A self-proclaimed TikTok expert, a title that didn’t exist this time last year, Alessandro is an Italian abroad (living in New York) – having started-out as an art director, onto a marketing director, contributing writer for Forbes, a serial entrepreneur and now, the head of the Miami-based influencer marketing agency, The Influencer Marketing Factory, with a specialism in Tiktok, Instagram, YouTube and Twitch.
Alessandro, beyond and a little more in-depth, please tell us about your journey from school, into marketing and your decision to dive-into influencer marketing.
In my life, I have always studied different subjects and always explored new topics. From high school where I studied classical subjects (Latin, ancient Greek, etc.), passing by a bachelor degree in Graphic Design & Art Direction at NABA in Milano (Italy) and finishing with a Master of Science in Digital Innovation & Management at ITU of Copenhagen (Denmark) where I wrote my Master Thesis about Influencer Marketing on Instagram. I have always, in some way, into marketing and digital since I was 13 (back in 2006) when I created my first (quite terrible) HTML iframes-based website using Windows’ notepad. Then when I was 18 I started my first startup called Milanoize (I wasn’t wise enough and I lost the domain years ago…), a 15-people team website about activities for 18-25 to do in Milan, I didn’t make a dime, but it has been 3 amazing and fun years learning everything that wasn’t on my university books. I have always worked and studied at the same time, some years doing crazy hours but definitely learning a lot. Before starting my own agency, I worked as a freelancer for many years as a growth hacker helping SaaS to grow their online businesses. Lastly, I moved to Miami with an O1 Visa and after two years there I moved to New York, my dream city. I got into influencer marketing and built my own agency, The Influencer Marketing Factory, a global influencer marketing agency with clients all around the world. We are 100% remote and we adapted a lean-strategy agency model from day 1.
Tiktok. It’s been barely a year since the social media world was set on fire by this Chinese-developed app, and what a year it’s been. Please tell us how Tiktok came to be on your radar and your agency’s addition of the platform to their client offerings.
I watch tons of YouTube videos and 2 years ago I was really into compilations. I noticed some compilations about this “cringy” app called TikTok: it was full of weird content and strange creators but I started realizing it was something new and definitely the opposite of Instagram. I was also missing Vine so much, I just loved that app, and I was waiting for something similar to come up. At that time Instagram organic reach was already decreasing and since the moment Adam Mosseri became the Head of Instagram I started thinking he would have applied the same “organic cut” he did when he was Head of News Feed at Facebook and, for that reason, I knew that marketers and agencies had to start looking at new options and so we did. Our first campaign was a dance and hashtag challenge for Sony Music when almost no one was using TikTok as a marketing channel. The organic reach, virality effect and UGCs were just unbelievable, especially compared to Instagram. After that campaign, Universal Music contacted us and the same happened with Warner Music Group. We help them every month launching new songs, playlists or artists. One of our latest TikTok campaigns was for Shakira’s Me Gusta song. But we don’t only work with music labels, we have also clients in the app space and in the toy industry (both saw an increase in demand during covid-19).
TikTok vs Insta vs Triller. You have based your business around image-led social, is there any plan to include additional growing apps such as Triller, Kwai or any other social into your business expertise.
We are always in the loop of what is happening in the social media arena, so anything could happen if we see an opportunity. So far we mostly invested in TikTok because behind it there’s ByteDance that is a big deal in China and, day by day, also in western countries. ByteDance has a complete overview of how to diversify its portfolio having different successful apps (e.g. Toutiao) under its umbrella and they spent in 2019 a lot in marketing in order to promote TikTok. Also, TikTok is unique: TikTok is not just great because of its video-editor (one of the best I have ever seen on mobile) but also because its unique community that makes pop-culture references in its videos and creates multi-layered memes content, remixing and repurposing the same content over and over; it’s brilliant to see the creativity behind certain videos, I am personally fascinated by all this.
What are the major changes you’ve seen within the influencer marketing sector and what thrills and worries you about them?
What thrills me is that we are going more into an all-in-one solution (see WeChat in China that offers a lot of features, from social media to payments in one app) and this can open a lot of opportunities for both marketers and businesses. What worries me is that every day there’s a new app or a new platform on the market that, in my opinion, we don’t really need.
To me, it seems that a lot of times our society is almost forced to use a new solution that will maybe last only 6 months with a lot of rumors and not so much value behind it. And, unfortunately, a lot of times is because – and this is my personal opinion – certain VCs boost valuations that make no sense and they do it just for financial speculation. Unfortunately, this happens also in the influencer marketing industry, I have been seeing crazy valuations for apps and platforms that actually gave almost no value to users and to businesses.
Many influencer agencies and influencers alike have had to pivot their approach quite considerably, with travel influencers in particular being forced to make foundational shifts. What changes has TIMF had to make, what are the difficulties that came with that and how have you seen success?
As stated before, we are a 100% remote company, we do have a couple of offices (Miami and New York) but the majority of our team is around the world between Europe and United States and they have been always working from where they liked, so covid-19 didn’t impact in any way our organization since we have run it from day 1 only using Slack, Trello, Zoom and Google Suite. I really believe running a new type of agency and business model can be done; of course, for older generations, the idea of not being in an office could be hard to totally understand and to adapt, but for people like us in the digital industry we just really need a computer, an internet connections and shared files to work together. And of course, the right leadership to communicate in the right way with your employees and contractors around the world that you rarely see in person.
Regarding our clients, luckily we are working with a lot of companies that are not too much impacted by Coronavirus because they are digital businesses and non-physical brands such as music labels and apps. In this period people want to see fun content more than aspirational amazing travel pictures or millionaires posting a photo on their private jets or yachts. People want to see relatable content to feel strong in a sad and difficult period like this and I can see that already many creators are shifting in that direction.
With your cv telling a story of a forward-thinking and insightful individual, Covid-19 notwithstanding, where would you like to be in 5 years (business-related, but travel too, if you like)?
I love travelling and I can’t wait to do it again. My goal is to keep growing the company and always be in the loop of new social media and technology, maybe starting to differentiate our portfolio of offering and openning-up new markets. In 5 years I’ll be 34 (still quite young as an entrepreneur but “old” to maybe totally understand new social media that will come up) and who really knows what will happen in an after-covid world? I don’t know, but I am definitely curious to see how all of us will revolutionize everything, from traveling to eat out again with friends and – of course – how social media will be more included in this mission.