Photo: Jake Updegraff
All your favorite bands, brands, and beef jerkies have one now: a social-media manager. Recently, Jake Updegraff, an independent social-media manager, created a celebrity trend for his client Alicia Silverstone that was worthy and viral enough to be deemed a meme. (In the video, a performer shows clips and character names of her favorite roles set to a jaunty song about names. It spread from Drew Barrymore to Jessica Alba and outward from there.) Updegraff even received a large floral arrangement from “the TikTok team,” congratulating him on starting a “Hollywood trend.” “We bow down,” they wrote. We asked him about going from a fan to a fan-service technician helping celebrities like Silverstone express themselves.
When people ask what you do, what do you say?
I usually just say I’m a social-media manager or that I work in the digital space. Sometimes people say, “What’s that?”
Do people say, “Oh, that’s exciting,” or do they think that’s boring?
I guess that depends on who’s asking. There’s people who think that’s legit cool, like, you work with big-name celebrities, that’s awesome.
I see people my age saying “I give up” with social media. Like with TikTok, they can’t come along for the ride. That’s sad.
I eat, sleep, and breathe TikTok. When I hear people aren’t on it? I think, Over COVID, TikTok was the winner.
On Twitter, you had another great moment when Alicia Silverstone praised Harry Styles for his Clueless-esque outfit and it was met with much applause. How do you come in and build trust with a client?
I think it’s just time. For example, Carrie Underwood is the background on my phone. When I’ll tweet her or do something and she likes my post, I still fangirl. And it could be her social-media person, or it could be her. All my clients definitely have a huge hand in what’s posted.
Have you made a bona fide meme before this one?
In 2017 with David Archuleta, who won American Idol back in the day, within two weeks of starting with him. He has that song “Crush,” and this girl posted and she would sing all the background parts in a mirror. And I was like, We should have David do the same thing. It blew up for him. It’s definitely in the top two of his biggest posts.
How did you concoct the “That’s Not My Name” meme? Did it start with the idea or the song?
I usually send over a list: There’s these trends happening; which ones pique your interest? This time I sent ideas — one idea was a dog, and they were like, “My dog’s name is Rocky, but I call it Rockstar.” I was like, How do I spin it for my client? It’s a collaborative thing. Alicia was like, “Why don’t we do the roles?” There’s a lot of brainstorming, like, How do we do this but make it our own? Sometimes it’s fine to do the same thing as everyone else!
How does it feel when something like that takes off?
I’ve always been a nerdy kid. I love pop culture, and in seventh grade, instead of doing sports, I did my Myspace profile. I taught myself Photoshop in sixth or seventh grade, and I would grab pictures and make artwork for my binders with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. That obviously helped me now in my career. It was organic that I taught myself Final Cut Pro.
Now when you share pitches with clients, are you like, “I told you this was going to be rad?”
I just think, This is something I was a part of, and now it’s everywhere. But usually, everyone’s pretty game. Instagram used to be all about how cool you looked, like, “I’m on my yacht.” Right now, people don’t want to see you on a yacht; they want to see you and your kids doing a trend together.
If I want to leverage my vast social-media knowledge into this field tomorrow, how do I get clients?
I started at an agency first and then a friend was like, “Hey, would you do social, and I’ll just Venmo you on the side?” He liked my work and said, “We have another project we want you to be part of.” Then I had to leave the company and go on tour with Pentatonix — they had a documentary on Netflix — then, for me, everything else snowballed. Everyone I have right now I didn’t reach out to. All my clients were word of mouth.
That’s how the world works.
Back in the day, I tried to make it so I could take everything. But I have a good client list, and I don’t think I could take anything I don’t feel passionate about. If it was a NASCAR driver, I don’t think I would take it!
That’s the intersection of fandom, celebrity, and social media — so you understand them because you like them.
I’m such a pop-culture freak, I always have been. Before social media, I would write letters. I would write Britney Spears all the time. There’s also been a lot of crazy things that happened to me on social media because I’m such a fangirl. Cher followed me on Twitter when I interned at Ryan Seacrest. I got a notification and was like, This has got to be fake. And she DM’d me. In the end, she was trying to hook me up with her friend? But the power of social media!
You have this very earnest love of celebrity. Do you know where that came from?
I put on Spice Girls performances at Thanksgiving when I was little. It was a natural thing for me.
But you didn’t want to become a performer.
I loved acting, but then I went to college and started having fun. They were probably doing Shakespeare or something. No disrespect! It’s not for me.
Second-to-last question. Are you single?
Mm, yes, my whole life! I’ve never been in a relationship. I think my job is my relationship. There’s a lot of factors, but I think the last date I went on was 2016. It takes a lot of energy for me. Now work is a huge part of my life. I’m not closed off to it. I used to be a hopeless romantic. But I do love boys.
Last question. How happy are you for Britney?
Oh! So happy! When I was younger, I was the only boy in my school that actively loved Britney and talked about her. Kids used to be so mean to me. I just know people who said those things right now are on the train of #FreeBritney and supporting her. I’m a Taurus, so loyalty is No. 1. I may be stubborn, but I’m loyal. She deserves the best. She’s done so much for us.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
CURRENT CLIENTS: Alicia Silverstone, Pentatonix, David Archuleta, Ally Brooke.
FORMER CLIENTS: Superfruit, Tritonal.
FORMER AGENCY TEAM MEMBER: Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Carly Rae Jepsen, OneRepublic.
DREAM CLIENT: Carrie Underwood.