What you can learn from TikTok, Instagram salary videos

Hannah Williams poses for her Salary Transparent Street on TikTok

Credit: Hannah Williams of Salary Transparent Street

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In street interviews like Williams’ — which can go viral on social media — creators typically ask someone they encounter on the street about their position and salary. Questions about how the interviewee got started in their field, their general career trajectory, and the pros and cons of the job often follow. 

Another typical question: “How much do you make?”

Williams, who has traveled across the U.S. to interview people in cities large and small, told CNBC what she does is a “dream.”

“It is this awesome blend of learning so much on the job but also being able to control what I share and being able to amplify so many voices,” she said.

Some of the valuable career lessons Williams has learned include taking a chance on new opportunities and the importance of self-advocacy. 

When watching these videos, remember that there can be valuable details, but you should take the information disclosed with a grain of salt.

Leveraging pay transparency to negotiate a raise

Daniella Atkinson

Credit: Brandon Showers Photography

While working at The Market Herald in Vancouver, Canada, as a reporter and presenter, Daniella Atkinson quickly grew a social media following by doing street interviews to ask people what they do for a living. She now has 94,300 followers on her TikTok and 116,000 followers on her Instagram.

“I realized that other people are just as nosy as I am,” Atkinson said. “And other people are just as curious and they want to learn just as much as I do.”

Atkinson has received messages from viewers saying that she has encouraged them to negotiate a higher wage for themselves. She said promoting salary transparency also helped her discover she and other female journalists in her newsroom were getting paid less than a male colleague. At the time, she was leaving the company.

Understanding typical pay can be an important part of negotiating salary when you’re job hunting or hoping to secure a raise.

TikTok salary videos can be informative for viewers, especially for students in high school or college, by showcasing a reasonable range of pay and experience of what it’s like to work a job, said Elizabeth Lyons, an associate professor of management at the University of California, San Diego, who has researched pay transparency and the gender wage gap. 

Lyons said she appreciates how interviewees talked about salary but also the nonfinancial benefits of a job such as flexible working hours and the opportunity to help others.

‘This is not a representative sample’

Still, Lyons noted that salary videos shouldn’t be taken at face value. Key information, such as the name of the interviewee’s employer, is often missing in an effort to protect their privacy. However, different employers may offer drastically different salaries, even within the same industry. 

Responses, according to Lyons, may also be biased. For example, someone dissatisfied with their job may not want to accept the interview request. Similarly, an interviewee is unlikely to share the worst parts of their job if they think there’s a chance their boss will see the video while scrolling through the For You Page. It’s also possible that people will lie about their pay.

“I think that it’s important for viewers to remember that this is not a representative sample of people within job titles,” Lyons said. “These are people willing to be there.”

For those who don’t feel comfortable being interviewed on camera, Williams has created a salary database where workers can anonymously input salary, position and location, among other factors, and see what other people are making. Sites like Glassdoor and Payscale also showcase data on salaries. 

“There’s ways that you can go about being transparent and still protect yourself,” Williams said. “You don’t have to be on Salary Transparent Street to make a difference in pay transparency.”

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