The pandemic has heightened the need for businesses to move toward digital. As such, the already crowded space has become even more competitive. So what does it take for businesses to stand out, especially new ones that just transitioned online? In this episode, Margaret Graziano invites a guest who has been helping businesses across different industries with social media. Katie Keller Geer, the co-founder of KK Social, joins us to impart her years of experience with digital media, explaining why it is important and how to craft our online presence. What is a social brand? How do we create social credibility? How do we begin? Katie answers these questions along with the three steps she took to create her brand, deal with online bashing, and more! So tune into this conversation to not miss out!
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Digital Media With Katie Keller Geer
In this episode, I am featuring Katie Keller of KK Social. Katie and I met at a large group self-awareness and transformation program. I was so impressed by her social ability that I started following her on social media. I got curious and I would like to interview her on the show for people who want work liberation. What do they need to know about their social brand? How do they even begin? What is this thing called social credibility? Why is it important? Before we do any of that, I'd like to talk about your work-liberated journey from when you worked corporate and why you chose to go out on your own and start your business in the midst of a pandemic.
It was right before. The timing couldn't have been crazier but thank you for having me. I'm excited to share that I did liberate what I was up to. I worked in social media in-house for eight years as the Director of Social and Brand for a few different cool startups in the food beverage, fitness and lifestyle spaces and at the same time had friends starting companies where they were asking for help with branding and social media.
At the top of 2019, I looked at my husband, who is my partner also in this business and said, "We should launch an agency." For people reading, the idea of social media being this huge hub of connection and creativity still exists. A lot of people feel like they're being sold to. I work in a marketing capacity where we're using Instagram as a tool for selling but also it is still this point of connection. For everyone, what is your personal brand? What do you share on the internet? What do you use it for? For everyone, that could be different things but for you, it's a big community builder and is going to evolve.
What is social credibility? What does it mean?
Social credibility is a source of knowledge and intel that I believe. The way I find people, brands or products, a lot of it are referrals like your friends saying, "You'd like this person, coaching program or book." We all use Instagram as a vetting tool to say, "Is this legit?" There are companies built all around that where they'll scrub your social to see a deep dive into what's your background.
What are your beliefs? Have you shared anything less than savory? For most people, it is a public personal access point of who are you, what you like, what are you interested in and what are you offering or sharing. To look at it from that lens of, "What do I want to put out there?" and connect with people is how you can frame it for yourself.
For you, in starting a business, you had people who needed you. What was your biggest challenge in leaving corporate and being on your own or deciding, "I'm going to go do this and take this chance?"
I've been thinking back on this a lot. I would call it a quantum leap. Doing something that you haven't seen directly modeled like things that you haven't seen anyone else do exactly the way you'll do them is interesting. I had friends who were freelance photographers, writers and maybe PR but the idea of a social agency felt big like hundreds of people and a huge office.
It's not easy to do your things. The biggest challenge was believing in myself and saying, "I can quit my job and get clients on retainer. People will find me. The service I offer is a value add for people." Everyone is asking these questions that we're talking about, "Who am I? What info am I distilling down? How do I make that accessible and interesting?" I workshop that as a strategy with all the clients. Believing in yourself is the first step. I can close one door and walk into the unknown.
Once you took the step, what's been your biggest challenge in the last few years?
The last few years have been pretty wild because we were in COVID after 2019. Social turned into a little bit of crisis comms with, "What are we talking about? What are we sharing?" It's been a big few political years. Companies are leaning into having a point of view at a tone and a voice in that space, which is interesting because I'm writing a lot of those messages. Also, everyone's moved online like shopping is done on Instagram. Most new product discovery is there. The digital realm being the only place people could shop was great for our business but intense for everyone because it felt like all you had was your phone.
What is your personal brand? You're the shoemakers so do you have shoes? Have you done your work in this area or did I ask you a challenging question?
It's not challenging at all. There's a piece of me that likes to keep what we're up to a secret. That's for the sake of not getting too much feedback. When you start something new, the idea of crowdsourcing a lot of people's opinions can block your vision, dream or manifestation. We launched this business with no website or social. It's just on our credibility of, "These are the brands that we've worked with and what we're up to."
