TikTok's Vanessa Pappas on How It Grew from Gen Z Entertainment to a Platform for Social Change

"It's really providing [people] with this new creative outlet and opportunity to have that human connection."

Vanessa Pappas- Tik Tok CEO
(Image credit: Courtesy)
  • As part of this year's Marie Claire's Power On virtual summit, Vanessa Pappas, the interim CEO of TikTok, sat down for a live conversation with Marie Claire editor-in-chief Sally Holmes.
  • Pappas joined the virtual version of the annual conference via video chat to discuss everything from the growing role of women in tech and social media leadership to the future of TikTok.
  • She notes TikTok has grown a lot this year, and has come to be seen as a way for families to connect during the pandemic and a platform for social change used to spread important messages for movements like Black Lives Matter.

TikTok has exploded this year under the leadership of interim CEO Vanessa Pappas. This week, as part of Marie Claire's Power On virtual summit, Pappas joined Marie Claire editor-in-chief Sally Holmes for a live discussion via video chat. 

The annual conference, which went virtual this year, featured appearances from a range of powerful women, including actresses like Taraji P. Henson and Gabrielle Union. In her conversation, Pappas discussed women in tech and the future of TikTok.

On how TikTok has grown up in 2020:

"This really did start out by being seen as this platform for Gen Z. We really have seen that shift over time, where you're seeing now a lot of small businesses come onto the platform, certainly, under the conditions of the pandemic, looking for new ways to connect with their customers. We hear it and we see it from all the families who are jumping on to TikTok and finding new ways to connect with one another, where you're seeing, you know, moms dancing with their daughters, or fathers with their sons. It's really providing them with this new creative outlet and opportunity to have that human connection that maybe they wouldn't have otherwise had.

"And certainly just, you know, the creative expression that we're seeing across all of our creator community, and really also being this platform for social change and a voice for sometimes the underrepresented. We saw that clearly with Black Lives Matter."

On dealing with Trump's TikTok ban:

"It's certainly turbulent times. Look, I think what what really tends to resonate when we look at the situation that we're all facing in these uncertain times, during the pandemic, is, you know, how do we stay true to what is our North Star, whatever that may be for you, your business, or your company? Certainly for us, our mission is, how do you inspire creativity and bring joy, and really being able to operate in a fairly nimble environment. And I think, you know, anyone who's worked at a startup knows that you've got to be able to operate with some level of ambiguity. So, for me, it's a matter of reminding folks that we have a path forward, that we have our North Star, bringing them along with that journey, and then really just being in the day to day of making sure that we are continuing to provide for the hundred million users in the U.S. and then hundreds of more millions around the world."

On what success will look like for TikTok going forward:

"TikTok really has become a part of this daily lexicon. And we're seeing it really being the home for where culture starts on TikTok. I think most people by now would have seen the video of the man and skateboarding with the Ocean Spray listening to Fleetwood Mac, and just seeing how that resonates among our community. But we really do see TikTok being this home for these cultural Zeitgeist moments. And so we've been very inspired by providing that platform. We're looking now ahead in terms of how do we continue to innovate on the product and make sure that we're continuing to provide this place for creative expression and all the tools and features that enable that."

On the growth of women in tech:

"It really does take a village to see change. Women have this amazing resilience. So where can we continue to be a beacon for that change? And, you know, bring up the next aspiring leaders among us. This is certainly an opportunity and being in a startup environment certainly enabled some of that growth. But [going forward] how do we bring people along in that journey?"

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(Image credit: Hearts Owned)
Kayleigh Roberts
Weekend Editor

Kayleigh Roberts is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years of professional experience. Her byline has appeared in Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, The Atlantic, Allure, Entertainment Weekly, MTV, Bustle, Refinery29, Girls’ Life Magazine, Just Jared, and Tiger Beat, among other publications. She's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.