in terms of college lectures and stuff, but if I get a load of assignments all at once, it can be hard to balance the two.

“But I find with my type of content, people want to know more about my life rather than just like the videos that I make. So if I’m feeling pressured one day to balance my exam or assignment, college and then my content as well, I might just vlog my day in college because people want to know what that’s like so that kind of kills two birds with one stone,” she says.

The Carlow native who says she takes inspiration from the “very mundane things in life”, also attributes her success in balancing college and TikTok to her management agency who provide her with organisational support. “My management is amazing. I have a content calendar set up with them so they’ll add in what ads I might have to film, what days they have to be posted, and I add in my organic content then. It’s just so much easier to manage,” she says, “when I signed with them at the start they said, ‘You need to post every single day,’ so I definitely do.”

Whelan, who posts “twice a day at least”, and whose audience is mainly the 18-24 age group, says she has a 12 per cent Irish following, with the vast majority of her TikTok followers being from the United States and the United Kingdom. “Sometimes I feel a bit of pressure [from her followers] to speak out on things I don’t necessarily know a lot about,” she says. “But I’ll always use my platform for what I can, whether it’s to share information because I have that platform and that’s what I want to use it for.

“I feel with influencers, a lot of the time they are expected to know a lot about political issues and things like that, and they’re expected to speak out on those things where they don’t necessarily know anything about it.”

The TikTok influencer says that while she would often undertake research on social issues and share it on her platform – which has accumulated 66 million likes – other influencers should not feel obliged to do the same. “If something happens, whether it was political or like things like that, I might say in my story, ‘Look, I don’t know a lot about like, but here are a few posts that I read that helped me learn more about it’. I personally like to do a little bit of research, but nobody really has to. No influencer really has to do those things.”

The Carlow woman, who mostly posts fashion and beauty-related content, also shares comedy skits with her boyfriend, and says her most popular videos are the ones that people can resonate with. “Videos that do really well are videos like beauty hacks or my favourite products under €15, things like that, videos that people can relate to. Also, if I do any skits about my boyfriend. Anything that’s relatable that people can tag their friends in always do really, really well.”

The 20-year-old will be a guest speaker at the Digital Hustle Summer School, a free virtual event for those looking to develop their social media presence. Taking place from June 27th until July 1st - and funded by the Higher Education Authority - the event will include a keynote talk from TikToker Jacob Donegan.

Whelan, who says she finds people approaching her in the streets to commend her for her work on TikTok incredibly rewarding, also says more people should consider TikTok as a career. “People are still afraid to consider becoming a content creator as a career, but it’s the modern day marketing now,” she says.

“Everything is done on social media and it’s possible for anyone to do it, but I feel like a lot of young people feel like they can’t because there’s a lot of begrudgery in Ireland and people say it’s not a proper job, but that’s not the case anymore.”

Filomena Kaguako

Filomena Kaguako is a contributor to The Irish Times