On my social is marketing strategist but it's also the lifestyle piece of, "I teach yoga. This is a husband-and-wife team. We live in California." Some people have their accounts as their business. We have an agency account so it makes it nice that there's this split but the reality is all of our clients follow my personal Instagram and keep up with what we're doing. They're also bought into the lifestyle piece of they love California. They like access to other brands and people in this space. My brand has stayed pretty personal.
Believing in yourself is the first step to doing something big.
It's interesting what you're saying though that people do have two separate accounts, even I was on Facebook and it's like, "Do you want to boost this post?" It was from a webinar we did. I said, "What would happen if I told Facebook to target all the things that I like? For example, living in California, cycling, outdoors, climate, being a young grandma, living by the beach and having a beach house. What would happen if I targeted people who golfed and do the things my clients do?"
I started seeing what it is. Business and personal are almost turning into one. Instead of work-life balance, it's work-life integration, navigation or work-life rhythm. She's a dancer and a consciousness coach but I don't think there can be one Margaret
Graziano Magi and the CEO of KeenAlignment because I have one life. My company raises money for things that I care about. I take classes, bring them in as a person and bring the learnings into my business and then do some volunteering. It's one person. What are your thoughts on people cleaning up their personal social acts because it will bleed over into what they're doing with their business and their work?
There are a lot of interesting examples of this. You look at some startups that have blown up like Glossier, Emily Weiss, who's got her personal socials which are getting engaged, having a baby, products she loves and then the brand account, which is campaigns, new product launches and user-generated content. It's synonymous. People go back and look at who's behind it. It’s the idea of humanizing brands or your personal identity being the brand for you as a coach like you're it. We love a story, a female-founded company and a husband-and-wife team.
There are things that people get attracted to when we think about the types of clients we want to work with or the types of products we want to buy. For several years, people do their research and dig around. Starting with cleaning up your personal social and also getting clear on what you want to share. For you, it's business, hobbies and personal life all in one place where it humanizes you. It makes you real.
People do business with people they know, like and trust. If there's one me in my personal and one me in my business life, it also feels a little inauthentic. As an executive who focuses with other executives on creating healthy organizational culture, a big piece of that culture is the authenticity of the leader. What about employees?
I see a lot of my niece and nephews as they're younger in their twenties posting they're drunk or they take pictures of drunk people. Not any of my nieces and nephews anymore because they're all older if they're reading this. I also see it with candidates. We'll sometimes snoop, which is legitimate to do. We'll see people making ridiculous political statements. They then go look for a job and they've hurt themselves. How do you feel about that?
It's an interesting time and space to be in. The idea of being so polished, clean buttoned up and perfect does feel a little guard up. There's this respect for founders showing a bit more work-life play, letting people be authentically themselves. Doing anything too political in the last few years was an interesting concern like, "What gets censored or not? What is your company looking out for or not?" Employees are also looking to like the company. "Is my company speaking out around abortion rights or the EPA?"
Every brand either says something or doesn't. As the employee, you start to get aligned with what your company is willing to share because, for a long time, people felt like they weren't saying enough. It's the social, fast instantaneous response. To your original question, we should keep it squeaky clean as long as you're in integrity with yourself. If you like to go out, enjoy your life and drink wine, don't put that on the internet but you would stick to core values or pillars. Magi's things are coaching, cycling, a healthy body, a healthy mind and an integrated lifestyle. Some fun with friends is incorporated into that vision because that's what you're up to.
That's real for me. If my life was diehard, right or left and that was a core value for me then that would go online. If I had a strong stand for climate, the Earth and the outdoors, I speak about that but I don't bash it. What do you think about bashing online? By bashing, I don't mean a bat and a pillow.
We're in this big cancel culture too. I was fascinated to watch so many female founders throughout the pandemic get shut down online. It's an interesting time. We're big into people who have one misstep, we then canceled them. That's the reason a lot of people are afraid to share. It's why people aren't speaking to the camera, posting reels every day and talking about what they think. I'm open to judgment and that could be with anything. It's like fear of failure, putting yourself out there too much or not fitting in but if you're not doing that on the internet, you're also not diversifying yourself from everyone else.
Social is where they catch up with family and friends. That's great. Some people are leveraging it as a tool for business and then some people are full on like running their brand on social media. For wherever you're at, it's interesting to ask, "What would be pushing the boundary of what you're comfortable with?" Even if it's to your friend on social, what are you using the space for? What do you have to say?
