Ryan Berman talks to thought leaders from around the globe in business, sports and entertainment to uncover what it means to be courageous in today's world.

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Kate Winick - Social Media & Brand Marketing Expert

Kate Winick – Social Media & Brand Marketing Expert

Kate Winick is a Social Media Swiss Army Knife. She is a keynote speaker, thought leader, and an elite player in building social media programs for brands like Clique, Elle, and, most recently, Peloton. Her work has appeared in ELLE, Who What Wear, Today, Yahoo, and Martha Stewart.

Episode Notes

In her conversation with host Ryan Berman, Kate shares her journey from journalist to social media guru and many lessons she has learned along the way.  They discuss what it was like to lead a social media team at a company going through exponential growth. And they reminisce on what it was like to guide a brand — and the severe challenges that came with it (See: all UGC content) — during the height of the pandemic. Kate also shares why she believes happiness wins over anger on social and provides a handful of other high-level insights for any leader looking to make a meaningful dent through their social channels.

[00:00:38] Ryan Berman: So, I'm So excited for our convo for like a thousand reasons. First of all, I've been impressed by you from the moment we, we had our first conversation and what's great about you now, Kate, is that you've got the, the big experience with the resources of a Peloton, right? But you've also, now that you've kind of gone on out on your own, there's a little bit of duct tape.

[00:01:04] You got to bring your Swiss army knife, very different world that you're playing in now. When I describe you Kate, I see you as sort of a Swiss Army Knife for social media. I'm not sure if you like that metaphor or not, or analogy or not, but tell me, like take us behind the curtain. First of all, how did you like stumble into Peloton?

[00:01:24] How many years were you there? 

[00:01:25] Kate Winick: Yeah. What was that like? I was... I was at Peloton for five years. So I joined in 2018, right around the time they were raising their Series E. So, you know, the IPO was, like, I would say it was sort of on the horizon, but it was definitely not, you know, it was not guaranteed. It was not promised.

[00:01:44] It was not clear. There was no timeline at that point. And, you know, it was really an opportunity to join because of the work and because of the team. It wasn't, you know, I never, I, one of my best friends is the economic professor at NYU. And every time this comes up, she always decides her favorite stat, which is that like the average employee exit from an IPO is 30, 000.

[00:02:07] She's like, so just like ground yourself in that number that like that's how life changing this is likely to be and like do it because you want to do it because it's the right job because it's, you know, it's it's the right skill development opportunity and it's the right environment for you to be in right now.

[00:02:21] And so I think I think when you take jobs for the right reasons, you are often rewarded. Far more so than you expect. And that was definitely my, my experience of Peloton. 

[00:02:32] Ryan Berman: All right. So when you say take jobs for the right reasons, try to jump back into the shoes of Kate Winick, looking at the job in your mind, what was that criteria like?

[00:02:42] Kate Winick: Oh, yeah. Oh, no, I remember it vividly. I mean, some of it is like, to me, like, I'm, I'm a writer. That was the first thing I ever identified as ever was the first real skill I ever developed. And so for me, I like my resume is like an ongoing sort of writing project, right? It's a narrative building project.

[00:03:00] And where I was at that point, you know, I had, so I started out, I started out as a journalist, I transitioned into social leading social for Elle magazine at Hearst when they were first building their digital newsroom, which was like a crazy process of taking these like super legacy luxury media brands and like putting them online for the first time in like a real way.

[00:03:20] And from there, I went to Click Media Group, which is sort of like, they were kind of the first digital native publisher. in, in fashion, which is not important now that it's like such a saturated space, but they were really the first ones to do a lot of things in that, in that industry. They were the first ones to really build up an influencer program, to build up an affiliate marketing program.

[00:03:43] They were starting to move into experimenting with physical product. And I thought like, cool, like, let's learn something about being a digital native. And under, and in that program, I was basically like second in command to somebody great. Which is an incredible position to be in and an incredible position to learn in.

[00:04:00] And I got to run a really big team across a couple different cities and, you know, really, really do it in tandem with somebody I liked and respected and who remains a good friend. But I felt like I needed that last test to just be sure that like, I could build it myself from scratch. And so when I was looking for new opportunities, that was sort of the key opportunity that I was looking for.

[00:04:21] I don't like repeating myself. And a lot of the sort of conversations I've had since then. And while I was at Peloton was like, Hey, we're like a fitness startup. Do you remember that thing you just did? Do you want to do it again from step one? And the answer is very much like, no, at this point, but it's, but at the time I needed to do it once.

[00:04:39] I needed to do it all the way through and understand that I could build the big enterprise social program that I had been tasked with running previously. 

[00:04:48] Ryan Berman: Curious if you, I mean, this might be a silly question because you're working for someone you respect and how lucky are you that you found someone out of the gate that was like, yes, this is an awesome person to work with and learn from.

[00:05:02] At any moment, did you share that you were like looking for something else or not really until after. 

[00:05:10] Kate Winick: Um, not really until after, I mean, I think, I think she, I don't, I don't think she was surprised at that, you know, she was a good manager and she's a perceptive person, but I, I think it was, it was pretty clear that like, that was not a company where there was a ton of turnover and top management, there still isn't, there's still a lot of people at that company who have been there for 10 plus years, which in fashion media is like almost unheard of.

[00:05:35] So it's, it's a place where people tend to kind of stay for a very long time. And that's just kind of, I don't know, it kind of, it wasn't my path. Like they're there, they definitely hire people. It was the first time I'd ever supervised somebody who was not of legal drinking age, and it was like, they'd hired her at 19 for a full time role, which is not, it's not a problem, but it's just something that I was like surprised that I was like, Oh, okay.

