Talking social media success and online art with Paperboyo

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You may already be familiar with Rich McCor’s work, which combines landscape and architectural photography with original paper crafting.

Better known as ‘Paperboyo’, McCor has managed to gain a sizeable following on Instagram for his artwork and is closing in on 500k followers at the time of writing. All that success and popularity inevitably leads to brand deals, merchandise, and a sizeable responsibility to spread awareness on social change causes. 

I was recently fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to chat all things Paperboyo over Zoom, including how McCor started, where he plans to take things in the future, and how his approach to creativity has evolved with his growth. 

He offered some top advice for Gen Zers keen to follow in his footsteps too and had plenty of great insight into the world of online art and making it big. If you’re an eager artist wondering just how to get your foot into this competitive space, this one’s for you. You may even find yourself inspired to pick up the cardboard and give origami a crack – I know I was. 

 

 

Discovering a passion and creating a brand 

The first subject I was keen to ask McCor about was just how he first got started and built his brand. It’s one thing to post holiday snaps for your friends to see online, but at what point does it become monetarily viable? He says it came about thanks to his artistic passions and a drive to develop a distinctive style.

‘Nothing was planned. It was all about following certain things that fascinated me and caught my attention.’ These included photography and cardboard crafting, which appealed to McCor because of its low cost and accessibility. ‘With painting you need money for paints, canvases, but to make stuff from cardboard – you’ve already got all that in the house. It’s easy and cheap.’ 

He was living in London when things first took off, an ideal place to photograph iconic landmarks and make the most of modern architecture, but McCor noticed how similar his images were to many other peoples. It was this that lead him to contemplate new ways to stand out and produce something unique. 

‘I started taking photos and I realised they’re just the same as everyone else’s. I then considered how I could do something that’s a bit different. I tried a few things before landing on false perspective photos using paper. I posted them on Instagram and they did much better than my other photos. That’s how it all started and I really felt I’d found something nobody else had done before.’ 

The subsequent growth and explosion in follower numbers took roughly twelve months or so, and McCor knew he’d have to jump in full time from late 2016 onwards. ‘It was October when I left my job. To make that leap in a year was quite quick looking back.’

Despite the exciting, rapid changes to his life and career, he made sure to have his priorities in check throughout the transition and set himself up in the best way possible.

‘I was fortunate in that I was never driven by the ambition of making money, but rather by the fact that I really enjoyed it. At first I was undercharging brands, so there was a lot of figuring out how to make it a tangible job, but I made sure to have three months or so of work lined up. I wasn’t leaving my old workplace going completely into the unknown.’

Responses during this shift to a big-time Instagram profile were largely encouraging, too. ‘The feedback was positive. I’d get people ask me what I’m up to if they saw me out and about, and some found it interesting while others didn’t quite get it. That was fun to see.’ 

Paperboyo’s aesthetic is unconventional, which helps keep audiences curious and engaged. Mixing cardboard cut outs of pop culture icons, figures, and iconography with well known landmarks also provides accessible reference points for new viewers. It’s a mix that clearly works – but where do you take things once you’ve built the foundations?

 

 

Developing with success and viral growth 

Maintaining audiences and pushing for continued growth was our next point of conversation and I was curious to know how strategic McCor has become about his social media channels. He was quick to stress that Instagram remains his main calling, at least for now. 

‘It’s all Instagram. I’ve got a Facebook page which I focus on a little less and some people ask me about starting up on Twitter and TikTok.’ His approach has always been about the joy rather than business and McCor ‘just dived into it’ rather than tactically taking over every social media outlet possible. 

However, there was a time where his initial popularity tempted him, at least partly, to start being more conscious about what he was uploading. ‘I was checking caption spellings three times over and was definitely more nervous than I had been before.’ 

He’s since gotten back to a healthy place where pandering and overthinking is out of the question. It’s a stronger place to be and helps to keep content consistently authentic, though his popularity has meant that things need to be a little more refined these days when it comes to sponsors.  

‘It started out by being a passion and it’s since become a career. It makes sense to be a bit more strategic, have more of a vision, and be savvy about what brands and clients want. I also have to think about what my audience wants to see and the challenge is finding the balance between these two things.’ 

Keeping a healthy equilibrium between sponsored and organic content is a unique struggle to the Millennial and Gen Z age, and it’s a business reality that many influencers know all too well, from YouTube’s top creators to micro Instagram stars. ‘You’ve still got to love what you do, but you have to adjust and accept feedback from clients. That’s definitely a tricky transition.’  

