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Kyla Scanlon

Practice Management > Marketing and Communications > Social Media

Meet Kyla Scanlon: Master of TikTok, Markets and Vibes

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Since social media influencer Kyla Scanlon coined the term “vibecession,” she has experienced all sorts of feedback from TikTok users and economists alike. I sat down with her to chat about algorithms, markets and more on Twitter Spaces. Below is an edited transcript of our discussion.

Conor Sen: I first came across your work in April of 2021 when you made your viral lumber video. The way that you produce content related to markets and the economy is really clever and I don’t think anyone else does what you do. I’m curious how you came to do that and if you felt like traditional media was lacking in some way.

Kyla Scanlon: I started making TikToks around December 2020, right around when GameStop started happening. I had just left my job at Capital Group, so I was no longer under compliance.

The markets were so wacky then that it was almost impossible not to make content like that. Beyond video, I’ve been writing online for about six years. I started in college and had a blog called “Scanlon on Stocks.”

CS: When you’re doing research to come up with things to talk about, do you just look at the traditional data or are you scrolling through TikTok?

KS: I include a lot of data on my TikTok, but some of it’s based on feedback. When I first started thinking about what a vibecession was, I had just published this video saying that we weren’t in a recession and I was being eaten alive in the comments. I thought to myself, “oh, this is like the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.” So I published another piece asking whether we needed a recession.

I got more feedback from that, which shaped out this vibecession idea where, if you look at the data, it isn’t great, but it’s not terrible, but people feel tremendously bad.

A lot of people like to think in binary terms: Things are bad and that’s it. But it would be ridiculous to say that things aren’t hard for people right now. I’m not saying that it’s not bad. I’m just saying that how people feel about it could make it worse.

CS: What I find interesting is that when you said we’re not in a recession, you got negative pushback against that. And then when you wrote the vibecession piece, you were acknowledging the way people were feeling. And yet people seemed to hate that too. Why do you think that is?

KS: Personally, the vibecession piece was a really hard experience. I was getting death threats. I had never gone through anything like that.

I think people were looking at it from a surface level and they were like, oh my gosh, this person is not acknowledging my reality. I think that’s a totally fair response if you feel like your experience is being diminished.

My theory is that people don’t like being told how they’re feeling. If you start telling people that their “lived experience” might not be what they thought it was, that can lead to a bit of anger.

CS: I think when I wrote my piece and cited yours, I was trying to go through the same thing — we’re adding all these jobs … how can people feel so negative?  Since February, we’ve added a ton of jobs, but the overall level of real income people are taking home is down.

bloomberg slide showing Recession Payrolls | As in previous economic downturns, real wages are declining

I think you and I both agree that “recession” isn’t the right term and maybe some people don’t like the term “vibecession,” but we need a generally accepted word to describe this environment.

KS: People don’t really experience the economy in terms of GDP growth. They experience it in terms of gas prices and food prices. And so if you start to see those easing, I do think people are going to end up feeling a little bit better. But on the margin, I don’t know how much has really changed. There’s still a lot of uncertainty.

CS: What would make people feel better? Are there certain things that you’re looking for on TikTok that would suggest that things have improved?

KS: The barometer for how people feel in my little bubble is my comment section. Although we’re talking about how things have improved  — at least over the past few weeks — the sentiment in the comments has not improved at all.

There’s a lot of confusion around what the Fed is doing. When we have that next meeting in September, it’ll be interesting to see how people respond to that.

CS: You straddle Gen Z think and millennial in a way that nobody else does. Do you think that Gen Z sees markets and maybe the economy more broadly or differently than people, say, my age do?

KS: I don’t know if it’s really an age group thing. I definitely think there’s an element of “financial nihilism” where it’s like, “oh, I’m not going to save for the future because who knows, right.” That shapes a lot of spending patterns. And when I tell my friends that I like the stock market, they’re like, “that’s not real.”

CS: When I was in my mid twenties, it was the subprime bubble and people were going to Vegas and then the Iraq war was going on. People were pretty nihilistic, feeling like, “this economy is a joke, it’s all fake.” I do wonder whether the past 20 years have been weird, or maybe it’s always been this way, and we just have different themes and characteristics that shape this cynicism and uncertainty.

KS: I’m sure it’s always been this way. You could read literature and see that everybody has always been feeling pretty bad. Social media has made a lot of stuff worse because our brains are not built for consuming this much information.

CS: It’s generally not helpful if everybody’s thinking about the state of the economy and markets the way they do their favorite sports teams. Negativity can spill over to your point about people: Are we going to will ourselves into a recession?

KS: Fed meetings are now like a Super Bowl party. If you look at your timeline, people are saying things like, “oh, the market is going to be super choppy,” or “get ready, everybody. It’s gonna be crazy.” It’s kind of interesting that the CPI print and the Federal Reserve discussing monetary policy can be that exciting.

CS:  You’re trying to help people navigate this scary, confusing world and these algorithms that try to make us negative. As an optimist, what do you think we can do to combat the negativity?

KS: The biggest thing is explaining things in a really accessible way, all while using data and recognizing the human experience of it, too. The reason that we don’t like inflation is because it causes uncertainty.

If you explain things in a way that’s entertaining, it will help people feel a little bit better. Hypersensationalism and doomism are rewarded by the algorithms. And our little brains love bad news. So you have to battle those dual forces. A lot of people entered the market in 2020 when the expectation was that things would go up forever. But it’s okay for things to not go up all the time. In fact, it might be good to take a breather.

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