TikTok creator and voice actress Cara Maria Leighty tells Christine Gritmon about her TikTok journey.
I started creating content when the platform was Musical.ly. Back then it wasn’t nearly as popular; they definitely had some influencers and celebrities come out of that, but I was just having fun creating content.
I had become a mom a couple years prior, and I had just had my daughter; she was maybe six months old when I started creating, originally on YouTube. And then when I got onto Musical.ly there were just so many young people, and I just thought, “Hmm, I don’t really fit into that. I have kids, and I’m older. I’m just going to start creating content that has to do with being a mom and being at home and about my kids.” That was probably around 2016.
My content really hasn’t changed; it’s maybe gotten less cringy. I was home with the kids and it kind of kept me in that creative space because being a stay-at-home mom—and being a new mom especially—it’s super stressful and you’re trying to figure things out. So it was just kind of an outlet.
In 2018, I started to put my content on Facebook; I came back because TikTok had bought Musical.ly and I decided I’d try out this TikTok thing, too. Essentially I just did the same stuff, with maybe more skits and things like that.
When I originally started, I was really focused on YouTube; I thought Musical.ly was going to be a fad and go away—which, technically, it did, but somebody else bought it. So when it turned into TikTok, I was kind of in between deciding to stop vlogging and focusing seriously on my YouTube channel, and then I started to post content on Facebook because I noticed another one of my friends had some content go viral.
I remember being–I always hate the word, but–at this crossroads of, “Okay, what do I do?” I remember being in my kitchen and just thinking, “Oh, it’ll be funny if I just film this video of me cleaning my house, but I’m not really cleaning it, and I label it, ‘What Stay-At-Home Moms Do While The Kids Are Away.’” And it was basically me dancing to different 90s songs.
I posted that originally on Facebook and it got like 34,000 views or something. It also got the attention of quite a few publications who wanted to share it on their websites. I was super impressed with the way that that video took off, so I thought maybe I should post more stuff on Facebook. At the same time that’s when TikTok had bought Musical.ly, so I started posting on there as well.
I am a sucker for cross-posting—and I know people say not to do that, but I’m not gonna remake something for a different platform. So I just started posting to TikTok, too, and right before Covid happened, I had a dance video go viral.
During Covid I met quite a few creators on the platform. We connected through a Discord chat and we’d collaborate or bounce ideas off of each other. Once Covid hit, that was kind of a hard time—everybody started getting on there, so it was harder for our stuff to be seen. But a lot of those people that were in that group have become successful on TikTok now.
It’s really weird because you never know what video is really going to take off or not. I’ve had some content that I have put blood, sweat, and tears into, and then nobody sees it, but then I’ve had an idea where I’ve just thought of something last-minute—like how I would as a kid, and me and my sister would be like, “Oh let’s film this,” so spur-of-the-moment—and it would take off.
I didn’t want to do trends because I would always just be weird about it–then I started to give into the trends, but I made them my own. If something’s a really cool trend and it’s supposed to be a certain way, I never do anything the way it’s supposed to be; I’ll creatively craft it into my life.
A lot of times the content that’s been really successful for me has been certain sounds. There was a sound from “The Princess Diaries” that went viral, and it’s somebody answering the phone. And so I started creating content of just answering different things: I would answer a cat toy, I’d answer a Dunkin Donuts coffee—it was this whole thing, the person answering the phone, and then saying, “Mmm, the Queen is coming.”
For some reason I could put that specific audio behind a video and I’m sure if I posted one soon, just randomly, it would still take off. I don’t understand this!
When I had my first video that I would consider viral—I wouldn’t consider anything else that I have done “viral,” but this one has 1.3 million views—I did a trend where you set it up with a scenario, like working in a restaurant, ”this is what people say to me,” and then they’ll be these really annoying things that people say with pictures of random people. Well, I just did, “Annoying Things People Say To Me As A Redhead,” and that video took off.
Everybody that I talk to, it’s the same; they’re like, “I don’t understand; I’ll make so much effort, I’ll put all this work into this, and then you guys like this other thing!” It’s just what the people that are consuming; they like really quick and simple things, nothing that they really have to think about. That’s what I found success on. And just being myself, because people like whenever you’re real and relatable. I just try to stay as consistent as I can be.
It goes in phases: first, YouTube was super huge, super popular. And then Facebook was. But now it’s those short-form videos that are easily accessible on your phone, where when somebody’s waiting at the doctor’s appointment, they can flip through and see something.
