A Day in the Life: TikTok COO Vanessa Pappas Reveals What It's Like to Run Gen Z's Most Prized Possession

She may not be as ubiquitous as Charli D’Amelio or Addison Rae, but TikTok COO Vanessa Pappas keeps the platform running one viral clip at a time. She lets E! News discover the secrets of her role.

By Sarah Grossbart May 06, 2021 1:00 PMTags
Watch: Most Viral TikToks of 2020: VidBits

Some people have jobs so cool we'd actually enjoy attending their marathon Zoom meetings. Even the ones that could totally have been an email. 

Not to say we don't cherish our all-important responsibility of bringing you every last piece of need-to-know information about the casts of Bridgerton and The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, but we don't have our own glam squad or a Rolodex filled with famous names, now do we? 

But the impossibly cool people we'll be profiling in E! News' latest series totally do. Plus access to things like private drivers, designer garb and the type of professional titles we'd drop with wild abandon at parties, dinner dates or while chatting with the barista at Starbucks. Welcome to A Day in the Life...

For those on the outside looking in at the Gen Z-powered phenom that is TikTok, the appeal can be tricky to explain. It's hard to put into words exactly what is so satisfying about, say, watching a baker expertly ice cookies or a person scrape paint off a roller. Or just how fun it can be to witness impossibly cool tweens and Will Smith alike attempt the latest viral challenge

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But in its nearly five-year existence, the social media platform has amassed some 689 million users worldwide, all of whom have frittered away more than a few evenings, one enthralling 15-second clip at a time. And there are certainly moments when it feels as if Vanessa Pappas has met every last one of them. 

With the content sharing site exploding last year as hordes of people suddenly found themselves with little else to do than master the latest dance craze and attempt to go viral, "It's become the new normal to have people come up and tell me how much they love TikTok," Pappas, the brand's newly named chief operating officer, tells E! News.

Basically anytime she ventured outside the Los Angeles home she shares with her wife and their two kids, she would run into someone who wanted to talk shop."Whether it's a local cashier at the grocery store, a parent from our kids' school, or a business partner," Pappas says, "people love to share their personal stories of how 'TikTok saved them' during the pandemic."

Vanessa Pappas; E! Illustration

For Pappas, it's been the clips from parents in the same boat—her For You page filled with "relatable content from other moms who are sharing their joys and tribulations being home with their children during the pandemic" and the type of fare that's universally entertaining, "like Lizzo making a bowl of nature's cereal"—providing that invaluable lifeline.  

She dedicates at least an hour a day to watching clips like the aforementioned three-time Grammy winner scooping up a serving of strawberries, blueberries, pomegranate and coconut water. But outside of that, she's careful not to mix too much business into her pleasure, keeping "a strict weekly schedule to make time for my family in the evening" as part of her efforts to achieve a healthy work/life balance. The other tools in her kit include an unabashed love of to-do lists and a "religious" adherence to her calendar. 

She breaks a recent day down into bite-sized segments for E! 

6 a.m. In the immortal words of Gia Giudice, Pappas wakes up in the morning "thinking about so many things." As her 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son jump on the bed, she scans industry trades and news sites before checking for emails that require immediate responses.

Then it's downstairs to make oatmeal and fresh-squeezed orange juice for her kids. "Their excitement to start the day always makes me smile," she says, "and makes the early start that much more bearable."

7 a.m. Good thing too, because it's a rise and grind kinda day. "Working at a global company like TikTok, we are constantly navigating across different time zones," she explains of hopping onto a call with the European team.

On this spring morning, they're discussing their Creative Learning Fund, "which is an initiative we launched last year to help foster more educational content on our platform," she explains. "With the pandemic, we saw a shift in distanced learning and created this initiative to support educators and creative professionals who were forced to find new ways to connect with people."

Vanessa Pappas; E! Illustration

8 a.m. G'day, espresso maker! The gadget that delivers the native Australian's daily flat white (espresso with a hint of microfoam) was a pandemic purchase, she admits, "and has saved me." She enjoys her coffee with "a typical Aussie breakfast of vegemite and avocado on toast" before getting her toddler dressed ("Not without some protest!") and herded into the car. En route to preschool, "we talk about the fun activities he's got in store for that day, like how excited he is to feed bunnies or play in the mud area."

