TikTok Influencers Are Paid More Than CEOs — But Which Is the Better Long-Term Career Path?
It’s a career path that wasn’t even around a decade ago, but it’s proving to be more profitable than being a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. TikTok influencers like Charli D’Amelio are earning upwards of $17.5 million annually, which is more than the median pay for execs at S&P 500 companies, according to The Wall Street Journal. One analysis of data from MyLogIQ pegged the median salary for CEOs of S&P 500 companies at a mere $13.4 million in 2020. That includes annual stock and option awards, annual salary, bonuses, perks and retirement benefits.
TikTok stars earn money from ads on the social platform, product lines, affiliate programs that give the stars commission off products sold both through the app and through other channels, and endorsement deals and product placements on TikTok and through other channels.
D’Amelio’s pay also came in higher than at least four top CEOs, including Exxon’s Darren Woods, who earned $15.6 million in 2020, Starbucks’ Kevin Johnson at $14.7 million, Delta Air Lines’ Ed Bastian at $13.1 million, and McDonalds’ Chris Kempczinksi at $10.8 million.
D’Amelio’s younger sister, Dixie, earned $10 million with just half the followers of Charli. Of course, many CEOs earn millions more than top influencers, with Apple CEO Tim Cook raking in nearly $99 million last year. But the fact remains, there’s more money to be had as an influencer than one might imagine.
What’s missing from a TikTok career, though?
Stability, for starters.
Pay can fluctuate wildly. Burnout is a real risk, as influencers put their entire life on a public stage, which can be exhausting. That’s not all there is to the job, though. Influencers spend hours off-screen editing videos, chasing down payments from brands and strategizing content based on the latest TikTok trends.
While the career, as a whole, is likely to stick around as long as social media exists, individual influencers burn out. They might also age out of their target audience, but that doesn’t mean they can’t carve a new niche based on their current interests and grow up with their audience. No one really knows. As Influencer Update stated, “the career lifespan of an influencer is uncharted territory.”
CEOs, on the other hand, often have lengthy careers. In 2018, the average tenure for an S&P 500 CEO was 10.2 years, up from 7.2 years in 2009, WSJ reported. But then there are people like Warren Buffet, who has served 52 years as Berkshire Hathaway’s CEO, and Leslie Wexner, who has spent 57 years as CEO of L Brands, parent company of Victoria’s Secret.
Once CEOs leave their careers, they often move on to other companies, join the Board of Directors or stay on in some sort of advisory role, giving them even more staying power.
Of course, putting TikTok influencers side by side with CEOs isn’t exactly an apples to apples comparison. While business savvy, discipline and people skills are required for both roles, the skillsets differ greatly. Plus, CEOs — unless they are company founders — are likely to be promoted into their key role later in life rather than getting an early start.
If a young TikTok influencer invests their multimillion salary wisely, they could create just as much stability for their future as an S&P 500 CEO.
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Bill George, CEO of MedTronic for a decade, told WSJ that he believes a decade is the “magic period” for a CEO. It’s long enough to make change without becoming complacent.
Complacency, of course, is a risk for both CEOs and TikTok influencers. For influencers, you have to keep it exciting and fun to continue generating views. George’s observation regarding CEOs could easily be said for influencers, as well: “If you don’t have outstanding performance, you don’t survive, period.”
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