The Future Of The Creator Economy With Joe Gagliese

TLEP 77 | Creator Economy

 

In this episode, we speak with Joe Gagliese, co-founder of Viral Nation, an influencer marketing agency that has worked with some of the world’s largest brands. Joe shares his journey into the creator economy and how he discovered the power of influencers in today’s digital world.

 

Joe talks about the evolution of the creator economy and how it’s shifted from a transactional relationship between brands and creators to creators becoming the enterprise themselves. He cautions content creators against venture money and starting their own product businesses and instead focuses on the importance of building their personal brand.

 

We also discuss the impact of technology and data on the creator-brand partnership and how Viral Nation technology will become a game-changer in the industry. Joe shares his insights on how leveraging data can take a creator’s brand partnership to the next level, resulting in more effective campaigns and higher ROI for brands.

 

If you’re interested in learning about the creator economy, influencer marketing, and how technology is transforming the industry, then this episode is for you. Joe’s expertise and experience in the field provide a wealth of knowledge for anyone looking to navigate the world of social media and influencer marketing.

 

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Viral Nation:

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/viralnationinc

 

Joe Gagliese:

Linkedin: https://ca.linkedin.com/in/joegagliese

 

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The Future Of The Creator Economy With Joe Gagliese

Our special guest is Joe Gagliese, the CEO of Viral Nation, which is a social media talent management and brand marketing agency powered by technology that represents thousands of top influencers, corporate brands, and TikTok creators. We are excited to get into this conversation. TikTok is a platform that many of us are thinking about, especially in mid-2023 when things feel a little bit iffy. There are lots to explore with you, Joe. I’m going to pass it over to Nicolas to get this conversation started.

I’m excited to have you, Joe. What an honor to have you here. Before we jump into the conversation, I love to give some context to the audience. You are the Founder and CEO of Viral Nation. How did the Viral Nation come about? Where is that passion for the creator economy? Tell us more about who you are.

Thank you both for having me. It is exciting to be here. I’m getting old in the creator space, Nicolas. I have been around the creator space since 2012. It was when I started to take a look at the space. I’m going to keep this the short version. It was this whole idea that one day I had seen in my car. I was waiting for my business partner, Matt, who is a co-founder of the company, with me. He was constantly tardy for everything. I downloaded Vine on my phone.

When I was sitting there waiting for him, I used to watch these Vine videos. I will never forget it. One day I went to him. I said, “These young people here are drawing some serious attention. They have huge viewership. There is got to be something these guys need to start making money somehow. I love to figure out how to do that.” To my surprise, he was in.

We began the company representing talent. We went out into the world when agents didn’t exist. We said, “Can I be your agent?” They are like, “Sure.” One of the parts I love so much about the creators’ space is creators are like you and me. It was gaining the trust of a new friend at that time to be like, “I’m making $50 if I’m lucky on a post and go for it. Give it a try.” We went to work. We started as a talent company. We went from a couple of talents to a couple of hundred talents in the first couple of years and were driving the market as it related to digital representation early on.

We realized that, unlike athletes and celebrities, creators don’t have that consistent revenue stream. They don’t have their contract deal with the Raptors. Brand deals become important to the sustainability of a creator in a lot of categories, especially if you think about TikTok, Instagram, and some of the platforms that are not monetization enabled.

It was difficult on a one-off basis to deliver value for the creators at that scale. We decided, “We are the best at influencer marketing because we represent the influencers. Why don’t we do that?” We launched Viral Nation Marketing as a way to attract more brands to create more opportunities for our talent. That thing took off. It was one of the first influencer marketing companies that had scaled and rode the riptide of the creator space in the early days.

We hit another ceiling, Nicolas. If you wanted to get brands to spend millions of dollars on something, you needed to prove that it worked. At that point in our history, the post would go live, you count the views manually, you put them in a spreadsheet, and you would be like, “Your brand went well.” Unfortunately, as we scaled, we needed to mature our business to go to the next level. That is where we got introduced to technology.

