As a lot of us have spent the past year inside our homes with more free time on our hands, social media has become a safe haven for creators, influencers and regular viewers like myself. For me, 2020 meant having two major knee surgeries on top of multiple quarantines, and social media became a larger part of my daily routine than ever before. I am absolutely one of the 50 million daily U.S. TikTok users, which led me to find @reasonablyparanoid. My For You page is filled with tons and tons of content seemingly created just for me (… shocking) and I immediately resonated with Jess, along with 155.4K others. Her humor, hair and dogs make me smile every time they come across my feed, and I’m so happy I got the opportunity to talk with her.
Can you introduce yourself a little bit?
Yeah! My name is Jessica Stivers, I grew up in Punta Gorda, Florida, graduated in 2015 and joined the military soon after. I have five years of experience working as an air traffic controller in the U.S Navy, living in Washington State for the majority of that time. In that time, I’ve become responsible for educating other employees on using progressive radar equipment and contributing to the safe arrival and departure of military aircraft. Above all things, I try to bring a positive attitude and energy to the workplace to encourage others to work hard and succeed. In my spare time I enjoy time with my dogs, Brutus and Shakespeare, I love exercising, fashion, traveling, and making content across multiple social media platforms. In two month I’ll be getting out of the military!
That’s so exciting! What do you want to do when you get out?
So, originally, before the world turned upside down, I was going to go and be an air traffic controller in the FAA. But they don’t really have any billets out right now for accepting people, so I’m probably just going to go to college in the spring and get a degree in finance or business or something.
That’s fun! I like to tell people I’m a pilot … I got my drone license, so when people say things like “FAA” I get really excited because I know what that means! So, you do air traffic control in the Navy?
Yes! A lot of people think we’re the guys with the little wands and stuff, but we’re not. We’re the ones up in the tower; we’re departing aircraft and landing them. I mainly work in radar so that’s after they depart and before they land, so we’re vectoring aircraft and making sure there’s no mid-air collisions.
That’s so cool! I’ve tried to do land nav on those aeronautical maps, but there were minutes and circles and it was very difficult. So you are definitely super smart congratulations on being able to do that! As for your social media presence, when did you get started with that and how did you grow your following?
Last November I was listening to this Gary Vee podcast — I love Gary Vee he’s great — and he was interviewing Charli D’Amelio who just hit 100 million followers on TikTok, and he was like, “If you wish you would have started Instagram when it first started and first blew up, and you’re not taking advantage of TikTok right now, because that’s where it’s at right now, you’re wasting your time.” And so last December is when I started filming random videos. And at the very end of December, one of my videos blew up and I had 30 thousand followers overnight.
Do you remember which video it was?
Yes! So it was a bun tutorial. That one’s still my most viewed video today at like 5.4 million views.
Totally. I see those videos all the time on my For You page. They’re all super interesting, so it makes sense that would go viral. And you do YouTube, too. When did you start on YouTube?
I don’t do YouTube as much as I’d like to, I started more recently with that. Something I really realized about myself is how stressful my job is because when I was in quarantine I was grinding them out and doing videos every single day, and then the day I had to go back to work, I had no motivation. All my energy and stress was being drained by work so I completely stopped. But now I’m in quarantine again so maybe it’ll start back up.
How do you decide what to record? I know initially you were just making some videos for fun, but do you have a strategy now? Some kind of plan?
So the reason I did that first bun tutorial video was, after posting just videos of my dogs or myself, I was scrolling through the military hashtag just to see what kind of videos there were, and the majority of them were just men doing thirst traps in uniform – disgusting, I don’t want to do that – but this girl, she had like 25 thousand followers and one video. I went to her Instagram and she only had a couple hundred followers there so they couldn’t have come from Instagram, so I saw her one video was her doing a bun tutorial, a sock bun tutorial, and it had three million views. I was like, is this really how easy TikTok can be? Can you really just post one video and get a bunch of followers overnight? And I was like, well, how can I replicate these results, but make it my own and make it unique to me? My hair is down to my butt and I haven’t been able to wear a sock bun in three or four years, and it took me a while to be able to master the bun I have now. So that was my initial strategy. Now I’ve kind of learned that you have to really niche down with TikTok, which sucks because so many of us are well-rounded individuals and we want to show all these different facets of our lives and parts of our personalities. Sometimes the videos that I’ll spend a super long time filming and editing will barely get any views, but the videos I’ll film for maybe 45 seconds and just post with no caption or anything are the ones that do the best. So, sometimes they’re intentional. I think the ultimate goal is to provide value or be entertaining – you’ll be good doing either one of those. Or if you’re just really attractive.
Yeah it’s going to be so weird when the world goes back to everybody being busy all the time. Do you think that TikTok would have been as successful if we were not in a stay-at-home pandemic?
I think it still would have gotten to the success level it’s at today, and in a way I kind of wish quarantine hadn’t happened because of TikTok; because all of those people who joined during quarantine are the ones a few weeks prior who were like, “Ew, TikTok?” And when they finally joined they were like, “Oh, I get it now.” And now its just become so saturated and it’s really hard to find your voice. But I do think its amazing that so many people have been able to – some people have ended up getting jobs through Tik Tok and specifically just do social media because they started it in quarantine and have been able to provide for themselves and their families. Get your bag one way or another.
Yeah! Everyone was comparing it to Musical.ly and Vine, and Vine was really successful, but Musical.ly I don’t think was as successful because it was just a lot of-
-cringe. I remember watching a bunch of cringe compilations on YouTube.
Yes! And a lot of kids. If you’re a grown person you don’t want to be on the same platform as a bunch of kids for multiple reasons. But with TikTok – I remember I first got into it and the first trend I saw was the WHAM song vogues to Last Christmas and I have not stopped since then.
Exactly! They make the platform really addicting with the unlimited scrolls. They did something right there!
Yeah, that one little guy sometimes pops up and you just keep on scrolling. How are you spending the holidays this year?
If my results come back negative I’ll probably get some food to-go, because Washington is still shut down, and drive around to look at lights … if not I’ll just stay at home. That’s what happened with Thanksgiving. I was pretty sad, I shed a tear. This was my first year not having to work in the last five years and I was stuck at home, I couldn’t be around anybody and it was sad. I truly commend the people who have been doing this all year. Up until like two months ago, my work just continued as normal and that hasn’t been the same for a lot of people.
Do you think that one day, especially after you’re out, you will ever give more attention and voice to the medical malpractice stories that you’re hearing? The military needs a lot of reform, would you put any of your internet presence and energy towards that once you’re out? Or just focus on going to school and having a job?
For sure. I will never be able to relate to some of the struggles that people have gone through or the traumas they’ve experienced, but I do think it needs a voice. People need to talk about it. And hopefully me talking about medical malpractice in the military will lead to other issues we can address. So I don’t know if I’ll stick to talking about that forever, just because there are so many other issues that are important.
Yeah! I’ll be super interested to see where that goes. There’s so much to say. Do you have anything else you’d like to add like where you are on social media?
Where did that come from?
It actually came to me in a dream. I had this dream about me just scrolling through Instagram and that was my username, and I thought it was cool! I’m very into psychology and self-help books, so I feel like it kind of fits into there somehow.
Totally! Well, thank you so much for talking with me!