High school sweethearts Matt and Abby Howard have taken the internet by storm.
They have more than 5.1 million TikTok followers, 4.38 million YouTube subscribers, and a combined 1.7 million Instagram followers.
Both attended Missouri State to study acting, but changed their majors to elementary education (Abby) and finance (Matt).
It was not until the pandemic hit, and they both found themselves without jobs, that their once-casual social media posting turned into an unplanned — and now booming — career.
Young love leads them both to Missouri State
Abby is originally from Quincy, Illinois, and Matt is from Ballwin, Missouri.
They met while performing during a summer youth program in St. Louis at The Muny, the oldest and largest outdoor theater in the nation.
The couple bonded over their shared passion for acting, then dated long-distance their senior years of high school.
They wanted to take their relationship seriously, so they decided to attend college together.
When looking for the right school, they had a list. It needed to be close to home, affordable and they both needed to be accepted into the acting program.
“Missouri State was the perfect option,” Abby said.
Matt added: “We knew that if we attended MSU we wouldn’t have to go into debt, which was huge for us.”
Like many students, they wrestled with choosing the right major.
“We told ourselves: I can get a degree in finance, and Abby can get a degree in education, but nothing can stop us from being artists,” Matt said. “We can pursue something practical, while still being creative in our free time.”
Together they took on college life. Soon, they decided to take their relationship to the next level.
“This was the first time we were together in the same city, and we got married the summer after our sophomore year in 2019,” Matt said.
Married life did not slow down their college experience — if anything, it added to it.
They hung out with friends, attended football games, musicals, improv events and were a part of many different clubs.
Between juggling school and work, Matt saw Abby watching YouTube creators who documented their lives.
Matt thought to himself: “Why aren’t we posting?”
That question led them to start their social media journey.
From earning just $3 to becoming full-time posters
The Howards had purchased a camera to record their wedding. They used it to start posting videos about married life, college and fun challenges.
“For a while, I viewed our posting as entertaining Matt’s hobby, since he enjoyed editing,” Abby said.
They posted on YouTube for a year, but views just weren’t coming in.
In 2020, TikTok was on the rise. Matt and Abby started using that platform to grow their YouTube channel.
“It was frustrating because I was working so hard, and I thought if I could even make one penny from social media it would be cool,” Matt said.
“It wasn’t until our TikTok community started coming to YouTube that we made our first money from social media.”
After downloading TikTok for a YouTube video, the couple soon realized the reach they could have. They posted five TikTok dances — and views flooded in.
Their first revenue: $3.50.
They decided to devote their summer to posting consistently on TikTok and YouTube.
On the last day of summer 2020, they hit their goal of 1 million TikTok followers.
Reaching that milestone opened the door for them to be full-time content creators.
Fueling their entrepreneurial spirit and creativity at MSU
One of Matt’s biggest motivations for starting their social media journey was from a business class led by Dr. Daniel D. Goering, assistant professor of management.
Goering remembers Matt as full of enthusiasm and creativity.
“In our entrepreneur program, we equip our students with the mindset to be innovative and creative in their business endeavors,” Goering said.
Due to COVID-19, Matt and Abby lost their jobs and all their classes moved online. Instead of letting unprecedented times damper their goals, they poured themselves into posting and building their platforms, Goering said.
Their friends, classmates and professors started to see their content as their platforms grew.
Dr. Rhonda Bishop, clinical assistant professor in the department of early childhood education, follows the Howards on social media.
“I love how Abby has taken her creativity and made it her profession,” Bishop said. “I love seeing her life unfold in her pictures and Instagram stories.”
Documenting the unvarnished truth about their lives
After their time at MSU ended in 2020, the couple moved to Hawaii. They committed to treating social media like their full-time jobs.
“We wouldn’t have been able to try it full-time if it wasn’t for college being debt-free,” Abby said.
After a year in the Aloha State, they moved to Arizona, where they live today.
They successfully turned their platforms into a source of income and found their purpose in posting: To make a positive impact on the world.
“In the beginning, we were focused on getting our content seen,” Abby said.
Their focus has since shifted to building a community. “We’ve found the greatest way to do that is by being as authentic as possible.”
They’ve fostered trust by sharing their everyday lives. This includes the birth of their son, Griffin, in July 2022, and their surprise pregnancy just four months after his birth. They had another son this year, named August, in — you guessed it — August.
“Now that we’ve been on these apps for a while, we’ve completely shared some of the deepest parts of our lives with the world,” Matt said.
“By being authentic, we’ve been able to show the world that we are more alike than different.”
While their experience has been mostly positive, negativity and judgment can come from posting your life online. To combat these, they’ve stayed true to themselves.
“Without authenticity, you lose yourself, and your audience can feel that,” Abby said.
The focus on their platforms: giving back, doing good
The Howards use their platforms to give back. They’ve held online fundraisers and donated revenue from videos to various organizations.
Over the past year, they have worked with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Feeding America. Through the partnership with St. Jude, they spoke on a panel to more than 100 social media creators about how to use their platforms for good. They also had two child cancer survivors on their podcast.
The Howards look forward to partnering with other organizations in which they believe. They have also started The Unplanned Podcast, in which they talk with other creators and share what they call the “beautifully unplanned” parts of life.
“Now that we’re more established,” Abby said, “we want to shift our focus less on ourselves and more on what we can do to make the world a better place.”