[00:05:58] Like I'm going to manage like a really young person and she's still there. You know, people stay that long with this brand and it's, I mean, it's, it's a very cool thing, but it means that if you're looking for opportunities to, to really go in a different direction or try something from scratch, they don't come on your terms or on your schedule.

[00:06:18] And I had already had, you know, a bunch of different jobs before that. I'd worked at a bunch of different places. And I think there's always a benefit to plunging yourself back into something new. You know, I was starting to feel complacent. And that's, that's not where you learn. 

[00:06:34] Ryan Berman: What was the, like the final interview round, like at Peloton?

[00:06:38] Who'd you, who'd you meet with? Was it your direct, was there HR back then? I mean, it's 2018, right? If it was a big company. 

[00:06:46] Kate Winick: It was, it was a, it was not a small company at that point. They were about 500 people, but it was not the company that it is today. And still, you know, had a lot of that, like startup DNA in, in things like administrative processes, there was HR.

[00:06:58] And I had met with HR to do the phone screen, I will never forget the, the actual whole day of interviews I went through. It was, I first met with the person who'd be my potential boss, who was Brad Olson, who's now the CEO over at Solace Health. I met with, My what would be my potential team so to social media managers who had been at the brand for a while and, you know, we're really looking to hire their boss, which is that's always a weird interview.

[00:07:25] I met with our head instructor Robin. And our chief content officer, which was a surreal interview process. And then I actually met with our, our president at the time, William Lynch, which was definitely the most senior person I think I had ever interviewed with. And I think it really, it was a little nerve wracking, but it definitely spoke to me about how excited the company was about this role and how seriously they took social in terms of their kind of core brand building.

[00:07:50] Ryan Berman: I mean, it's almost an unfair question to ask because you've now been through it and it's like a five year run and I mean, 1600 days on any business. It's a long time. But if you can sort of give us your philosophy on social, even back then, like what did you articulate to them? Like, Hey, if there's one thing I communicate to them on the power of social, it's X.

[00:08:15] Kate Winick: I think. I, I wanted to, I mean, what I was, what I was seeing there, which was, I may be specific to, to Peloton social and is the most enviable problem for any social lead to have was that to me, social has the potential to work at all levels of the business and to understand social as part of the funnel.

[00:08:37] And I think that's, it's a, it's a scary thing, I think, to bring up as a social lead, because you don't own a lot of those success metrics, right? You're not the person who can prove great conversion. It's much harder for you to, to, to measure attribution when you're leading organic. But I'm a big advocate for, and always have been.

[00:08:55] A big advocate of social like we, we are part of your top of funnel program. And if you're not thinking about social as part of top of funnel, as part of generating leads and brand love and interest and generally raising awareness, then you're missing something about this. And Peloton at that point was really using social purely as an engagement and retention play.

[00:09:17] It was a way to keep members involved and to keep them excited and to like let them know new content was coming and that's definitely a part of it and having a really robust community management program along with a social program that's outbound is great, but I don't know the way that I was some that I always like.

[00:09:35] It's really emblematic of the problem I was trying to solve was the first day that I started the first Monday I worked there was the weekend after their annual member event and I've been watching on social all weekend because you know I was curious and I thought this would be a great way to learn like this is this is one of the biggest things we do for our members every year and I remember coming in on Monday and that was the first thing that my new co worker asked me.

[00:10:00] And she was like, what did you think? And I was like, I mean, I saw a lot of interesting stuff. I was like, but like my one question is what does HRI stand for? Because I watched 72 hours of coverage and nobody ever explained any of the acronyms you were using. Like it was like it was, it was going to be small things like that of like a real mentality shift of saying we're not just talking to our own people anymore.

[00:10:23] We're really expanding and we're making this comprehensible to everybody without losing what's special about being a member. And it's a, it's a fine line to walk, particularly when you've invested a lot in building a community. But I think it's, it's a real missed opportunity not to do it. 

[00:10:39] Ryan Berman: Well, your strategy is showing a little bit, right?

[00:10:41] It's like, it's not just, first of all, bravo, right? You have a community like that is that alone is not a small feat, right? But then it's. Hey, how do we continue to grow this community? You all should be part of this community and feel like they, they belong. And if there's acronyms that I've never heard of before, I certainly don't feel like I'm welcomed in that I belong.

[00:11:03] So it's a cool insight. And probably like, you know, one of my favorite stories that I've heard from Uber is that And I don't know if they do this anymore. They used to do, they didn't do exit interviews. They did, they did entrance interviews. Cause they knew that the minute you got in, the reality of the Kool Aid would start to take over.

[00:11:23] And you'd be part of the culture. And the next thing you know, you'd be dancing to the songs of the, of the brand. And they wanted to get those ideas from you before the culture really, really took over. 

[00:11:33] Kate Winick: Yeah. The, the, the person who hired me into Peloton, Brad Olson was, I remember he said very early on to me that he was like, listen, he's like, you're the most valuable to me in the first six months that you will ever be.

[00:11:45] He's like, after that, he's like, you're one of us. And, you know, he's like, it's not that you won't contribute. We hope you'll be here for a long time and you'll contribute a lot. He's like, but what, what you're able to offer me at the beginning, as you're learning, he's like, ask all of those questions, all the ones that seem dumb and obvious, because they're the ones that are going to repeatedly point us to our weak spots.

[00:12:04] And if there's something that seems really obvious to you, like it may not be something anybody here knows about. 

