President Joe Biden on Wednesday rescinded a series of executive orders from the Trump administration that had tried to ban the Chinese-owned apps TikTok and WeChat here in the United States. The orders had been blocked by federal judges. Instead, the Biden administration plans a security review of those and other apps.
Many turned to the short-form video app TikTok for entertainment during the pandemic or to create their own content. I spoke with Charley Button, a talent manager at Select Management Group, where she manages some TikTok creators. I asked her about a typical day. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Charley Button: We get hundreds of emails a day from businesses that might be interested in working with our clients. We get hundreds of emails from fans that we have to sift through. And we also work with a lot of younger creators who are balancing school and bedtime restrictions from their parents. I touch base with pretty much all of my clients on a daily basis about something that they’ve got going on in their life, just getting to know them on a deep, deep level, so I’m able to help them be successful and plan for the long term.
Scott: How different is it to manage children versus a young adult or an older adult creator?
Button: It’s definitely very different. There are a lot of restrictions in terms of what minors can promote, how many work hours they can do any given day. There’s a lot of educating the parents who are unfamiliar with TikTok and the social media influencer world. And I think it’s definitely becoming more mainstream and more recognizable as a legitimate career path.
Scott: Especially during the pandemic when demand for content soared because so many people were stuck at home — what was it like to work with creators to come out with new content, not just every day, sometimes multiple times a day, and avoid burnout?
Button: They definitely had to get creative. We saw a huge shift into DIY projects, creating new outfits from what you have in your wardrobe and refreshing it that way. We saw a lot of creators resort to taking back over production if they had had an editor or larger film crews for bigger shoots. Really getting back to where they started in terms of shooting on their cellphones themselves, and putting it out there and engaging with audiences in the comments more. It’s definitely a struggle for people that are so social and are so involved in that world to stay at home. And I think it really took an enormous toll on the mental health of everyone. But I think we saw so many amazing messages of resilience and staying together while we’re apart. I think the creators that were successful were really able to embrace that and demonstrate healthy ways of staying connected and sane and entertained from the safety of their home. And a lot more interests in meditation and self-help genres, on TikTok especially, definitely boomed, and the creators that are able to tap into that definitely saw some success from that.
Scott: It seems like one of the benefits, or the advantages, of social media was that you don’t really need a middleman — people don’t need a record label or a movie studio. So why do these creators need you?
Button: So it’s definitely hard to have a sense of the full business and the potential for the audience that you’ve built, unless you have a relationship with a manager or someone that understands the industry and knows the parties and are able to help negotiate your worth, because it’s very competitive out there, and not too many people are able to really turn this into a really legitimate day job.
Scott: Bella Poarch got her start on TikTok but just came out with a popular music video, and then Charli D’Amelio, another TikTok star, has a reality show about her family. I’m wondering if these traditional music and TV venues are still the goal for some of these creators?
Button: Not for every creator, but it’s definitely legitimizing to have a real Hollywood studio be interested in sending a big production crew to your house and filming something with you. It’ll help you get that verified check mark, it’ll help you expand your audience from the people that just found you on the platform, and it’ll also help you attract brands and open up other doors for other potential things you might want to test, whether that’s writing a book or developing a clothing line — anything along those lines that having that credit on IMDB will help you get there. It’s not necessarily going to be a make or break for their business, but it’s still something that people look at and are impressed by and helps TikTok creators attempt to do other things and get into other areas of the industry that they may be interested in testing, because they still do idolize Ariana Grande and want to be able to have that level of celebrity one day. And you do kind of need to test the waters in [the] traditional [media industry] in order to get in with that larger celebrity crowd that has that endorsement of traditional Hollywood.
Scott: So just like you have to convince parents that this is an appropriate thing for your kid to be doing, I’m wondering if you’ve had that same conversation with your own parents or grandparents.
Button: Yeah, I did have a lot of explanations to give my parents. And I think the more that traditional media outlets recognize TikTok and other social media platforms and the enormity of the industry that’s built around that now — that definitely helps provide more context to more people, and it’s interesting to see. My grandfather watches YouTube now every day since he heard about my job, and I’ve gotten my great-aunt interested in TikTok. It’s not that it’s not able to appeal to that demographic, but I think they do need a personal connection often to have a reason to get onto those platforms.
Related links: More insight from Amy Scott
One of Button’s better-known accounts that she manages is @whataboutbunny, which features a Sheepadoodle who appears to communicate with her human by pressing electronic buttons.
I talked to Button about burnout, and just after we talked I saw a New York Times story about just that. Reporter Taylor Lorenz looked at the mental health challenges many Gen Z influencers are facing from the glare of celebrity, financial stress and the constant pressure to churn out new content. One creator said: “I feel like I’m tapping a keg that’s been empty for a year.” Who doesn’t relate to that?
And there’s a lot of competition among platforms for all that content. Facebook is adding incentives to keep more creators posting on its apps. CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the changes Tuesday. On Facebook and Instagram, creators will be able to earn bonuses for streaming longer and commissions for selling products. Zuckerberg has said he wants to help build a “creator middle class” by investing not just in established stars, but emerging creators with fewer followers.
The future of this podcast starts with you.
Every day, Molly Wood and the “Tech” team demystify the digital economy with stories that explore more than just “Big Tech.” We’re committed to covering topics that matter to you and the world around us, diving deep into how technology intersects with climate change, inequity, and disinformation.
As part of a nonprofit newsroom, we’re counting on listeners like you to keep this public service paywall-free and available to all.