From TikTok to Clubhouse: Social Media’s Shifting Landscape

By Salvatore Ciolfi May 31, 2021

Cover letters, resumes, and networking are an important part of the job application process. But to really stand out and show off your skills, there’s another tool that every digital marketing professional should add to their job search toolkit: the portfolio.

From TikTok to Clubhouse – the latest in BrainStation’s Digital Leadership Event Series – took place on May 27th, and featured the experts who lead social and digital engagement at Twitter, Microsoft, branding agency Sid Lee, and disruptive beauty company DECIEM.

You can watch the full panel discussion here:


As a platform for marketing, social media has been growing for years. But while advertising buys are becoming more streamlined (especially with the increase in user and demographic data that social media can provide), achieving valuable organic reach is still elusive – especially as a host of new platforms leaves audiences more fragmented than ever.

Fortunately, there’s opportunity in these changes. The arrival of new platforms creates new ways to reach potential customers and new ways to interact with them – and as these audiences fragment, it gives marketers the ability to target their outreach more precisely.

Into this shifting landscape, 2020 introduced a global pandemic, widespread lockdowns, and massive social protests – to name just a few of last year’s most transformative events. Each of them threw Social Media Marketers another curveball, forcing them to find ways to adapt. But in at least some of these challenges was a chance to connect with audiences in meaningful ways and build digital communities that will hopefully continue to thrive even as the pandemic winds down.

How have recent events shaped the world of social media marketing? What changes can we expect to see in the future, and how to best capitalize on them?

A.I. Is Becoming Indispensable

As social media audiences grow and diversify, brands have more opportunities than ever to personalize their outreach to each user for more effective results – but the explosion in data is more than anyone can manage single-handedly. Fortunately, data analytics and A.I. are stepping up to help Marketers understand user behavior and tailor their social media strategies around the actions that will be most impactful.

As Corissa Henry, Head of Digital at beauty company DECIEM, explains, “Two things that I’ve seen grow quite a bit in importance across all the brands that I’ve worked with have been the roles of artificial intelligence and personalization. And those two are actually quite intertwined. A.I. allows you to analyze consumer behavior and search patterns, and to use that data to help you understand how your customers are finding your products or services. This can then help you personalize how you approach those customers, so you can send the right message to the right person at the right time. What I’ve seen across all of the brands I’ve worked with is this evolution toward focusing in on who your customers are, where they are, and how to speak to them in a way that’s relevant to them, rather than just blasting information at them.”

One Platform Can Host Many Communities

This deep knowledge of your customers – where they are and how to reach them – is becoming indispensable as social media platforms proliferate; each platform is unique in its tone, culture, and the type of content that performs. But these individual platforms are diversifying as well, becoming home to myriad micro-communities united by interests that range from the fundamental to the highly esoteric.

TikTok, for example, launched with a relatively homogenous group of users. But the power of TikTok’s algorithm is how quickly it learns what viewers want to engage in, showing them more of that type of content, even in niche categories. In this way, TikTok is able to assemble loose communities along extremely fine-grained interests – which can be gold to marketers who know how to connect to them.

“There are hundreds of different communities that exist and operate distinctly on each social platform,” explains Jason Berk, Head of Social and Digital at branding agency Sid Lee. “What started as a pocket of people that created a close-knit, very specific, narrow community then started growing and adding more people….[Today,] it’s lots of different people of different demographics – a thriving LGBTQ+ community, people of color, DIYers, gamers, animal lovers, foodies, cosplayers, people in uniform….There’s a lot of the world that quite often major media doesn’t pay attention to. But they’re on TikTok….That’s really great about TikTok for marketers – if you have something to sell and there’s a specific demo, it’s there on TikTok.”

Twitter, meanwhile, is the birthplace of many conversations that ultimately take place at a cultural level, be it politics, movies, or something else entirely. Win Sakdinan, Twitter’s Head of Business Marketing for North America, explains, “Twitter is the home for very influential people, people who really want to be in the know….That classic adoption curve – Twitter users are always at the low part, as [trends] start, and then it starts to spread out. When you reach these individuals, whether you’re a brand or an individual talking about a certain topic, it spreads fast to other channels. It gets onto the news, goes to Instagram, to Facebook, to Clubhouse, to TED Talks, and everything.”