Taking that step is hard for people. "I'm a great chef and I want to do pop-up dinners. If I tell the internet that I'm going to do a pop-up dinner, what if no one comes? What if no one buys the ticket? What if no one shows up?" It's because everyone can see. Did you get any likes? Did you get any engagement? That could be you selling a course or a class.
The theory is, "What if I say I'm going to host a yoga retreat and then people see that it's a public failure?" Even if that's your side hustle, fun project or a fun idea, a lot of my work is demystifying that the internet is not this scary place where you'll find people rooting you in places that might surprise you or you'll get connected to people that you didn't think you'd work with. It's like as it's intended to. You're having like-minded people find you if it's the fit, which is cool.
If you fear putting yourself out there too much, you're also not diversifying yourself from everyone else.
As far as a personal brand, what are the first three steps to take to identify or create your personal brand?
If you're looking at yourself as a business, you have to say, "What's my mission and core vision?" Even for us, it was like, "We're finding founders that we're inspired by. They're making a product that deserves community. They're doing something meaningful in the world." Our core values are around being collaborative, co-creating and enjoying the aesthetics, the look and the feel. You could write it out as a list. "These are the things that I'm envisioning for myself. This is what I believe in." For Magi, it would be like, "Here's what I'm doing in the coaching world. Here's what I believe in." How does that show up visually? It would be videos of you, this show and your book.
Let's say my brand is liberating people. How would that show up? Pictures of a bunch of people jumping off a bridge?
No, because that's not authentic liberation. How would that show up would be like people reading this show, writing reviews of ways that you've helped them find small liberation and designing those into gorgeous quotes, doing Q and As with those people or having them do a selfie reporting of like, "I read your show and that sparked this for me." I don't think that there's anything more powerful in the connection realm than actual humans, conversations and reviews.
Looking at people jumping off of a bridge smiling or into a pool, whatever they're doing, doesn't feel real where maybe if I'm talking to somebody that you've coached that quit their job, started their thing, elevated their career in some way or reached for a rung on the ladder. We're all portals for another or windows into what's possible. If you can like show that visually, that's powerful.
Let's say I'm not me and I'm anybody who's thinking, "I got laid off." There are a lot of layoffs happening. It's going to wind up being crazy years. From everybody being happy and life and economy being great, then we were shut down. We have a pandemic. We're flipped out then we're happy because nothing's going on. We have time back. There's no pollution. People are peaceful. We then go back to work and it's crazy. We're so busy. We have massive inflation and got thousands of companies laying off. People are going to be in competition with many other people for the same job.
It's going to switch as fast as it started. The first thing I heard you say is you have to have a vision, a vision for your life and your career. What are your values and core tenants? What's important to you? When I'm building my social brand and my employers are going to be checking on this, how do I as an employee or even you or me looking for clients, as consumers leverage who we want to work with and for? How do we use social media to establish credibility for our bicycles?
Step three of this would be clarity of vision. You've got the mission and vision. Distill that into purpose. Whether you got laid off, you're applying for jobs and exploring side hustles, the advice is to cast a wide net in my opinion. When we quit our jobs, it wasn't like, "We're doing the social agency full send." We wrote out all the things that light us up and what we are passionate about.
It was hosting retreats, doing yoga and brunch, doing those pop-up dinner parties and marketing for people. We cast this wide net to see what sticks and what feels good. All of those pieces worked but it was like, "What works the easiest that doesn't feel like a drain or sucking a straw?" Hosting retreats is amazing. You also can leave an experience like that and feel depleted as the facilitator.
In the casting of that wide net, you write down what you are interested in. If I'm an employee, my interests go beyond working in sales or marketing. It's helpful to say, "I love skincare. I should probably be working in skincare. I'm a marketer but I should be working in a field that lights me up. That's exciting." Maybe that's fitness or fashion. Some people that seem so obvious are like, "I'd only work in a field that I like." A lot of people end up in rogue settings.
I was running marketing for an automotive company at one point and I was like, "I don't care about cars." I had wrapped my head around I love electric vehicles because we're saving the planet but at the end of the day, that was not a fit and I could have clocked out early if I had written out, "Here are my interests. Here are the spaces I care about here. Here are the ways that I can move the needle." I do love food, beverage and fashion. Don't apply things when you're not 100%.