We built our first technology and that gave us the tech bug. We went through years of insane growth. We were lucky through all the economic and world craziness and all the shutdowns to be resilient. I believe the whole world is pointing to the world of the creator economy and this digital environment. If you fast forward, our nation group is over 500 people as an organization. That is exciting for me and the team. We have the largest talent agency in the world of creators. We have over 700 creators under a contract under that business. That business specializes in monetizing creators, not just with brand deals.

The whole world is pointing to the world of the creator economy and this kind of digital environment. Click To Tweet

The biggest differentiator between Viral Nation talent and other companies is we focus on all the different ways that creators can make money and put it together, brand endorsements, money from the platforms, streaming content, content syndication, podcasts, merchandising, ventures, all the different things that creators can do. What we found was there are not any companies that do that. We worked hard to develop all the different mechanisms of monetization and put it in there.

In terms of that business from a technology perspective, we have a talent module and technology that runs the talent business. We bought MediaKits.com in 2022, which is an amazing tool for creators to, on an individual basis, express their work to these brands in a way that helps them to be able to monetize better. That is owned by the talent company. We have a lot of cool stuff in the works from a tech perspective over there.

We have Viral Nation Marketing Group, which is our biggest company. We represent over 100 brands around the world running their entire social and digital ecosystems from their own socials to their creator marketing to their ambassador marketing to affiliate to celebrity. It is an agency of record for this new era of the brand.

We have been able to develop technologies ranging from influencer technologies, where we started that managed the entire influencer process, to social media management technologies. Everything that the team does is inherently either enabled now by technology or going to be enabled in the next couple of quarters by technology.

Our whole thing is, in this world of craziness and AI, we want to take the creative out of it, not fully, but enough to make the right decisions and have our creative amazing people fine-tune it than take a risk. We think the world of marketing is going towards being a lot more calculated about the decisions you make, especially when companies are going from media-led organizations to social media-led organizations. That creates hundreds of pieces of content needed per month. That is an incredible portion of it.

TLEP 77 | Creator Economy
Creator Economy: The world of marketing is going towards just being a lot more calculated about the decisions you make, especially when our companies are going from media-led organizations to social media-led organizations that create hundreds and hundreds of pieces of content needs per month.

Lastly, we have Viral Nation Technology Group. We have 100 engineers here in Canada. We specialize in developing the technologies that power the business, but we also have an employee advocacy technology. We have amazing secret technology coming out in the summer of 2023 that enables people to become creators. There is a lot of cool stuff here, but Viral Nation has their arms wrapped around the entire social ecosystem of everything.

One thing I couldn’t stop thinking about is I wish that had all been developed when I was heavily involved as a content creator several years ago. There was barely anything. To see what has evolved in the past several years is amazing, and what you are creating now is important. I remember thinking, “I wish there were people that specialized in being agents for content creators.”

Navigating, monetization, negotiation, contracts, usage terms, and all of these things can feel complicated and overwhelming. A lot of content creators are not well-versed in the business or legal side of things. They want to be creative, but they also need to know how to protect themselves, advocate for themselves, and negotiate. What you are providing is valuable to them. Also, everything you outlined for brands is incredibly valuable. I can see it from many different angles.

One thing you mentioned that I was interested in touching upon and getting into more with a different question later is I saw the article you were in with Vogue Business. You had a tip there about creators acting as ambassadors and brands developing proactive strategies. It sounds like that’s a big focus of yours. You’re thinking about how we can approach things differently as the industry is evolving.

A big subject matter for this episode is we are in mid-2023. We want to slow down more, but it also feels like the industry is moving quickly. How do you keep up with the changes? I’m curious about how you do that, Joe. How do you advise the creators and the brands to have a combination of strategies while also being nimble along the way with all the ongoing changes?

It is a three-part answer. The easy one is, from an industry perspective, we have spent the better part of the last several years developing our relationships with the platforms. Viral Nation’s largest client is Meta from a marketing perspective. We are like Facebook’s influencer marketing company in a way. It is flattering because they are the reason we started.

We have great relationships with them. We launched Musical.ly before it was TikTok. We have been locked arms with TikTok ever since in terms of understanding their business and how they work. We have access to all the APIs across every platform and the same thing for the other platforms. It was this whole notion of social media is changing rapidly.