Of course, discussions and trends emerging organically on social media are not a new phenomenon. The trick is how to leverage those conversations.

Social Media Leads to More Casual, Authentic Interactions

Compared to the traditional ad-buy model where brands strictly control the message they disseminate to the world, social media is much more interactive – which lends it responsiveness and “realness” not found in other media. In fact, a tradeoff exists here: some marketing messages are glossy, tightly controlled, and on-message, while others are more casual and down to earth – and that authenticity means relinquishing some control.

In fact, controlling your message is antithetical to organic growth. For some brands, that’s OK – traditional advertising is still an option. But for brands pursuing more organic reach through social, you can only hope to contribute to a larger conversation, not to control it.

Public chat network Clubhouse is one example of a platform where brand messaging must take a backseat, Berk says. “Creating a strategy that will work [on Clubhouse is something] that you can’t really plan for. You can create the bones of a strategy, but you can’t plan the content like you would on other social networks.” For his agency, which works with brands on a consulting basis, this can mean some difficult conversations about whether social is really where they want to focus. “We always ask our clients, would you share this with your friend? Would you send this over to your mom? And if the answer’s no, the question is, why are you doing it, and is social the right place for it?” Berk advises brands to ask, “‘Do you really want an organic social strategy?’ Everyone says they do. They’re like, ‘Well, I want 100 million followers and I want all these impressions and I want people to love us.’ It’s like, OK, then you can’t put your brand first. You have to participate in a conversation.”

But for Pamela Saunders, Public Relations & Social Impact Lead at Microsoft, organic growth isn’t about going viral: “Everybody knows who Microsoft is. I don’t need to build a brand – I’m coming at it from a very different perspective. What I learned pretty quickly was that we needed to demystify who we are as a company – what does it mean to people locally? What does it mean to companies locally? Who wants to work with us, with an understanding of what we really stand for? And we found social was a really great place to talk about that. We were able to profile employees. We were able to showcase the kinds of things that we do within our walls, the kinds of work that we do in a really grassroots sort of way….I have the opportunity to be separate from the brand side, where the communications have to be that slick, really pretty photography and video that big brands are known for.”

Saunders’s goals at Microsoft are more focused on building relationships over the long term. “For us, success is really when somebody applies for a job here,” she says, “and what they tell us is, ‘I’ve been watching the videos, I’ve been seeing the content, and  I’m really interested in this team because I feel like they align with the kinds of things I want to do.’ That’s where I’m measuring it….Maybe they didn’t share our videos because it wasn’t that type of content, but it really resonated and stuck in their head. That’s super successful for me.”

The COVID-19 Pandemic Changed the Landscape

As Henry explains, many brands that reach users by being authentic and approachable got a boost in 2020. “One of the truths of the pandemic is that, in order to be together safely someday, for a while, we had to figure out how to be together apart. Social media stepped in to fill that void for so many people….It’s been amazing to see how, a little more than a year ago, everything was focused on hyper-productivity and consumption, and now it’s all about mental health and well-being. [As a result,] there’s a lot more realness to what the platforms have. And I think that going forward, that is what brands are going to have to adopt. They’re going to have to learn to speak to people on the level that they’re at, rather than having it be like that glossy ad trying to advertise to you.”

Saunders echoes Henry’s sentiments: “There was a focus on video a couple of years ago when…we were all building video teams, trying to figure out how to manage it and stay true to the vision that our brands had always had about producing video – really nice looking stuff. Those platforms started to change the way that people were interacting with video. And what we’ve seen over the pandemic is a real lean in to that. We don’t see as much heavily produced content. It’s about being a little bit messy because we’ve all been trapped in our houses and trying to share things and be real because we can’t connect in real life. That has shifted the way we think about using social, and I don’t see us ever going back.”

If we can’t go back, how do we go forward? “How do brands shift again, and make it more about providing value as people come out of their cocoons and do things, versus providing value for people while they’re on lockdown?” Berk says. “Now the challenge is, how do brands provide that value to communities and individuals that are not stuck inside anymore, and want to start having experiences again?”

