A decade ago, the idea of a social media ‘influencer’ was still in its infancy.
Senior Account Director
A decade ago, the idea of a social media ‘influencer’ was still in its infancy. Fast forward to now and the creator economy is booming, with influencers more valuable than ever. But with new social platforms, formats and audiences, how can brands get the most out of their creator collaborations?
Even before the pandemic, the way brands worked with content creators had started to change. They had become a central point in marketing strategies, with a hybrid mix of organic and paid content, and a focus on authenticity. Brands had started to move away from years of perfectly curated and polished social content.
That shift has continued in recent years and creators’ power has increased. During the pandemic, many social media users viewed creator content to relieve boredom and as a distraction from everything going on in the world that felt out of control.
This shifted the purpose of social media away from friend updates towards being ‘social entertainment’, with creators the driving force behind every cultural phenomenon and trending moment.
While the social media landscape will continue to evolve, we’ve identified three key trends that are having an impact on how brands are working with talent right now.
1. Is TikTok the new search engine?
According to recent data and news reports, TikTok (and Instagram, to a lesser extent) are becoming the preferred way to get information – particularly among Gen Z. A Google exec admitted that “40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, don’t go to Maps or Search – they go to TikTok or Instagram”.
This is because the path to discovery looks very different in 2023. Younger generations favour visually-rich formats that inspire and show them first-hand what they’re buying into – whether that’s a product, recipe or holiday.
This means searchable, trend-driven social media content is key to a standout strategy. TikTok and Reels both provide huge opportunities for organic reach – with TikTok in particular showing a higher organic reach to accounts that aren’t following you than any other platform.
TikTok has smashed previous conceptions around metrics and the importance of follower numbers (especially for creators): it’s possible to have zero followers and still go viral with millions of views for one great piece of content.
That means any content creator, with the right idea, can help a brand become an overnight success – like this auto repair shop in Florida, which posted a cat meme video as its first ever post and led to more than 50m views of the account in a week!
2. Brands and platforms NEED creators
It’s been reported that more than 50 million people worldwide consider themselves a ‘creator’, and in 2022 it was predicted that the creator economy could grow to more than $100bn. Meanwhile, platforms and brands have significant challenges, which puts creators and influencers firmly in the driving seat.
Platforms are vying for creators’ attention – in many cases paying them to create content and share it on their platforms. A number of creator-focused funds and subscriptions have emerged alongside new ways to ‘Tip’ creators during TikTok, Instagram and YouTube live streams. More recently, TikTok has launched a ‘Series’ feature that enables creators to put their content behind a paywall. All these features offer creators great opportunities to monetise their content, with platforms at their mercy.
Brands continue to face two major challenges: pace and personalisation. Keeping pace with rapid cultural change is challenging; before brands can craft a strategy to align with the latest cultural trend, it’s already changed. That’s where creators can help – by connecting with moments in a different way and driving new interest with their audiences.
The second challenge is personalisation. People-driven platforms, such as TikTok and Instagram, have algorithms that branded content can’t cut through. This is where personalised content that resonates with a target audience comes in. And who knows a target audience better than the creators themselves, who already have a loyal following?
3. The 'creator career'
No matter how much they enjoy what they do, or love the products they get to try, being a creator is a full-time job – and now a respected career. Creators with as few as 50,000 followers are quitting their day jobs and going full-time. We’re also seeing a new generation emerging who are starting their entire career off as creators.
As a result, gifting a product is no longer seen as an incentive or remuneration – it’s simply a tool to help a creator do their job. Crafting quality content that resonates with the right audience takes time, effort and hard work – and creators’ platforms and skills are in such demand that they no longer need to work for free.
Consequently, creators have become incredibly business-savvy. They know how to monetise their audience and their influence, and many even call themselves ‘founder’ or ‘entrepreneur’. The challenge of the creator economy is now about how this group can differentiate themselves in a crowded and competitive landscape, as more and more people build businesses based on their passions and talent.
With this comes an expectation. The creator industry is big but close-knit, and those in it aren’t afraid to share their experiences with brands – with a rise in campaigns exposing brands for underpaying or not paying talent fairly. There’s also an ongoing debate around the gender pay gap, and diversity and inclusion in the industry.
This makes it important for brands to be aware of negative feedback and factor it into activation planning. A negative creator experience isn’t just damaging for the brand, it’s damaging for everyone involved.
How should brands budget for creator marketing?
We recommend comparing it to other streams of marketing you’re considering. For example, two of the most expensive streams of advertising – TV ads and billboards – work entirely off audience predictions. You’ll have a good idea of who will see your ad, but you can’t guarantee exactly how many, or how relevant that audience will actually be.
Compare this to creator marketing, which is one of the most hyper-targeted forms of advertising you can use. Giving a quality creator the freedom to make high-quality content that’s tailored to what their audience likes will give you guaranteed results. Combine all approaches in one, and it’ll complement your entire marketing ecosystem.
Revamping your creator strategy
Now you know why creators are important, here are three approaches to how to use them strategically:
- Test and learn. Experiment with different approaches and find out what works for your brand. For example, longer-term deals might work better than tried-and-tested brand advocates, and result in better content with stronger loyalty. In addition, reserve a portion of your creator allocation for ‘wildcards’ – perhaps those who are reactive and present within trends – to position your brand as part of social entertainment.
- Establish a consistent creator journey. No carrot-dangling: create a structured and tiered approach to working with advocates. Top-tier creators are ideal, but ensure you factor in smaller creators with incredibly engaged audiences too – they’re both valuable.
- Facilitate a two-way, mutually beneficial relationship. With the power creators now hold, it’s no longer just about what the brand wants or thinks. Lean into your talents’ expertise and skills, make the most of them, and include them in the whole process – the outcome will be so much better.
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