Richardson Media Group is fortunate to work alongside some truly incredible agency partners. We can’t do it all alone, as I like to say, so we’ve built our media planning agency upon a partnership model, allowing us to stick to our favorite disciplines of paid media and SEO while benefiting from the talents of others on the creative side of the industry. One of our longstanding alliances has been with the folks at Stout Heart, a stellar team of marketing experts, led by Mariah Morgan, and located just around the corner from Richardson Media Group’s office in Portsmouth. The “Stout Hearted” as they refer to themselves, share RMG’s penchant for doing business for good and it just so happens that their core services complement our own. We’ve paired up with Stout Heart on a variety of paid media and SEO projects. They are excellent brand strategists and website designers and builders, and all around great people!
When I was considering writing a blog post about social media, the first person I thought to consult with was Lindsay Elitharp, Social Media Specialist at Stout Heart. While RMG stays focused on the paid side of social media platforms, Lindsay spends her days developing content – visual, audio and written – to bring life to her clients’ organic social channels. Lindsay populates posts on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter, to name only a few. Her work is strategy-driven and often dovetails with other content-heavy marketing tactics like blogs, podcasts, newsletters, and videos. Clearly, she is a busy woman and we really appreciate her taking the time to share her ideas with us.
I asked Lindsay a few questions about where she sees the organic social media landscape today and into the near future, what are her biggest challenges as a social media strategist, and why she chose this fast-paced and ever changing line of work!
Anne: Hi Lindsay, thanks so much for contributing to this article. We’ve met on a few occasions and you always seem to have a camera in hand! How did you get into the content business and what’s your favorite part about your profession?
Lindsay: Thanks for having me! My background is in writing—my first office job was in social media after responding to a Craigslist ad looking for a person who was “creative and able to prove it.” The camera came later, while working in digital marketing for the restaurant and lodging industry. I’ve always had a strong visual eye (thanks AP Art History!) and I quickly found that writing for the web comes easier when you have more control over the images presented with it, and vice versa. My favorite part about my profession is equally likely to be my main complaint on a rough day: it is always changing. There are always new skills to learn and platform changes to adapt to. I’m an endlessly curious person and social media allows me to dive into different industries, skill sets, and challenges on a daily basis.
A: When a new or prospective client comes to Stout Heart looking for help with their organic social media, what are the top four or five questions you ask them at the outset?
L: The first questions I ask are: What do you think social media’s role in your business is? What does success on social media look like to you? What’s your top objective you hope to see your brand’s social media achieve? Who in your industry do you think is doing a great job with their social media? If you’ve noticed a common theme here, it’s because my first job is to understand how much the client actually knows about social media and set realistic expectations for organic growth and impact. It’s important for clients to understand that social media is just one tool in the metaphorical shed of marketing. It’s a powerful tool, but you wouldn’t try to build a house with only a cordless drill.
A: Definitely not. What makes a brand a good candidate for organic social media?
L: Every brand is a good candidate for organic social media. At this point in time, consumers expect your brand to have a social presence. It’s often the first place people discover your brand, or check out when they’re trying to learn more. The harder question is what makes a brand a good candidate for paid social media, because the answer depends heavily on your objectives and whether you provide products or services.
A: Agree on the paid social front. I’m always wary of the, “everyone else is doing it so I should, too” reply when I ask prospects to tell me why they want a paid social campaign. But, I digress! How do you keep all of your social media accounts organized day to day? Do you have a favorite social media scheduling software?
L: I use a combination of Google Drive, Airtable and SproutSocial for our social media accounts. Google Drive is where we store all the photography, graphics, and videos, as well as client brand assets. Airtable (which is like a more content-friendly Excel) is where I create our client’s content calendars. Each brand has its own calendar and Airtable makes the collaboration process with clients so much easier. Clients can edit copy directly, leave comments for revision on creative, and approve posts within Airtable. SproutSocial is our go-to tool for both scheduling posts and pulling analytics. I’ve used many scheduling tools over the years and while they all have their pros and cons, Sprout is my preferred tool at present. Their competitor reporting tool, which allows you to see how your brand’s social performance stacks up against the competition, is vital to how Stout Heart evaluates the work we produce for our clients.
A: We’ve been using Loomly for a few years now, but we don’t have nearly the volume that you do since we are only using it to manage our agency’s internal social media. What are some of the ways you can measure the success of a social media effort? What are some of the important metrics of engagement that you look for?
