Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series on social media influencers from Hot Springs.
Hot Springs is often listed as a top retirement or vacation destination, but it's also home to its fair share of social media influencers.
In the town of roughly 38,000, there are several people who regularly reach millions on their internet platforms.
"I tell people all the time, 'There's 100,000 people within 30 miles of where I live, and probably 500 people know the world champ lives here,'" said Monster Michael Todd, a world arm wrestling champion and influencer from Hot Springs. "It may be up to a thousand now because of social media."
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Todd was born and raised in Hot Springs and has won 23 World Armwrestling Championships and 36 national titles. He began his career in 1990 at the Saline County Fair.
He has one of the biggest social media presences in the world of arm wrestling with about 199,000 followers on Facebook and 137,000 subscribers on YouTube. He has a reach upward of 510,000 across all his social media platforms.
Because his sport is more popular abroad, he says he often gets recognized in Europe and other parts of the world, while he still rarely runs into fans here in Arkansas.
"We didn't choose this on purpose," Todd said. "It was just a path that I could spend every day with my best friend, my wife."
He said he didn't know Facebook was a monetizable platform until 2021. Almost 50 years old, Todd says he was late to the social media game, but he has more than made up for it in his explosive rise since beginning the journey.
While most GenZ'ers grew up with cellphones and tablets in their hands, Todd's road to internet stardom took a little more intentional effort to craft.
Todd said his wife Rebecca, also known as Mrs. Monster, is the brains behind the operation, teaching herself all the skills necessary to build their online brand. While she is a "30-year award-winning labor delivery nurse," she taught herself to edit videos and how to make engaging content for fans and other relevant skills.
"She does all of it," said Todd. "I'm just the guy in front of the camera most of the time."
Since becoming internet famous, the couple has launched a nationwide tour, buying an RV and visiting all 48 continental states to compete in over 300,000 arm wrestling matches.
The internet is a big place, with communities for people of all ages and interests. Todd credits his success online to some collaboration opportunities and the rapid growth in interest in his sport caused by COVID-19.
Still seeing larger recognition elsewhere, he said he would like to do more meet-and-greets and "beat the champ" events locally. He's looking forward to expanding his compound where he trains here in Hot Springs and partnering with Hafþór (Halfthor) Júlíus Björnsson from "Game of Thrones" and 2017 World's Strongest Man Eddie Hall in videos in the near future.
For now, he's recovering from a recently torn right biceps but still hopes to reclaim the world championship title within a year. He believes social media is here to stay and could be the future of advertising and media, but he thinks he could do better to develop more local sponsor deals.
Todd said one of the challenges to branching out into the web is that each platform has different audiences that look for different content. On Facebook, he said fans want compilation videos of him facing off against 50 challengers one after another, while his watchers on YouTube look for more professional matches.
For those wanting to start their own brand, he said it's best to be consistent and just have fun. It takes lots of hard work, and despite popular belief, it won't happen overnight.
"You have an opportunity to film the best moments of your life right now and share it with the world, so it's fun," he said.
Todd can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/monstermichaeltoddofficial and on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCarJKBV9GEpXRHrw4bEEhHA.