Social Media Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Granny ‘Gangster Granny’ Is Helping To Change…

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Social Media Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Granny ‘Gangster Granny’ Is Helping To Change Our World

Focus on positively impacting your audience, not on follower counts or likes. Those totals shift up and down every single day, and a lot of people can get stressed over why people are not engaging with them or wonder why they’re flocking to someone else’s content. Don’t worry about the numbers. The important thing is that you are brightening up someone’s day and potentially making even one person feel more at home in this world.

As a part of our series about leaders who are using their social media platform to make a significant social impact, we had the pleasure of interviewing Granny “Gangster Granny”.

Granny (aka “Gangster Granny” across social media) is a beloved internet sensation who has won over the hearts of fans worldwide through her hilarious video antics produced alongside her grandson and fellow social media celebrity, Ross Smith. The duo first went viral when Granny was 86 years old, after an entire lifetime spent doing back-breaking work at a series of blue-collar jobs in suburban Ohio, while managing all aspects of family life during The Great Depression and WWII (in a bomb factory, no less). Now 96, Granny is one of the most well-known and adored personalities in the social media space, and her charismatic energy and positive attitude have prompted frequent stops in public by fans who want to tell her how much she has amused and inspired them. Granny has 2 children, 6 grandchildren, and 4 great grandchildren. She currently lives in Youngstown, Ohio and makes frequent trips to see Ross out in Los Angeles and Columbus to make more memories, more laughs, and heartwarming and hilarious content for their fans.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Honestly, the work that Ross and I do feels more like an unexpected, fun adventure that came into my life almost by surprise than a “career path,” considering that I was a retired grandma who had spent the better part of eight decades of my life caring for my family and working blue-collar factory jobs in my small hometown of Ohio. I’ve done it all, from building bombs in factories during WWII to working in mills and bakeries, all while managing life during The Great Depression and WWII. That work wasn’t easy, but it was always worthwhile — and I think there are traces of that can-do spirit and small-town energy that gives the content we create its heartbeat. But boy, it took some getting used to. In fact, for the first several years, I didn’t even realize Ross was taking videos of us. I thought he was just snapping some fun family photos and playing his usual pranks! Of course, I didn’t mind, but I thought something might be up after he continued capturing the photos so consistently. Finally, I asked him what he would do with so many pictures of us and whether he would share them with me. That’s when Ross, visibly surprised, explained to me that they were all videos and had been shared online. Almost immediately, I started noticing people noticing me when we were out and about, at airports or restaurants. Now, almost ten years later, people will still stop us to tell us what they thought about our last video or to ask about that one time we attended a Star Wars convention together. I think it’s great. To be able to “work” so successfully at 96 years old beside my grandson and gain such notoriety simply by sharing our favorite, fun moments with the world feels surreal. It is both a blessing and a roller coaster ride of entertainment and connection. And I could not have even dreamed it up if it weren’t for my Ross.

What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened to you since you realized your videos were not only public, but viral?

Since we’ve received such positive reactions for our videos from the start, Ross came up with the idea to share a bucket list of potential activities and outings with the fans — which has led us to visit some truly amazing places, meet wonderful new people, and even try out some wacky special effects (like in the video where my head disappears). We’ve really leaned into real-life, over-the-top adventures and we’ve met several celebrities along the way. I particularly enjoyed meeting Chuck Norris, one of my favorite movie stars, and was pleased to spend the day shooting videos together, practicing taekwondo, and learning more about his life.

Those are some of the most standout moments that we’ve shared with our fans, but even when the cameras are off, I know Ross always has a fun trick up his sleeve to surprise and delight me with. For example, I remember meeting a charming gentleman by the name of Frank one day. We’d spent hours in each other’s company, just hanging out and chatting, before he began removing a series of facial prosthetic devices to reveal his true identity. You may know where this is going. Yes, Frank turned out to be my grandson, Ross, pranking his dear old Granny in disguise.

It’s been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting out?

Ross and I just love to bring smiles to people’s faces, which is why we’re so dedicated to making these videos. That said, sometimes there is a learning curve with content creation. I remember one “mistake” that taught us a lot but still served up some laughs after the fact: We were filming a rap video and my dentures fell out during the shoot. So, we learned to make sure we have good denture glue before any vocal work!

Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

As the oldest “influencer” any aspiring content creator will likely ever hear from, I’d say this: there is truly no such thing as overnight success. So many young people are currently obsessed with becoming famous right away. If/when no one pays attention to their first few posts, they give up. But life doesn’t work that way, and greatness doesn’t happen instantaneously. You have to be willing to work hard. You have to put in the time and the sweat and the resources and the heart. You have to be willing to fail at least some of your attempts. Still, it may take years before people really start to follow along. That’s why you need to love what you do and why you must always be original with the content you create. If you are able to think outside of the box, be resourceful, and be willing to try your hand at things that others won’t (like we had to when I was a young person), you are more likely to succeed as a content creator. That said, even when you do start to gain a following, you still have to keep your work fresh, timely, interesting, and consistent. I’ve seen my grandson work 18 hour days — regularly (and that’s after he’d already accrued so many millions of fans worldwide). He knows as well as I do that anything worth having is worth working hard for. Hard work, along with faith and family, is the cornerstone of a rich, long life.