[00:12:09] Ryan Berman: Already like my hope is any leader that's listening to this is like, please, like we have blind spots, right? Ask the new people, interview more people. And I think it's normal. You go about your day.

[00:12:20] You just assume that people understand our business because you've been living it. And I, it's like consumers with, with, with storytelling and advertising, it's like. The world doesn't care if you've worked on something for four hours or 400 hours. They just see your content mixed in with everything else that comes across a feed.

[00:12:38] There's no asterisk to be like, well, we only had this budget or, you know, Hey, we worked on this for three weeks. You hopefully you like it. No, they just see the end product in your mind. When you think about the type of work you've done, when did you go and say, Hey, let's get this out fast. Because fast has a place, and actually your journalistic background, you know, there's like, fast has a role in some of this, and then slow cook clearly has a role too. What was your blend on the two? 

[00:13:05] Kate Winick: I mean, I, I think every, for every social media person, this is, this is like the ultimate joke of the profession, right?

[00:13:11] Is that, like, the one that you labor over for months, like, that, like, does okay. And the one that you, like, toss off in the middle of the night without really thinking about it, like, that's the one that goes viral. It's always that way. And, like, not, not in terms of, like, big campaigns. There are things that take time to put together.

[00:13:25] But yeah, no, I mean, I think we've, you always have that experience of like the ones that just feel right to you. Like the work that comes easily is the work that tends to resonate. And if you have to really force it and you really belabor the message, I think there's something about that effort that like, it starts to, it starts to bleed into how the work is received.

[00:13:45] And if you're having trouble explaining it, someone else is almost certainly going to have trouble understanding it. So I don't know that there's a right mix for any brand and I think that question right now often gets answered in terms of like how many TikTok trends should we be jumping on or you know how many memes should we be making based on like trending content is a big complicating factor in that question of figuring out like how what you're what you're sort of trending to plan should be.

[00:14:11] It's almost a different question of what is your sort of Speed to scheduled ratio. They're, they're similar but not the same. And they're structurally like they're, they're, they're the same skillset. So I think you always need to be doing enough quick turn work that you have the ability to do quick turn work, but there's not, there, there's no empirical right answer for how often you ought to do it.

[00:14:35] And I think if you are finding yourself doing it almost exclusively, you're probably not planning enough ahead and you're probably burning out good brains on your team. 

[00:14:41] Ryan Berman: So this is a marinade away. I'm going to ask a question that you can marinate on because then maybe this is so the audience knows, obviously, I don't give Kate the questions in advance.

[00:14:52] It's a conversation, right? Keep it conversational, but I'm curious and marinate on this and we'll come back to this in a minute. If there were just three. High level, you know, as the social media guru that you are, and you know, advice that you would give the audience on social today, like just three huge, they could be wins or thoughts, or what are you seeing?

[00:15:18] It could be insights, but start thinking about those three insights that you would provide for us. We'll come back to this in one minute. So, Here you go. You're five. You go, you start in on a five year journey at Peloton. I mean, pandemic happens. My Peloton is like my, you know, my happy place, you know, the listeners know we had Emma on earlier in the year.

[00:15:41] It was cool to hear her story. She had her book come out. What was it like behind the scenes there for you? Well, it was it, you had resources, but you probably also have politics, like natural politics of a big company. What I also heard, and I know I'm ranting a little bit here. Is it, it sure felt like A really entrepreneurial place for a long time where you could really be an owner and bring your ideas to the table.

[00:16:07] So take me back to those first few years into the pandemic, what was life like for you and how entrepreneurial could you be? 

[00:16:15] Kate Winick: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, So I would say even even prior to the pandemic, yes, that was acting like an owner is a really strong core value for Peloton. And it's one that was really, that was never, that was never in question.

[00:16:29] That was something that everybody really protected, I think. And, you know, operating with a bias for action, like another one, you know, a lot of these will sound familiar to anybody who reads tech company manifestos, which. Bless you, you shouldn't, but I think it's, I think, I think there was, there's a lot in the culture that was built intentionally at the beginning to foster that I arrived at a really interesting moment.

[00:16:51] You know, I arrived at a moment where functions that used to be people were starting to become teams. And I stayed through that transition of like those teams becoming departments and having a lot more structure and a lot more specialization built in. And that's where I think a lot of corporate politics start to emerge because you always have empire builders in that environment.

[00:17:13] You always have people who struggle with the transition of not being an owner in the way they were accustomed to being an owner. You know, it used to be that like, if you were doing anything with retail marketing, it was like, just talk to Jen and Abby. And, you know, like, now it's not Jen and Abby, now it's, like, there are, like, there, there were, there were dozens of people involved who had specific functions who, you know, and that kind of growth in a remote environment and, you know, I, I have a lot of love for remote work in a lot of ways, but adding, adding the number of team members that we did in the timeframe that we added them was really challenging.

[00:17:51] Like it was, it was very hard. It was, everybody went through it, but it was very hard to meet people. It was very hard to understand what they were good at or see what they were doing. And I think it was, I think it was something nobody was adequately really prepared to staff or to manage. And we weren't, we weren't immune to that.

[00:18:08] And additionally, we were also going through the worst kind of hypergrowth and worst type of growth and best type of growth is exactly the same. I wouldn't wish it on anybody. Like it's, it's an incredibly painful feeling and particularly in social, like whether it's good or bad, the net result is the same, which is a lot of people screaming at you and just a lot of people who are just angry, who don't have what they want.

