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GO-ing viral Inside Ireland's TikTok House as stars talk cash, fame and death threats

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Journalist Katie Byrne with the social media stars at Dublin’s Go House

Journalist Katie Byrne with the social media stars at Dublin’s Go House

Journalist Katie Byrne with the social media stars at Dublin’s Go House

When a group of 10 social media personalities moved into a mansion in Dublin 4, I had a vision in my mind of how they were passing their time.

I envisaged them padding around in 'gram-worthy loungewear, shilling product to their fans and practising dance routines in the mirror. I imagined them enjoying a pampered and languid existence of Korean sheet masks, fake tan and endless bounties of free stuff.

The reality, as I discovered after spending an afternoon with them, is something else entirely.

The Go House, Ireland’s first and only TikTok house, is quiet, very quiet, when I arrive on a wet and miserable Thursday afternoon. There are no Love Island-style tête-à-têtes on the sofas, fox-eye make-up tutorials or TikTokers doing the Renegade.

I notice people filming people filming people as I’m led to a waiting area of sorts. The rest of them are editing, uploading and downloading, and saying very little to one another as they go about their work.

The Go House, formally the GOAT House, is no longer situated in the contemporary glass-and-wood abode where they first launched the project in September. The housemates were based there for just four weeks when the landlord told them a film company wanted to take a 12-month lease on the property.

They’re still living in the same neighbourhood but their new home — a commanding Victorian-era guest house — is a world apart from their former lodgings. The mix of high ceilings, gilt-edged mirrors, selfie sticks and laptops makes for an odd juxtaposition. It’s as if the housemates are living in the future while the house remains resolutely in the past.

Go House CEO and co-founder Jake Browne (29) says I’m not the first visitor to be surprised by how quiet and industrious the house is.

“Making content is a proper grind,” he tells me when his meeting eventually draws to a close and our conversation finally gets underway. “A lot of people don’t see that.”

Jake and his friend and co-founder Thomas Arnold (23) came up with the idea for the Go House after seeing content houses like Sway House and Hype House taking off in the US.

Content houses are a simple but lucrative concept: a group of social media personalities move into a house together to combine and increase their audiences which, for the Go House, are largely on the video sharing platform TikTok.

The app, which has exploded in popularity in recent years, allows users to make and share short, impactful videos. Lip synching, dance and comedy sketches are popular genres — unlike other platforms, TikTok doesn’t take itself too seriously.

TikTok creators with a large following make money from sponsored content, branded merchandise (Go House residents Andrea and Lewis have their own range of hoodies and t-shirts) and from promoting product on behalf of brands. Everyone in the Go House continues to make their own content, posting at least one video a day. They also collaborate on content, which appears on the Go House TikTok account, YouTube and Instagram.

The house has a combined audience of eight million followers, which is clearly a huge draw for advertisers (and which presumably funds the exorbitant rent and private chef).

Jakes says they had specific characteristics in mind when they were deciding who to invite into the house. “Obviously you have to have some sort of following, but we weren’t necessarily going for people with the biggest following,” he says.

“I guess it’s hard to do over the internet but we tried to take a bit of a vibe check to see if they were what we would have thought to be nice people that would work together and care about the project.”

Once they agreed on the line-up, Thomas sent out DMs about an “exciting project”. TikToker Nia Gallagher (19) can still remember how excited she was when she got the message: “I was like, ‘The Thomas Arnold messaged me!’”

The first night in the house was weird, says Thomas. “It was like going to your first day at college,” he remembers. For some reason, which he can’t account for now, he and Jake wore suits. “And runners!” points out Nia.

Later that evening, Thomas and Jake made an announcement to the housemates, who at the time included Marty Guilfoyle. The radio DJ was excited about being in the house but left just a few days later after being targeted by online trolls. They took issue with the age difference between him and his younger female housemates and intimated that he was some sort of sexual predator.

“I think the whole country wanted to find something wrong with us, and that’s what they came up with,” says Lauren Whelan (18).

Thomas has a slightly different take on it: “Ultimately I think it was a positive thing for him because on the back of it he got so much media attention and people backing him up.”

Despite, or perhaps because of the Marty controversy, the housemates gelled quickly and easily. They were particularly enthusiastic about making content for the first two weeks, says Lauren, but then they began to slack off a little.

“You know the first week in college? You think ‘I’m going to do all this work’ but then people start sleeping in and acting like it’s just a normal house,” says Lauren.

It’s not that they were burning the candle at both ends. Three of the housemates — Jake, Andrea and Lewis — don’t drink and the rest of them only drink every now and again.