This speaks directly to the challenge of maintaining social media’s influence throughout more of the marketing funnel during the pandemic – not just creating awareness, but also providing seamless entry into shopping and even point-of-sale. “Part of [the pandemic-driven shift to social] was that I couldn’t go out and shop the way I used to,” Saunders says. “And I started adapting what my expectations were….One of the things that I’ve seen – and I think this is a shift that you’ll see brands really navigating over the coming year – is we’re all starting to move outside again. But a lot of us have established online shopping or online routines that I think will continue….I want the same kind of closeness that I felt to some of the brands that I’ve been shopping with over the last year….I want that frictionless [experience], I want to go from great content right into the store to buy the thing.”

This brings us back to the question of how to leverage conversations playing out online to build organic reach. Using data to meet users where they are and engage with them in a less rigid, more authentic way are two important strategies; another strategy comes down to timing.

Seize the Moment

Social media is driven by conversations, trends, and other content that tends to occur in cycles – meaning it’s a clean slate every day. To get in on that conversation means being flexible and ready to move when an opportunity appears. That being said, not every social media event is an opportunity for marketing; brands have been burned in the past by trying to capitalize on tragedy, simply because the topic was trending. There’s a time and place for brands to add their voice.

At Twitter, 2020 was a good example of how challenging that can be. Between the pandemic, the first anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, the Black Lives Matter protests, and the attack on Capitol Hill, 2020 was a banner year for driving user engagement at Twitter – but none of these events made for a good branding moment – meaning brands had to learn how to co-exist in the same space as these discussions, even though, in most cases, direct participation in them was not appropriate. So even while engagement was up, Win says, “advertising spend dropped dramatically during the start COVID. People weren’t going to be receptive to brand messages. [Over time,] things got a little bit better, and you realized people still need to brush their teeth and drive cars and watch movies and everything. So things came back.” Still, these newsworthy events never stop happening.

One solution, then, is to initiate a conversation. Win uses the example of McDonald’s launching a new Big Mac, this one with bacon. They could simply shout the message, paying for advertising to raise awareness. But for organic reach, McDonald’s could also begin a conversation. “Big Mac with bacon – is it still a Big Mac?” Win says. This leads to debate, which grows reach organically while still keeping the conversation on track to meet the brand’s objective. “When you’re driving conversation, there’s an art and science to it that we’re starting to crack that drives more brand relevance, drives more reach and frequency and organic, and it impacts your purchase funnel, ultimately. But it’s getting that sweet spot.”

For Berk, opportunity lurks in existing conversations that are brand-adjacent – not making the conversation about the brand itself, but using the moment to introduce yourself. This is especially true of platforms like Clubhouse, where centering the brand is especially frowned upon. Instead, find a topic that’s brand-adjacent and contribute something that’s valuable to users. In the case of the new Big Mac, Berk explains how such a strategy could play out on Clubhouse: “Clubhouse is not a place for McDonald’s to exist, but it could be a place where the chef that helped create the Big Mac with bacon could say, ‘Hey everyone, I created the Big Mac with bacon and it is absolutely a Big Mac.’ People would say you’re sharing something really interesting, and you’re an authority on this, and that’s going to bring people into that room and start a massive conversation. So I think there is a tremendous opportunity for brands on Clubhouse, especially because there’s a lot of white space there.”

Henry gives another example of a brand seizing a moment that arose organically on TikTok. “Earlier this week, I got an email from a bookstore chain [with] a series of books that were trending on #BookTok” – a hashtag used by TikTok’s book-loving community, one that has put books on the bestseller list years after they were released. “I’m obsessed with #BookTok, so I instantly clicked on it to see what books they were selecting. I already owned a bunch of them, and I ended up buying a few more. This is an excellent example of a brand capitalizing on a moment where media and culture met in a way that was relevant to their brand without waiting for their particular brand to be mentioned. Because, in the digital space, we always have to have our ears to the ground to be able to strategically pinpoint moments of relevance for our brand. It doesn’t have to be that our brand is specifically being mentioned, but it could be something in the zeitgeist that is relevant to our brand.” 

