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Your Approval Process is Ruining Your Social Strategy
I spoke with Shelby Jacobs, Senior Social Strategist across SOUR PATCH KIDS and Swedish Fish, about the importance of autonomy and trust in social media.
It’s not hard to spot a brand that has an overbearing approval process. They are posting the “Little Miss” meme five days late. A caption is devoid of any personality due to 10 personalities editing it in a Google Doc. The announcement video for that big campaign is horizontal because the creative team won the optimization argument.
While it’s not often listed in social best practices articles, one of the most important qualities of a successful strategy is trust. If you hired a social professional to run and own your brand’s channels, it’s imperative to give them the autonomy to do so. Not only is micromanaging a social manager a very quick way to increase your turnover rate, but it also leads to a watered-down, likely-irrelevant, too-safe social strategy. I’d rather have a strategy that takes risks and makes mistakes than a strategy that plays it safe and never makes a splash.
Today I am talking to Shelby Jacobs, Senior Social Strategist at Dentsu Creative overseeing clients SOUR PATCH KIDS and Swedish Fish, about how autonomy comes into play when working at an agency. She’s a huge advocate for trusting your social team—and has the examples that prove why it pays off.
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Rachel Karten: First can you tell me about your current job and any previous social (or not) roles you've had?
Shelby Jacobs: I am the Senior Social Strategist across SOUR PATCH KIDS (SPK) and Swedish Fish! I work for Dentsu Creative (Formerly 360i) and Mondelez is my client. We work in a pod called the Digital Accelerator (The DA) made up of Strategists, SMMs, and in-house content creators who handle static content and TikToks (yes, dedicated TikTok creators!).
Before this, and I'll go backwards, I was a social strategist at FIG agency working on Benjamin Moore, before that I had my first agency role at Community Management Lead at Wunderman Thompson (formerly POSSIBLE) working on Volkswagen's Something Big campaign (where they not-so-subtly apologized for, you know, everything). I worked on community management at Birchbox, Marketing at Wandering Bear Coffee and Wild Planet Foods where I demoed in Wegmans locations all through college before joining the marketing team after graduating. This current role is the most fun I have ever had and I have no plans on stopping any time soon.
RK: Can you walk me through a typical day for you?
SJ: No day is the same and yet every day is! After a straight espresso and a post in a twitter thread saying good morning with a photo of said espresso, I hop on teams and supervise our daily internal internet culture newsletter that goes out. We talk about what's trending across social, how brands can activate, content we've seen that we just generally love, and links to bigger stories that interest us. It serves not only as a launch pad for our SMMs, but keeps our clients in the know and ~cool~. When things are bad, I write a special edition advising clients and team of our POV on going dark or exercising caution.
Then, off to client/agency meetings! I usually have a few depending on what major campaigns are going out. Stranger Things? One hour for that. Our new fruit products Peaches and Grapes? One hour too! Between that I check in with the amazing team who helps keep SPK going day to day. They come with content we've been working on, real time opportunities they're seeing from scanning the feeds that we can jump on immediately (we have 99% autonomy which keeps us fast, furious, and fun), questions about bigger moments and a silly meme that sends me into a fit of laughter.
Outside of that, I love to check in with people outside of the team, raise my hand for anything and everything (I love getting my hands dirty in new business opportunities, keeps my brain from going on autopilot with one brand), connect with mentors, and launching/running programs like our internal mentorship program to keep folks happy and motivated. I'll also pop in to the SPK Twitter to get some silly tweets off and tweet from my personal account during quick breaks because frankly, I never shut up!
RK: I think a lot of people assume working at an agency for a client within social requires a ton of oversight, approvals, and micromanaging. But from what you just described it seems like you've got a lot of autonomy. Can you explain that structure (or lack thereof) a bit?
SJ: Yes! 99%. I never truly say full because for larger moments we do have to send over content just for eyes on it and to make sure there are no glaring red flags but otherwise it's just us on the DA running the organic circus! The structure is simple: I tell the team to treat me as the client. Not literally of course but assume that if I'm aligned with it, it's good to go out. It's how I was "raised" in this role by my ex manager Ari. He developed an amazing relationship with our client that set the foundation for full trust. Since then we have immersed ourselves so much in the data of what works and what doesn't that our brand managers on the client side know that they're in capable hands, even when we take small bets. Small bets, big wins, thanks to a team who trusts us to do the job they're paying us to do with their best interest at heart.
For us, that also means checking egos at the metaphorical door. When you have the level of trust from that client to operate in autonomy, everything you do must be centered around what works for the strategy, not your personal benefit. The philosophy I always drive home with our team is do cool shit, have fun, and log off.