Magi knows I went to high school when I was twelve. I went to college when I was fifteen. I graduated from university at 18 and was managing people 10 years older than me. I also used to be quite a bit more ageist than I am. I was like, "These old people don't get the internet." Why are people who are in their late 40s or early 50s running marketing teams? It's so rapid and fast how stuff is changing. Even having been in the space for several years, I'm looking at friends who are doing TikTok agencies or a brand. Even that feels too young for me. It's funny because we talk all the time, "Are we missing the marketing wave since TikTok is what's happening?"
The other side of TikTok is where's your data going. Is there any governance around what's happening with that data? That would a different conversation for another day but what I love about what you're saying is here you are like a child prodigy almost, if not. You're thinking like a 40-year-old but what I specifically love is you got this job. You weren't thinking, "What are the industries that I should say yes to?"
It was like, "How do I get a paycheck? Give me a good salary on paper. This sounds correct." I did feel like I fell into a lot of the careers that I landed in and it was not well-directed or well-advised.
There is nothing more powerful in the connection realm than actual humans having actual conversations and reviews.
That's very common. The only people I coach are in the executive suite, my team coaches and the rest of the team. When we do cultural transformation, we work with large groups of employee populations of 30, 50, 80, 100 or 600. What we find in the world of liberating the people doing the work, not the people leading the organization is over 75% of people who go to work don't consciously choose an industry of their liking.
They take a job because there's money there. They're waitressing, working at a movie theater, working at a yoga studio, doing something at a hotel, at a tech company, at an automotive or Tesla but they don't like that thing. What they do is they leave a piece of their heart at home and then hope to get fulfillment after work or outside of work or tomorrow.
Months go by and they're depleted because the job is compartmentalized to this thing that they have to do to go get a paycheck versus this self-expression of their passions. They happened to get lucky working in alignment with what they believed in. One of the reasons for this show is because it is the intersection between personal and career empowerment. We have choices. We can have jobs and do what we like to do in industries that we like doing it. Here you are saying the same thing that a 58-year-old says.
You've blown the lid off of what it took me probably a couple of years to figure out. The need to achieve, the need to prove and the need to do what sounds right on paper are where 90% of the world is operating from. Get the job, get paid and work your way up. That's a success because that's what we've seen. Talking about when you close your eyes and listen to your heart, "How do I want to live, work, play and celebrate." That fulfillment outside of work was real.
I would work my full-time job and then teach fifteen yoga classes a week on top of that as a creative outlet. Hank would work from 9:00 to 5:00 and then chef at a restaurant from 5:00 to 12:00 midnight. We didn't need to work two full-time jobs but we did because we were like, "That's the balance and payoff." We do the thing for money so that we can do this other thing for fun. Money is a value exchange. There are lots of things that you can do that are of value. You can make pottery and write music. It's hard for people to think about what's not going into a desk job from 9:00 to 5:00.
You can create value in any way that you choose. For me, that is consulting, teaching yoga and throwing dinner parties. I once did sell pottery to see if I could do it. The reality is you can but that starts with believing in yourself and what you create has worth and value. That could start while you're inside your full-time job. "Wait a second. I'm not working to get a paycheck. What I do is provide value here. This is an equal exchange."
You talked a little bit about the side hustle. The statistics that I have been reading and almost for several years, it's one of the reasons I sold my recruiting company and moved into organizational culture and leadership because the truth is the whole fabric of the organization is changing. Most places people want to be in are not that big monstrous companies where they are not seen or valued. They want to be at a place where their contribution is noticed. The statistics pointed it on Millennials but it's the Gen Zs and the Millennials or people who think like that but everybody's going to have a side hustle. Tell me what you think about that in this world of the side hustle passion.
I'm in a multi-hyphenate stage since I got into the workforce. Part of what we talked about in being fully embodied and expressed authentically showing who you are might be that Katie does marketing and teaches yoga and host retreats. Hank is a photographer, graphic designer and chef. For everyone, there's also this big question, "Do you need to monetize your side hustle or do you do something you're passionate about to get the creative kick?"
To close the loop on being invaluable in your company or feeling your value and worth in that space and not feeling like you fell into a job and you worked for this paycheck is to map what are you bringing to the table, what makes you invaluable, how are you, co-creating culture and building this thing together because a lot of people don't have any of that agency. They're like, "I work for someone else. What I do doesn't make a difference. I'm a cog in the machine."
