This story was initially published in The Creators — a newsletter about the people powering the creator economy. Get it sent to your inbox.
Platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter once ruled the U.S. social media market, but TikTok disrupted the status quo in 2018 when it launched in the U.S. Its estimated $13 billion in advertising revenue from 2022 is expected to exceed $44 billion by 2027, making it a major player in the advertising market, according to Omdia, a London-based research firm. But advertising and sponsorship deals between companies and creators don’t just happen. A team within TikTok works to automate partnering them together.
Adrienne Lahens joined TikTok’s Creator Marketing Solutions team in 2021 as the global head of operations. Lahens, 36, grew up on Long Island, N.Y., and now lives in Los Angeles. She worked previously at BuzzFeed building out its branded content business and video operations, then joined Influential, an influencer marketing company, as chief operating officer.
TikTok’s creator marketplace (TTCM) is a self-service website that helps companies discover creators and measure impacts of marketing campaigns. Creators are automatically eligible when they reach certain requirements. In the U.S., creators must have a minimum of 10,000 followers, be at least 18 years old and produce unobjectionable content, among other prerequisites.
Companies can connect with creators in a few different ways. They can search TikTok’s database of creators using keywords and audience demographics filters. Businesses can post campaign briefs in a forum and creators can pitch themselves. The marketplace can also recommend and rank creators based on a company’s campaign idea, using artificial intelligence. Businesses then have access to data about the campaign’s performance, and they can pay creators through the platform.
The Observer: What does a day look like in your job?
Adrienne Lahens: Right now, we’re really focused on building and rolling out products that meet the needs of the whole creator ecosystem, and then educating the market on the benefits of those products. Because I lead the global team, I spend a lot of time getting to know what’s happening in the local markets, and how we can take learnings and apply best practices across the globe. I spend a lot of time with creators and our creator marketing partners, brands and agencies.
What are some of the differences you see around the globe?
Every market is in a different stage of maturity when it comes to the creator economy. The U.S. is a really mature market. There’s a lot of influencer marketing companies that have built really great tech stacks that can support this space. We offer our API (application programming interface, which allows computer systems to communicate) to those partners. But in certain markets like APAC (Asia-Pacific) for example, the ecosystem might be a little bit less mature from a technology perspective. They might be more reliant on services agencies that are onboarding into the Creator Marketplace to use it as a first party platform.
Are you working with more companies or with creators?
It really is both. We work really closely with brands, with creators, with agencies—and those agencies range from media agencies to social agencies, PR agencies, also talent agencies. We recently announced we launched the Talent Manager Portal on the Creator Marketplace. Now we can support talent managers to manage the deal flow on behalf of their clients.
Was Creator Marketing Solutions around before you joined TikTok?
I was one of the first hires on the TikTok Creator Marketing team, and really had the privilege of building out the global team and operations from zero to one. And now we’re live, supporting 24 markets, clients across every vertical and over 800,000 creators in the marketplace today and growing.
When you were building out the team, what were you looking for?
I was looking for people who understand the creator space. We hired folks who have experience in creator marketing and folks who really understand marketplaces as well. TikTok is a large company, but we really operate like a startup. And especially within our team, we’re building a lot of products zero to one. And so bringing on people who can be really entrepreneurial and who can really think outside the box—those are the types of people we look for.
How many brands are using this?
I can’t share specific numbers, but what I can say is that we have brands that span every single vertical and every single size that are using the Creator Marketplace.
What data is available to companies when searching for creators?
We not only have data points, but also badges. For example, there’s a creator. His name is Khleo Thomas. He’s a really fun and engaging gaming creator. He’s one of the top TTCM creators in a few different ways on the platform. First, he has a “very responsive” badge, which means he responds to opportunities in typically under 24 hours. And then he has top performance metrics as it relates to engagement rate. In the Creator Marketplace, that shows his engagement rate is within the top “X” percent of other creators within his vertical and his follower growth rate. He’s worked with brands like Sonic, Frito Lay, Uber and Universal Pictures through TTCM, and so those are other data points we include on the creator profile.
Can you speak to the role of TikTok in the creator economy as a whole?
I think TikTok is really in this sweet spot. TikTok has made it so that everyone can be a creator. If you’re a financial advisor, a comedian, a local business, a grandparent—if you have a story to tell, you can be a creator on TikTok. What’s really unique about TikTok is that we’re investing in Creator Marketing Solutions, not only to help brands drive revenue, but we’re really thinking about creator marketing as its own ecosystem.
Some experts are saying, with data to back them, that the creator economy is overvalued. What is your team doing to address the potential downturn in the market?
Influencer marketing has been in existence for many, many years, and we don’t see that slowing down. We see continued investments in creators, and especially on TikTok, the creators are one of the hottest topics.
This interview was originally published in The Creators, a newsletter about the people powering the creator economy. Get it in your inbox before it’s online.
Correction: Creators are eligible to join the TikTok creator marketplace when they meet certain requirements. They are not automatically enrolled.