[00:18:33] And whether it's because they want your product or they hate your product, it's kind of like, it's still the same emotional burden for you. You're still just being yelled at all day and you still have the same limited ability to do anything about it. Like there was. You know, there was a, there was a supply chain problem that was global and insurmountable and incidentally, not something social media teams can do anything about, like, even in normal circumstances.

[00:18:57] So it was, I'm somebody who has a pretty thick skin and have always. And this was like, this was like the end of it. Like I was just, there was nothing you could throw at the, at our team after that, that like phased anybody. And it was, it was a level of kind of. Of numbness that I think made doing some work very hard.

[00:19:19] It was. It was validating to some degree in terms of the creative process that our team had championed for a long time. Peloton was a company that put a lot of, put a lot of weight and a lot of premium on beautiful creative and on our television commercials and we suddenly found ourselves in a moment where nobody was shooting.

[00:19:39] You couldn't. Like, nobody was on set. You couldn't shoot a traditional video. And all of a sudden, everything my team had done to invest in user generated content and to develop like a sourcing process with our members, all of a sudden that was it. That was the only creative available. And so it went from being something that the team was not interested in to something that the team was almost wholly reliant on.

[00:20:03] And we actually had sort of an unlearning process on the back end of saying, Hey, listen, like. The level of video you're requesting here is so customized and specific that that's actually not user generated content at all. We have to pay somebody to say exactly what we want them to say. And some stories we're actually better off telling ourselves and kind of nudging people back in the other direction of like, yes, it's free, but it has huge, it has huge costs in terms of search time, in terms of cultivating relationships.

[00:20:31] Like the, the difference is in the labor instead of in the money. And that was labor that fell very hard on my team. Who were absolute champions about it and who were so scrappy about making content in our own homes and out in the world and our instructors, like same thing, like these are people who are now like pretty legit, like, you know, global celebrities and they, you know, they got the same camera kit as everybody else and they had to set it up at home and learn how to shoot themselves.

[00:20:58] I mean, I'm sure Emma talked about it. Like it's, it was a, it was kind of a crazy process. 

[00:21:03] Ryan Berman: You know, I, I think we've, I'm curious the, the concept of UGC, like, I don't know if we needed a pandemic to speed this up, you know what I mean? But, you know, my background spent 20 some years in advertising with, you know, big brand budgets and shooting, going to LA for a week and scouting and casting and shooting and, and, and now it feels like 85% of us.

[00:21:34] Have a camera in our pocket, right? 85% of the content. I mean, we're, we're, we're consuming is shot and, and feels very real. 10 to 15% is still like, let's get the crane out and have some beautiful shot. And, but, but the unconscious is it comes off. I think we want it to come off beautiful. Right. And like, oh, that's going to elevate the brand.

[00:22:00] Realistically, you lose some points on real, you know, you lose some points on that. This is like, this is genuine now. And I wonder if there's a point of no return that should scare the living shit out of agencies, right? Like, right. Because if everything is shot with a phone and it's all shot, trust is the ultimate.

[00:22:20] Factor here. And then the next thing you know, it's like, Oh, I'm looking at it's a commercial. I don't trust that. Right. Right. It's not, it's not real. Now. We don't say it that way, but that's what's really happening. Are you feeling that too? Are you seeing that too? 

[00:22:33] Kate Winick: I haven't seen him thought sometimes, but I'm a pretty firm believer that like everything is on a pendulum.

[00:22:39] I don't think we're quite at the, I don't think we've hit the peak of this swing yet. But I think there is going to be a point at which when everything starts to look the same, whatever is different is what's going to stand out. And I don't think we're, I don't think we're there yet, but I think it's coming.

[00:22:55] I think it will happen, certainly within my working life, that all of a sudden, you know, any of this shot on iPhone kind of feel, and this handheld cam, like, Once that's truly everywhere and truly ubiquitous and taken to the point of absurdity, and I think for that you always look at like regulated sectors, right?

[00:23:12] Like you look at banks, you look at health care. Like the first time there's a pharma ad that looks like it was shot in a like handheld iPhone, that's when we know like we've peaked, we're headed back in the other direction now. And that's the opportunity for somebody to do something that is, That is creative.

[00:23:28] That is beautiful. Like I think there are still ads that break through the norm. I mean, obviously you're always biased if you're somebody who works in marketing because you see more of this stuff and you have people around you talking about it in a way that is not normal. And I always try to remind my team of that.

[00:23:42] I'm like, we're the weirdest consumers of media on the planet. So like, don't listen to yourselves. Like we have to, we have to get out there and talk to people who don't care about this stuff. But you know, I think like the McDonald's spot that's running right now about their, their movie meals, you know, where they've done this great super cut.

[00:23:59] Like that's, again, that's very scrappy. That's a YouTube format, that kind of thing. But it's, it's, again, it's the kind of thing that for an average person, you can do it. There's a huge pain in the butt. And it's much better that Wieden and Kennedy got together and did it like they have the resources and they can deal with all the licensing and clearing permissions and things like that.

[00:24:18] And putting a cool song behind it. Like that's the kind of thing that you, I think, You used to be able to do when there was a little bit less of all of this out there. And now it's like, if you're going to make spots for brands for fun, you're going to actually kind of try to do it for money in a lot of cases.

[00:24:36] And UGC creators, I think, are really emerging as a whole other category of creator beyond influencer and, and real actual, like, Technical talent creators, which is sort of how I think of them. I think it's a whole third pillar that makes a lot of sense and it's going to be Valuable up until it's it's not and it starts going back in the other direction. 

[00:24:56] Ryan Berman: It's a really good point and I think it's almost like you need to know the rules and step back and audit, right?

[00:25:02] Right. The scenario to go, okay, time to break back on a rule. Let's go back the other way on a rule. Let's not just be a robot and say, just because everybody's doing this, that we should, so good, good lead segue into all right. So give us, well, before I do want the three to now, I feel like it's, there's this term, watch out for that glacier.

[00:25:22] We're never going to get to it. I do want to know before we kind of give up your social media, like insights for us when you leave Peloton and you go from, well, let's call it what it is. All the resources in the world, probably too many resources, right? You're like, I can do that.

[00:25:39] Kate Winick: Never all the resources in the world.

[00:25:42] Ryan Berman: Many resources in the world, 80% there, 92% there. And then you go and you leap into this new world. And one, I'm curious, why, why did you choose to go in April? What, what was it about it that, you know, you're ready for the next adventure? I

[00:25:59] Kate Winick: think I had reached a point where. I felt like I was really starting to repeat myself and where I felt like, I don't want to say that my work wasn't good, but I was feeling the same thing that I had felt five years earlier, where I was like, I've tried a lot of things and I've tackled a lot of these problems.

[00:26:17] I always say to my team that there are two, there's two phrases that are inadmissible in any conversation on my team, which is we've always done it that way. And we've never done it that way before. And neither of those things are, like, they're simply not acceptable as rationale for anything. If we've never done it that way, so what?

[00:26:35] We're going to try something new. And if we've always done it that way, well, it's time to try something new. Like, that's, that's not. It's simply not a way that I like to think, and I was hearing those phrases in my head more often than I wanted to, or that feeling of like, we were talking about this a little bit earlier, but like, that feeling that you get after you have been at your new job for six months, and you see somebody else starting to onboard, and they ask all those dumb questions, and all those really obvious things, and you're like, oh, well, they'll find out why we don't do that.

[00:27:09] You know, like, just wait and see, like, you'll meet with so and so, and then you'll understand why that's not getting done. And you start to accept what is, rather than continuing to work for what should be. And that's not, that's not a way that I like to feel. And I think, you know, in a practical sense, what I had seen was That a lot of my colleagues who, because Peloton was one of those companies who was hit by layoffs pretty badly in the previous year, and we lost a lot of wonderful, talented people.

[00:27:36] And to me, the ones who, as I watched where they landed and I watched how people dealt with that transition, the ones who ended up in the best position were the ones who took some time. Like, there were a lot of people who I think, and listen, and no, this is not a, it's not a critique, like, people have bills to pay, people have kids to send to school, like, sometimes you just need to take a job, but everybody who took jobs very quickly, for the most part, ended up moving on again, like, they were these sort of transitional objects, and I think there's, I, I think it's a brand that we gave a lot of ourselves to.

[00:28:09] And we put a lot of heart into. And the first place that you landed was like, I don't know, for me, this is really like over the top, but like, I wasn't ready to love again. Like every job I interviewed for, I was just like, I'm not ready to dive right back into this with another brand. Like I've just gotten divorced and like, I'm not ready to just like, remarry, like I need, I need a little time.

[00:28:33] Ryan Berman: You need a rebound. You need a fling.

[00:28:35] Kate Winick: Right. To just like, to just see what else is out there and also to kind of just. Be in my own head again and be outside this brand framework. And just like, what do I think about things? What am I interested in doing? And like, what do I actually have to offer beyond just what's on my resume?

[00:28:52] Like, what do I think about what I want to do next? And I would love to be able to take that time. 

[00:28:58] Ryan Berman: Where did you go to study like, what, like, as you step back from it and because it is, it is to your point, it is a soul searching exercise and, you know, I even say, you know, when I hear you, you share your, your wisdom and it's, it's good stuff, you know, like.

[00:29:14] I really, really like, it's almost unfair that I get to do the show because you know, you're just a mosaic and you just, 

[00:29:20] Kate Winick: it's the best part of being a journalist or interviewing people is you just get to ask whatever questions you want. 

[00:29:24] Ryan Berman: Well, I just, it's, you learn, like you learn so much and I really, I know I will take forward with me the, I've always had the. Well, that's how we've always done it. Like, you know, I've always had that, which is like the data point, but I really liked that we've never done it before. And that extra add on is, well, actually, that's how, you know, we need to move forward with this because no one's ever, we've never tried it before. Like, let's go through that fear.

[00:29:51] So as you step back and when I describe you to someone else, I would describe you as, yeah, Kate's a, and you may not even love this term. Like not only is she an expert in social media, which is I think where I would start, but you're a leader and you're also a marketer. I mean, I, the, the journalist side is actually new news for me.

[00:30:12] So I'm going to add that to the pie chart on the way you go about. Staying curious and asking questions, but when you think about the roles you're taking on now, and who's coming to you and trying to be, you know, enlightened by you or inspired by you, what percent of the cocktail is social media expert versus leadership versus marketing?

[00:30:33] Like what, what if you were going to put percentages on you? What do you what? What would you put? 

[00:30:37] Kate Winick: It's been interesting and it's been a much more even split than I expected, and I will also be like , unless my husband walks in here. I'm the best pers person position to say this, but he would say it first, which is that I'm, like I said, I was going to take a break and I think I lasted. I don't know about. 72 hours before I had like a consulting client on board for like 20 hours a week of work, because I, I, I learned by doing, I think. And I've always like, I I've, I that's always been how I figured things out and how I've built skills and tried things was like, I like to be, I, I like playing with live ammunition.

[00:31:15] There's like, you know, I'm not, I'm not somebody who really wants to just like sit and learn and, and think in isolation. Like I like to try things in practice and I like to have, and in a practical sense in social, that's easier, right? You know, I can test things out on my own account and I've done that a little bit on LinkedIn and that's been fun.

