Dennis Todisco is harnessing the power of Niche/Twitter to Fuel real-time 1:1 conversations
The Innovator: Dennis Todisco, Global Head of Community at Niche/Twitter
Innovation Superpower: Creating cross-functional teams built on passion to leverage the intrinsic power of brands in new ways.
You probably didn’t know that Dennis stumbled into marketing when he was on the hunt for his favorite clothing brand, LRG.
Tell us about your current role and responsibilities. Why did you choose to join your current company?
I’m the Global Head of Community for Niche / Twitter. We work with the best creators around the world, from personality stars like Liza Koshy to photographers like Misshattan, to artists like Jason Seife, to filmmakers like Zach King, to even famous pets like Doug The Pug, and virtually everyone in between, across all verticals and geographies.
We partner with incredibly talented creators to help them grow and monetize their presence across all social, by placement on brand deals with Fortune 500 companies, launching innovative content initiatives such as Creator Originals on Twitter, and enabling to do what they do best - create.
Three years ago, I joined Niche / Twitter because I believed our team was on the forefront of a major shift in how brands and platforms center around creators. This rang true three years ago and is very evident today: creators can be one of the most powerful conduits by which brands can authentically engage with a captivated audience.
My work is incredibly rewarding because of the meaningful impact we’ve had on thousands of creators in the community, enabling many to pursue their crafts full-time doing what they truly love.
What current developments in marketing are most inspiring to you? How will they affect the future of marketing?
The youth inspire me the most. There’s a rapidly shrinking intersection between technology, creators, and brands. 5 years ago, only 50% of Americans owned a smartphone. 10 years ago, the biggest Gen Z creators (with millions of followers now) weren’t even in elementary school - let alone producing their own original content. The gap between idea and reality is getting smaller and the next generations are going to be able to articulate concepts in ways in which we can’t even fathom. I’m constantly impressed by Gen Z, from their strong convictions to shift politics and education to their limitless imaginativeness and creativity.
The opportunity for brands to authentically embrace young creators in a rapidly evolving landscape is critical. It may even be unsettling for some marketers to let go of the reins to young people - but the future of marketing is in embracing creator ideas and trusting that they intrinsically understand their generation better than you ever will.
What are you working on now that you think is innovative?
Our recent activation at VidCon. VidCon is the largest global conference to celebrate video creators, their fans, and the industry around it. Each year, hundreds of the world’s biggest creators descend upon Anaheim to speak and meet with 30,000+ screaming fans, all of whom bought tickets for the chance to see their favorite creators in person.
This year, Twitter sponsored all three stages where featured creators were interviewed. For the first time, we introduced the ability for fans in the audience to tweet questions to their favorite creators using #AskVidCon. Besides resulting in hundreds of thousands of engagements, this was an authentic and easy way to harness the superpower of Twitter: having a real-time 1:1 conversation between creators and fans.
Backstage, we constructed a beautiful, modern booth that was as vibrant as our creators. Each area was completely tonal, from furniture to walls, in a different Twitter brand color and designed with the insight that every square foot was a shareable moment. We had both self-serve content creation opportunities and studio-produced slow motion videos and animated gif stations.
On the swag side, we collaborated with Six Ounce Studio to allow creators to design their own custom Twitter merch with a EBS Handjet Portable Printer - allowing for instant printing of usernames/hashtags/tweets on everything from Hoodies to Air Force 1 Sneakers - which Nike also provided for our creators. Our DIY swag was so popular that we actually went through 1,000 pieces in a day and a half and had to produce more garments in LA and drive them up to Anaheim overnight.
Our goals were to create a memorable engagement between Creators and Twitter, strengthen our relationships, and drive on-platform conversation - and we exceeded all our objectives and metrics. It was a massive cross-functional effort between Niche, Marketing, Events, Studio, Content, Comms, Social and more, and I couldn’t be more proud of our #OneTeam approach.
Tell us about your career path and how you ended up where you are right now: What big learning moments have you had in your journey? Did you have any notable mentors?
In 2006, at the age of 19, I discovered this website called Karmaloop.com, through my quest for a particular brand (LRG), which was nearly impossible to find in Boston. To my amazement, the product arrived literally the next day on my doorstep and I was surprised to learn the return address was actually local. I did some research and discovered that the streetwear startup had this Rep Program where you could earn free clothes in exchange for referral sales. Being the broke college student I was, I signed up, got my code and went to work on the pre-social media culture hubs of the Hypebeast and NikeTalk forums.
