Inside The Mind Of . . . Tamara Littleton

Tamara Littleton
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Tamara Littleton is the CEO and Founder of UK-based The Social Element and Polpeo.

An instrumental player in the launch of the BBC’s digital offering, Tamara recognized the potential of social media engagement for brands, and then launched The Social Element in 2002, before the explosion of social media.

She started with a £10,000 ($17,300 CDN) loan from her parents, and has built the business into a £10 million ($17.3m CDN) global agency. Currently, the business operates in more than 50 countries and 50 languages, touting itself as not just the largest independent social media agency, but also with the biggest global reach of anyone in the space. 

With a team of 350 people working across the world, Tamara challenged the conventional agency model by pioneering a fully flexible and distributed workforce model. The agency delivers social media strategy, content, engagement and insights to some of the world’s biggest brands, including Oreo, Nissan, Toyota, Diageo, American Express and Nintendo.

Tamara is a regular contributor to AdWeek, BBC and The Guardian on topics as online customer service, digital safety and brand loyalty.

Describe how you started in this field.

I started out in the late 1990s/early 2000s helping launch the BBC’s digital offering, but then simultaneously caught the community/social media bug, and began to recognize the potential of social media engagement for brands. This was the early days of online communities, forums, video streaming with live commenting and Internet relay chat. I just thought to myself that this is going to be huge for brands one day, and they’ll need their communities run to the highest standards.


Social media is an ever-expanding and growing medium. Where do you see it headed in 2018?

Brands have an opportunity to differentiate themselves with how they put the customer first, and I think engagement and customer service will get even more important on social media.

There are lots of new challenges marketers need to be planning for, including their approach to chatbots, voice activation, and SEO, and their augmented reality approach.

We’re excited about how chatbots will be a great way for brands to differentiate themselves, with their own unique tone of voice.

It’s one thing to have the technology that allows consumers to get the answers they need from chatbots, but brands will need help in creating the frequently asked questions, and creating a branded experience. We are helping brands create the voice of the brand that the chatbots will need to have to really connect with the consumers, and keep to brand values. In the same way staff are trained to engage, chatbots will need training too.

But the one thing that is frustrating big brands is the metrics. Many brands are finding that there are multiple metrics to check, and it’s not always transparent; harder to trust the results.

ROI has to be linked to business goals, including sales, increased revenue or customer loyalty, and reduction of customer service inquiries. We’re also focused on new metrics, including emotional resonance. Emotional resonance goes much further than tracking sentiment linked to your brand or products. It’s all about analyzing the conversation, and highlighting happiness, joy or frustration. This can give brands great insight, but also allow us to tailor their content and engagement strategy on the back of this insight.

I sense the frustration from clients, and we’re working with them to remove the industry smoke and mirrors, and provide meaningful ROI insights.


What’s the most difficult thing you’ve had to fix?

Rolling out social media in 45 languages wasn’t easy the first time we did it, but it’s a walk in the park now!

What would you say your superpower is?

People trust me. I’m not sure if that’s down to my communication style, my authenticity or my experience, but I’ve had feedback from clients that that is my superpower.

What traits have you honed as a leader, or what qualities do you feel are most important as a manager?

It’s vital that you share your vision, and make people feel that they are really part of something bigger. They really do make a difference to brands and the public, and it’s important for people to have a sense of purpose. Also empathy is an underrated skill, but crucial to today’s and tomorrow’s leaders.

What are some of the pitfalls/mistakes businesses typically fall into with social media?

In the middle of a crisis that’s breaking on social media, which happens more and more now, brands can get sucked into thinking that everyone is talking about them, and criticizing them. It’s very important to use social listening to establish the size of the crisis, so you don’t risk overreacting, and potentially making it worse or saying the wrong thing.

You’ve written articles about online customer service, and brand loyalty. Can you offer solid takeaway suggestions to B2Bs on how they can improve?

Don’t get distracted by every new shiny thing that comes along – really focus on where your customers are, and stay relevant, and keep focus. It’s much better to focus your attention on just three platforms, and make sure you’re executing your strategy correctly, and measuring the results, so you can adapt it. For B2Bs, it’s all about finding a few good customers in a smaller, yet engaged community, rather than the more ‘spray and pray’ approach taken by B2C.


What advice do you have for other startups/entrepreneurs?

I have a motto in life which is “what’s the worst that could happen?!” It was what I said to myself when I started the company, and I’ve used that phrase to inspire other people to take the risk, and start up their own companies, too. Life really is very short. Sometimes you have to just go for it.

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Dave Gordon

Dave Gordon

Dave Gordon is a Toronto-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in more than a hundred publications globally, over the course of twenty years. More about him can be found at DaveGordonWrites.com