Whether he’s asking students around campus if they’re registered to vote or giving a cash prize to a lucky couple in downtown Athens, University of Georgia freshman Leon Ondieki has found his way on the phone screens of thousands of TikTok users at UGA and beyond.
With over 700,000 TikTok followers, Ondieki (under the handle @leon.ond) is known for asking people on the streets of Athens about pop culture topics through various games and short interviews.
The Red & Black spoke with Ondieki about his experiences creating on TikTok and how he wants to use his growing social media presence.
The Red & Black: How did you first get into making videos for TikTok?
Leon Ondieki: I started as a joke one day in September 2019. My first video was a little fitness skit, which I made when we had some time left over in class. I posted the video and completely forgot about it. Then the next weekend, the video popped off. It went from 5,000 views to 10 million that weekend. It was crazy.
R&B: How do you come up with the questions you ask in your videos?
LO: I ask myself, “Okay, what’s something that’s going on right now that everyone can relate to?” Most of the time I have no idea what I’m going to say or what I’m going to ask [beforehand]. I usually come up with a question on the spot and just use it.
R&B: What is it like going up to random people? Have you had any especially memorable experiences?
LO: I’m kind of an introvert, so I started these videos to start talking to people. At first it was scary, but now I can switch on as soon as I go out there. As for a memorable experience, in the summer I would do a lot of “spin the wheel” videos where you can spin a wheel for a random prize. I played with one couple and filmed a video where they ended up winning $100. I didn’t think much of it, but after filming I came to find out that this money actually meant a lot to them. I liked being able to do something that impacted someone’s life.
R&B: I see you filmed a lot of videos asking students about the recent elections, which goes in a different direction from your usual comedic style. What gave you this idea, and how do you think social media impacted this major time in politics for young people?
LO: Knowing that the majority of my viewers are college students, I knew getting them to talk about the election would be important because it’s different hearing about [politics] from someone your age. I wasn’t providing my own opinion about the general election, so I was recording young people arguing their points and thinking for themselves. I was also trying to spread a message, to go out and go vote, so that people can start participating.
R&B: How do you want to use your platform in the future?
LO: I actually took a short break from TikTok and have been trying to answer that question myself. I think I want to start using my videos to do a lot more giving. I want to help people around campus and the local communities in Athens. That’s the end goal.
R&B: What is your advice for someone who wants to get into TikTok and make creative videos for social media?
LO: Don’t worry about views. As soon as you start caring about the numbers of views, likes, sponsorships and other things like that, it becomes more of a job. Do what you want. Do something that's fun for you.
The Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.