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Why Creators Are Becoming Social Media Strategists for Brands

Published on Jun 13, 2023

Why Creators Are Becoming Social Media Strategists for Brands
Ad Age
Ad Age

A growing number of brands are turning to creators to produce content for their social media channels, with agencies facilitating those partnerships.

There is a new role emerging for creators—social media strategists for brands. 

Brands are becoming less interested in tapping creators for their large, loyal and engaged social followings, and instead looking to them for their social media savviness and expertise in crafting effective social content. A growing number of agencies are reworking their influencer marketing offerings to align with this surging interest from brands in creator-produced content. 

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Edelman, for example, recently began piloting a new program, dubbed the “Creator Bench,” to connect creators with brands struggling to produce the high volume of short-form video content needed for modern social strategies. The program arose last summer from a conversation with one of the communication firm’s clients, which was seeking user-generated videos to post to its own social channels. But it quickly ballooned into a larger offering for any brand hoping to tap into creators’ skills in filming and editing short-form content, said Patrick Sidoti, U.S. head of production at Edelman. 

Now, the Creator Bench is winning Edelman new clients that are eager to have a set of creators on hand to pump out video content for their brand’s channels, he said.

“We don’t look at a 22-year-old content creator as just a college student—we look at them as potentially having a decade of experience [with social media] under their belt, because they grew up with these tools and they’re really, really good at speaking internet,” Sidoti said.

“We work with these creators in the same way that we work with a director, and give it the same production eye and the same level of measurement as far as how they execute the work,” he continued, comparing the Creator Bench to the traditional model of an agency bringing on a director to create a TV commercial for a brand.

It’s not about how many followers they have, it’s about the ideas they’re putting into the world.

In the six months since Edelman began formally piloting the Creator Bench, the firm has built out a group of 70 creators to form the program’s initial roster. Edelman shares a creative brief from the brand with a subset of these creators whose social content aligns with that brand’s social strategy or campaign goals, and the firm’s social and creative teams will collaborate with those creators to develop ideas for those videos before largely turning the actual filming over to the creators, Sidoti said. 

Several of these creators have already begun producing content for brands such as Marshalls and TJ Maxx. Both retailers, owned by TJX Cos. Inc., were unavailable for comment. 

@tjmaxx POV: You “got into hobbies” just for the outfits #tjmaxxfinds #fashioninspo ♬ MOMENTS IN LIFE – Turreekk

A New Era of Influencer Marketing 

Edelman’s Creator Bench program isn’t the only way the firm works with creators. Rather, it bolsters the firm’s ongoing work in more traditional influencer marketing, in which a brand pays a creator to peddle a product or gush about a brand to their followers. 

But this “linear” approach of a brand reaching out to an influencer and giving them set guidelines for a social media video instead of incorporating them throughout the creative process is quickly becoming outdated and ineffective, said Tyler Vaught, Edelman’s global head of influencer marketing. Though some brands have already realized creators’ potential as a resource to help them create effective, platform-native content for their own channels, Vaught views this approach as a direction in which creator partnerships are increasingly heading. 

“You have individuals who’ve been doing this not just for a few years, but over a decade, and a whole generation of talent that has been telling stories and producing stories every day of their life on social platforms,” he said. “And there are times where a brand just needs expertise and really great content for owned-and-operated channels.”

@marshalls Nothing like a hot girl handbag full of the essentials 🔥 #MarshallsFinds #Marshalls #handbag #whatsinmybag ♬ original sound – Marshalls

These content needs have been amplified dramatically with the rise of TikTok and the ensuing ubiquity of short-form video content across social media platforms, Vaught said. In a recent survey from HubSpot, a third of marketers reported that they’re leveraging short-form video on platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and YouTube Shorts as a core part of their marketing strategies, and 90% of marketers said they would increase or maintain that investment in short-form video in 2023. Another one in five marketers said they plan to begin creating short-form content for the first time this year. 

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For brands seeking to invest more heavily in short-form content—or to simply keep up with the sheer volume of videos needed for their various social channels—they should be looking to creators to help inform their short-form content strategies, Vaught said. This way of partnering with creators can complement brands’ traditional influencer relationships, where the influencer sits in front of the camera and acts as a gateway for the brand to that creator’s audience, he said—it’s not an either-or situation. 

“Influencers are the experts. [They’ve] set the tone for how to hack the YouTube algorithm, how to make great content, how to perfect thumbnails––all of these different things that help content perform better on the platform,” he said. “This is information that’s not just valuable for creators and influencers, but valuable for brands.”

Influencers as Social Media Strategists

This approach to working with creators has already been embraced by influencer marketing agencies, including Dialogue NYC and Collectively. Both agencies quickly recognized the value of having creators working with brands beyond sponsored posts and instead looked to them to help brainstorm and produce content for a brand’s own channels, or even to shape the brand’s social strategy. 

Dialogue NYC, for example, operates a “virtual creative studio” called Studio D, where brands can partner with creators as photographers, videographers, creative directors, or even to help the brand develop a product or host an event, said Julianne Fraser, founder, president and CEO of the agency. The agency has connected brands such as Brooklinen, Cle de Peau Beaute and Ghia to creators for these strategy- and creative-oriented relationships, Fraser said. 

Dialogue NYC paired Brooklinen with video creators Dayna Frazer and Duan Mackenzie to develop the concept for and create a video for the brand’s Valentine’s Day campaign, Fraser said. With Studio D, brands are typically looking for casual, lifestyle-focused content to support their more polished product images, she said—a category of content that influencers have perfected. 

“We’ll often work with a client who’s in the launch of a new product and they’re in need of great lifestyle, human content, or who launched on TikTok and are in dire need of tons of video content,” she said.

We’ll create a network of creators that really act like creative partners for the client, and the client can really speak to them as they would any videographer or photographer.”

Influencer-marketing agency Collectively has built out a similar creator content studio that largely focuses on connecting brands to user-generated content, said Natalie Silverstein, the agency’s chief innovation officer. The agency will assemble a team of five to 10 creators to create short-form videos for a client that feature the brand and its products in a way that appears authentic or natural rather than obvious marketing, she said. 

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This user-generated content style for short-form videos has become the standard that many brands are seeking to tap into—or to emulate in their own content, even when they’re not having a creator produce that video, Silverstein said. It’s only natural that brands would seek to work directly with creators to produce videos for their own channels to adhere to what consumers expect from short-form videos, an expectation that “comes back to creators” and the content styles and formats they’ve popularized on social media, she said. 

“The language of TikTok and short-form video is creators, whether it’s manufactured to look like creator content or it’s actually a creator making it,” Silverstein said. “For so long, advertising has been about interrupting whatever content it is that you’ve been watching. But if people are going through their feed and seeing all of these creators’ content, and all of a sudden they see this highly polished video from a brand, they’ll just be like, “No, that’s not what I want to see right now.’” 

This article was written by Gillian Follett from Ad Age and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].