Obviously, on YouTube they’ve tried to do that with Shorts, and Facebook Reels isn’t too bad—I have posted on there, and I actually do fairly decently—but there’s something about TikTok. And now it’s not necessarily filled with teenagers; the demographic is so huge that you can literally find anything you want to watch. There was a girl I was watching the other day that is Amish and she has a cell phone and her family has a generator she charges her phone on. And she is going live making pies. It’s so cool!
For YouTube, at the beginning, you had to have a camera and you had to have editing software. Facebook was the same. TikTok kind of led the way for, “You have a phone in your hand that has a camera, and literally anybody can post.” I think that’s what kind of sets it apart, because it’s just the short-form, and it’s there, and it’s easy to make, and now there’s just so much of it. It’s never-ending!
There’s not as many restrictions either. I have noticed on Instagram that if you go live and you have music playing in the background, they’ll be like, “This is copyrighted.” And I’m like, “Oh my God, I’m just playing the 80s music in the background, what is your problem?” Facebook and YouTube are the same way. But TikTok is pretty cool about copyrighted stuff.
I would just approach it with an open mind.
I know anybody that’s wanting to do TikTok on a business level, they’re always worried that they won’t fit in. I’ve heard that so many times. I think the main thing is to just do it, just start creating content! I told you my stuff was so bad in the beginning—and you’re gonna have bad stuff. You have to find what your groove is, you know what I mean? And the only way to find out what your groove is and what your thing is is by doing it. Because then you’re going to see what people respond to.
But don’t get too hung up on what they like or don’t like, because I think every creator needs to remember to create things that they enjoy creating. That’s my whole thing with anything Internet, video related, content related. I think a lot of people tend to just do things because they want to know what their audience wants to see, and then over the years they get worn out from that because it doesn’t bring them joy anymore. And it might have been some regular video that just randomly went viral!
Just don’t limit yourself in what you make and really like. I think sometimes people get caught up in worrying so much about staying with a niche and then they miss out on the potential to get more clients or reach a bigger audience or a new group of people because you box yourself in and you’re like, “Well, I have to be this way because this is what my brand is or my message is,” and you don’t. And you could be like me and just kind of craft your brand around whatever it is you’re doing and make it completely opposite from what everybody else is doing; it forces you to be creative.
So, I would say: Be creative, don’t be afraid to go outside the box and do something different. And I think a lot of that comes down to courage and just believing in yourself, having the faith to do that, especially if you’re a big business. You just have to be willing to think outside the box and kind of craft your brand around how these platforms work, because they could be so beneficial for you.
There’s lawyers on there. There’s medical examiners. Everybody’s on there, and they’re just doing their thing because people love to learn. So, don’t limit yourself and what you do—and definitely do the trending sounds, because you’ll find that you like them eventually. And it can make a difference.
I would say the coolest thing about having any sort of success online—and I don’t have a ton—is just meeting other creative and successful people on the platform.
Over the years, I’ve definitely met my fair share of successful Internet personalities that are just really great people. My friend Chrissy CSAPunch does super funny videos, just relatable kind of “mom” stuff like me. When I was out in San Diego for Social Media Marketing World we got to meet up and hang out. And it’s just meeting those genuine people, these other creators that are very passionate, but are also just normal people. Chrissy has had so many opportunities and offers to bring her career to the next level, but she doesn’t really want that—she’s like, “Yeah I’m a dentist; I just do this for fun.” It’s so much fun for her that she doesn’t want to make it a serious career because it would take the fun out of it. And I’ve just met so many great, down-to-Earth people like that through TikTok. I think that’s the most rewarding part.
I’ve had a couple of brand partnerships, not necessarily a brand deals, but worked with some great companies, I’ve had those sorts of opportunities, but I think the biggest one is just meeting those genuine people just like me that just love creating content, love making people laugh, and are just super down-to-Earth and completely fun. I’m really about relationships, and sure, maybe to some degree I was thinking I can make something more out of this career-wise, but the more I go on it, I’m more of a relationship person. So just networking and building those relationships has been super cool because I would have never met half the people that I’ve met through TikTok or YouTube or Facebook, any of that, otherwise, so it’s just so cool to me.
Cara Maria Leighty
Hey - I’m Cara Leighty! I’m a voice actor & content creator based out of Atlanta, Georgia.
In addition to commercial & animation voice acting, I produce funny/relatable online video content on social media platforms Tiktok, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube!