In Ep. 102 of Earned, we’re back with another creator economy expert: Lia Haberman! Prior to being recognized as a “Top Creator Economy Expert” by Business Insider, Lia spent much of her career in the editorial world, previously serving as the Editorial Entertainment Director for the E! Network. She then moved on to Livestrong.com as its VP of Content & Operations, before becoming CMO of Anna Victoria’s Fit Body App. Next, Lia pivoted from the in-house side to the consultancy and education side. For the last five years, Lia has taught social media marketing and influencer marketing courses at UCLA Extension. What’s more, Lia publishes a weekly creator economy newsletter with over 15k subscribers called ICYMI (In Case You Missed It), which Buffer named as one of the Best Marketing Newsletters of 2023.
To start the episode, we discuss Lia’s time in the editorial world, and she recounts noticing the shift as celebrities (the original influencers) took control of their own narratives, rather than their PR teams. We then discuss the approach Lia’s students take to the social media landscape, and she shares why “creators and social media managers are almost interchangeable at this point,” as well as why hiring savvy social media creators is an asset to any company, not a liability. We switch gears and hear why Lia decided to start publishing her newsletter, along with two key learnings: have a personality and point of view, and respect your audience.
Conor and Lia speak to the value of creating and becoming known for recurring content series or franchises in order to make your content easy, interesting, and familiar for your audience. Next, we ask Lia about her monetization strategies as a publisher and brand advisor, and find out whether or not she would consider going back in-house on the brand side. To close the show, Lia shares the influencer marketing strategies she’s seen drive the most success for brands. She emphasizes that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and that businesses need to respect creators as business partners, not ad units, and align on what success means for each partnership.
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
“Don't disrespect the people who have been loyal to you and who are already existing customers.” Lia Haberman’s Creator Economy Learnings from the Editorial World
Conor Begley: You had a long career on the editorial side before you ever got to the marketing side, whether it was at E! or Yahoo or Livestrong. What did you draw from those experiences that you think helped grow you personally across email or LinkedIn or Twitter? What were some of those lessons that you learned?
Lia Haberman: Have a point of view, first of all. Especially as a solopreneur, you want to find your voice and really bring something to it that's distinct and unique from what other people are doing. I think that's going to be the only thing that separates us from AI-written newsletters moving forward. If I'm just delivering information with no perspective, no point of view, no analysis, what's the difference between my newsletter and an AI-generated newsletter? Have a voice, have a personality. Clearly, if you're working for a brand [there’s a certain tone], but there’s still always the ability, especially on social, to develop that personality. So think about your social voice or your newsletter voice or whatever as a persona. Obviously it should be as honest and authentic and close to the truth as possible, but it's definitely a version of you.
And then, listen to the audience. Both from my perspective and then also from working at media brands, understand what the audience wants to read. Respect that, look at the analytics of what people are clicking into, and never let your own judgment cloud what people enjoy.
When I worked at Yahoo, there was a little bit of a disconnect, and there was a decision to go more highbrow. There were certain types of stories or people that got covered through a lens of trying to compete with a Vanity Fair type. But looking at that audience, that was not necessarily the audience that Yahoo had at that time, or what they wanted to click on on the front page. And I think it taught me a really good lesson in that I don't necessarily have to like the stories that people are clicking on, but if they're interested in finding out more about, for example, the Kardashians, it's irrelevant whether or not I like the Kardashians. What's important is that people have an appetite for this stuff.
And I think whether it's a reader, an audience, a community, a consumer, you have to respect what people want. Clearly you're not going to let them dictate the business, but I think if you have an already established audience, it does a huge disservice and disrespect to say, “Oh, we're pivoting. We don't want those people.” If your customer is a 35 year-old woman from Texas or Florida, and you're like, no, we want Gen Z from New York and Los Angeles, it's a huge disrespect to pivot and forget the audience that you already have.
Clearly it depends on the lifecycle of your business. I'm not talking about the startup phase when you're determining who you’re going after. I think it’s more for legacy and established businesses or media businesses. You have an audience and you've got to respect who they are, and not be like, “this is tacky or cheesy or embarrassing. We want to go much more highbrow.”
Don't disrespect the people who have been loyal to you and who are already existing customers. You can try and incorporate a new audience demographic that you're going after, but I think it's important to always respect and listen to the audience that you have.
“There are so many different areas where you can incorporate influencers or creators, that I think you really have to [understand] it's not a one-size-fits-all solution”: Lia Haberman’s Advice on Best Practices for Working With Creators
Conor Begley: When you look at the brands that have done a best-in-class job at working with creators, how would you describe their approach?
Lia Haberman: The first answer is to start 10 years ago. The second answer would be, I think it's important to acknowledge that when you're hiring an influencer, they're not just a living ad unit. This is essentially a business partnership, and there are going to be influencers who deliver different results for you. So respect the influencer relationship as a business partnership and treat it accordingly, versus just, “are we going to run a Facebook ad, or are we going to plug something with this influencer who's going to promote us and call it a day?”
Influencers now touch so many different parts of the business, from PR, to marketing, to content production, to sales. There are so many different areas where you can incorporate influencers or creators, and I think you really have to [understand] it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. You have to respect creators as business people.
I've been very lucky that 99% of the creators I've worked with have been super smart, entrepreneurial, mostly women, and a lot of them have gone on to start their own businesses. They're going to start their own traditional businesses that may even compete with yours one day, so work together with them. Create a collaboration, a partnership, where you're supporting each other's efforts, versus thinking of them as just the talent or the mouthpiece for a message.
I think the other important thing is getting really aligned internally on what an influencer can do for your business. Because it's not a one-size-fits-all, sometimes people are hoping to drive sales and they're not seeing those conversions, whereas the influencer you hired and the type of content they produced was really great for awareness, but wasn't necessarily going to convert.
I feel like this is where the disconnect around expectations arises between different people on the team: what is this influencer going to do for us? You've got people who are going to create really engaging content, they’re trusted amplifiers of your message, really great for top-of-funnel, and that's a certain type of person and a certain type of content that’s going to check that bucket. You've got people who are going to create great content, maybe nano- or micro-influencers that could create content, not only for their channels, but also for your channels, so think about them more as content creators for you.
And then you've got the people who convert. But the people that convert are a very specific type of people, and I don't think somebody that's great at awareness is necessarily great at conversion. You've got unicorns like Alix Earle, and how well she does for the beauty business. She is one of those rare people who can probably drive awareness, drive conversions, all the way from the top to bottom of the funnel. But, there are only maybe 10 people like her that are able to do that.
If you're looking for conversions, that is a specific type of person. That is a person who has warmed their audience, has their own product, does unboxings, does product reviews, does recommendations, does affiliates, and is already in that world. They have an audience that is primed to shop, or whatever it is that you're hoping to convert. So I think you need to look at, is this person already doing this?
Do they have a good understanding? And is their audience embracing that? Do they look to this person for recommendations to understand what is the latest and greatest lipstick, pair of shoes, television to buy, whatever it is? Those are the people that you need to work with if you're looking to drive conversion.
So I think it's really important to be aligned internally on what you think an influencer can do, and then to have realistic expectations about the person you choose, the campaign, the type of content that gets produced. The people who are really good at livestream e-commerce are not necessarily the people that have the most followers. Maybe they're not the people that you go to for the most entertaining content.
I think there's this understanding or expectation of an influencer that we set five, 10 years ago of, “it's this type of person and this is what they're going to do.” And I think it's just evolved so much and individual creators have evolved so much in what they're able to accomplish for you that I think it's really about respecting the fact that different people have different skills, and they're going to be able to help you accomplish different things. So internally, you've got to be aligned. You've got to have the team members who are working with these different types of creators or influencers so that you can actually achieve what it is that you're hoping to do.
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