Our relationships with the platforms give us the ability to prepare creators for new and exciting things they have coming on and for new and hard things they are going to have to deal with. It cuts both ways. It allows us to stay nimble as a company for our brands and get them access to things, getting them the ability to get workshops even around certain new items. The tie-in with the platforms is important in all parts of our business. That is how we keep in tune with what is going on over there. At the end of the day, that is our nucleus. All of our creators and marketing happens on their platforms. It is inherently important.

The other side of how we measure things is we are real advocates of the creator space. We do not go to Silicon Valley and raise a bunch of money trying to create a platform. We are the guys who invested our time in sleeping on creator couches. I remember being in Brea, California, in a two-bedroom with five TikTokers, David Dobrik, and names now that would boggle people’s minds. All of us grinding together.

Part of what that taught us was being in tune with our space is more important than being in tune with the business portion of our space because creators allow us to understand what is working, what is not, what is coming, what they are seeing, and what they are feeling. We are not looking at creators as commodities, but we are looking at them in a way that they are almost their own little independent media companies. It allows us to get that connective tissue to them. I tell people this all the time, “If you want a social expert, influencers are the social expert.” Everyone is looking to hire social experts. Creators are the best expert you can get in most cases. We learn a lot from them.

TLEP 77 | Creator Economy
Creator Economy: Being in tune with our space is more important than being in tune with the business portion of our space. Because creators really allow us to understand what’s working, what’s not, what’s coming, what they’re seeing, and what they’re feeling.

One of the things that is exciting about being at Viral Nation is that we are the leader. That is hard because you got to keep that status and always be performing, but it allows us to see things by trying them in advance. To the earlier part of your question, Whitney, influencers spend more time in their pocket or their window to monetize and grow. They are trying to figure out how to do it. They do take advantage of the opportunity.

Being in the game for so long, you have companies like Viral Nation who are now at step 80 of 100. There are still creators out there who are signing with companies that do brand deals. The space still is the Wild West a little bit. We are now thinking in 4D chess, “Brand deals should be the cherry on top of what we are able to create around them.”

Being at the forefront of it allows us to dictate how others around us start doing things. Those three things in unison are our superpower because I’m a fake extrovert. I’m a serious introvert who can turn it on. I’m a hardworking guy. I get it done. I’m not a socialite. I’m not the type who reads all my industry news about my sector. I like to get my head down and do stuff that I think is going to be the best outcome.

I rely on those three areas to guide me more so than I do the space. The creator space is still learning what it is and is not. I feel like even the media reports on it oddly. It is still a space where you don’t know which part is real, which part’s not, and who is doing what. I find that focusing on those three areas and keeping forging ahead has been our magic up to date.

I was at Shoptalk and there was a talk about the creator economy. The talk was like, “There are 303 million creators. Forty-five percent of them want to have their own business.” It feels like, “Are these numbers even real? Are we talking about the same thing?” The way they were defining it. I resonate with what you are saying, but before I go there, I wanted to ask you about something.

You say you were tech-enabled. What you have been building is this relationship with those networks of creators. On the other end, that is the core value proposition for that side of the business. There is a technological solution where you go on this database thing and say, “I want a creator that does X, Y, and Z.” You click on the button. It gives you five emails. You send that blast email.

For the folks using one or the other solution, which is you have this relationship all working with that, where do you see the main advantages of working with someone like you over those technologies? Do you think they are compatible? Do you recommend brands to use both? Do you say, “There is something with what we are providing in terms of that relationship you will never get from that automation?” I love to hear your point of view on that. The Silicon Valley guys are trying to process everything. I wonder if that is something you can even do a process out of it. I love to hear your thought on it.

The outcome is the exit and not the business. A lot of that drive to automation is to get to multiples, SaaS, or a specific narrative. I’m going to go deep with you guys a little bit because you are stewards of the space, and you have had a lot of these conversations. The first thing to understand is that there are fundamentally massive differences between influencer performance.

The outcome is the exit and not the business. Click To Tweet

It is not necessarily to do with the influencer or the creator themselves. There are creators who we like to look at or who entertain us. There are creators who we engage and build relationships with. If you look at the whole world of creators, it is similar to the world we live in now. You have that top percentile and the 80 percentile, which is the rest of us, regular people. Sometimes that gets lost in influencer marketing, especially for companies who are getting into it for the first time.

