Navigating the wild west of the creator economy

From embracing 'scruffy social' to fostering agile approaches, Tom Sneddon unveils four pivotal strategies to tap into the vast opportunities of the creator economy

Tom Sneddon

Managing Partner Supernova part of Atomic


The rise of the creator economy has made today’s digital landscape as untamed as the Wild West, ushering in an era where conventional marketing principles hold little sway - but also one where brands of all sizes can make their mark.

The Wild West is a romantic notion. On one hand, it could be a lawless, savage place. On the other, the sense of freedom that led to this lawlessness also inspires creativity and wonder that is difficult to match in other cultural icons.

Yes, the West was wild, but that wasn’t a problem all the time. In the same way, the creator economy can bring a sort of lawlessness of its own, but it is that very openness that inspires new ideas and gives organisations (big and small) an amazing opportunity to grow.

Having spent my career helping brands to navigate the social revolution, and as a board member of the Influencer Marketing Trade Body helping to promote best practices, standards, and ethics in social and influencer marketing, it’s clear there is still plenty to do.

After all, the development and implementation of creator-first policies, guidelines, and initiatives that support and advance the interests and reputation of the sector and its stakeholders is an ongoing job.

There is no universal understanding of what “good” looks like. It often seems like the rules are observed by some and disregarded by others (seemingly without consequence), and AI will increasingly challenge our view of originality and ownership.

So, with everything in flux and social media on the verge of becoming the dominant global medium of choice in 2024, how can we help brands uncover the full value of the creator economy? Here are four key considerations to help:

1. Revel in the Freedom

The marketing industry has traditionally been dominated by rules. If you want to do search engineering, you must balance out keyword phrases to get just enough attention, but not be thought of as trying to game the system and have your rankings punished accordingly.

The freedom afforded to the creator economy - to operate without rigid, pre-existing expectations for marketing content - should empower brands to try new strategies and engage audiences that may not gravitate toward traditional content types. Creator-led marketing is a prime example of the value of flexibility and freedom within messaging.

Essentially, creator-led marketing takes grassroots, word-of-mouth advertising and injects a bit of brand control into it. Therefore, it’s essential to avoid becoming so structured and brand-aware that the talent’s identity gets lost. Maintaining some of that Wild West feel is essential, and it is also invaluable.

2. Embrace Audiences on a Human Level

The best creators produce a truly unique sense of intimacy with their audiences, but only if their persona comes across as genuine and real, not a carefully cultivated brand.

From Ocean Spray to Stanley Cups, the value of video and images combined with the strong relationships between audiences and brands shows that creator-led marketing is maturing beyond its fairly crude, celeb-laden beginnings. But there is still plenty of room for experimentation.

Because creator-led marketing is so heavily reliant on unifying brand and creator identities to create unique messages, it offers exciting opportunities for creativity that many traditional forms of marketing may struggle to match. For every “expert” talking about videos getting shorter, along comes ‘Reesa Teesa’ with a 50-episode, eight-hour-long series, watched by tens of millions of people. The only sure thing we know is that great social content should evoke a response.

3. Avoid Being Blinded by Perfectionism

Perfectionism is an ugly word. Not only can you lose yourself in the perfectionism mindset, but you can lose just about everyone else in the process. Perfectionism is not a delusion. It’s a shame spiral. And it will destroy you and your brand if you let it.

In the social days of old, marketers and agencies alike were obsessed with crafting a blemish-free experience - with everything and everyone being re-touched and re-imagined into a utopian smokescreen. But thankfully we’re now entering the age of ‘scruffy social’ - where audiences want to see the workings out, craving the real and trustworthy.

This can be horribly disconcerting for some brands, especially in luxury categories. But with it comes an amazing opportunity to double down on stories, value and relevance. Craft and creativity still rule supreme, and whilst ‘bold glamour’ filters may still rear their heads once in a while - I’m hopeful that for the most part, we’re starting to genuinely embrace the real and the raw.

4. Test, Fail Fast and Grow

We have been conditioned throughout our lives with the belief that if winning is good then failing must be bad. Therefore, failure must be avoided. But we will rarely do something perfectly. And given the speed of change within social culture, while you are perfecting your solution, the situation might already have developed.

In times when we are faced with new challenges and obstacles, we have a lot to gain from agile mindsets and an iterative approach to problem-solving. If it's not already, this should be your social mantra. If you have not already started to settle for ”good enough”, or learned that ”failing fast” is an accelerator for learning and improvement, now is the time!

By quickly finding the failures, you can catapult learning and optimise solutions instantly to reach your goal. After all, which is worse… failing altogether by building a product that no one needs, or allowing yourself to fail early enough in the process so that errors may be addressed and a path to success paved?

The Wild West-like nature of the creator economy is giving businesses of all sizes a chance to reach and build engaged audiences in new and more intuitive ways. But the scale of constant, radical change is forcing us all to embrace creative chaos.

Is it perfect? No. Could more be done to protect audiences and not just line the pockets of big tech? Probably.

But with technology removing many of the traditional barriers to growth, the sheer scale of opportunity, freedom and creativity will never be the same again.


Guest Author

Tom Sneddon

Managing Partner Supernova part of Atomic


Tom has had over 15 years of experience working at leading social and influencer agencies such as Isobar, Ogilvy and VCCP, with former clients including The Guardian, Heineken and Manchester United. He most notably helped launch TikTok across EMEA, leading the platform’s release across 19 markets over the course of two years and growing the brand’s in-house creator team. He is also a founding member of the Influencer Marketing Trade Body.

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