For TikTok maker Kyla Scanlon, it’s about making finance fun (and a bit chaotic)

Kai Ryssdal and Sean McHenry Sep 7, 2022
Heard on:
Kyla Scanlon is the independent economics educator and TikToker behind the "vibecession" theory. Jarrett Dang/Marketplace

For TikTok maker Kyla Scanlon, it’s about making finance fun (and a bit chaotic)

Kai Ryssdal and Sean McHenry Sep 7, 2022
Heard on:
Kyla Scanlon is the independent economics educator and TikToker behind the "vibecession" theory. Jarrett Dang/Marketplace

Turning the latest news from Wall Street or the Federal Reserve into a 40-second video is no easy feat, but that’s exactly what Kyla Scanlon does on the regular. Scanlon, who also writes a Substack newsletter and founded the education company Bread, has amassed nearly 150,000 followers on TikTok.

For an example of Scanlon’s content, take her video on Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s speech at the Kansas City Fed’s recent retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyoming:

Scanlon spoke with “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal about her TikTok career and the aforementioned video on the Jackson Hole speech. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Kai Ryssdal: So look, we just played that Jay Powell speech TikTok, and before we take it apart a little bit, for those who are not familiar with you, what are you trying to do in your social feeds and in your work too?

Kyla Scanlon: I’m trying to make economics education fun and accessible. That’s the really simple form of it.

Ryssdal: Which is interesting because it’s really complicated stuff that you somehow get into. I think that Powell video was, like, 40 seconds.

Scanlon: Yeah, yeah. If you can distill it down, you gotta get to the attention-span level, right? And just make it really fun. Take advantage of visuals, take advantage of script, sounds, audio, all of it. Yeah. It’s a multimedia experience.

Ryssdal: Oh, my Lord, is it a multimedia experience. I mean, honestly, the first time I saw one of your things, I think — and I tweeted this out and you responded to me — I think what I said was, “Oh my God!”

Scanlon: That was such an exciting day for me, when you tweeted that. It was crazy.

Ryssdal: I, like, discovered you somehow. And this was not a long time ago. It’s like two months ago. And it kind of blew my mind. Can we talk about your process for a second? So, with the Jay Powell thing — and knowing that what you wanted to do was get across what Powell had said, which is in essence, there’s going to be pain, but get ready for it — how did you think about putting that into 40 seconds?

Scanlon: Yeah, so I took advantage of his last name. And I love Jerome Powell, and I hope he’s not offended by me, like, essentially cosplaying him.

Ryssdal: Let’s be clear — sorry, let me just point out that part of your Twitter header is a picture of Jay Powell at his desk, and you have superimposed your own face on his computer monitors. So if he doesn’t know about you, now he will soon because I know his folks listen to this broadcast.

Scanlon: Amazing. Yeah, well, I’m a huge fan, Jerome. Somebody made that image for me. I didn’t do that myself.

Ryssdal: OK.

Scanlon: Yeah, with the video, like, it was essentially like, “OK, so they’re going to cause pain. You know, “pow” is the first part of Powell’s [last] name. So it’s kind of like the “Pow, pow, pow!” And you can sort of use that as a function for people to be, like, the Fed is very, very clear that they’re wanting to manage price stability, and that they’re willing to take on a little bit of economic pain to do that.

Ryssdal: And in point of fact, they’re gonna, they’re gonna keep on going. Drew, let’s play cut 3 out of this [TikTok] just so we can talk about that a little bit.

Audio from the TikTok on Powell’s Jackson Hole speech: “Markets. Price stability. We’re gonna keep on hiking. We’re gonna be Jerome-ing these rates upwards. So stop.”

Ryssdal: That was the “louder for the people in the back if you didn’t hear me,” right? I mean, because that was the deal on this whole speech. We’re going to “Jerome.”

Scanlon: Yeah, exactly. They’re going to “Jerome” the rates upwards. So that was the whole point of the piece. And you can sort of use, like, different effects in the videos, like different cuts to sort of make that point even more clear. Like, the more chaotic it is, the more that sort of conveys that message to people, like, it might be a little bit chaotic what’s going to go on with the economy, you know.

“People deserve to sort of learn about the economy because they’re a part of it.”

Ryssdal: Who’s your target audience?

Scanlon: So for TikTok, it is definitely, like, younger investors. Like, my analytics are probably like 25 to 30 are that target audience, and then for my newsletter, it’s more institutional.

Ryssdal: Talk to me about institutional. So actual professional people who, you know, want more insight, right?

Scanlon: Right, exactly. And so I would say there’s definitely a mix of people who read the newsletter, institutional and retail investors or people who are just interested in economics in general. What I really tried to provide with that is, like, a human perspective on economics and just like really focusing on people.