For Henry, a successful campaign is one that “people found valuable and engaged with in a way so that they shared it, in addition to us having paid media behind it. I come to all of my social media campaigns with a single North Star, and that begins and ends with the audience.”

Cover letters, resumes, and networking are an important part of the job application process. But to really stand out and show off your skills, there’s another tool that every digital marketing professional should add to their job search toolkit: the portfolio.

To help you create a digital marketing portfolio, we asked BrainStation Instructor and Shopify Social Media Producer Francesca Saraco some questions about digital marketing portfolios.

Here’s why you need a digital marketing portfolio – even if you don’t have work experience – and how to create one that will help you stand out in the job market.

Why Do You Need a Digital Marketing Portfolio?

Whether you’re looking for a job or you love your job, it’s never a bad idea to have a digital marketing portfolio on the go.

“It’s important to have a showcase of your work because you never know when you’ll be asked for it,” says Saraco. “Showcasing your work helps you be discovered by potential employers. Plus, it’s nice to see how far you’ve come, how much you’ve grown and the different trajectories your work has taken.”

Keeping an up-to-date portfolio shows that you’re dedicated and engaged, and could lead to new connections or even job offers.

What Is in a Digital Marketing Portfolio?

It’s easy to guess what kind of work a Writer, Designer, or Web Developer might showcase in their portfolio. But when it comes to a digital marketing portfolio, the content might be less obvious. That’s because digital marketing often involves teamwork, strategic thinking, and planning that can’t always be captured in a writing sample or image.

“Sometimes people in more strategy-driven roles are more challenged with what they can put in a portfolio because their work is thinking based,” says Saraco.

The solution, says Saraco, is to show a tangible product, credit the team you worked with, and then explain what your role was.

For example, you could feature a few photos from an Instagram campaign with a caption that describes your role: Did you develop the strategic plan? Write the copy? Coordinate the digital ad buy? Explain your role and how you contributed to the results. Sharing analytics information alongside visuals is another way to highlight your skills (especially for search engine marketing or search engine optimization projects), but be sure you can back up what your role was and how you contributed to success.

What Do I Include in My Portfolio If I Don’t Have Digital Marketing Experience?

If you don’t have any digital marketing work experience, you can still start making a portfolio. Focus first on personal projects and social media profiles, which can be a way to showcase your digital marketing skills and sensibilities.

“You can showcase your own content, whether that’s an email newsletter that you write biweekly, or a strong Twitter presence or Instagram presence. That can be shown off in a portfolio to show potential employers how you think and how you create,” says Saraco.

If you prefer to keep your personal profiles private, consider starting a passion project (like an Instagram or blog dedicated to houseplants or cooking) and featuring it on your portfolio.

Digital marketing courses can help in this area, as many will allow you to complete work in a number of areas.

“Projects from school are a great portfolio piece to show your thinking process and skills,” says Saraco.

Can I Feature Client Work on My Digital Marketing Portfolio?

If you do have digital marketing work experience, you might be wondering if it’s okay to feature client work in your portfolio. To avoid any issues, it’s important to ask first.

“Simply emailing and asking for consent goes a long way. This is something you can do as your exiting a job or internship, or when a project is complete,” says Saraco.

When featuring client work Saraco also emphasizes the importance of crediting others who worked on the project.

“Don’t take credit for content that’s not yours, that’s really important. There is no shame in crediting collaborators on a project. It shows that you can work on a team,” says Saraco.

How Do I Start Making a Digital Marketing Portfolio?

To start making a digital marketing portfolio, you’ll want to first find a portfolio website to help you organize and showcase your work. There are currently a wide range of free or relatively cost-effective websites that offer ready-made or customizable templates for online portfolios. Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly are just a few of the options available.

Remember that the portfolio itself becomes an example of your work, so it’s important to choose a platform that you’re comfortable using.

“Keep it nice and organized, create a nice user experience and show off your personality,” says Saraco.

Once your portfolio is ready to go, make it easy to find by adding a link in your resume, on your LinkedIn page, and your social media accounts.


Interested in learning more? Book a call with one of BrainStation’s Learning Advisors.