The choice of what influencer you are choosing, especially with the magnitude you said earlier, Nicolas, how many there are, becomes a much more serious decision if this is an important thing for the brand. My fear is that being closed off to a specific group of individuals becomes a lot harder for brands to navigate and find those special people they are looking for to complete the mission. Whether the person’s analytics are right or not doesn’t dictate whether they are going to perform for you or not.

It is those little understandings of how to use the data and information to understand that Whitney is the type of creator who is going to create me a piece of content that will do well for ads versus Nicolas is the type of creator who is going to post and drive real revenue growth for the business are two different things. A lot of people are still in that, like, “ This looks like my customer. This looks like what I want to do. Let’s do it with them.” You have that part.

The second big one is an influencer and the creator is a people business. It is a people business for a lot of reasons. It is a people business because it is creative. When you do a Facebook ad, it doesn’t make the ad for you. You need to talk those things out. That inherently breaks the model of full automation right there because we have to have a creative conversation. I got to brief you and tell you what I want you to do. You got to see if I like it. That is a human element. Influencers can’t be used like Facebook ads. That breaches the purpose of why they are there. Sometimes on the platform side and rushing to automation, it becomes lost. We are engaging people to be big-time fans of our brand. We need to engage them and do it properly.

Viral Nation is an enterprise-style company. We specialize in doing creator stuff at huge massive scales. Tens and twenties of millions of dollars in scale. For those types of companies, an automated solution is not possible. There are too many legal risks. Disney is not going to go, “Yes, go.” There is legal risk, compliance risk, and brand safety risk. There are tons of things that make large enterprises need Viral Nations to be able to run these things.

The technology we use in-house is the CIA version of a platform, but we don’t use it to automate the interaction. We use it to automate how we think about what we want to do. The people element takes over at some point. We work with the creators to make the magic happen. A lot of people say platforms are great for medium and small businesses. I think the opposite in a lot of cases because they are spending money and not getting anything in return. They are getting frustrated. They don’t want to do it. There is a problem there.

When you have a larger or a medium-sized company that is looking to develop a big brand ambassadorship, big affiliate program, or something where they are opening their arms and being inviting to the creator space, developing an incentive, and doing something at scale, that is where platforms start to make sense where you can automate it. What does that mean? You are getting rid of creativity. There is creative freedom. You are getting rid of the need to have that human interaction, “Here is your code. Go do it.” That is where the platforms start to emerge.

For small businesses, using free online tools, learning the space, reaching out yourself, and creating bonds and relationships with the right creators is a better option because I have seen the power of those relationships in those deals. I don’t know, Whitney, from your past, if you remember, there is a difference between getting a ping-like post about this ad or being invited and talking to the CEO of a company she is passionate about and loves your content.

Sometimes, it is too business focused. They are looking for a business return. Viral Nations always looked at it like we are dealing with real people who need real guidance, creativity, and understanding to make this powerful. At the end of the day, Nicolas, influencer marketing, if done incorrectly, is a major waste of money. It is not a guaranteed channel. You want that type of expertise, guidance, and interaction to make sure it works.

At the end of the day, influencer marketing, if done incorrectly, is a major waste of money. It's not a guaranteed channel. Click To Tweet

I will give you an example. Our technology will tell a brand that we work with a big brand like Pepsi or Coke. They will say, “If we are going to use these fifteen creators, we need to be cognizant of making sure we’re placing that ad in the first ten minutes because YouTube is indicating to us through the technology. If we put it after that, we wasted our money because they have an 80% drop off.” Imagine you didn’t think that way and you put it where they wanted you to, you would have spent that money, and nothing would have happened. Again, it is this maturity of understanding how all this works and understanding it that makes it difficult for me to get my head around a platform approach.

You’re saying so much that we are both incredibly eager to ask you the next question. I want to touch upon a number of things that you said from the influencer standpoint. Toward the end, you mentioned what my experience might have been like. I have put most sponsorship-paid work with brands on pause for years because I felt like I was being treated like a commodity. I saw the industry shift. Since I started in content several years ago, I was early on. I saw the whole evolution happening. In the beginning days, it was exciting because it was people focused. The creator economy and influencer terms didn’t exist. There was a different feeling.

