Sustainable fashion and travel for the conscious woman

Sustainable fashion and travel for the conscious woman


5 Huge Social Media Mistakes I See Ethical Brands Make

Heather Showstead is the owner of KNITT Strategy, a Brooklyn-based  integrated digital marketing consulting agency.

My advertising career started in 2004 when Myspace was king and all the college kids (including myself) were joining the Facebook club. I was a marketing major and was already using social networks to advertise organically for class projects. After I graduated, I spent a few years as a graphic artist and marketing coordinator before I was tasked with running everything social media for my huge retail real estate company since I was, “the only person under 30.”

Years of freedom followed, when I had opportunities to test everything under the sun. My skills expanded to include SEO, Email, and all things paid digital. Back in those days, the return on investment was small and difficult to measure, so I was a one-man show doing everything from strategy to photography and design, coding, and data analytics.

Fast forward ten years. Digital advertising and social media have grown exponentially and can prove their value, most often with more precision and accuracy than traditional forms of media like television, radio, or print. We can track every last click and comment…yet many businesses of all sizes still treat this booming area the same way they did a decade ago!

I’ve been happy to see an increasing number of sustainable brands launching during that time. Some seem to just have a knack for the digital space, but many are not founded by digital gurus. Most socially-conscious business owners have backgrounds in areas like textiles, food, corporate social responsibility, or whatever their respective craft may be. While they may be experts in their fields, it’s a difficult task to let the world know in a fun, relatable way!

Here are five big mistakes I see socially-conscious businesses make around social media and digital marketing, and how my strategies that I’ve developed as a consultant to help entrepreneurs avoid them.

Underpaying or Overpaying the Social Media Team

Just like traditional advertising, digital advertising requires multiple skill sets. Many large organizations have whole departments allocated to traditional marketing with employees specializing in creative, copy writing, planning, buying, production, and everything in between. Very often those same companies have one person handling the entire digital and social media effort.

In my experience, this has either been someone who is entry level that’s been thrown in the deep end with no guidance or strategy, or someone commanding a huge salary to manage everything from high-level strategy down to answering DMs. In the former situation, the 23-year-old is in over her head and has no overall strategy, and your social suffers. In the latter situation, you’re paying someone a $100,000 to $150,000 salary to spend part of their time providing basic customer support. (I know this situation sounds crazy to you small business owners out there, but I’ve seen it happen at large brands.)

I realize that you might not be able to hire an entire social team. And Digital and Social are fast moving and constantly changing, which makes it even more difficult to piece together a team that will work well long-term, thus justifying their salaries. Fortunately, more and more talent is going freelance. That means you have the ability to build a small in-house team or even one social media manager for the day-to-day needs, and outsource the stuff you need less often and requires talent and hence money to execute.

For example, a startup or company in need of a refresh might benefit from a strategy consultant that can help brainstorm ideas for success, impart knowledge from their experience, set up a three-to-six month plan, conduct some training, and then pass things off to your in-house team for execution.

Or if you’re small business owner who doesn’t have the resources to hire an on-staff photographer or content creator, which are often more expensive than an entry-level social media manager, you can reach out to freelance writers, graphic artists, or video editors on sites like UpWork or Working Not Working and find someone who can provide you with content bundles weekly or monthly. Then put that entry-level employee to work scheduling the posts and answering DMs.

Thinking Personal Experience Equals Business Experience

I can’t be too mad about this mistake as it kicked off my entire career in digital marketing back in 2005. Since I was the only person on the team who even had a social media account, my boss assumed I knew exactly what to do for a national company. Yikes! I was a 22-year-old kid, teaching myself how to use Photoshop, understand HTML, build emails and landing pages, allocate advertising budgets, and communicate with followers as a large business. Thankfully in those days, no one was really watching me!

