Tamara Littleton Is Passionate About Helping Brands Have a Human Connection

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Tamara Littleton has made fighting against discrimination and advocating for marginalized groups an important part of both social-media-centric organizations that she runs.

Littleton is the founder and CEO behind London-based social media agency The Social Element and co-founder of social media crisis-management platform Polpeo. The former helps define brand strategies, advises on tone and assists with adhering to and defending brand values. From fostering “an inclusive environment where people can be themselves at work” to keeping a close eye on discrimination cases against platforms, Littleton and Polpeo co-founder and COO Kate Hartley keep their fingers on the pulse to ensure that their teams and clients alike are satisfied and not making avoidable mistakes.

Being gay isn’t something Littleton felt was necessary to talk about—at first. Now she talks about it at conferences and in the media when possible to help break down barriers.

“I believe in making small differences in all areas of my life. … It is incredibly important to be visible and open.”
Tamara Littleton, founder and CEO, The Social Element

“I believe in making small differences in all areas of my life,” said Littleton. “It is incredibly important to be visible and open.”

After studying psychology at Manchester University, Littleton fell into publishing “in the early days of the internet” in the ’90s and then moved on to consulting. And while falling off a ladder and breaking your arm is typically not good news, it led Littleton to a “career-defining role” at BBC Online as head of its webmaster team after her injury led her to become redundant as a consultant. This role inspired her to open her own business around social media, as she’s “passionate about helping brands have a human connection on social media.”

“I’ve always been driven by fixing business problems for brands by using social media and am in my element when I’m thinking creatively to come up with solutions,” said Littleton.

How She Got the Gig

She founded The Social Element in 2002 after working at BBC Online and “never looked back.” She co-founded Polpeo with Hartley in 2013.  

Big Mistake

After making the decision to market in Asia, Littleton chose Australia as the hub for that region. “I didn’t do enough research, but went on pure instinct,” said Littleton. “It was an expensive error.”

Lesson Learned

Her confidence and the positive environment she had created at The Social Element actually ended up being a detriment because no one felt they could challenge her enthusiasm. The big takeaway was that conflict and challenging each other can be healthy in an organization.

Pro Tip

“I’ve been really shocked to learn that even in our liberal industry, people feel they need to go back into the closet at work and hide their identity,” she said. “Being visible normalizes difference.”

This story first appeared in the Nov. 25, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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