The blogger set the stage for all influencers.

Blogging is about connecting with your audience and creating a community. Now we are seeing a resurgence of it but it has been tainted by commodification. A lot of brands are still stuck in this mentality of, “How do we squeeze as much out of this as possible?” That goes back to what I touched upon earlier with that Vogue article, which was about de-influencing and how consumers are developing a more critical view of influencers. We are seeing the term anti-influencer come up all of a sudden and there is a bit of a backlash. I’m curious how you address things like that and keep brands centered in a way that benefits everybody, not just the brand, but the content creator, consumers, and readers, everybody involved.

I find it funny sometimes when brands are worried about de-influencing or influencers harming their brands. It is interesting because if they can harm, imagine what they could do for it. Part of my talk track for companies is if you are not engaging in the social conversation and not bringing creators to the table to support your brand, and a creator goes against you, the pain is way worse.

I remember this all the time. This has happened throughout the history of our company. You go pitch influencer marketing. We will do TV and this. We are not interested. A YouTube review will come out about their product that is not favorable. It will get millions in traction. They call and say, “How do we get this down? This is harming our brand.” I said, “This is the inverse of the power they can create.

How I will answer the broader question, Whitney, I think you will like this. The answer to your question is the answer to why influencers don’t like being called influencers. An influencer is such a horrible word to some creators or whatever connotation we decided to use. Influencers don’t like the word influencer because influencer marketing has an underground market and a dirty side to it that has been exploited, especially through the first 5 to 6 years of the space. That is the flat tummy tee generation. That is TikTok download this addictive app.

Fashion Nova is a great success story in our space but it is a provocative tone that they take in their influencer campaigns. You have this world. We are all seeing those influencers. They were like, “They hack s***. They’re sellouts.” The reality is that it is the portion of the creator economy I was talking about earlier that we don’t engage in. That is the trap for brands looking for real creative, authentic people.

When people ask me like, “The creator economy is huge.” I said, “Yes.” It is a lot of creators in training and a small amount of creators who do it well. That doesn’t mean their size at all, Whitney and Nicolas. That doesn’t mean they have to be big YouTubers. It doesn’t mean anything. They are creators and then there are creators. Our technology allows us to flush that out. As I think about the space, the people not liking the word influencer and some of this de-influencing stuff.

I have even been in boardrooms with big CMOs of Fortune 500 companies where we had this battle. Granted there are people who need that money. There are people who will sell their souls for that $500 because it means something different to them. I don’t slight those folks who are doing what they do because you influencers are regular people. Some of these people have never had that opportunity in their life. When they are given that opportunity, they go for it.

I have been on calls where I have suggested to creators, like, “I don’t think you should do that ad.” They said, “I was sleeping in my car several weeks ago. I need this man. This is important to me.” I don’t like to be judgmental of the whole space because people have different reasons for doing different things. There is a big difference between someone who is trying to be gimmicky and be in that negative connotation influencer, and there are people who are influencers who care about their audience. They are building engagement. They are throwing it down. They are being selective about what brands they work with to make sure it is a direct hit to their audience and not something that is obscure.

These are the folks who have been working with brands for longer and are now developing their own companies. They are becoming the enterprise. If we were to take a magnifying glass and look at the real creator space and that pocket of professional creators who are taking this seriously and working their butts off, that would be a beautiful, incredibly powerful resource for companies. To the credit of the companies who hate it, if you look at the wrong side of it, they are right not to like it. It is a transactional, low-impact, and high-cost channel, and you can’t fight that.

This constant need to it to educate. For these big brands, we are not the top of their priority. We have been figuring out the creator space for years. They were more focused on things that were driving their business. It is about teaching people what creators and influencers are and how to use them. I see that a lot. There is a bad undertone to the creator space.

