Cory Connors is a sustainable packaging consultant, podcast host, and public speaker who’s built a vibrant TikTok community, fueling the latest chapter of his lifelong environmental career.
In the second piece of this two-part series, we sat down with Cory to explore how new creators can discover their niche and build a following on TikTok. We dive into topics like:
- How Cory turned a lifelong passion into a platform niche
- What it means to put the “social” back in social media
- His growth tactics for driving platform engagement
“People think they can make a few TikTok videos a week and succeed, but that doesn’t work. You have to create, engage, and commit as hard as possible.”
How A College Gig Led to Viral TikTok’s
Cory started his career in packaging at 18 years old, right out of high school, through his first job at Weyerhaeuser, a corrugated packaging mill.
Working at the mill, he paid his way through college and, since then, has enjoyed a 25-year career in the industry. These days, he works pretty exclusively in sustainable packaging.
Teach What You Know — The Rest Will Follow
Cory's niche of knowledge on TikTok manifested organically. He simply wanted to start educating people on the topics he's lived, breathed, and studied for 25 years.
He found that starting with the intent to teach leads to info spreading and viewers (much like students) growing interested. Down the line, business opportunities present themselves.
Big companies often want to sponsor him because his content is both enjoyable and relevant. Sustainability is top of mind for packaging today — and that wasn’t the case just five years ago.
Overall, Cory acknowledges how luck and timing have played a part in this, enabling his passions and unique career to be integral to so many industries in 2022.
“Big names like LinkedIn have paid me to make content. I almost couldn’t believe it. I was so thrilled to be part of such a great organization of creators.”
Finding Your Niche: The Value in Patience & Consistency
If you have an engaging passion and build your content with patience and tenacity, Cory assures you can grow a solid following. When asked for tips for brand new creators, he keeps it simple:
- Just try it — Try making a few videos. See how the work and creative process feel.
- Stop and assess — Once you’ve posted a decent amount of content, ask if you feel comfortable and if people (however few) are engaging. If yes, just keep at it.
Of course, newer creators should remember that their following will be small — for a long time. Cory used to go live on the app with only three people listening.
Pouring so much effort into your content to receive the bare minimum in engagement can be difficult, but you’ll also build more genuine relationships with followers during this step.
He encourages new creators to try making a video each day — no matter what. You can always tweak your filming or format if you realize you feel uncomfortable having your face on camera.
Otherwise, learn more about your corner of the app and drive more ideas by:
- Proactively scrolling your FYP and searching and surfing the app for topics you enjoy
- Understanding who else is in your niche and seeing how those creators approach things
At first, there weren’t many people on TikTok focused on sustainable packaging. Cory was likely one of the very first. So, instead of other creators, he wound up connecting with brands.
Since then, he’s formed deeper connections with Mermaid Straw and XXL Scrunchie. Their teams have spoken on his podcast and staged other collaborations.
“The important thing is not forgetting the first word in social media is ‘social.’ To grow, you’ll have to get out there and socialize!”
How to Grow Your Following (and Profit) on TikTok
As of August 2022, Cory’s amassed over 75,000 followers and over 1.5 million likes. Getting there required creating over 1,600 videos in a year and a half.
He emphasizes that this traction is a result of persistence. He’d often post five or six TikToks each day, which is sadly a necessity to thrive on the platform.
It’s difficult to keep creating at that pace, but it takes repeated efforts to drum up engagement.
He’d also comment on every post, respond to every commenter, and often click on his followers’ pages to engage with their content. He was as social as a social media creator could be.
Tactics to Steadily Grow Your Account
For up-and-coming creators, Cory encourages the following tactics to see steady growth:
- Edit with Captions — He describes his newer content as truly unique, accessible, and professional-looking experiences. Your content will visually stand out on people’s FYPs.
- Be known within your niche — Since he often talks about corrugated cardboard, his username on TikTok is @corygated. As he’s gained prominence in the sustainability community on the app, his handle has become synonymous with sustainable packaging.
- Be politely persistent — Creators need to be consistent and persistent — not to the point of annoyance, but in order to build rewarding, long-term connections in their space.
Growth Playbook: How to Drive Revenue from Your Content
Along those lines, Cory emphasizes that social content creation is all about connections, and each of those steps above can add up to a mutually beneficial business relationship.
There are then several ways to turn those relationships into tactile partnerships. For instance:
- Sponsorships — Companies and individuals alike will want to work with you in order to learn from you. As an example, Cory is creating a course for The Packaging School that’ll teach video creation to spread industry knowledge.
- Stop selling & start educating — Cory’s sales grew dramatically when he stopped trying to explicitly sell products. Instead, making friends on your platform and taking a consultant’s approach work far better. People appreciate the guidance and camaraderie.
He admits this path to not only creating content but actively monetizing it hasn’t been easy. But it’s helped him experience significant growth, both financially and personally.
Cory loves doing his job and the opportunities he’s gained to speak and educate at events for partners, like WasteExpo by Waste360 or the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.
Teaching companies how to be more sustainable is a clear value-add — and he wouldn’t be able to do it at this scale without putting persistent growth efforts toward his content creation.
“People ask me how I learned my strategy. I tell them, ‘I’ve been training for this my whole life.’ It’s just how I talk to people: I put the education first.”