RK: I've also really only worked at places or with clients that gave me full control. At Bon Appétit we rarely had anyone approve our work and my clients now are all very laid back. I actually think that's why I enjoy working in social so much. How do you think that sort of built in client trust has affected the work you do?
SJ: I fully attribute our team success and my personal success to that trust. What's nice is that it wasn't even just the client but my leadership too basically said "Okay, go!" after I had proven myself (I didn't just get the keys to the castle on day one but imagine I did, lol) in the area of real time optimizations, a.k.a., tweeting. I also say often that SPK is a privileged brand with the perfect formula of clients who are excited and trust us. I think you need that trust to push that excitement and I don't know if I would have similar success on another client who didn't feel that way.
RK: Do you have an example with SPK of maybe a moment or post that benefitted from having your client trust you to make of-the-moment decisions?
SJ: I could give you a million examples, but I'll stick with two. I have talked about our work with Olivia Rodrigo to the point of exhaustion but it really is a great case study in seeing a moment on Twitter, hopping on it immediately, letting a fandom carry it, and then instead of saying "that was fun" saying "okay, now what?" which is exactly what happened. To be incredibly honest, at the time when her team reached out to us about three days after the tweet (everyone thinks this was pre-planned but guess what! Secret's out, I found out her album name at the same time as everyone else!) I had resigned myself to just sending her some candy and saying that's it. But the minute her team contacted us I knew there was something bigger that we needed to explore. After that campaign and accidentally starting a conspiracy theory that her next album would be called "Sweet", I never stopped at phase one of an opportunity ever again.
The other time of course was when we lightly threatened Jake Gyllenhaal the day of Taylor Swift's Red re-release. That tweet was run by no one and it became our biggest tweet...ever. I think I gave legal a slight heart attack when they found out.
RK: Without naming names, have you had any bosses or clients that maybe were a bit overbearing? How did it affect your work and process?
SJ: I definitely have dealt with them and it's hard! It's hard because for one, it's distracting as hell when you spend more time answering their questions, assuring them things will be okay, and generally second guessing your gut thinking like "what would they think?". It's also hard because you sometimes don’t know if it's coming from a place of sheer curiosity and hunger to learn, which is great, or if it comes from their desire to establish a sense of power over you as the manager/client. It also slows down the work which as consumers get smarter, they notice quickly. It's hard to explain to an audience why it took you three weeks to jump on a trend. The less hoops to jump through the faster, funnier, and more buzzworthy work you put out, as long as you are being diligent in the process.
RK: Imagine a CMO or person who manages a social team is reading this, maybe they micromanage their team a bit and feel the need to review every single post—what would you tell them?
SJ: I would tell them that it's okay to let go, and also understand that organic social operates differently as a platform. 9 times out of 10, nothing bad will happen and when it does, you learn, you optimize. Especially for organic social, at the end of the day we don't hold the bottom line for your brand at our fingertips. I always tell the amazing team I work with "it's just candy" because it is! Nothing we do affects it. CMOs will win more points with the people that put out the work if they trust them to do the job they hired them to do (and invested in them to do!) and the work will be better because your team will be happier, more creative, and more motivated to test and learn. Micromanaging rarely wins Lions. (Or maybe it does…but should it?)
RK: What do you love about working in social media?
SJ: I have never been one to be in front of the camera. In theater I was always the stage manager, I was a photography major at school, I have more photos of my friends than myself on my phone. What I love about social is that I get to, in a way, pretend to be someone else, while completely being myself at the same time. I love the way social makes people feel. I love that it's the future of marketing and that the next generation of CMOs are going to be social experts. I love that it expands knowledge further and wider than any other way of communicating before at a faster rate than ever. I love that it gives everyone the ability to be their best selves.
RK: Are you hopeful for the future of social media?
SJ: I am! Things are, uh, bad right now, but, in the last two years I have also seen so much good come out of people in the industry and outside of it being able to connect with each other, share resources, help beyond their communities, raise awareness and pressure brands and major corporations to not only change but be held accountable for those changes. I think it's amazing to witness and we have a good generation paving the way for the new rules of social moving forward. I'm stoked to see so many turn their passion for connecting online into a career, just like I did.
Before you go! I’ve teamed up with Zaria Parvez, Social Media Manager at Duolingo, and Julian Gamboa-Ramos, Social Media Director at Maximum Effort, on a very exciting panel for SXSW. It’s all about navigating calculated risk on social.
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Today’s feature job is…
Outside Inc. is hiring Sales and Social Media Manager. Outside Interactive, Inc., the premier hub for active lifestyle enthusiasts, offers best-in-class content and experiences to more than 70 million of the world’s most passionate outdoor, wellness, and endurance enthusiasts every month. Seems like a really sweet role for someone who’s passionate about national park travel, hiking, road trips and more! Get more info about applying here.