You are talking about the creator becoming an enterprise. This is something we saw at Shoptalk personally. There was this Sam Wick from United Talent that was presenting there. He was talking about how the future of the creator economy was the creator himself dropping the brand. When you started and where monetization is now, it is an evolving space. Monetization is becoming, in some ways easier and other, in my view. There are things to make it easier, like livestream and selling products. That is what this show is about, but reaching through ads with the shortcoming. It is harder to monetize.

One of the things he mentioned at that moment was, “We are seeing that some of those creators are good at selling.” Similar to what happened with Mr. Beast, we can empower those creators to create their own brands. From that brand, it defined a certain number of products that we reprint. They were having a venture home investing in those guys. I wonder what you think of that. Are you in the belief that maybe in the top 10 or 15 companies several years from now, some of them will be creators? I love to hear your thought on that. Where is that heading?

I’m similar to the last conversation. I’m an advocate, but there is also a bad side to this, which is the Silicon Valley thing. It’s like influencer 2.0. There is one thing to start a business because you are passionate about starting that business. Starting a business to make money versus starting a business because you want to build something are two completely different things.

TLEP 77 | Creator Economy
Creator Economy: Starting a business to make money versus starting a business because you want to build something are two completely different things.

My fear is that a lot of the creators want to get into the venture side of things because they think it is a larger, more appropriate way to maximize their earning potential as a creator. I caution against that. I’m also an entrepreneur. I built a business. I’m uniquely gone through ten years of pain to understand what it is like to build a real enterprise.

For validity purposes, we have 57. Here is the thing. The influencer can only get something so far. Viral Nations run for some of the biggest brands in the world. We didn’t rely on one creator. We relied on a group of creators to make that happen. There are a lot of rose-covered glasses as it relates to, “I’m going to create this product and post about it. All of a sudden, it is going to turn into an enterprise.” There is a lot more that goes into it than that, like a fundamental understanding of eCommerce and logistics, figuring out cap tables, how they are going to do the finances, and how they manage their books.

The other thing is you can’t be the only marketing vehicle. You need to know how to do brand marketing, digital marketing, and digital advertisements. There is more to it. Mr. Beast didn’t do what he did because he posted about it once. I’m close friends with his manager Reid and have been for several years. I know those guys have an incredible team put together. They have incredible suppliers who are helping them on the logistics side. They have built an incredible organization around that business. That is why they have been able to scale. Had he not had those things, it would have fallen flat on its face.

The venture conversation is important. If we believe that influencers can move the needle for brands, they should be able to do it themselves. It is a massive opportunity. You are going to see a lot of creators rushing into making ventures because of those types of panels and conversations where it is like, “This is the future.” If I’m a creator, I don’t know the difference between me and Mr. Beast. I might not know the fundamentals. I want to start a venture now.

You are going to get a lot of creators who come out with new hair gel. They do the post. They do it for a couple of months, and they will disappear. The way we have been approaching it, and I know this is cliché and I’ve said this, but it is with data. Which are the creators that have the largest engagement rates in terms of clickthrough on their posts for the last several years? That is an interesting stat that helps us determine which creators are going to be able to drive traffic off the platform. You can’t drive traffic off a platform. You can’t sell anything because you need to leave to do that.

There are metrics in a bunch of these checklists I have built over the years to identify who are the creators that have the right audience engagements and make-ups to deliver in retail or eCommerce. We use that. The other thing is economics. A lot of them think, “I’m into cooking. I’m going to do a frozen cannoli subscription box business.” We should do the research to find out what your audience wants. We might find, after you do all this, that no one likes cannoli.

It shouldn’t be what you want as a creator. It should be what your audience wants. There is another big landmine where you can make a big mistake. The other part is understanding what the market is telling you. We are going through one of the hardest eCommerce times that has been for the last several years. Some of the most reputable brands in the world have been down on eCommerce quarter over quarter for the last few quarters. We have been shifting our focus to things like hair care, cosmetics, and different things that are reacting well in these economic climates.

If I know all these things and I do all the right research, I say, “I’m not going to launch this protein band because there are 975,000 others and will never get retail because you can’t beat out the guys who are there. Maybe we try something else in a category that is disruptable.” They do not have these conversations. They are taking risks. Those risks are going to pay off risks too. Some are going to be great, and a lot of them are going to fail.