Rather, they were lacking structure, which is why they now start every day with a meeting at 8.40am. It used to be 10am, but most of the housemates have college and online lectures to attend.

YouTuber Rob Zujan (19) says it’s much easier to create content when he’s part of a collective compared to when he’s at home. “I wake up and see that someone has already been to the gym and started working. That motivates me because I feed off people’s energy.”

Joining forces also helps them deal with online vitriol and sideswipes about getting a real job. “I think one of the benefits that none of us saw before coming into the house is that it’s a lot easier to absorb outside criticism as a unit rather than as individuals,” says Jake.

Lauren says her housemates often talk her down when she’s considering replying to trolls. “They’ll say, ‘they’re not worth it, Lauren’. It’s a lot easier to talk to the people in this house about that kind of stuff. I couldn’t talk to my mother or most of my friends. It’s just something they’ve never experienced.

“Like, it is bullying, but it is bullying by however many followers you have or however many people saw the video.

“I had a period where I was getting death threats and people were telling me to go and kill myself,” she continues. “It really gets you down but it also gets you really angry. It’s like, none of you actually know who I am.”

Dealing with criticism is one challenge; creating content that engages their audience is another. The housemates are trying to maintain their followers and gain new ones, and they’re quite strategic with how they go about it.

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The TikTok crew at the Go House in Lansdowne Road

The TikTok crew at the Go House in Lansdowne Road

The TikTok crew at the Go House in Lansdowne Road

“At the beginning, I would just do dance videos because that’s what got me my following but my interactions were dying down,” explains Lauren. “I had like 150,000 followers at the time but I was only getting 20,000 views. It’s not a good ratio so I changed up my content.”

Nia says the TikTok analytics tool can be addictive: “When something does well, you’re thinking, right, can I do that again or can I do it a different way? You’re constantly trying to reach an audience.”

In many ways, the housemates are digital marketeers, or ‘growth hackers’, as Jake prefers to put it. They know the best time to post content for the highest engagement (generally between 6pm-9pm) just as they know the trends to piggyback to get more views.

A trend on TikTok lasts for just 24 hours, explains Lauren, who finds inspiration on the TikTok ‘For You’ page and from watching YouTubers. “They might do a trend and I think ‘I might do that’, but change it and make it my own.

“It’s frustrating as well if you’re upset or you’re not in the mood but you kind of feel like you have to. You don’t ‘have to have to’ but you want to have to, if that makes sense?”

Jake draws a parallel between the work they do and the work I do: “It’s like trying to write an article a day — after a couple of days that becomes a burden of sorts.”

Rob says content-creator burnout isn’t uncommon, especially when YouTube is your medium. “It’s like making a short movie and you definitely hit some creative burnouts when you have zero ideas.”

The precarious nature of brand deals is another challenge, says Lauren, who recently went through a dry spell that lasted from August to early December. “We might get a load of jobs in one week and then not have anything for four months,” she explains. “It’s very here and there.”

Lauren doesn’t want to share exactly how much she can earn from a brand deal, which is fair enough, but she concedes that it’s “a lot for our age”.

Jake shares a little more detail: “I think people would be utterly shocked. [It’s] like a multiple of the average monthly salary for a job.”

“Not minimum wage,” adds Lauren.

Jake says he’d like to see the Go House evolve into a Chamber of Commerce of sorts for the Irish social media industry: “A place you come to chat about the experience or the problems you have.” In later years, he’d like to live on a sustainable farm, preferably somewhere sunny.

He has his eye on the prize, as does his co-founder, Thomas. The pair of them strike me not as social media personalities but as social media impresarios. They’ve sourced the talent, scouted the location and hired the crew for what is ultimately an online soap opera told through short and snappy videos. This becomes even clearer when, a few days after our interview, I discover Jake has uploaded a video about my visit to his channel.

It’s entitled ‘Our Biggest Drama Yet’ and it includes an explanation for the atmosphere when I arrived (there was an argument just before I got there); clips of me interviewing the housemates, and a straight-to-camera piece of him discussing the experience after I left.

“This is the first time I’ve been interviewed like not [for] a podcast and not a video,” he says to the camera. “I didn’t know what to do with my physical self, if that makes sense.”

I wasn’t expecting to appear on Jake’s YouTube channel but I suppose this is how the content creation game works. If I’m getting a story out of them, then they’re going to get a story — or at least a three-minute video — out of me.

Everything is content to the people living in the Go House — and they know better than anyone else that you’ve got to keep churning it out.

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