 

 

In terms of future goals, McCor explains that he hadn’t given it all too much thought until the pandemic and lockdowns hit. ‘I was fortunate in that I was busy and constantly working and I’d not had the chance to step back and consider where things are going, but I’ve since been looking deeper into it.’ 

Video seems to be a natural evolution for Paperboyo which has largely remained as static images on his Instagram profile. ‘I do animation, video, blogs, and I want to continue doing more video content as TikTok and Reels continue to take over. These platforms are really pushing for people to make video content.’ 

 

Using your platform for social change causes 

Paperboyo hasn’t all just been about slick aesthetics and fun images, mind. McCor quickly grasped that he there was a lot more he needed to do once he found a large fan base.

‘I realised that I had a responsibility to promote social causes about a year in. I looked at my options for which charities I’d be publicly supporting, and I decided on WWF – World Wildlife Federation. I grew up with that organisation and I’m on a list of supportive creators and influencers.’ 

In March last year, McCor got his brand involved in WWF Earth Hour, an international movement in which participants switch off all lights in their homes for a full hour. Paperboyo developed a unique animation to mark the event, raising public awareness and generating environmental discussion under the #CarnabyEarthHour hashtag.

Check it out on Instagram!

 

A big emphasis has also been on recycling, which McCor wanted to promote for obvious reasons. ‘It’s got to be authentic and I think a lot of brands end up jumping on a bandwagon. It can look a bit transparent. Recycling suited what I do perfectly and made the most sense.’ 

Given that Paperboyo largely deals with paper cutouts and carboard shapes, a focus on sustainable supplies and art materials felt organic and genuine, which was hugely important. In 2020, Paperboyo collaborated with sustainable packaging initiative Beyond The Box to promote recycling and smart paper waste during Recycle Week in September.

McCor says he wants to do even more going forward. ‘I personally don’t think I enough and I need to consider more.’ He plans to get push himself beyond brand collaborations, and says he wants to put out a ‘clear message to show what I stand for.’ It’ll be interesting to see where Paperboyo goes next with social issues – perhaps a collaboration with Untitled in the future? One can dream. 

Check it out on Instagram!

 

How can Gen Zers get started with online art and viral content? 

For many artists and Gen Z creatives, emulating Paperboyo and its success can feel like a pipe dream. 

Finding a voice and a community for your work in such a heavily saturated market is almost impossible, at least from an outsider perspective. I wanted to know what tips McCor had for young people who may not know where to begin and, perhaps more crucially, the pitfalls you should be aware of when you first set out. 

He insists that you have to ask yourself the right questions from the very beginning. ‘People often ask me how to get big on Instagram and I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. I’d say it’s more about finding the things you truly love to do.’

It may seem obvious, but having the drive and enthusiasm to persevere will keep you motivated and push you to grind, even when your numbers or engagement levels plateau. Having a passionate reason for starting in the first place is vital if you want to avoid burning out and giving your efforts up later down the line. 

‘What I do is a bit strange and dorky, but I really do love it. I wasn’t driven by money or potential jobs and I spent evenings and weekends doing it. Having that passion can take you anywhere you want to go.’ 

To that end, McCor also reckons its best to just get stuck in, even if you’re unsure or not all that confident in your methods. ‘You don’t need to know exactly what to do, you’ve just got to get started and get going. Just start filming, creating, put it out and learn from it. You can work what to do and what to avoid as you go along.’ 

Sometimes it can all take a while to get going, too. ‘It’s important to have patience. Some people are keen to get big quickly and that can happen, but it can also take a long time. Success comes with building your style and brand.’ 

Using that extra time to network and build up skills is also a good shout, and you may even discover fresh perspectives and inspirations that you’d have otherwise missed. ‘Talk to others and learn from them, pick up as much as you can from those around you.’ Knowledge is power, people. 

McCor finishes our call with a succinct piece of advice that is perhaps the biggest takeaway from the Paperboyo success story. ‘Don’t wait to make your content perfect, that will come. Just make a start. Put something out there and build upon that.’

So, you heard the man, it’s time to get to work! All I need to do now is learn how to craft exquisite images out of paper and I’m all set. 

Wherever Paperboyo goes next is the sole knowledge of McCor, but it’s likely we’re going to see his brand on our Instagram feeds for the foreseeable future. Heck, he may even pop up on TikTok sometime soon. A collaboration with Charli D’Amelio perhaps? Anything is possible in the age of viral digital content.

 

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