Get to a place where you don't feel like that. You've got the support and the stability to say, "What else do I want to do?" I'm an amateur photographer on the weekends and people start paying me for that. A lot of people are in the big hub of this like everyone is an influencer and brands will pay you. You could be getting gifted clothes for cycling. You could be taking photos on tour. It could be protein bars and snacks.
Brands will pay you a lot because as a micro-influencer, you have more influence over them than a person with millions of followers who people know are getting paid to push a different product every day, which I hope that lands. That's the biggest piece. When you find your brand aesthetic and what you're up to, write it out. Here's my little mission. Magi cares about being liberated, a healthy body, a healthy mind and whatever you say then you're like, "Cool. What are the brands that align with that? Could people pay me? Could I collaborate with those companies?" Those are the stretches where people think that's so unattainable.
Even as you're saying it, I'm like, "I went to a workshop once. The woman wanted $10,000 to teach me how to go get sponsors." I was almost going to do it, except for when I asked her how she goes about it. She was 62 years old, not that there's anything wrong with that. Her answer for how you go about that was like from 1982. "You send emails to the department and ask for sponsors."
You'd be like, "Clif Bar, I'm going on a 50-mile bike ride." You'd pick who's the brand that you think is the coolest. What clothes do you already buy? What are the products you already use? You DM those people. Send them a message. That's also the thing. If you photograph yourself and share things in a meaningful way, that's invaluable to brands. They can't get that. For brands, it was this real push like, "You've got the commercial stuff. That's what you see on the website, in emails and ads." What translates on social is, "Magi tagging the bike she's riding." Maybe they want to give you an even swankier bike for free that you do a little GoPro tour with.
Smaller brands, the less than 10,000 follower range has a lot of potential to be monetizing your interests. You don't have to have the side hustle that's fully fleshed out. The side hustle could be, "I am a cyclist. I find ways to show people what I'm up to." Brands pay you. You don't need to pay someone $10,000. You can DM those brands. If you're already cranking, got a real community and doing gorgeous content, then it's an easy yes for these companies to say, "Let's partner."
Money is just a value exchange that you can create value in any way that you choose.
Speaking of nieces and nephews, my nephew's wife took all these pictures of her daughters. I don't know if she's doing it but she's a phenomenal photographer. She was getting clothes sent to her for her daughters and it was cool. What would be your partying comments for people who want to experience liberation at work as it has to do with social?
If you're not feeling free in that space, liberating yourself on Instagram, Facebook or whatever medium you're using, be vulnerable in who you are. Show your friends and family or whoever follows you what you're up to. Think of it as a platform where your voice matters. Trust that the people who are going to see and hear you are your people. That's who's going to elevate or uplevel you.
Give you referrals for new jobs.
Even people see on my personal Instagram that we're at a photo shoot for this client or doing this project. It reminds them, "This is a service that Katie and Hank provide. I have a friend or client who needs that."
Do Katie and Hank provide headshots?
You guys do headshots, corporate and brands. How do they reach you?
They can check out the website KKSocial.co or you can email me at Katie@KKSocial.co. If you have questions about personal brand strategy, you want to launch a company or you already have a company, we're down to chat. We're going to have Magi with all of her book stuff. It's coming.
I've got a new book coming out, Ignite Culture. I'm going to talk to Katie about how we can do that. Thank you so much. Your feedback was great no matter what role you're in about understanding the power of social. Thank you, Katie. We'll talk to you soon.
About Katie Keller Geer
Katie is the Co-Founder of KK Social, a digital media agency partnering with luxury lifestyle companies in the beverage, fashion, beauty, and lifestyle spaces. As a brand architect, she works with Founders and CMOs to develop their strategic visual storytelling, producing all content and crafting the brand voice, in order to grow social communities and enhance their digital identity. When she's not coaching founders and building social calendars, she's teaching yoga in Venice, walking her dog Disco, or spending time with her husband and business partner, Hank.
Katie's been in the social media world for the past 10 years. She's from Northern Kentucky (usually claim Cincinnati, OH as home since it's 5 minutes away from the farm she grew up on). Her hobbies include teaching and practicing yoga, meditation, gardening, painting, walking my puppy, and eating Hank's delicious cooking!
She's happy to talk to anyone looking for a social media agency to see if there's a fit!