L: I want to start by saying that if you’re measuring social media success by products sold or clients booked, you’re coming at it from the wrong direction. ROI is notoriously difficult to qualify for social media because social media primarily functions as a brand awareness tool. If it’s a brand awareness tool, let’s measure its success by brand awareness. Our gold standard metric is engagement rate. Engagement rate answers the question: out of all the people who saw this post, what percentage of them took an action in response? Engagement includes likes, comments, shares, saves, reactions, etc. A high engagement rate tells us the quality of the content is high and that what you’re putting out is resonating with your audience. The other key metrics we look at are growth and reach (how many new followers you’ve gained and how many people received your post in their feed, respectively). Increases in engagement rate, reach, and growth are all key indicators of success.
A: Thanks for differentiating between the metrics of conversions and engagement. I think that’s not so well understood. Tell us, from your experience, how has social media changed over the past few years? Where do you see some of the more popular channels heading in the future?
L: There’s an extremely understandable fear that organic social media is dead. Organic’s not dead, but engagement, reach, and growth have been on the decline for years. Not a single industry saw an increase in average engagement rate from 2019 to 2021. The overall average engagement rate decreased by 28.55% in that time. Much of this is by design: social platforms are not a public good, they’re a private enterprise and they exist to make money. They have effectively created a system of marketing that most businesses cannot afford to ignore, but now have to pay-to-play to see the kind of numbers we were seeing in the early days of social media. Anecdotally, I think the way users interact with social media has also changed over time, and varies greatly by generation. Regarding popular channels, I don’t think Instagram and Facebook are going away anytime soon. TikTok continues to be the one to watch, but the amount of content generation required for a successful TikTok presence is unsustainable for most small businesses. As users have become frustrated with platforms more interested in showing them paid ads than the accounts they follow, we’re seeing more traffic to platforms like Substack and Clubhouse where users have more control over what they consume. I expect that trend to continue and so do the existing major players: Twitter quietly rolled out Twitter Blue, its subscription model, last summer.
A: We do see those trends on the paid side, too. No longer can we expect audiences to automatically engage with ad messaging – I believe social users are way more savvy than they ever have been before, and for good reason!
So we’ve all heard that “content is king” but I’ve always thought there should be a caveat that it can’t be just any type of content. How do you decide what content to post and where on behalf of your clients?
L: I couldn’t agree more. Content should always be developed with the value to the end-user in mind. When I’m creating content for social media, I’m constantly asking myself: Does this teach the user something new and interesting? Is it entertaining? Does it speak to the user’s aspirations and how they align with the brand? As to the “where” content should be posted, we also develop with that in mind. Think about what the average user on that platform is going to that platform for, and the medium they’re most likely to be receptive to. On Instagram, for example, people are primarily looking to be distracted or entertained. Reels are the best medium for discovery at present, but carousels see more engagement. Pinterest is a great platform for users to research and plan, so content developed for Pinterest leans more on the informative and aspirational.
A: What are some of the challenges you face in your role as a Social Media Specialist?
L: Getting my brain to shut off. No, but seriously, the chronically online aspect of my job is the most challenging part for me. I have to be the one to set rules about what I will and won’t respond to immediately. It’s social media. If you have an emergency, call 911, don’t DM a brand on Twitter. A lot of consumers forget that small business owners don’t have the resources that multinational brands do when it comes to getting an immediate response on social media, and it’s wild to me how vicious people can get online when they no longer connect their actions to the real-life person on the receiving end of their comments.
A: That’s very challenging. I’m glad you have found your own techniques to stay healthy and well. How does your professional experience affect how you use social media in your own life?
L: I barely use social media in my personal life. It’s like how chefs at 5 star restaurants go home and make grilled cheese for dinner. I give it all at work. The only exception is TikTok, because I don’t currently manage any TikTok accounts. TikTok has become my refuge; it’s the only social platform I can go on without being immediately brought back to a work-mindset.
A: Reminds me of the new show I’ve been watching on Hulu, The Bear. The chef goes home and eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after cooking magical food in his restaurant kitchen all day…it makes sense!
Finally, I have to ask…I’ve heard stories about the infamous Stout Heart pie contest. Please tell us what’s your favorite type of pie (or other baked goods) and how did you fare with your entry into this past year’s contest?
L: The Pie-Off! We actually pushed this year’s Pie-Off back so many times that we ended up doing a Christmas Cookie exchange instead. I made these chewy amaretti cookies from the Smitten Kitchen blog. They were alright, everyone else liked them but I thought they were over-baked and too dense. But I’m my toughest critic so who knows.
A: Thanks for the bonus cookie recipe and all your thoughtful ideas, Lindsay! This interview has been so much fun and I look forward to connecting again soon.