I’ve stressed over and over to hiring managers that just because someone has a lot of followers, or understands how to use all the bells and whistles on whatever new social platform just came out, doesn’t mean they understand how to run a business account. Not only have many not had to consider how their posts will affect sales or how their content relates to larger business goals, I most often find that many just haven’t had enough experience with reporting, projections, and – most importantly – money! The professional experience just has to be there when entrusting someone with your budget and brand voice.

This doesn’t have to mean a crazy expensive hire either. I’ve started to see smaller sustainable brands ask for social media, email, or SEO help right in their Instagram stories, and have found someone in their following who understands the space and is passionate about the same things.

This is something to consider when hiring: make sure you ask the right questions, or be prepared for extra training. There are definitely exceptions to this rule, though. I’ve hired two insanely talented women in my career who started with personal accounts and turned their talent into business acumen. One was for a start-up brand looking for a young, fun millennial voice, and the other was for a global agency working with a Fortune 500 client. (If you want to check them out, they’re @sophia_roe and @racheletnicole.)

Executing Before You Have an Analysis or Strategy

More often than not I run into situations where a business has just jumped in and is chugging along towards no obvious goal.

It’s easy to just think social media or email is something you “just do”. Don’t we all “just do” it every day ourselves? Creating beautiful and interesting content is one thing, but knowing when to post it, who to target, and especially what that content is supposed to achieve is vital to success.

Even if you feel like your brand is doing something unique for the environment or indigenous women, you can learn a lot from how other (yes, even conventional) brands interact with their customers. It’s essential to spend some time doing in-depth analysis around your company’s goals, your audience, competition, and past performance if applicable. And yes, your competition can be conventional brands, because you’re trying to lure their customers away to your socially-conscious company! Set measurable benchmarks and set up solid reporting so you always have an eye on your progress. The next step is to build a strategy around achieving those goals with the information you have.

For example, if you notice all of your competitors offering a discount for first time purchases via email, it’s worth testing something similar. Make sure to measure how many people open your new email, how many sales come from your new discount, and if the profit makes it worth doing again.  

Focusing All Your Marketing Budget on Ads

Yes, it feels like you have to spend a fortune these days just to get in front of people who already follow you on Facebook and Instagram. While I’m a huge believer in the value of paid advertising (search/social/display/influencers), you should also consider other ways to get creative and get extra traffic and brand awareness.

Try partnerships and events! Before you roll your eyes, I’m not talking about those overproduced, expensive bashes with the Instagram-able wall and all the influencers who show up for free stuff and a quick selfie. (Although those low-key work depending on the brand and if you have the budget.) What I suggest is trying to stand out by hosting something that really provides value. Sponsor a panel on a relevant topic, host a gathering that will benefit the environment or society, provide a master class, or just simply partner up with your coolest influencer friend and let them throw a rager that will be on everyone’s insta-stories. See what you can get sponsored and kick in for the rest. Genuine posts about your brand count for a lot and is money well spent.

Another place to spend money instead of on ads is on talent. Hire someone who is charismatic and resonates with your audience, and put them on IGTV, YouTube, or Facebook Live! Blasting out ads all day only goes so far. Spending budget on a personality that followers love to interact with builds brand loyalty. I’ve seen it happen.

Forgetting Your Authentic Passion

It’s tough to speak as a brand yet stay real – especially when things start to scale. So many companies lose their personality, transparency, and even core values after a while. It can become overwhelming when you start dealing with the opinions of the masses, revenue goals, and growth plans.

Just remember it doesn’t have to be one way or the other. If you have clear business goals, know your audience, and can track your progress, you can stay within those guidelines while being authentic. Write captions that provide a laugh, send emails that provide value, create hyper-specific search ads that actually help people find what they’re looking for, answer all your DMs!

Don’t forget why you started your company in the first place, what issues you’re trying to address, and how you’re passionate about improving the world and lives.

I think we’re finally coming back to a place where we’re ready to install this generation’s version of pop-up blockers and get back to what’s real.

Heather Showstead is the owner of KNITT Strategy, a Brooklyn-based  integrated digital marketing consulting agency. 

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