Several months later, after building my commissions to about a thousand dollars in free gear, my phone rang. The CEO of Karmaloop told me I was one of his top reps in the world and needed to do this Businessweek interview cover story on Karmaloop, and also that I need to come in and intern. I was elated and accepted the opportunity. A couple months after proving my value, I was offered a full-time position as marketing director. We had rodents running through the office, a couple dozen employees and just scratched $4M in revenue.
Over the next five years we would rapidly expand the business and team globally to nearly 200 employees between Boston, NY, LA, and Stockholm and about $200M in revenue. We even had ambitious plans to launch a TV network based on our digital video property KarmaloopTV which was under the creative direction of Pharrell Williams and leadership of former Lionsgate President Katie McEnroe. It was quite the ride. I met a lot of incredible people from designers, artists, athletes, celebrities, and really solidified my rolodex for what was next.
After Karmaloop, I went on to lead digital marketing for my friend Nick Tershay’s company Diamond Supply Co., a quickly growing skate brand. After a couple years and some explosive growth at Diamond, I was recruited by Nike to lead global digital brand and community for Nike Sportswear. I had the honor of forging some incredible relationships at the Swoosh, one of which is my mentor and former boss Musa Tariq. After leaving Nike, Musa moved on to Apple in SF and became friends with Darren Lachtman. Darren had recently sold his creator-focused startup Niche to Twitter and was looking to grow the team. I’ve now been at Twitter as the global head of community for 3 years and it’s been such a rewarding experience to have real impact on the creator’s lives we work with.
And, in doubling down on my passion, I also created Outfitgrid, a global community of sneaker and streetwear connoisseurs who share their style by laying their outfits on the floor in a (you guessed it) grid format. Outfitgrid continues to be embraced by some of my favorite designers, artists, and creators, and is now about 750k people strong.”
Tell us about your teams. How do you pick and develop the talent on your team? How do you ensure there is collaboration?
It’s so important to hire people who bleed passion and a learning mindset for the space we’re in. We’ve made some very strong hires globally to expand our business from the ground up - and everyone, while different in background, all bleed this common desire to learn, evolve, and grow in this rapidly changing creator/brand landscape.
We ensure collaboration through how open and transparent our team and organization is. Our team’s Slack workspace is constantly lit up with new ideas, new creators, new campaigns, and new initiatives. It’s not unusual for somebody from one group or geo to jump in and collaborate with another strictly based off of a great idea or knowledge rather than an organizational construct or hierarchy.
What one thing do you need from your CMO to help you be successful?
Empathy. It’s a strong skill my CMO, Leslie Berland, exemplifies as both CMO and Head of People at Twitter. Last year in Forbes, Dr. Prudy Gourguechon framed it perfectly: “empathy enables you to know if the people you’re trying to reach are actually reached. It allows you to predict the effect your decisions and actions will have on core audiences and strategize accordingly. Without empathy, you can’t build a team or nurture a new generation of leaders.”
What advice would you give to marketers who are just starting their careers?
One of my mentors at Nike, Gino Fisanotti, once spoke on the importance of leading with passion. As I’ve continued to grow - I’ve found his words to ring even more true - it’s so critical to let your passion be your north star. If you aren’t feeding into that insatiable desire to learn, grow, and win in your current career path - it’s time to reevaluate.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Five years ago, if you told me I would be working at Nike and then Twitter - I wouldn’t believe you. I can’t say exactly what the future holds, but I will continue to let my passion be my guide and learn as much as I can along the way. As Drake once said, “sometimes it's the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination”.
Favorite place to vacation? Palm Springs - easy to get to, hard to leave.
If you were a superhero, what would your special skill be? Time Travel. I promise I’ll use it responsibly and do my best not to disrupt the space-time continuum.
Name something that most people don't know about you. I love video games. I find the design, creativity, and overall thought process that goes into some of my favorite franchises is almost more interesting than playing the games themselves. Look into the original concept art of Ken Sugimori and his design of the first 151 Pokémon for example - it’s truly fascinating.
If you weren’t a marketer, what would you be? I’d probably be a creative director, designer, or restauranteur. If you follow me - you know I’m slightly obsessed with design, art, food, rap, mid-century modern furniture, fashion, and sneakers.
What's the best thing you've read/listened to/watched recently? Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. When I was at the Nike WHQ, I would see “Uncle Phil” in the cafeteria and wonder what it must have been like to build one of the most recognizable brands in world from such humble beginnings. Being a lifelong fan of the brand, Shoe Dog answered a lot of questions I had on the feelings he experienced along his long and weathered journey to massive success. “Let everyone else call your idea crazy . . . just keep going.”