[00:31:35] But for the most part, like if you want to know whether or not this works for a brand, you kind of have to have that critical mass of being a brand in order to find out. But it was pretty obvious to me right from the beginning that it was going to be a much more even split of, of skills than I expected.

[00:31:51] And some of that I think is this need for this kind of fractional leadership that I think is popping up increasingly in corporate life, particularly in companies that are going through a turnaround or that are, you know, that are, that are younger startups. Like you sort of run into this weird situation where social has a lot of work to be done, right?

[00:32:11] There's a lot of, there's a lot of things that you actually need to make physically. You need to shoot video, you need to write copy, you need to design things. Like, there's a lot of doing and a lot of hands on work. And companies are often left with this sort of uncomfortable choice. And it's why you get those job descriptions that people make fun of on LinkedIn all the time for social media jobs.

[00:32:32] That it's like, oh, you need to have 10 years of experience and also want to write tweets on holiday weekends. Like, no. Like, Somebody in their mid 30s who's been doing this for a decade is not going to do your holiday customer service coverage and respond to customer queries on a Sunday night. Like, we all do it, but it's it's not a reasonable expectation on either end of your career to ask somebody young to think that much and be responsible for that much or to ask somebody more senior to do that many kind of job.

[00:33:02] manual tasks. Like it's, it's really, you're left with this uncomfortable choice between, do I hire somebody who can do all of these things? Or do I hire somebody who can create a strategy to direct all of these things? And I think increasingly companies are opting for this kind of fractional leadership at the top.

[00:33:20] And so a lot of the consulting that I've done has been helping people figure out their staffing plans. Like, what does success look like for us on social, and what would our team need to look like at each stage to keep growing? It's been, it's been some traditional social strategy, but a lot of that has been also explaining like, Hey, like, here's what's reasonable to expect about how that's going to support other goals for your marketing team, and here's what's not reasonable to expect.

[00:33:45] Here's what social's good at, and here's what it's not good at. And sometimes explaining that to senior leadership who may never have really supervised a social team before and doesn't know a lot about it. You kind of, you do need somebody senior enough in the room to say this KPI is applicable, this one isn't.

[00:34:02] Like this is, this is not really relevant. That's not really what we do and, you know, or like, Hey, this would be great. But actually your paid team should run that. And you're going to need to give them this amount of budget in order for them to be successful. 

[00:34:14] Ryan Berman: Can I just put all that in the chat GPT and call it a day.

[00:34:18] Kate Winick: That's great. You'll just spit out one of my consulting decks and then I can really take a vacation. 

[00:34:22] Ryan Berman: Again, you've seen big companies, you've, you're now in scrappy mode a little bit and playing the fractional role, scrappy again, in terms to compare to Peloton. So give me those like three, you're going to give us three takeaways on social, on what you're seeing right now.

[00:34:39] And it could be on content, it could be on vessel, right? Could be on medium. What, what do you have for us? 

[00:34:47] Kate Winick: Yeah, so I mean, my very, very first foundational principle, and this goes all the way back to like, the little like anthropology student I was in college, but this is like fundamentally people aren't different.

[00:35:00] People aren't different than they ever have been. They are always driven by the same things. They are generally entertained by the same things. They're attracted to the same things for better or worse. And yeah, change in terms of our basic drives as humans comes really slowly, like glacially slowly, like evolution y slowly.

[00:35:19] And so if you can assume that, like, in terms of your intrinsic human needs, you're not that different than your great great grandparents. Then things like channel, things like mediums start to, I don't want to say they start to matter less, you know, you have to customize for your channel and for your medium, but ultimately, like the really dumb insight of all of that is that people care about the same things they've kind of always cared about and, you know, it's, it's really amazing when you stop and think about it, like how much of the internet is just driven by like a basic Freudian understanding of like ego.

[00:35:57] Right? Like you have, people have egos and they need to build them up. People have a desire to present themselves in a certain way and they're wary of anything that affects their self image. And so if you want content that's going to be shared, you have to give people content that lets them say something about themselves that they're proud of, or that they think makes them look funny or cool or insightful.

[00:36:19] And we're all really driven by the same things people have always been driven by. And it's very easy, I think, to overcomplicate it and get really overwrought about the way technology is changing things. Technology is changing things, but technology isn't changing people on a really fundamental level. 

[00:36:39] Ryan Berman: I remember interviewing Eric Ryan, who's a serial entrepreneur, comes from a marketing background, he's the founder of Method Soap, he's, and Welly, he just, he's, he just crushes, he just finds these little commodities and is like, just add marketing, and boom, suddenly soap is cool and we're all buying Method Soap.

[00:36:58] And it's not just marketing, he's, he's, he's building marketing into the product. You may or may not know this, I have a My Little Side hustle, My Little Use My Superpower for good. My own little courage brand is called Sock Problems, and the idea is that we try to sock problems in the world with socks, and each sock takes down a different problem, and there's a charity partner associated.

[00:37:20] So if you wanted to sock racism, if you wanted to sock extinction for animal fans, and I was sharing this idea with Eric, and he said, love it, and remember this, narcissism, altruism. And I said, what he goes, narcissism, altruism, and it wasn't a cold thought. It was more like exactly what you're saying. The content, if the socks aren't cool, people aren't going to want to wear them.

[00:37:49] And no matter, no matter how, how good for the world we're trying to be, if there's not some swagger to them, if it doesn't get the dopamine drip a little bit, people reflect that as a sign on their ego. And their self image. So it's very much in line with this first point, which, you know, I over overarching, I take away is fundamentally people aren't that different, right?

