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It Starts with People: Lessons from Social Media Personalities for Brands

Which category do you engage with more on Instagram: people (friends, celebrities, and influencers), or brands? Scroll through your “Following” list; I’m willing to bet that the answer is a resounding “People.”

That’s because we don’t want information–we crave stories and experiences, and we want them to feel authentic. We don’t want to be sold something that has a “buy me” sticker on it–we want previews or exposure to experiences that match needs we already have (see also: why re-targeting is such a successful sales tool).

100% of the most followed brands on Instagram in 2016 were celebrities. 

Twitter users report a 5.2X increase in purchase intent when exposed to promotional content from influencers.

Lululemon is one brand that understands the people-focused nature of how human beings think and buy. The activewear brand focuses on supporting brand ambassadors instead of sponsoring teams. From a recent Fashionista article:

Beverly summed up his, Leier’s and Pearce’s experiences as Lululemon ambassadors when he said, “Their agenda is to support your agenda.” In exchange, the brand enlists ambassadors to be active — and public — members of its community on both local and global levels. Take, for example, the media retreat at which I met these and other top ambassadors. It could have been contrived or cheesy for the otherwise busy ambassadors, but Lululemon makes sure they don’t have to force enthusiasm. “You know if you get that call you’re going to get to go have three or four awesome days,” said Pearce. “We all do cool shit here, everybody that came, and to take this time means that [Lululemon has] a reputation that they do things right.” If the brand’s approximately 1,600 ambassadors feel the same, it’s a powerful way to send a message to consumers.

So what can marketers learn from social media personalities (and the rare brands) who reach and engage followers at a level often challenging for brands to match? I break down examples, tactics, and measurement techniques below.

Mix Glossy with Heartfelt

Selena Gomez, who dominated on Instagram this year, gets the mix just right: sleek, professional, magazine-style photographs and blurry photographs coupled with heartfelt captions are given equal weight on her Instagram account. Here’s glossy:


A post shared by Selena Gomez (@selenagomez) on

Here’s heartfelt:

The success of this approach has a lot to do with Selena’s personal magnetism and talent, but the delicate dance between aspirational content and raw emotional exposure is one every brand, celebrity or otherwise, should be engaging in.

What to do about it: If your brand is more on the “glossy” side, begin posting one “authentic” post on Instagram (or the social network you are most active on) weekly. Do this for at least a month. At the end of your chosen time period, take a look at your brand health on that network. Has your audience growth, engagement per post, and general engagement changed for the better (or worse)?

Instagram DashboardThen do a deep dive. Use either a hashtag or a keyword in each “heartfelt” post so that you can easily search for them and gauge how they’re doing when compared against your typical posts.

Deep DiveThis will show you how to move forward. It will tell you if this strategy works well for your brand–or not. That’s what testing is all about: looking at the data early and often helps you optimize quickly, identify opportunities for improvement, fail fast–and create real change for your brand.

Get on the Bandwagon

Heard of the Mannequin Challenge? If you’ve been on the Internet in the past month, then the answer to this question is probably yes. Taylor Swift and her model tribe got involved:

This doesn’t mean your brand should get involved in every trend sweeping the Internet, but there are times when leveraging these trends can create welcome awareness for your brand.

What to do about it: Does jumping on the bandwagon work better on one social channel than the other? This is a worthwhile experiment to run, because it will tell you where you should focus bandwagon-jumping for the foreseeable future: one less question to play the guessing game with.

DashboardYou should also consider listening to a trend as soon as you can, so that you can understand whether or not it’s appropriate for your brand to get involved.

Screen Shot 2016-09-08 at 10.47.12 AMBonus Points: Think bigger than social. How can you weave this piece of content into an email marketing campaign, or embed it on your brand’s website?

Touch and Inspire

Social media personalities get a lot of mileage out of inspirational quotes.

GabbyThese posts also encourage sharing by your followers, who want to spread the love. This is an organic way to get your content in front of lookalike audiences (audiences similar to those engaging with your brand already, who tend to be ideal customers).

What to do about it: Experiment with this tactic, and pay attention to how your share numbers change over a dedicated time period.

SharingThis will tell you if posts of this nature are a good fit for your brand.

Get Blogging

Social personalities often use their blogs as the hub for their personal “brands.” They use their social activity to drive towards this hub.

This gives influencers and celebrities a place to showcase their talents and draw social followers deeper into their lives and experiences.

What to do about it: It’s not enough to start a blog and applaud yourself for receiving a certain number of visitors each week: you need to understand the ROI of those visits. Social attribution can help with that, telling you exactly what each individual piece of blog content is worth and offering previously unknown insights–like how much this or that blog post is being shared via Dark Social.

PostsThis information can help you optimize your blog–the hub for brand voice–like never before.

Give a Face to Your Business

Moorea Seal built her boutique business into a socially fluent, rapidly growing empire (she first gained renown on Pinterest). Her photography is beautiful and her jewelry is special, but a big part of what makes her unique is the close attachment of her face and voice to her company.

What to do about it: No matter what you sell, putting a face to your brand will inspire a deeper connection with your audience and customers. Using your face as your brand’s Twitter account image might not be appropriate for your brand, but at the bare minimum you should publish thought leadership pieces regularly on LinkedIn and Medium, make sure you have a CEO who is active and engaged on social, and encourage employee advocacy on social channels as much as possible.

Looking for more enlightenment for your brand in 2017? Check out predictions from experts below, from B2B to B2C and beyond.

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Lucy Hitz

I’m the Head of Marketing Communications here at Simply Measured, where I'm responsible for our content program, social media marketing, PR, and comarketing ventures. I love yoga, The X-Files, peaty scotch, hiking, and poetry. If I were a social media channel, I’d want to be Instagram, but I think I’m Twitter.

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