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How Shopify Built a Strong Social Identity
Featuring an interview with Saad Khan, Brand Social Lead at Shopify.
I am not a designer. I can fumble my way around Photoshop and understand when a crop looks good—but, in the grand scheme of things, I am no expert. Which is why I’ve always said that my biggest secret weapon when it comes to working in social media is collaborating very closely with a creative team.
I love working with designers, photographers, videographers, and art directors. I brainstorm with them, work closely on set with them, submit lots of creative briefs, and give lots of feedback. It’s the best.
Having this close relationship is beneficial for another reason: working with designers who understand the landscape of social media is a game changer. Some of the best social posts I’ve worked on were originally pitched by a designer. And it’s especially nice when you work with art teams who inherently understand why we won’t post a horizontal video on Instagram, don’t question why I want to make motivational poster memes, and are willing to shoot a high concept video on an iPhone.
A brand that I’ve noticed has a really strong visual identity on social media is Shopify. Their aesthetic is ownable but not overly precious.
Rachel Karten: Can you tell me about your current role and any past social (or not) roles you've had?
Saad Khan: I’m currently the Brand Social Lead at Shopify. I head up the brand’s social creative and channel strategy while overseeing a team responsible for creative concepting, production, and community management for all of the brand’s social accounts (we have quite a few!). Before my tenure at Shopify, I was on the agency side all the while working within social strategy and content creation for a bunch of national and global brands.
RK: How would you describe Shopify's social media strategy?
SK: Nimble, agile, and wildly creative.
At its core, our social strategy is rooted within our brand ethos as the entrepreneurship company driven to make commerce better for everyone. On social, this message comes to life through a wide variety of strategies and tactics tailored specifically to individual platforms, audiences, and contexts.
I like to see our social strategy as a large sandbox we play in, that’s defined by a few parameters or guardrails leaving a wide swathe of open creative territory that’s for us to define and redefine continually. This essentially unlocks near boundless creative ideas to exist, allowing us to think fast, move fast, and be experimental in our approach.
The online environment we operate in changes constantly, and any effective social strategy needs to be able to move and adapt to those ebbs and flows.
RK: How would you describe the Shopify social audience? Who are you speaking to?
SK: Entrepreneurs are at the core of everything Shopify does and they’re our primary focus on social too. We speak to actively aspiring entrepreneurs, current entrepreneurs including our merchants, and even those who have maybe never thought about becoming one.
RK: How big is the social team? How is it broken out?
SK: We went from your average 1-2 person social team a few years ago to a now fiercely stacked squad of strategists and content producers. We have mini-teams within social broken out by functions like product marketing, partnerships, insights and enablement, and creative content + channel management (the latter being my world). At this point it’s hard to remember a time when it was mostly just me doing all of that.
RK: Shopify really leans into design and illustration on Instagram—there's a clear brand identity. Can you talk me through why you went that direction vs straight photography or video?
SK: I think you have it right there in the question—identity. I wanted to carve out an identifiable look and feel for the brand, to be able to have uniquely Shopify content that felt like us. I wanted it to be visually stimulating, a bit loud and in your face, and like much of Shopify at its core—not feel like a corporate, capital B brand.
Design and illustration was a key part of that, I took a lot of cues from the types of content trends that were out there already so that we were able to emulate some familiarity as well. This allowed us to have a healthy tension of having something recognizable to ease audiences in and meet them where they are, but also putting our own unique spin on it.
That being said, one core tenet of our look and feel is to not be too precious about our creative. Everything doesn’t need to be polished and perfect. No one except for us, and other marketers look at the “grid” and make judgments about brand consistency (lol). Audiences are more interested to engage with a good piece of content rather than leave a comment about how you’re using the wrong brand color hex codes.
RK: Is there a social designer that you work closely with?
SK: I’m a firm believer in having the people who are managing the channels day to day, who are ingrained in the social space, and well, extremely online, should be the same people designing the content.
I love the hybrid social strategist-content creator who can go high level right down to tactics end to end. They’re able to strategize, conceptualize, produce, and publish all in the same go. It’s how some of the best social content we’ve seen from brands comes about.
RK: What's a post that you're particularly proud of? Why?
SK: Reactive content is always fun, I love the spur of the moment things that gets creative gears turning quick to jump on something timely. A recent one was with Rihanna’s Halftime performance (yes, I still listen to it in the background while I’m working). There was this moment where she took a quick pause to whip out that Fenty Beauty and give herself a quick touchup. This was pretty much perfect—Fenty is a huge merchant for us, and this was a total boss move to make sure to use the air time to flex her business.
We threw up a quick tweet and turned that into an Instagram Reel at the same time that totally blew up and is one of our most viewed to date.
RK: How would you describe your social media philosophy?
SK: Three things:
Put your audience first. Build a strategy and content for your audience, rather than for your brand.
Don’t be too precious. Nobody but you knows your creative guidelines, your posting schedule, your calendar, your content series that has to go out at 11am ET every Thursday.
Less is more. You don’t need to be everywhere, you’re better off with one channel you tailor and curate rather than four channels you sort of manage on autopilot. You don’t need to post five days a week, you’ll go much further if you’re able to create connection and value for your audiences consistently over creating noise.
RK: Any final thoughts?
SK: Hi social managers reading this, I love and respect you all so much for your endless, often thankless, hard work. If no one’s told you you’re doing great today, you heard it from me. Now please go touch grass 💛
In Tuesday’s Logged On send for paid Link in Bio subscribers I talked about brands buying Taylor Swift suites, how Instagram ranking works (and my takeaways), what will happen to Ted Lasso’s Twitter account, performative activism during Pride Month, and more. You can read it here.
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