[00:38:11] Like, help me, help me build up my image, help me build up my, my, you know, my self love, basically make me look cool in the world. And it's not, it's not the narcissism part of it, but that's the ego is real. Yeah. What else you got? 

[00:38:27] Kate Winick: All right. Well, so one of my favorite sort of long term things to watch is when When, when you sort of do analysis of, like, sentiment on social and try to understand, like, what goes the farthest, right?

[00:38:41] Like, where can you really maximize reach? And I think there's so much conversation about polarization, about rage, about anger, about. Dishonesty and controversy and a lot of negative emotion and negative emotion causes big spikes. It really does but in Aggregate over time like every time they really dig into it happiness and positivity goes farther than anger in almost every case on almost every channel and It's something that like I try to keep in mind And try to like, you know, it's, it's one of the things that comforts me on the hard days working in social is that ultimately joy outpaces anger in, in, in the world, in our lives.

[00:39:23] And I think those high highs are worth pushing through the lows for because ultimately that's going to serve your product so much better. Like, you can stoke an outrage machine for a long time and you can get a lot done that way. But ultimately, if you really want people to buy in, people are seeking happiness.

[00:39:41] It's what we, it's what we do. We're seeking validation and affirmation and joy and positivity in a lot of cases, in almost every individual case. And the likelier you are to align people with that, the bigger your chance of success is. So, I like that, I believe that people are basically good, all, all digital evidence to the contrary.

[00:40:03] I really think they are. 

[00:40:05] Ryan Berman: Well, I mean, optimism is my number one value, so this is very good to hear this news. I do wonder if this is one of those things, I'm curious to get your take, when you have a community. Right already, then we're really talking about brand in the long game. I'm not trying to say, Hey, let's go get a negative spike for awareness and curiously bring you into the mix.

[00:40:28] But it sort of feels like when negative spikes happen, negative emotions hit, it's almost like, is it an awareness tool where joy and happiness is sort of the long game brand tool? Are you seeing any of that or not really?

[00:40:40] Kate Winick: I think it's I think from a community perspective, and this was actually, I was just speaking about this at a conference this week, but I, I like up on a post it on my desktop for years and years and years is Seth Godin's sort of maxim, people like us do things like this.

[00:40:57] And I think as you build community and as you build a following, you want to be very thoughtful about how you establish like what people like us is. And. You know, and and what establishing norms for your community. You want to be really thoughtful about how you do it and really intentional about how you do it because when you watch it emerge naturally, right?

[00:41:18] Like, I don't know. One of my favorite examples of this is on Reddit on the am I an asshole forum, which is like, literally, like, at this point, taking up some really not insignificant part of Reddit entirely as far as their traffic, and there's an incredibly strong norm that emerges there, and it's mostly positive in the sense that it defends what it sees as being in need of defending.

[00:41:44] So, you know, mental health. Individual independence, things like that. But with like a sort of dark flip side, which is that, you know, I mean, that's like always a joke on Reddit is that like the first thing anybody will tell you to do when you're having a problem is to divorce your spouse and like, ultimately, like you don't solve most relationship problems by just getting divorced.

[00:42:05] That's not how we solve problems really. And I think you see that with a lot of, a lot of these responses is that it. It privileges the individual perspective and your core values as an individual over almost anything else, over the desire to get along, which is so funny to me on a site that is entirely about community, that you have a community that set a norm, that your individual self actualization is more important than the community of which you're a part.

[00:42:31] It's very American. I mean, it's a, it's a very Western value system. And it's, It's a little, it's like a little toxic if you take it too far, but if you're able to pull yourself out of that and remember that like, this is a community that's like disproportionately, you know, Served at this point by like teenage boys.

[00:42:50] Like when I was growing up it was like Ayn Rand and like Atlas shrugged. And like, that was like, that was, that was the thing that like unlocked this whole view of adulthood for like adolescents. And you're like Ayn Rand and you're like, oh, like right. But like real adults don't think like that. Like real adults think with nuance and with an understanding of like people's imperfections and like, that's an easy way to look at the world when you have very little skin in the game out in the world.

[00:43:16] Because you're not dependent on it for your resources or your relationships. And then you like, I don't know, you kind of get over yourself as you get a little older. And I think it's, I think it's, it's a hard. It's a hard thing to balance, but ultimately for brands, I think you have to build community with that kind of positivity in mind and a willingness to defend it.

[00:43:36] Like social used to play around with it a little more. Like I was, I started doing organic social in the era when people would literally like put typos in posts intentionally. Because it made people so mad and you could just like, you could just juice your comment rate by like 75% because everybody would correct your spelling even if somebody like there'd just be dozens of the same comment over and over and over and over and it was like a cheap way to steal reach, but 

[00:44:03] Ryan Berman: I don't mind still to this day.

[00:44:04] I don't mind. Look, I don't yeah. And in a conscious, intentional spelling error, okay, maybe that's, but I think the, the value on real, I will always beat, right? It's like you saw, uh, oh, there's a little error in that. Okay. Well, it's clearly, it was real. It wasn't written by a robot, right? A human wrote that at least I know it's real.

[00:44:27] All right. Give me one more here. I've got fundamentally people aren't that different. Primally. You know, it's not that we're not evolving, we are, but we all, we all want the same things. And two, you know, I'm happy to report that happiness is, you know, love, love goes further, we'll call it. Right. And so give us, give us one more, I don't want you to pivot if you already have one, but if there's one on vessels, you know, what's, what's your take on what you're seeing?