It is important, Nicolas, to round out the question that creators are looking at this not as a get-rich-quick scheme or a short-term thing but deciding, “Do I want to be an entrepreneur? What does that mean? Why am I doing this? Who am I doing it for and going about it like a real business?” Many people are going, “I want to make headphones set. I’m going to sell headphones because I’m a streamer.” If you sold a chair, there would be less competitors and we could make a better price point. It would be easier to ship, and we could move that way.

There are many landmines in that proposition and it is talked about freely, like, “Influencer ventures. I’m investing in ventures.” It is talked about like every creator should become an entrepreneur. The reality is there needs to be a lot of rigor around that decision, especially as you move down the ranks. For Mr. Beast, he has a lot of insurance because he is so big that your research needs to be okay. He still needs it, but it doesn’t need to be at that level.

As you move down in the creator sphere from the A-list to C, which is those folks who have big Instagram and TikTok followings, it is not easy to move the needle on sales and derive a real business. It takes a lot of time, posts, and effort. It is something extremely important. It is the future of a lot of modern enterprises. You will see a lot of big companies like P&G coreleasing products with creators in Walmart. We are going to see a lot of pain through it. You are going to have a lot of people rushing to sell a lot of things because it is trending. Unfortunately, there are only certain subsector creators that can do that.

Joe, I feel grateful and in awe of what you do and how you speak about it. You have done a phenomenal job pointing out that the creator economy is much more complex than most people think. There is a mentality that you can hire an influencer. They are going to market your products and sell you out. There is also a mentality that anybody can become an influencer or content creator and make money and quit their jobs.

It is refreshing for me. Having been in this field for several years to hear from someone like you to identify the complexities, point them out, and share cautionary tales, but also do it from a place of hope and enthusiasm. You are not saying that the creator economy is headed into the grounds as some people do with the changes in the market and economy. People get afraid.

Is the creator industry not going to make enough money? Is it going to survive? You have done a brilliant job here in the articles you are quoted on that. We can keep going. We have to do it more strategically. You are emphasizing things like data while connecting with people and not viewing each other as commodities. It is wonderful.

It is honest hard work, fourteen hours a day for ten years. That is where this is coming from. I don’t prepare for these things. I’m an open book. I have been through it all. I think that both creators are on the publisher’s side. I’m talking about theme page accounts at Girls, Cars, Bleacher Report, and traditional creators.

They control most of North American messaging. Creators are responsible for over 60% to 70% of sales. It is difficult to measure because they don’t get attribution, while other marketing and media companies take that attribution. The creator ecosystem is our new world. People don’t understand that. That is my thing with the TikTok band. I get it. I’m a patriotic dude. If anything were going to risk my family’s well-being, I would be down with removing it. I understand the geopolitical pressures. I get it from a government vantage point.

I will say it here, and I will say it over and over again. If there is a decision that is going to keep me, my family, my friends, and the people I love safe, make that decision. We all think that way. I can’t discredit that. There is an economy built on TikTok powering almost all small brands across America. Startups, eCommerce startups, and small businesses are thriving on that platform. It is a way for them to get in front of the big guy. 

TLEP 77 | Creator Economy
Creator Economy: There’s an economy built on TikTok that’s powering almost all small brands across America. All startups, e-commerce startups, and small businesses are thriving on that platform.

The creators from that platform, although it is the lowest monetized, least engaged content in the social sphere. You can’t compare a TikTok promotion to a YouTube promotion. They are in different ballparks. That doesn’t mean that there is an economy of hundreds of thousands of individuals who are making money and deriving their income from this platform.

There is this desperate disconnect between how majorly important and insanely integral the creator economy has become to the world. The older side, which is the old guard on the government side, is saying, “They are dancing on there. It is an app. They are going to get pissed off for two days. It will go away. My kids are going to be upset.”

What they are missing is the world is now being run by creators. You can’t be a gaming company without being with Twitch and YouTube creators. It won’t work. It is impossible. Millennials and younger will not buy a vehicle without watching a YouTube review ever again. The fundamentals of how we live our lives from 33 and 34 down have completely changed and are run by creators.

