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Let’s Talk About Social Media and Editorial
Featuring an interview Willa Bennett, Senior Social Media Manager at GQ.
Doing social media for a restaurant is different from doing social media for a non-profit, and doing social media for a fashion brand is different from doing social media for a newspaper. This may seem obvious, but when I left my first job running social at a startup to run social at a large food magazine, it was a bit of a shock. At the startup I was using social media as a tool to build awareness, drive loyalty with customers, and ultimately sell a product. This meant a more curated, marketing approach to social where we’d only put up a few posts per day. At the magazine, social was used as a tool to distribute articles—sooooo many articles—and grow our following to reach an even larger audience. We were posting upwards of 60 times a day across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. It was a huge shift and one that I frankly didn’t see coming.
Now that I have left my job in editorial and consulted with brands across various industries, I can say with a fair level of confidence that doing social for a media/magazine/publishing company is unique. There’s even more of an always-on mentality since you’re often reacting to breaking news—and being “first” is very much a thing. There’s a huge pressure to find your distinct voice because competing sites are usually reporting on the same story. (The Cut has done an amazing job at this.) You might find yourself scheduling Tweets during the day and on a red carpet interviewing celebrities at night. Don’t get me started on working with advertisers. And in this #pivottovideo world we live in (again?), there’s a need to adapt editorial stories to a wide range of formats and platforms. For this week’s newsletter, I asked my friend Willa Bennett, Senior Social Media Manager at GQ, what it’s like to work in social within publishing and media.
Rachel Karten: Can you give us a quick rundown of your role now and the previous social media roles you’ve had?
Willa Bennett: I lead the social media team at GQ Magazine. I oversee programming and creative development across GQ’s ever-evolving social platforms. I’ve also held roles in social media and audience development at Seventeen Magazine, Nylon, Bustle, and more.
RK: What does the average day of doing social at GQ look like?
WB: Social at GQ exists at the intersection of the print magazine, GQ.com, and our two massive YouTube channels. Day-to-day, I encourage my team to not only meet the timely demands of social media (breaking news, print drops, etc.) but also program our platforms in a way that is forward-thinking and responsive to the zeitgeist.
RK: What’s your favorite post, campaign, cover release, etc. you’ve done on GQ social? Why?
WB: One of my favorites is our rollout for GQ's November Issue, starring Timothée Chalamet. I worked closely with our photo director on a social video and then strategically rolled it out across our different platforms. I also want to highlight our September cover drop, which was the brand’s first-ever global rollout.
I'm proud of how video has amalgamated with social at GQ. Among other new social-first programming, we launched GQ's first-ever grooming series last year. Previous to Grooming Gods, little information existed in the men’s space about skincare. See some of my favorite episodes here with Pharrell, DeAndre Hopkins, Luka Sabbat.
RK: You’ve had a lot of social roles within media and publishing, is there a reason you gravitated towards social in this industry?
WB: I always saw myself becoming a traditional journalist or author. This all changed with my college thesis; I spent a month at an all-girls middle school embodying what it might be like to grow up amongst all these social media platforms. It only amplified my beliefs that social media is one of the most essential and urgent means of storytelling. This original research led me to my first job out of college at Seventeen Magazine.
RK: The burnout from being a social media manager is real, how do you stay inspired?
WB: I go out of my way to follow and engage with different types of accounts. Social media feeds can too quickly become an echo chamber. TikTok isn’t perfect, but I love how the platform rethinks what it means to traditionally “follow” someone.
RK: What brands or people do you love following on social right now?
I pay attention to how younger content creators use platforms. For example, Gen Z's use of Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Twitch, etc. speaks to what is to come. I have two very cool teen sisters in Los Angeles and I love speaking to them about the ways in which they move through their respective online spaces.
RK: Fuck, Marry, Kill: Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok
WB: I’d marry TikTok because scrolling through the FYP makes me optimistic about the future (well, most of the time). I’d fuck Instagram (I love IG but this screentime is not sustainable long-term). I’d kill Twitter (although I appreciate Twitter in a breaking news moment).
RK: When you were just getting into social as a career, what’s one thing you wish you had known?
WB: Social is intuitive. There is so much that goes into leading a social team that can’t be taught, which is why social roles can be so difficult to fill. I grew up creating and consuming content on LiveJournal and MySpace. I came out as queer on YouTube before I came out in “real-life.” The landscape and platforms themselves may be different (and changing), but social media is storytelling.