[00:44:55] Is it, you know, right, right vessel or right medium, right message for right medium, or is it all things, Tick Tock it's. Oh my Lord. What's going on with X? Give me the, give me your takeaway. 

[00:45:08] Kate Winick: I think it's, I, I did have one in mind. I mean, I think it's, it's not unrelated to that. And I, I think you'll see, I think ultimately, like, as I'm thinking about this, like, it was a very convoluted way of saying it.

[00:45:21] And then there's a very simple way, which is just that marketing can't outrun product forever. And I think on tip on TikTok, you're seeing this really accelerated hype cycle around individual products, around brands that facilitate this kind of like constant influx of novelty. Like it's so interesting to me that the generation that is most conscious of climate, most judgmental about failings on climate is also the generation that has brought us like [Sheen and Teemoo?] and has brought them to an almost unbelievable level of resonance. Like, the cognitive dissonance involved in that from a generation that, like, has, has no compunctions at all about making, like, incredibly dark and funny jokes about the fact that, like, they're all gonna die in a fire within the next 50 years, and yet continues buying at an unbelievable clip, like, petroleum based junk fashion from China, is. It's, it's such an interesting dichotomy to me and I have to really just hope that like ultimately a marketing cycle can only take you so far and I think you start to see that. You see people, I see at least, you know, my background is in, is in fashion and it's something that I track pretty closely and I like to, you know, like read into comments and read into reviews and people I think are becoming wary.

[00:46:40] They understand now that, like, this is not the miracle cure, and the dress that's, you know, that's on the website is probably not the one that's going to end up in your house, and, like, I think people will get over it, and it's the case for almost every product that, like, once you've gotten past the marketing and the excitement and the hype, like, what are you really left with, and whether you're trying to bring a brand back from the brink, whether you were trying to build one from scratch, ultimately, like, We all have access to so much crap now that I think the only thing that's going to be a real differentiator in the future is whether or not something is actually good.

[00:47:20] Ryan Berman: Mind blowing, right?

[00:47:22] Kate Winick: I know, it's like such a dumb insight. Like, it's not even really an insight, but... 

[00:47:28] Ryan Berman: No, but it is an insight and, and, you know, there's that famous line, nothing kills a mediocre product faster than magnificent marketing and, and it's true. And we're, we're getting, I have to be careful because we're tiptoeing into, this is going to sound like shameless promotion number two for Ryan Berman on the day.

[00:47:45] I acknowledge I had stock problems, but the next book that I'm working on is pretty much looking at how marketing cannot be at the end of the conveyor belt now and save the day. Thank you. Right. It just can't be like, if the product is shitty, you're going to get called out. You're someone will, there's too many ways for people to call you out.

[00:48:04] And this is like mind blowing that people have not thought of this. Everyone has a voice now. Right. And by the way, if one person's probably having a shitty experience with their product, somebody else somewhere is probably having a bad experience with their product as well, because he didn't put the work in to make the product.

[00:48:21] What it could be. And so I, I totally agree with that. These are, these are great. I got to still ask, I mean, we're, we're coming down the homestretch. Give me your 10 second takeaway on X. 

[00:48:33] Kate Winick: You know, I think I I've written about this before pretty recently. And I think really like. I don't know. I don't know what value there is in I, it's always been a niche product, right?

[00:48:45] It has always, always, always been a niche product. And it's something that throughout my 12 plus years working in social, I've always been a little bit wary of it. You know, a lot of, a lot of social analytics, a lot of social data, a lot of reporting on what's happening on social is really just looking at Twitter slash X because of the way their API is structured.

[00:49:06] And because of the way that tools are able to access. That information, but you're talking about a pool of people where, where you have really weird like micro communities that are really overrepresented. Like, you should be very, very wary of having journalists reporting on a platform where journalists are so overrepresented.

[00:49:25] Like, that is just like, that's just the snake eating its own tail. And so I, I, I've often wondered that, and I always love in social listening conversations, asking platforms, like, what could you use if Twitter was not available to you anymore, which now it's not. And I'm really curious to see how that's going to change, not just X as a platform, but what we think we know about social, what social looks like to us, because so much of what we've assumed was social media data for a decade plus was actually Twitter data.

[00:49:57] And now that Twitter data is not accessible in the same way and we're going to have to look at a more balanced cross section of the internet, I'm really curious how that's going to change our understanding of, of ourselves and what we care about and what we're talking about on any given moment. 

[00:50:13] Ryan Berman: Okay. Yeah. Awesome conversation today. I'm excited to sort of see who, what you fall in love with next. Keep at it. Thank you for just sharing your brain with us today. And let's stay in touch. I also should say I'm excited. We probably should have talked a little bit about this to learn more about some of your speaking engagements.

[00:50:34] I know you're, you're starting to take the stage, which is very, very cool. And I can see why. So is there, is there one coming up or that you're preparing for that you can share? 

[00:50:44] Kate Winick: Yeah, I think my next one, next one currently is, is November. I was just speaking at Digital Summit in Minneapolis, which should be out on video, probably in a couple of weeks.

[00:50:53] But, you know, you've been such an incredible supporter and helping me get brave about tackling us. So thank you for that. 

[00:50:59] Ryan Berman: I'm not looking for compliments. So this is all you. Okay. Nobody, they asked you to speak and rightfully so. All right, Kate, stay in touch. Congrats with everything. Thanks for tuning in to this episode of the courageous podcast.

[00:51:12] If you enjoy the show, don't forget to rate and review us on Apple podcasts, so more people can find us. See you again next week.

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