Keith Dorsey knows that when young people see someone who looks like them breaking ground and blazing a trail, they’ll have the confidence to trod that path, knowing they, too, have the potential to become anything they want.
“If you see someone who looks like you, not even a race thing, if you’re a woman and you do something incredible, other women will look at that and say, ‘I can do that,’” Dorsey said.
That mindset is part of what has driven Dorsey, 33, a marketer, business developer and talent manager, to begin reshaping the world of influencing and entertainment in his hometown, Atlanta. Dorsey is the architect of one of the first major all-Black content houses there and manages another, where influencers live and work together to raise their profiles and earn a living via social media. Dorsey’s career has straddled the entertainment and arts industries from music to fashion, and now he’s at the forefront of social media marketing.
“I’ve got the younger talent that have called me and said, ‘What’s the best place in Atlanta to start a house?’ I’m like, ‘Wow. This is really happening.’ And I’m supporting it,” Dorsey said.
He is shaping not only what it means to be a successful Black influencer, but also the future of Atlanta. As he builds content houses that help young influencers of color gain fame and fortune on social media, Dorsey’s vision has shown other up-and-coming Black influencers that they can become social media stars.
"I've spoken with so many creators. Just like people go to L.A. to live out their dreams, there are creators that I've been on the phone with who say, 'When I get out of school, I'm coming to move to Atlanta and I'm going to be a successful creator,'" Dorsey said. “It’s already starting. My talent are leading that right now.”
Dorsey’s content houses go far beyond chasing clout: The social media stars there have the ear of Generation Z and are shaping the generation’s taste in music, fashion and even social movements. Members of Gen Z who aspire to become entertainers will usually say they want to become TikTok influencers and YouTube stars, perhaps more so than the traditional movie star or pop singer, and therefore listen to those who already inhabit those roles.
While some may dismiss TikTok stars as a flash in the pan, creators on the app boast millions of followers, with teens and tweens hanging on every word and action of their favorite internet celebrities. Those influencers are, well, influencing — influencing what kind of music is popular, what kind of social issues the younger generation rallies behind, what sort of face wash or nail polish or hair dye teens and young adults should get.
With this kind of influence, TikTok stars are arguably shaping the culture of a generation and beyond, and Dorsey is at the forefront of that.
Influencers and social media stars who work with Dorsey not only credit him with guiding them onto a path where their careers can thrive — some also say his friendship saved their lives.
“I had cancer, and when that happened he was one of the only few people who looked out for me, took me to chemotherapy and just a real good friend that I needed at the time,” said Robert Dean III, 29, who goes by RobiiiWorld online and helped launch and is a member of the Collab Crib content house. Dean said Dorsey supported him during his treatment for cancer around 2014, years before the inception of content houses.
But before he became a visionary in Atlanta’s influencing scene, Dorsey was a kid learning how to channel his innate entrepreneurial drive.
“I would have yard sales with my grandparents' old things. I would literally sell them in the yard,” Dorsey said of his childhood. “I’ve always had some type of entrepreneurial spirit.”
Dorsey said his family knew from those days selling odds and ends in the yard that he was headed for the world of business. But it was in high school that he began down the path of talent management.
When he was a senior at Frederick Douglass High School, he met Dean, who was a sophomore at the time and had begun producing music. Knowing Dorsey’s gift for gab and business acumen, Dean began to refer to Dorsey as his manager.
“Back then I really didn’t want to do too much with music. I was like, ‘No, I’m OK. I don’t want to deal with music.’ Then Vine came out,” Dorsey said.
Vine was the original short-form video app, where influencers went massively viral for their six-second clips. Twitter, which owned Vine, has since shuttered the app.
“Vine really changed the whole concept of creators,” Dorsey said. “That six-second video changed everything for the industry. All the top creators today started on Vine.”
On Vine, Dean began to gain traction and become a star. Once again, Dean turned to Dorsey to manage his blossoming social media career. As Vine grew, Dorsey noticed that other platforms like Instagram began to adopt video, and as he watched this social media evolution, Dorsey began to realize both the potential for fame and wealth.
As Dean’s fame rose, he and Dorsey also dabbled in other avenues, founding a backpack apparel line in 2016 called Faith Apparel Co. Seeing the power of social media at the time, Dorsey knew he could make the brand successful by marketing through social media.
"Back then I was begging and searching for influencers to promote and grow my brand," Dorsey said. "One influencer led to the next influencer, and they promoted my brand and they became a part of the culture. In every business there is a culture that you want to create to have a cool, long-term brand. You want people to feel a part of what you’re doing, even the [content] creators. I wanted them to feel a part of it."
When those influencers began wearing Faith Apparel Co.’s backpacks in their videos on Instagram, sales not only began to increase, Dorsey said, but the relationships he was building became more solid and special.
“From one creator to the next creator, they all became little brothers and sisters and my family and friends,” Dorsey said.
As his roster of influencers grew, so did the short-form video app TikTok. The platform has since become one of the most popular in the world, with roughly 100 million active monthly users in the United States as of August, according to CNBC. Along with the popularity of TikTok came the content houses, mansions where some of the most well-known influencers live together in an effort to collaborate and build their brands.
In December, Dorsey’s content house Collab Crib signed a lease on a 8,500-square-foot mansion just outside of downtown Atlanta. The content house Dorsey helmed was first covered by The New York Times then.
Dorsey said he’s been working with many of the eight members of Collab Crib for years and saw the potential in those particular members to work together.
"They already had the synergy going," Dorsey said. "A lot of these houses had a lot of money — here’s a mansion, let’s throw all these TikTokers in there and let it be. I said, 'I don’t want that because people will know when there’s no synergy.' So I wanted to pick my roster the right way so it can last a long time."
Although Dorsey said he spends hours every day working to help boost the Collab Crib's profile, and even though its members are making enough money to be self-sufficient, the group feels more like family than co-workers or employees.
But Dorsey said he reminds the group of the importance of what they’re doing. It’s not just about the name recognition or the financial opportunities — it’s about laying the foundation for a future where other young Black Americans can see themselves represented in the influencing world and know that there’s a place for them to succeed, too.
“I tell them, ‘You guys are not going to be in this house forever. You guys are going to build a platform as a stepping stone for other Black creators to believe that it can happen for them,’” Dorsey said.
On top of continuing to grow the content houses, Dorsey said he’s hoping to build an academy to teach others hoping to develop in the influencer world how they, too, can be successful. He said he’s hoping for a future where Black creators have the same opportunities and triumphs that white content creators are currently afforded.
“Charli D’Amelio is on Forbes [30 Under 30],” Dorsey said. “We commend that, but at the same time, the Black creators need to be on that. … A lot of the ones looking up to them, their hopes and dreams will become — they’ll see it as a reality.”