Jala Smith-Huys is the founder of Embark Creative, a social media marketing boutique based in Portland, Oregon. Her client list includes some familiar names such as Intel and Whole Foods. In addition, Jala is the founder of Seek & Swoon, a maker of “eco throws.” We spoke recently about the intersection of social media marketing and human scale business.
Telling Stories and Making Connections
Jala began her career as a graphic designer. About eight years ago, an opportunity to work with the Tillamook brand presented itself, and she transitioned to social media strategy work. However, Jala has always had the urge to launch her own product. So, after careful deliberation, she started Seek & Swoon in October 2016.
Jala’s work as a social media consultant impressed upon her the criticality of meaningful stories and a differentiated brand. Consequently, she knew that any brand she launched needed to reflect her passions, interests, and capabilities. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be able to sustain the effort necessary to succeed.
A family trip helped surface three organizing principles: travel, design, and sustainability. That led to blankets made in the U.S. from regenerated cotton having original designs inspired by Jala’s travel experiences and aspirations.
Jala perceives, “Customers want to buy more than they are holding in their hand.” That is, they wish to connect with the stories behind the brand. Although uncomfortable talking about herself, Jala said she has “woven my story into this brand.” She anticipated, “People would find a connection to this desire to travel and explore.”
Indeed, Jala has seen how customers bring their own stories about the places reflected in the design of her products. Places and travel are a source of design inspiration for Jala. The resulting products are also serve as physical manifestations of her customers’ stories. As with musicians and their audiences, Jala and her customers create meaning together.
I’m Terrible at Marketing Myself
Jala finds it difficult to market her own brands. You might find that surprising, given her background.
In spite of an inclination to do things herself, Jala has hired help. Specifically, she sought out another designer to create her logo as well as a writing coach. As a result, Jala was able to gain perspective and objectivity. It’s her brand and her stories, but others have helped bring clarity to her marketing messages.
Social Media for Human Scale Business
Jala’s social media strategy resume is impressive. That background combined with her in-the-trenches experience as the owner of a human scale business grabbed my attention. It’s one thing to craft a social media campaign for Toshiba and another to do so within the constraints of a small business.
Every brand needs something different.
Different brands have different goals and audiences. Testing, learning, and evolving are necessary to discover how best to connect your brand with customers.
Jala performs several functions as a social media consultant:
- Messaging strategy
- Channel selection
- Content development
- Asset creation
- Channel management
While she prefers a strategy role, Jala finds that being directly involved with execution helps her craft better strategies.
Walking Her Talk
With Seek & Swoon, Jala has been able to apply what she’s done for clients to her own business. As with any business, she started with an understanding of her objectives.
It’s really important that you know what your goals are and who your audience is. Then step back and say, “Okay, these are the people I want to reach; this is who my brand is; and these are the channels that make the most sense for me.”
In the case of Seek & Swoon, Jala has a clear idea of what she wants from each of her social media channels. Although it’s become difficult to get any visibility on Facebook without paying for it, Jala uses that channel to connect with her personal network.
In contrast, Jala sees Pinterest as important for search and shopping. Initially, she is building her Pinterest “boards” around travel themes. Over time, she’ll introduce more of her products to the mix.
Right now, Jala is spending most of her time with her Instagram channel. It’s where she shares her aesthetic and seeks to build awareness of the Seek & Swoon brand. Not only does Instagram facilitate interactions with prospective customers, it’s also a channel through which to connect with retailers and vendors.
Jala launched a Twitter channel for Seek & Swoon. Given how Twitter has evolved, Jala views it as a customer service channel. That function seems premature for the brand. Given her desire to simplify, Jala has mothballed Twitter for the time-being.
Choose Your Influencer Partnerships Wisely
Since starting Seek & Swoon, several would-be influencers have approached Jala. Real influencers can help you reach new audiences and build an authentic community. However, they can be expensive, Therefore, Jala recommends you do your homework:
- Who is their audience? Is it aligned with yours?
- Go beyond follower counts. To what extent does the influencer’s audience engage with her content?
- With what other brands has the influencer collaborated? What were the results?
- Is this somebody with whom you’d like to spend your time?
Early on, it can be flattering to be approached by self-described influencers. Resist the temptation to lunge. Be selective.
Have a Social Media Plan
When it comes to social media, it’s easy to generate undirected activity. In order to go fast, slow down and craft a plan. (Don’t worry, you’ll need to change it as you test and learn.)
- Who are you and your brand?
- Where do you want to go?
- Who is your audience?
- Where does that audience “live” online?
- What are your interests and capabilities? Are they consistent with the requirements of the channel?
Creating content is really time-consuming. If you don’t like taking photographs (or spending money on photographers), Instagram is not likely to be a great fit. Choose thoughtfully. Test, learn, and adapt.
Results from social media aren’t instantaneous. Neither are they free. Commit real resources – time and money – in order to achieve your goals.