Can you describe for our readers how you and Ross are using your platform to make a significant social impact on the world?

We both share this genuine playfulness and love for life that we want to help everyone else tap into, especially when they are being inundated with so many negative stories and news developments at almost every turn. Families have been divided in a way that I’ve rarely seen in my lifetime as of late, and we want to encourage that deep family bond through the lens of laughter, playfulness, connection, and good old-fashioned fun. We’ve also focused more closely on giving back to our communities and participating in charity events lately, especially around the holidays. We will visit patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and we will make some rounds at children’s hospitals. In all of it, we strive to brighten up their day and help share their stories. Ultimately, we have always wanted to help make the world a better place through laughter, family, content, and connection — and we love to help our fans know that they are a huge part of that mission however we can.

We want to be a positive outlet in a world full of negativity. We want to bring families and friends together that may have grown/fallen apart.

That’s amazing. How have fans been responding to that mission?

The feedback has been so rewarding. We receive at least 5–10 messages per day from followers telling us how we’ve helped them through a particularly tough time or season. Some focus on their feelings, while others relate to us regarding more serious issues. It’s been so great that this work allows us to talk to them directly, support and empathize with them while letting them know that they are not alone. And I think it has also helped us change how the general population regards the elderly. It’s so easy to feel forgotten or irrelevant or burdensome once you grow older, and it’s easy for people to brush their elders to the side as they focus on their own lives. Ross and I are communicating to everyone that you can still be “cool” at an older age (and that it’s even cooler to include more senior people in your life, where possible). We’ve heard from countless fans that our work has inspired them to reconnect with their own families, especially grandparents and grandchildren, which is a wonderful impact to contribute to.

What specific strategies have you been using to promote and advance this cause? Can you recommend any tips for people who want to follow your lead and use their social platform for social good?

Our goal has always been to bring joy to people’s lives, and I think the best way for others to join that cause is to seek to connect, to delight, and to make the lives of those around you brighter. If you are wanting to follow our lead (as content creators), I’d suggest prioritizing your unique personality and style while also truly trying to relate to your viewers. You know what they say, “It’s funny, because it’s true.” People laugh harder when they see themselves or their interests reflected in the joke, or if they can relate to the content at hand directly. For example, when people had to quarantine at home at the start of the pandemic, Ross and I focused on helping our followers feel better about the situation by showing them that we, too, were going through the same thing but with our humor intact. The more you can make people feel seen — like they are a part of something bigger — the more they’ll follow your journey, wherever it may lead.

What are your “five things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

#1. Focus on positively impacting your audience, not on follower counts or likes. Those totals shift up and down every single day, and a lot of people can get stressed over why people are not engaging with them or wonder why they’re flocking to someone else’s content. Don’t worry about the numbers. The important thing is that you are brightening up someone’s day and potentially making even one person feel more at home in this world.

#2. Be ready to do a lot of work. A LOT of work. People underestimate how much it takes to create and release these videos. So much happens behind-the-scenes. Be ready to work.

#3. At the same time, don’t burn yourself out. Don’t push yourself too far to the point where the work is not fun anymore. Life is too short, you should enjoy what you are doing. Social media can (and should) be a lot of fun.

#4. Be YOU. Stay authentic to yourself and to your audience. Don’t change who you are just because someone somewhere has a problem with your latest post. You should definitely listen to your audience, but remember why they chose you in the first place. Stay true to that, to who you are.

#5. Develop thick skin. It’s so easy for people to be negative or nasty from behind a keyboard, and you will certainly receive mixed — if not downright mean — feedback as a creator. Keep focusing on you. If one comment out of one hundred tries to get into your head, don’t allow it to. Brush it off, move on, and keep doing what makes you and your audience happy.

Is there one person in the world whom you would love to have a “power lunch” with, and why? (Shoot your shot, he or she might just see this, especially if we tag them).

The one person I’d most want to have that lunch with is unfortunately no longer with us, but remains a legend nevertheless: Betty White. I’ve always admired her. To me, she represents a different generation that, like myself, is eager to share the lessons we’ve learned with the younger populations. She was just such an endearing soul who always infused humor and light into everything she did. I would have been thrilled to meet her. That was one of my goals for a very long time.

How can our readers further follow your work online?





Snapchat: @pillowsweat

Snapchat Shows: @gangster granny @grandma’s house @viral animals @body shop

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

Social Media Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Granny ‘Gangster Granny’ Is Helping To Change… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.