What It’s Like Making Your Cat Famous on TikTok
You watch an orange tabby cat tug on a tea bag string dangling over the side of a mug, almost pulling the drink off the counter. Then you see the cat sprawled on top of the refrigerator door, unwilling to move so it can be closed. Next thing you know, the cat is knocking a wine glass over, pushing a picture frame on the wall, and trying (and failing) to climb up a window.
“I think it was successful because you look at this little fluffball and you think, ‘How destructive could he really be?’ And right there, within the first few seconds, you’re gasping as a cup of hot tea is about to spill everywhere because he wants the tea bag’s string,” said Kraus, who is the email marketing manager for Drexel University Online. “I was just having fun mashing up all of Herman’s naughty moments. I had no clue what I was doing and never expected it to go viral.”
Since posting that first video in July 2021, she has amassed over 21,000 followers and 721,000 likes. All the posts feature the adventures — and misadventures — of Herman, a three-year-old domestic shorthair orange tabby fostered and later adopted by Kraus and her husband Ryan during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People are always surprised when they hear my cat has 20,000 followers,” she said. “It’s a great icebreaker, that’s for sure!”
Kraus had first started an Instagram for Herman (@hermanpkraus) in April 2020 to do something with the many, many cat photos on her phone, but she was inspired to create an account on TikTok to try taking and posting videos instead. Plus, she said, “I wanted to be included in Herman’s TikTok username because unlike our photos on Instagram, our videos are more of an interaction between Herman, my husband and myself.” The fact that TikTok was building momentum and gaining a reputation for being more genuine than Instagram were other deciding factors, according to Kraus.
“I’m really happy that TikTok is the platform where I went viral because I’ve learned so much about other people, cultures and lifestyles by being on the app,” said Kraus. “And it’s given me the chance to spend more time with Herman, too!”
Plus, as a first-time cat owner, she can use TikTok to learn from and relate to other cat owners.
“It’s a huge joke on TikTok that orange tabbies share one brain cell and that they are always getting themselves into trouble, so I think a lot of ginger cat owners really identified with Herman’s troublemaking,” she said.
This is a community that @hermanshooman definitely belongs to — after all, the account’s bio is “orange tabby up to no good” followed by a cat emoji.
When first starting out on the app, Kraus studied articles about TikTok’s algorithm to try to understand how videos — like hers — became popular, but she said she stopped doing that because “it took the joy out of creating something.”
“I work in marketing for Drexel using tools and strategies to engage potential students, so when I am home, I want to turn my brain off and just create to have fun,” said Kraus.
With a cat as cute and cheeky as Herman, there are infinite ways to figure out how to do that. Sometimes Kraus looks to “sounds” — audio options on the app that can be played on top of a video and can contribute to TikTok trends and greater viewership — to come up with posts. She also is inspired by TikTok trends, like the “Magic Bomb” challenge in which Herman did a special “Chopping Dance” (with help from Kraus’s husband) while answering questions like “Why do you throw up on the carpet?” and “Why do you like the laser so much?” (with help from Kraus).
“Sometimes I’ll want to create a vibe with music and sometimes that will unlock a memory from childhood, like ‘Walker, Texas Ranger.’ And even though it was a little too old of a reference for a lot of TikTok’s audience and it wasn’t a very popular video, my sister and I loved that TV show growing up and she got a kick out of it. Honestly, sometimes that’s all I care about — sharing a laugh with someone I know personally,” said Kraus.
Kraus also finds inspiration outside of the app, like when she finds a sweater or costume to put on Herman. The “Walker, Texas Ranger” video shows Herman in a cowboy costume, with fake arms and a little cowboy hat; in another video of Herman being made to wear that outfit, the trending “sound” Kraus picked features a weary voice sighing, “This family makes me want to murder people.” For a Halloween post, the cat wore a waffle costume and was held by Kraus (dressed as a chicken) as she and her husband (also wearing a waffle costume and wielding a maple syrup bottle) danced to “Monster Mash.”
“I am a spontaneous, creative thinker by nature so there is not a lot of planning and I just let my imagination run wild. Because of that, there are times where my ideas don’t make sense or come out on video the way I played it through in my mind, so my husband typically serves as a QA check before I post,” said Kraus.
She’s most proud of the TikTok where Kraus brought home a tiny Hawaiian shirt for Herman to wear as a souvenir from her honeymoon in Hawaii this year — “when I managed to get a clip of the shirt going through TSA at the airport, I was so excited!”
What’s next for Herman, and @hermanshooman? Well, it might have something to do with another Philadelphia star.
“Herman was found on Paxon Street, so the shelter named him Herman Paxon and we kept the name. Paxon Street is in West Philadelphia, and I joke that he was ‘born and raised’ there, which may call for a ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ TikTok in the future,” said Kraus. “Herman also does this thing where he grabs your hands with two paws when he sees you have a treat so maybe I’ll do a TikTok on that as well.”
Editor’s note: Drexel University is also on TikTok!