BY DANIELLE WOODWARD — firstname.lastname@example.org May 15, 2016
TRAVERSE CITY — SunFrog CEO Josh Kent is on a mission to find top-of-the-line digital marketers. The best candidates won’t need a college degree, but they will need an impressive social media following.
Kent has already grown his graphic T-shirt website into a multimillion-dollar company, but he hopes for something more as he sits down to grill a lineup of digital marketing candidates. Kent wants to make SunFrog Shirts a household name, and his hiring strategy is part of that plan.
“The portfolio speaks more than the credentials sometimes,” said Kent, who started the Gaylord-based company two years ago.
Kent is looking for a team of 5 to 10 people to handle SunFrog’s social media accounts. A candidate’s “portfolio” includes their content and engagement on social media platforms like Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
“You can go to school and get a communications degree, but I will hire the kid with a million followers in a heartbeat because he knows how to captivate an audience and grow a social presence,” Kent said.
He’s not alone. Matt Myers, founder of Michigan clothing brand M22, prefers an in-depth understanding of social media over a college degree.
“A degree is definitely not something I’m looking for,” Myers said. “Nowadays there’s so much talent out there, so I’m looking at that first.”
The two brands join a growing number of businesses that have opted to refocus marketing attention and resources toward social media and away from traditional ads.
“We’ve seen a huge rise in it, from big box stores down to small organizations,” said Katrynia Strikwerda, owner of Social Creature Consulting. “Everyone is moving more into a digital mindset, so business owners need to adapt unless they want to be run over.”
A 2014 study by LinkedIn found that more than 80 percent of small and medium businesses use social media for growth, and 94 percent of those use it for marketing purposes. It’s becoming the primary means of advertisement for companies like SunFrog, which recently opened a second office in Traverse City specifically to attract digital talent.
“The social media revolution that’s happening right now isn’t going to go away,” Kent said. “We came to Traverse City to find the experts and entice them to work for us.”
A Traverse City location has worked well for M22, whose clothing brand was built — almost entirely through social media— on the idea of appreciating the beauty of Northern Michigan. M22 boasts nearly 30,000 Facebook and 15,000 Instagram followers while spending virtually no money on marketing, Myers said.
“Our whole thing has always been to remain authentic, and we’ve always said it will grow slowly but solid,” he said. “We have an extremely high engagement rate versus most accounts because we’ve grown it slow but real.”
The brand’s social media focuses on the M22 lifestyle rather than advertising directly, he said, and the account’s genuine feel has drawn a wave of devoted followers.
“Advertising in this day and age, people can be turned off really easily,” Myers said. “Our approach has always just kind of been to do what’s natural for us. If something would annoy us, we won’t do it.”
Kent has a similar rule of thumb for posting: Be human 80 percent of the time, sell 20 percent of the time. SunFrog’s social media is often filled with lighthearted humor to connect with the brand’s broad audience.
“If the account is 100 percent ‘buy this,’ you’re going to unfollow whatever and whoever is doing that,” he said.
But Kent’s approach is strategic. About half of SunFrog’s yearly advertising budget is used for social media marketing. The company uses elements like geotags and hashtags to run targeted social media ads, and gives merchandise to popular social media figures in exchange for a digital shoutout.
“People don’t realize that sometimes exposure on social media is greater than putting your product on national television, because you get the blitz and it lasts,” Kent said. “Social media allows us to get to you at exactly the right time and the right place.”
Kent named it the key factor for SunFrog’s rapid growth in sales, which have skyrocketed from $1 million to $100 million in the two years since it began.
But he insisted that even local businesses with small budgets can master social media advertising. The key is to keep up with its ever-changing trends.
“A lot of this stuff is rolling out so fast, so there’s definitely a disconnect,” said Kent. “But anyone can use hashtags, anyone can run targeted ads. You’ve just got to stay on top of it. Those that do, I’m convinced, will lead the pack.”
Original press release can be found here.