Optimizing Your Organic Social Media Strategy with Kendall Dickieson
“Brand marketing isn’t dead,” states Kendall Dickieson. It lays the foundation behind the most successful DTC brands.
Talk to any brand builder today, and without a doubt, they’ll say that creating organic content plays a fundamental role in their marketing strategy. Creating a strong organic social media presence is necessary to reach new audiences and potential customers, create brand awareness, and build community.
In her work, Dickieson leverages the power of organic social media to launch, build, and grow DTC brands. She’s behind some of your favorite brand accounts, including Graza, Canopy, and Starday Foods, to name a few.
To better understand how to create a strong social media marketing strategy, more specifically a brand’s organic social media presence, we sat down with Dickieson herself. Let’s dive in.
Organic vs. Paid Social Media
Paid and organic are important in their own ways. They both play an integral role in social media marketing; however, paid can’t exist without organic.
In some ways, Dickieson argues that there’s more work involved in organic social. “In organic, it’s up to you to retain every customer that comes to the brand account,” she explains. “You have to get to know your followers and make them want to stay.”
Organic social is an opportunity to increase brand awareness, but more importantly, it’s an opportunity to build community, and community building can happen on all social media channels—LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, etc.
How does Dickieson view community in the context of social media marketing?
“Community is a group of people who want to be ingrained in everything you do,” notes Dickieson. “Audience is more passive. Your community is more engaged and shows up time and time again.”
Over the years, the social media landscape for ecommerce brands has shifted. Now, there are new social networks (TikTok, BeReal, etc) and more complex algorithms coupled with the recent iOS updates. On the paid ads side, it’s even more difficult to acquire new customers and cut through the noise.
But, organic social media isn’t slowing down. We’re all still on our phones and using these apps. Even if you’re not seeing exponential growth on organic, that’s not an excuse to throw money at something, says Dickieson.
Dickieson reminds us that organic posts aren’t about conversion. “At the end of the day, organic is a community-building tool,” she says. And, it pays off in the long run.
Take Graza, for example. The brand launched in January 2022 and hasn’t spent a dime on paid ads outside of small activations and influencer marketing. They saw the highest engagement following their recent community event (a pig roast) in upstate New York. Followers responded to Graza’s organic posts begging the team to host their next event in Chicago, LA, Houston, and the Hamptons.
Prioritizing organic content and engaging content, Graza has seen wild success from Dickieson’s social media playbook.
“Paid has a time and a place. The opportunity is in community building, and that happens on organic social.”
Getting Started with Organic Social Media
“The earlier you start, the better off you’ll be,” says Dickieson. In the past, she’s worked on projects with two weeks' notice, but after working on Graza’s launch, Dickieson sees immense value in planning out large social campaigns, finding the right channels, and noting metrics and best practices months in advance.
Dickieson joined Graza a few months before launch. This time allowed her to create a strong social media strategy (including KPIs) and an influencer outreach plan as well as build hype around the brand. She started posting on the brand’s Instagram account months before launch, attracting potential customers to the brand story and getting followers excited about olive oil.
“Build up your organic social presence ahead of launch. That way, by the time you launch, you have a fully-fleshed out social account plus people who are ready to buy your product. Then, the hype is real,” explains Dickieson.
When she onboards a new client, she organizes her thoughts into a massive social media marketing deck (aka her brain dump). The deck answers the following questions:
- What are our content pillars?
- What are our go-to channels? How do we optimize them for growth, engagement, and community?
- What do we want our social channels to look like?
She even includes 30+ content concepts and social media posts (memes, infographics, TikTok ideas, static posts, etc) and an Instagram mood board. “The more granular you can get in your social strategy, the more you can level up. You should be able to walk away knowing that you can execute immediately versus having to wait for the right resources,” she adds.
In terms of selecting content pillars, Dickieson always includes the pillar: “X as the hero” (X stands for the product). What’s interesting to note is that Dickieson typically avoids creating a strict “education” content pillar. Instead, she includes education—both around the product and the brand—in the product-focused content pillar.
People always say, “You can only talk about olive oil in so many unique ways,” but take a look at the brand’s Instagram or TikTok and you’ll see that Dickieson has proved them wrong.
Even if a post talks about the same, key points, she shows the product in a unique way—whether it’s merging testimonials and user-generated content or a weird TikTok.
On the topic of user-generated content, “UGC should play a huge role in your organic social strategy,” adds Dickieson. “It helps strengthen your feed and brand equity.” Plus, it performs extremely well in paid ads, if that’s part of your social media strategy. Including UGC in paid creates a way more native and organic, ad experience.