It is powerful. It is not understood here. I remember being in P&G’s office in 2016. The lady said, “This building was built on TV ads,” when I finished my influencer marketing pitch. I said, “I get it, but my people are the new version of that. I’m not even trying to sugarcoat it for you. I’m saying that the people’s eyeballs went from that to my people. I’m trying to help you figure out different ways that you can engage in it.”

The creator economy is here to stay. It is going to be the most important part of marketing for every major brand in the world. To the farthest extent, I think everybody in North America is going to consider themselves a creator in some fashion over the next several years. Fundamentally word of mouth marketing is something marketers have been chasing for 100 years. Joe, the random entrepreneur from Toronto, posts about a new speaker. I bet 8 or 9 of my buddies will buy it. There is value in people sharing information with people they care about at scale. The influencer space is the foreshadowing of what I think the world is going to become. The government needs to figure this stuff out and support it because there is some amazing stuff going on.

The creator economy is here to stay. It may be the most important part of marketing for every major brand in the world. Click To Tweet

I remember having folks on this show saying they are making $3 million, $4 million, to $5 million a year. Eighty percent come from TikTok. Being the driver of their revenue was the ability to get on TikTok. If you remove TikTok, what is going to happen to their family and employee, and how they make sales? They are scrambling, trying to figure it out like, “How do I get to bring more attention and get that going?” It is important. We are not talking about P&G or Coca-Cola here. We are talking about a free-for-all-person business living out of that. This is a great topic.

The digital ride is over. I remember when eCommerce companies were in their heyday. It was when they could afford to buy social ads and Facebook ads. They were able to compete. Now that all the big companies have taken a poll position, we have companies that are mid-size who can’t buy ads during Christmas because they are bought out of those categories. If the big companies we are dealing with are cut out of those categories, what do small businesses and entrepreneurs have? They have organic and native social. They got to kick ass, make content, and become a creator. These new businesses are becoming creators.

For a guy who has been in this for so long, things tear-jerk me all the time. When I saw that TikTok where that daughter made a video about his dad’s company and he worked hard on it for five years. He had never sold anything. That video got traction. He sold out everything he had and it changed his life. Where do you see that? You don’t see that in sports, traditional media, and journalism. It is the only place in the world that allows anybody the opportunity to get out there. That is what is driving this whole thing.

Don’t get me wrong. My biggest initiative as a CEO is to help combat social media on young children. There is an underbelly to all of these things. Social media is incredible. It is amazing, and I love it. I think creators are the most amazing people on Earth. There are some real challenges with social media and young people. I’m scared about how that trajectory is going in from that  10-year-old to 16-year-old threshold.

It is a dangerous place for young people. We got to do a much better job of protecting them. There is still a lot of fake account activity. There are a lot of crappy influencers out there who make it harder on everybody. That disinformation is something they are never going to be able to control, especially on social. We are going to have to learn how to get smart. There is a lot of bad. That is a lot of the stuff that guys like me don’t talk about. If we clean that up, it makes the other side better.

Nicolas, there is a lot of that stuff across many different disciplines of what we do. All of those things create opportunities for the little guy and the eCommerce guy. Sometimes, you remove the influencer. We were doing a report internally like, “Real estate agents and salespeople who utilize LinkedIn and social media grow exponentially faster than they ever have before.” It is a tool that is becoming important, but we need to make sure that we don’t allow it to get screwed up by letting the bad stuff go like nothing is happening.

Thank you so much for touching upon that. What a wonderful way to wrap up this conversation because that is not often brought up. I don’t know if we have ever gotten that into it. We have talked about mental health a little bit on the show, but it is important for that reminder. You are such a wealth of knowledge. Joe. Thank you for the generosity of your time and information and for helping us and our readers understand all these different angles.

You touched upon so much in our time together. I could still go on. Nicolas, you and I could speak with you, Joe, for hours on end, and still want more. That says a lot about you. For our readers, you can get more. He has been making the rounds on a lot of media and podcasters. He is sharing all of this with many other platforms. There is a lot more to be received. Thanks again, Joe. Thank you, Nicolas, for the wonderful questions, and thanks to the readers. We will see you again next week for another episode. Bye for now.

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