Running Finely-Tuned Social Marketing Machines

By Sonal Gandhi
Chief Content Officer at The Lead

Time spent on social media is at a staggering 151 minutes per day on average, and it’s becoming a critical part of the purchase funnel. Brands need to be able to harness this attention as a growth channel holistically, which means going beyond algorithmic ads, and being more intentional about how you activate social commerce creators to drive measurable sales. The executives on our Direct 60 List are running highly sophisticated and data-driven social media programs – proving that with the right strategy, technology and attitude marketers can get somewhat predictable results from an ever-changing, user-controlled medium. Some of the key tenets  on how to optimize social marketing that emerged in our conversations with these leading marketers are:

Social Media Ecosystem Planning: Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat all have different user demographics, purchase flows, use-cases, and algorithms. Treating these platforms as an ecosystem, brands have to plan their goals, content, and KPIs accordingly. In our conversions executives outlined how they use each platform differently based on who their desired audience is and what outcome they are hoping for. For instance, comparing TikTok Vs Instagram- one platform is used for targeting Gen Z, while the other is for Millennials; one is about quick, engaging, authentic content, while the other is for aspirational editorial content; one is for keeping current existing customers engaged, while the other is for attracting new customers to the brand. 

Letting Go of Control in Favour of Authenticity: Many marketers are now comfortable with the idea of turning the brand over to the community. They choose which creators they want to work with, but then let the creator run with how they want to talk about the brand. 

While some brands are signing up with mega influencers and celebrities, others are choosing to work exclusively with micro-influencers. According to Megan Brophy, VP, Marketing Brand Strategy at Abercrombie & Fitch, “We’re witnessing the democratization of influence. The fluidity of the algorithm on platforms like TikTok has created space for anybody to have influence, and the chance for all voices to be amplified. Going viral no longer requires a massive following, and this evolved model has flipped the script on who can become a creator. As we enter a new digital era, we’ll see less reliance on influencers with enormous audiences and more value placed on the impact of fostering authentic bonds and creating true brand advocates from the ground up.”

Cross-Functional Alignment: At the best-performing teams, the affiliate, PR, and influencer teams are collaborating more and more on programs that emphasize holistic measurement and a unified approach. Even though these functions may be siloed, there’s untapped growth in the creator space if they aren’t operating independently.

Analytics and Dashboards: Measuring the impact of their social strategy and spend is paramount to marketers. Some are working with a set of solution providers to measure and maximize ROI, while others have built complex internal databases and dashboards to understand which influencers, platforms, and tactics are driving what type of results. These tools are especially essential for those who are running social strategies across multiple brands, are in multiple markets, or are working with large sets of micro-influencers. 

However, attribution still remains a challenge as brands continue to discover that social commerce campaigns have a much bigger impact beyond last click – in fact, these campaigns can impact not just digital traffic, but also traffic to physical stores as well. 

Focusing on Transparency: Many creator or publisher networks operate as a black-box, making it impossible for brands to understand which partners are truly the most impactful, and how. More and more marketers are focusing on direct, transparent programs where they can see exactly which creator is driving which sales, even through organic posts. 

“As social commerce is making a bigger and bigger impact on commerce, more marketers are seeing the power of having more ownership over their programs,” says Kevin Forsyth, the SVP of Growth at Howl. “There’s a myth that working ‘directly’ with partners has to be hard. You can have a direct program with the transparency you need, and still have efficiency and scale. With the right transparency and platform, you can identify and reward the right partners and unlock even more growth.” 

Next-Gen Technologies (i.e. Generative AI) – Many marketers we spoke with have quickly jumped on the generative AI bandwagon, and its usage is only going to accelerate from here as the technology evolves. Generative AI will have an increasingly important role to play in marketing–as Roshan Verma, former VP of Customer Platforms and Analytics at Tapestry, noted,  “The way I foresee AI being most beneficial for brands is when we take the best of the talent, creativity, and experience of the organization’s organic intelligence, and use AI to then scale and magnify it. You can use AI to scale the ability of your most charismatic and knowledgeable store associate, your most creative designer, or your most talented visual artist. Consumer appetite for information, imagery, and content is only going to increase. AI can help to fulfill this ever-growing demand for content.”

Howl works with thousands of creators across Electronics, Fashion, Beauty, and Home including Sakitech, glamgirlchelsea, and Max Weinbach, and partners with brands including Target, Best Buy, Sephora, Merit Beauty, Three Ships, and Samsung. The company launched in private beta in May 2022 and has generated more than $300M for brands, while paying creators more than $50M. Learn more at

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