Saturday, December 3, 2022

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    Was this the first influencer marketing agency on TikTok?

    The Drum catches up with Alessandro Bogliari, co-founder and chief exec at The Influencer Marketing Factory – an agency that just might, he says, have been one of the very first doing work on TikTok.

    On social media, we rarely pause to smell the roses. Not least on TikTok, where a new trend arrives every day, creating another new star and sweeping away yesterday’s.

    In this landscape, history can be hard to see through the mist – including what trend or idea came from where. So while a complex and maturing brand environment now exists on the app (with opportunities for platform partnerships, sponsored content, shoppable media, livestreams and a wealth of influencer tactics), it’s almost impossible to pick apart who got there first.

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    But one social agency – The Influencer Marketing Agency – reckons it was among the very first to start doing work on the app. When we sit down with co-founder and chief exec Alessandro Bogliari, he’s clear in this claim: “We were one of the first agencies in the world to start offering TikTok influencer marketing.”

    The ‘reverse funnel’

    The Influencer Marketing Factory was founded in 2018, the same year that TikTok emerged in its current incarnation, when an existing version of the app merged with another Chinese-owned short-form video app already popular with younger teens called

    Bogliari says he’d been a fan of Vine, another app in the space that had been bought up and shut down by Twitter the previous year, and he had been keeping his eye out for “a new place to experiment with short-form media.”, until the merger, was “not a cool place at all,” but post-merger TikTok quickly asserted itself as a more interesting proposition with “another layer of complexity” compared with Vine. While Vine exhibited impressive individual creations, TikTok’s ambitions always pointed towards more social creativity, focusing on duets, remixes and trends. The result is a “domino effect of never-ending possibilities for videos.”

    “What made TikTok fantastic was its reverse funnel,” says Bogliari. “On Instagram, YouTube, all these other social media, you have 1 million followers and maybe 1% to 3% see your posts. TikTok did the opposite: you can have 10,000 followers, but be seen by 1 million people. That was the revolution.”

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    In the early days especially, that reverse funnel was a dream for anyone in the influencer marketing game with the savvy to spot promising work and creators before they ‘blew up.’ Now more rigid pricing and terms of engagement have been established, but back then, “sure, you could use someone that has more [followers], but if they’re creative enough and people love it, it’s gonna go on the front page, so the pricing model was very different.”

    Arriving early to the space, the agency was able to snap up early exploratory work from brands starting to take note of the platform’s popularity. Early clients were, quite naturally, music publishers (including Sony, Universal and Warner) looking to capitalize on (at the time) largely organic dance trends with their own songs. Their briefs were exploratory, says Bogliari: “Can we try it out and see if it brings us anything?”

    On the creator side, too, standards were yet to be established. “We were giving like $100 to people, and they were happy because no one was making a lot of money out of it,” says Bogliari. “It still was a game to most of them.”

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    ‘The bigger the agency, the less they know’

    It’s largely thanks to this early adoption of TikTok that The Influencer Marketing Factory was able to grow throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, despite it hitting about a year into its trading. Success in the new venture, Bogliari says, was not optional: “It was the only way. There was no plan B – I don’t have any family or friends in the US.”

    Bogliari, with longtime business partner Nicla Bartoli (now vice-president of sales), founded the business in Miami before moving to its current home in Manhattan. That journey was not uncomplicated. Bogliari’s first entrepreneurial venture at 18 was a local guide website in his native Milan, which, he says, kept 20 people occupied at its height, but earned him “not a penny” since he “didn’t know how to make money.”

    He later moved to Copenhagen, lured by the promise of free tuition for a master’s degree, where his influencer marketing interests peaked with a thesis about an attempted tool that would scrape public information to declare how much an influencer should be paid. Before moving to Milan (because it was “the opposite of Copenhagen”), he joined the ‘growth hacking scene,’ using strategic influencer marketing tactics for smaller brands that “couldn’t just go on Google Ads and throw $1m at it, but still wanted to be top of Google.”

    Having never raised external investment and now employing 50 people in an “eight-figure” operation, that hacking and hustling mindset clearly remains. When we ask Bogliari if the arrival of bigger agencies in spaces such as TikTok makes him nervous, he does not mince his words. “The bigger the agency, the less they know,” he says. “They don’t do TikTok, they don’t do Instagram videos, they don’t do YouTube shorts. Why? Because they don’t have the knowledge and they’re slower in terms of execution … We see our competitors as smaller agencies that want to enter the market with a lot of energy and maybe cheaper prices. That’s what happens. We’re not afraid of the big ones; a lot of the big ones use smaller agencies to do the work anyway. So those are not our competitors.”

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    Unsurprisingly, though, Bogliari is keeping his eyes peeled on where the industry’s headed next. “I’m looking at livestream shopping and social commerce, starting with what’s happening in China, Thailand, Japan and Indonesia. I’ve been studying that market for three years now. How can we go to the next level? Of course, you can sell more. But I want to become one of the first offering something new.”

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