8:45 a.m. Getting back home just as her wife is leaving to take their daughter to school, she clips into her Peloton ("Another pandemic purchase!") for a 30-minute ride with Cody Rigsby. The former dancer "has such high energy!" she raves. "Coincidentally, he is also extremely popular on TikTok and amassed a large fan following with our community."

Vanessa Pappas; E! Illustration

9:30 a.m. Her home office is kitted out with priceless works of art (read: pieces by her kids), a standup desk that helps her keep moving and a glass pitcher that holds the 12 cups of water she tries to guzzle throughout the day. After another half hour of powering through emails, it's time for her team's Monday morning priority meeting "discussing content efforts, external meetings, project approvals, upcoming product launches and more."

12 p.m. Who's the next Addison Rae and Michael Le? The Creator team has some ideas. A showcase presentation of their TikTok for Black Creatives partnership with multiplatform media company MACRO spotlights some of the platform's rising stars. Among them, says Pappas, "Robert Lucas (@thesweetimpact), who is a baker that makes beautiful cakes based on pop culture, and Kennedy Murray (@whokae) who creates uplifting fashion, beauty, and hair content that celebrates her culture."

12:30 p.m. It's the authenticity for her. Between bites of lunch, Pappas scrolls through her TikTok feed, appreciating the latest from Frankie Jonas (he's "built such an amazing and loyal fan base") and standouts "like Taylor Cassidy, who shares Black History lessons, and Tyler Gaca, who was one of our LGBTQ+ Trailblazers and has entertaining skits," she says. "This is one of my favorite parts of the day since I can take a quick mental break from work and get to see what is happening with our creators."

1 p.m. Her 90-minute content strategy meeting is another highlight, Pappas finding it "so inspiring" to chat with the team leads "about what has been taking off on our platform, the creativity we're seeing across different markets, and the many trends that are taking place on TikTok—like seeing trends of fans ranking their favorite songs by their favorite artists and getting creative with our tools and effects."

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3 p.m. "Classy, bougie, ratchet..." The biweekly town hall meetings kick off exactly as you might imagine, says Pappas, "with upbeat music—usually whichever songs are currently trending on TikTok." Once everyone's got the dance moves out of their system, the head of diversity and inclusion introduces the session, which features female leads in various markets around the world sharing the special initiatives they launched to celebrate March's Women's History Month. 

4 p.m. Closing our her workday just as it began, with a marathon of meetings, she has one-on-ones with the heads of the trust and safety, content, product and music teams. With the music lead, she sings the praises of Headstream, a new interactive TikTok live series that launched with Demi Lovato performing her new album, Dancing With The Devil... The Art Of Starting Over, and chatting with fans.

6:30 p.m. All the world's a stage for Pappas' crew. After her kids' bath ("Our favorite family bonding time"), they blast The Greatest Showman's "This Is Me" so everyone can shake off the day.

"My kids have a penchant for the theatrical, and I love how empowering the song is!" she says. "If it's not a dance party to our favorite songs it's a musical parade where everyone in the family grabs an instrument and marches around the house making a cacophony of sounds. Lucky for us, the neighbors also have kids!"

Vanessa Pappas; E! Illustration

8 p.m. Her children sent off to sleep with the help of Catherine Ingram's "funny and educational" cartoon-style book, Arnold's Extraordinary Art Museum, Pappas and her wife chat about their days over plates of the chicken stir-fry she whipped up. "I like to keep dinners simple," she says of her go-tos. The easiest: "On nights we're both tired and had a long day, we'll order sushi."  

9 p.m. Among Pappas' secret weapons: A running to-do list. After dinner, she checks her emails once again, takes a peek at her calendar and writes down her priorities for the next day. "This simple nightly ritual is what helps me not only relax for the evening and disconnect from work, but helps me hit the ground running the next day," she explains.

Then she rewards herself with another scroll through her For You feed. "Lately," she notes, "I've been seeing a lot of trends around 2000s throwback with celebrities, fashion, and movies."

Vanessa Pappas; E! Illustration

10:45 p.m. While some might consider TikTok a meditative experience, Pappas turns to her Calm app for a quick session following an episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Then it's lights out by 11 p.m. to do it all again the next day.

"It's so inspiring to see creativity flourishing both on our platform and at the company with our employees," she says of the highlight of her job. "Our employees are the heart and soul of the company and bring so much passion and creativity each day that makes work so rewarding."