Ryssdal: How did you come to this?

Scanlon: “This” being what I do?

Ryssdal: This being what you do. Your entire presence and look, persona, right? I mean, you’ve got a persona now.

Kyla Scanlon filming a TikTok.
Kyla Scanlon filming a TikTok. (Courtesy Scanlon)

Scanlon: Yeah, I just sort of stumbled into it. I started making TikToks when GameStop was going off, you know, a year and a half ago, and just really figured out editing, like, [I] watched other creators on TikTok, figured out how they edited and just wanted to talk about econ in a really fun way because I feel like, you know, people deserve that. People deserve to sort of learn about the economy because they’re a part of it. So that’s the whole goal, is just like helping people walk through what they’re already a part of.

Ryssdal: On that “people” thing, maybe the biggest hit you had in the last number of months, and maybe ever, is your thoughts on a “vibecession.” And an economy is just people “peopling.” So give us how you came to the vibecession thing.

Scanlon: Yeah, so vibecession was sort of a couple of weeks in the making where, like, we were having these pretty good prints on metrics, like the labor market was doing OK, industrial production was doing OK, everything was OK. But people were feeling really, really bad. So there’s sort of that divergence between how people are feeling and “what they should be feeling.” So the vibecession is this idea that, like, there’s a vibe decline even though the data is OK.

Ryssdal: What kind of response do you get when your stuff goes down?

Scanlon: So it depends. Like with vibecession, there’s a lot of, like, really positive feedback, a little bit of that I wasn’t taking things seriously, you know, which I really try to. So yeah, I’d say like most of the time, people who are trying to learn about economics are, like, really receptive to it. And then I feel like because I am able to talk about stuff in a really casual way — like, hopefully a really accessible way — people are able to have fun with finance. Which they should because it’s so goofy. Um, so I think that people learn from it, hopefully, and then they also have, have fun with me, which is like also a huge goal of mine.

“You’re battling the algorithm. You’re battling attention spans.”

Ryssdal: “Fun” and “finance” are not two words that go together, but I will tell you, your style makes it fun. I will definitely say that. I want to go back to the, to the TikTok thing here for second.

Audio from the TikTok on Powell’s Jackson Hole speech: “This was supposed to be a 30-minute speech, but I’m leaving it here. I’m asking you to get ‘pow’ed in the best way possible. All right?”

Ryssdal: I love your Jay Powell impersonation. You’ve got the slightly altered speech, you put on a pair of glasses and pull them down your nose, and obviously people should go look at this. Did you know when that speech hit at like, eight minutes and 51 seconds in length, that you were just gonna bang it out and make a point of him being that short?

Scanlon: I was so excited that it was that short.

Ryssdal: As were we all, Kyla, as were we all.

Scanlon: Right. Like, I guess I can, I can knock a video out soon. Because it takes a while, you know. And so yeah, no, I figured, you know, he just wanted to get one point across. And he was going to use as little time as possible to do that. So that’s what I tried to do in the video too. So yeah, I definitely was gonna hit on that.

Ryssdal: We should get the social media handles out here because people should follow you. Twitter is @kylascan. I think TikTok is the same thing, right?

Scanlon: Yeah. So Twitter, Instagram, TikTok all are @kylascan, and then my newsletter is

Ryssdal: Give her a follow. How long does it take you to do these things?

Scanlon: Oh, it depends. I’d say from script to post, it’s probably, you know, five hours or so.

Ryssdal: That’s not nothing.

Scanlon: No, I’ve gotten a lot better. I can probably do it in like three hours now. It just takes a little bit of time sometimes, like, with research. It’s like a muscle. My very, very first TikTok video took me, like, 12 hours to edit it, so I’ve gotten a lot faster.

Ryssdal: We should talk about your style for a minute. It’s I think “rapid fire” is fair. It’s a little jump-cutty. You gotta pay attention, even though it’s 40 seconds. I mean, you bang through a lot of stuff.

Scanlon: Yeah. I mean, you’re battling the algorithm. You’re battling attention spans. So a lot of people complain about how fast it is, but people have found value in watching it twice or three times. So the whole goal is, like, how succinctly can you explain things in 60 seconds and still have, like, big takeaways at the end? So that’s why it does go so fast. So like when I edit, I see the audio waves and I cut out space between the audio waves, so it’s like very intentionally fast.

Ryssdal: So let me just say as an audio professional, cutting out the space between the audio waves is not encouraged in public radio.

Scanlon: It’s probably not a good thing to do. But yeah, you know, you want as many eyes on it as possible, and people’s brains are, you know, melting as they listen to it trying to keep up.

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