Early in the pandemic, corporate privacy lawyer Cece Xie found herself in an unexpected position when her first TikTok went viral. The video was a meme comparing her relentless work pace to that of her friends, who worked in marketing and had, as she recalled, “lots of happy hours.” She started accumulating a large number of subscribers who started asking her about her life and work.
TikTok easily makes influencers of everyone, from lawyers like Xie to people who are really good at using Microsoft Excel. As a privacy lawyer TikTok influencer, Xie was on the new frontier of corporate America, where employees in even the most conservative office jobs can leverage their expertise and talent. for creating content for paid influencer opportunities. Managers now increasingly have to determine what social media policies make sense for this class of slash influencers, who seem to largely expect such activities to be permitted.
Xie didn’t just pick up her TikTok pull and run with it. Before she started posting a lot, she reviewed her company’s social media policy and met with one of their social media coordinators. Unsurprisingly, the company didn’t want her to post confidential information, but also advised her not to post at certain times of the day that could indicate whether or not she was in a meeting. Xie said, “That’s what I liked about my law firm: they didn’t want to stifle what the lawyer said as an individual. So that was a lot of “You can say whatever you want, so make it clear that you’re speaking on your own behalf and not on behalf of the company.”
His following grew so large that sponsorship deals that were too lucrative to pass up started coming in. in addition to work,” she said. So they set up a process for Xie to get endorsements approved. The influence pays her well enough that she recently quit her job as a lawyer to pursue writing books, though she plans to remain a member of the Bar Association.
Xie acknowledged that not all law firms are as supportive of employees’ use of social media as his. Much of corporate America is likely appalled at the idea of having part-time influencers on their payroll. Take the media, which has had a shrinking workforce of influencers for several years now, but still lacks an industry standard to manage it, unlike long-accepted standards for freelance work. (Insider recently reported to The New York Times on tensions stemming from a committee formed to approve reporters’ outside projects, which led to a weekend-long Twitter debate over the merits of reporters with “personal brands.” largely derived from social media; I agree with the side that argued that for journalists today, personal brands are essential.)
Threatened by the ability of employees to book their own advertising activities – which media companies have struggled to develop for at least a decade or so – some media companies have attempted to restrict the activities of these employees entirely or take a cut of all their transactions, arguing that their affiliation with the publication allowed them to create a monetizable platform. (I recently reported in my newsletter that vogue, for example, takes 40%, about twice what an influencer would take). However, these policies often cause employees who love their jobs in the media to leave because the media pays poorly and at a certain point it no longer makes sense financially for them to stay and refuse money. .
Xie believes that having a clear, written and accessible social media policy should be the foundation of any business. Noting that she spoke on the subject with her experience as a privacy lawyer, she said: “It harms both the employer and the employee not to formalize policies, because you are essentially asking for confusion and a deviation from what you really want.” A policy, she added, prevents “weird anxiety on the part of their employees”.
A media worker-influencer who had this weird anxiety only felt comfortable speaking up for this story for fear that her employer would shut down her sponsored posts. His company told others when asked that personal stream sponsorships are not allowed, but did not commit to writing that policy in the employee handbook or elsewhere.
“The last [sponsorship] I made more than my paycheck for the whole month,” the employee said. “I feel like at my job, I’m underpaid,” she added, explaining that her only increases since 2019 have been annual cost-of-living increases of around 3%. If told she had to stop monetizing her social media posts, she would quit, even though she loves her job.
But trying to suppress the use of social media and the resulting sponsorships will only hurt the media industry in the long run, as these policies become less and less attractive to creative talent. The secret influencer said, “We work in the media, don’t they want people who have a voice and influence?”
Oddly, despite being in many ways a progressive industry, many media companies are falling behind others that might seem more conservative, in industries like medicine, investment banking and management consulting. , all of which employ slash influencers. Jacob is the consultant-slash-influencer who co-runs the Consulting Humor meme account, which has nearly 400,000 followers on Instagram. He said he didn’t advertise his side job, but the partners he worked with knew he did and had no problem with it, as long as he prioritized his day job. .
“Most consulting firms try to make sure you can have a solid life outside of work and try to support people who have side hustle and passions,” said Jacob, who asked not to be identified by his last name or the name of his farm to clarify that he was not speaking on behalf of his company. In consulting, “we don’t sell a product,” he says. “The engine of success in our business is when people stay with the business, and that’s any consulting business. I would say because of that, consulting firms are doing a lot to try to keep people.
Jacob has never felt that his company unfairly restricts anyone’s use of social media. When he started, he took social media training that emphasized that employees still represent the company. “All it takes is one inappropriate remark or a photo you didn’t want online,” Jacob said, “and it hurts the business model to have a really good reputation.” (McKinsey’s Code of Business Conduct reads: “All colleagues are expected to present themselves professionally on social media. Even when using private social media accounts, we expect our colleagues to be aware of the perceptions that can be created.”)
This makes restrictive social media policies that keep talent away all the more baffling. If consulting firms and law firms can figure this out, why hasn’t the media? Unlike Jacob, many consultants don’t use social media in their work. But in media, social media aptitude is a required skill that is often acquired through personal use.
Companies trying to stop people from capitalizing on this skill — in media and beyond — will likely have to change their policies as Gen Z enters the workforce. Unlike older millennials, Gen Z and young millennials have had access to social media as we know it today throughout their teenage years. Xie, the privacy lawyer, wouldn’t be happy if she couldn’t monetize her posts, but, she said, “if I ever come across a company that says, ‘You can’t not have social media”, I would think that was wild.
Amy Odell is the author of ANNA: the biographyout in May from Gallery Books.