Dickieson’s final note: create a content calendar to have some structure but leave a lot of room for flexibility. “You’re shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t have room for flexibility,” she adds.
“You fall in love with the content. You don’t fall in love with how a brand pushes their product.”
How to Optimize Your Influencer Strategy
Dickieson attributes a huge part of Graza’s success to the brand’s influencer strategy and its unique approach. Graza founders Andrew Benin and Allen Dushi provided Dickieson with a ton of room for play and experimentation to work with influencers.
Dickieson sought out influencers who were willing to take risks and create engaging content in an exciting way.
“Don’t stay in your niche,” explains Dickieson. “Say you’re in the cooking space, don’t just go after your classic cooking influencers.” Most people expect to see olive oil drizzled on salads, pizza, veggies, etc. So, instead, Dickieson found influencers who she knew would use the product differently—drizzled on barbecue, ice cream, etc.
“I wanted to work with creators who would use olive oil in a new way and make consumers stop and think, ‘Why?’” adds Dickieson.
Plus, to Graza’s advantage, the bottle is kitchen counter eye candy, so influencers typically feature the product in the background of their content (see Alison Roman’s smashburger video for reference).
Dickieson suggests reaching out to a mix of nano-, micro-, and macro-influencers. Although macro-influencers might seem like a long shot, you never know. For instance, the Graza team reached out to Molly Baz, and to the team’s surprise, she posted about the brand on Instagram.
When reaching out to a myriad of influencers, Dickieson never sends a basic message. She starts the conversation with a cheesy, unique one-liner or joke to get their attention. She always sends it from the brand account (not her personal one).
“I ask for nothing in my messages,” says Dickieson. If an influencer responds with rates, she always considers that. “Even if they don’t post immediately, I don’t get hung up over that. Every influencer is on their own timeline,” adds Dickieson.
Dickieson notes, “If you have a good product, people will naturally share it the minute they get it, whether it’s the unboxing experience or a unique recipe.” For Canopy, another one of Dickieson’s clients, 99% of the time influencers post the unboxing experience.
“You have to remember that they’re people too,” she notes. “I always like to keep influencers stocked, especially the ones who love your brand the most.”
“I don’t ask influencers for anything. I just ask for their address.”
Team is Everything
According to Dickieson, nailing your marketing strategy (and particularly organic social media) always comes down to your team.
“The best people who work in social are performance-driven,” notes Dickieson. They don’t have to necessarily be performance marketers, but they have an understanding of both brand and performance.
Leaving social teams out of meetings and greater company-wide initiatives and campaigns is a major mistake. “Social should play a role in everything,” asserts Dickieson.
All aspects of a brand’s marketing strategy connect back to social—from customer service to PR. The social team doesn’t have to be on every call, but they should be kept in the loop regarding all major initiatives, campaigns, and promotions.
Dickieson suggests adding an all-agency call to your team’s calendar. It’s an opportunity for consultants, freelancers, agencies, and the internal team to touch base, look ahead, and build an even stronger marketing strategy.
“Every month, we have a call where we run through the cal and the product roadmap. Then, we can help each other out, make introductions, and brainstorm,” says Dickieson. This call helps the team zoom out, which is especially helpful as it’s easy to get lost in the weeds of social media marketing.
“Everything ties back to the team.”
Organic Content on TikTok: Best Practices
TikTok is all the buzz. Although we’ll never know the secret behind the platform’s algorithms, Dickieson has found that it boils down to consistency. Sometimes the dumbest videos go viral, and there’s no way to know how or why.
Dickieson reminds us that we can use other brands as inspiration, citing Pablo Picasso’s famous quote: “Good artists copy and great artists steal.” She suggests finding TikTok brand accounts outside of your niche that might share a similar vibe (use hashtags to search) and then noting what trending sounds they use and what relevant content they’re creating on the platform. “Don’t rip anyone off, but feel free to look at other accounts as inspo,” she says.
For TikTok, Dickieson recommends bringing on a creator. “Don’t have the founder be the face of your brand unless they’re committed to it. That’s a lot of pressure and time,” says Dickieson.
For Graza, Dickieson and the team have brought on a few creators. Each creator hits on a different set of pain points and specializes in a unique form of social media content—mostly around recipe development and education. “So many people think that if you have tons of followers, it costs a million dollars, but it doesn’t. You just have to bring on the right people,” adds Dickieson.
Overall, “If you know your target audience and consistently create content, you can come out on top,” she notes. “So many people think that you have to post 24/7, but the number one thing you can do for yourself is to stay consistent. That can be three posts a week or seven posts a week.”
“If you’re scared to start, simplicity wins. Consistency wins.”
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