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“Sometimes the most successful campaigns come from using a platform in a way it wasn’t intended.” with Dustin Zick and Candice Georgiadis

Walk before you run. The most innovative Instagram campaigns happen when the social media manager falls down a rabbit hole. Exploring and using Instagram outside of work serves as inspiration when coming up with a social media campaign. Sometimes the most successful campaigns come from using a platform in a way it wasn’t intended. This […]



Walk before you run. The most innovative Instagram campaigns happen when the social media manager falls down a rabbit hole. Exploring and using Instagram outside of work serves as inspiration when coming up with a social media campaign. Sometimes the most successful campaigns come from using a platform in a way it wasn’t intended. This can lead to Instagram “hacks” that surprise the users and grab their attention. For example, my idea for building an Instagram scavenger hunt came from playing around on the platform. It sparked the idea that I could use geotagging and captivating images to guide users through a scavenger hunt in downtown Milwaukee.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dustin Zick, social media manager at Bader Rutter, who has more than 10 years of experience working for national brands, including Dremel Tools, Paper and Packaging Board, Kroger and Pioneer Seed. He is a Bronze Effie Award winner in the culture and arts category for his work on the Milwaukee Public Museum. Going beyond Instagram’s capabilities, Dustin created a city-wide scavenger hunt, resulting in more than a thousand participants and triggering more than 200 people to visit the Milwaukee Public Museum. Dustin “hacked” Instagram to create a unique experience by creating a collage and tagging accounts to enable an interactive experience. He achieved all of this in a short time period and with a low budget. Not only does he create social experiences but he also he works with bloggers and influencers to create visual content that tells the story of a product.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

In high school, I dreamed of being a journalist and writing for a newspaper. Around 2007 or 2008, when I was halfway through college, it became evident that a newspaper probably wasn’t a great career path. When I graduated college in 2009, I’d replaced my dream of being a journalist with the idea of joining the Peace Corps for two years and hopefully coming back to an America that was rebounding from the recession. Before I could do that though, my dad passed away unexpectedly a month after I graduated. I spent the next year bouncing around doing odd jobs (continuing my college summer job as a cemetery groundskeeper, stocking potato chips at grocery stores and more). After a year of not knowing what to do, I resolved to find a job that could become a career and landed a marketing internship at an e-commerce company that sold costumes and party supplies — this was in the summer of 2010. During my internship, I carved out a niche for myself as someone who was interested in social media — and on Jan. 1, 2011, I was employed as the company’s first social media specialist.

Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about social media marketing?

It’s easy to throw my experience out there and talk about my time doing that, but I don’t think that alone is enough to be considered an authority. Yes, I’ve spent almost a decade managing social for local, regional and national brands, won multiple awards and managed budgets of hundreds of thousands of dollars. But I think one of the most important things when it comes to being good at social media marketing is to be a consumer of it yourself, to submerse yourself in the thick of it. I’m always signing up for the newest service, trying the newest tools and trying to figure out ways to push the limits of what people expect to see from their favorite (and not-so-favorite) brands on social.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

A few years ago, I won a social media contest I’d entered on Twitter. The grand prize was a Zero-Gravity flight experience, on the same parabolic airplane that the filmmakers of Apollo 13 used to shoot the zero-gravity scenes. When I won, I had forgotten I’d entered the contest. I had to ask the woman who sent me my winning email (who was the social media manager for the brand) to call me because I wasn’t so sure that the email wasn’t a scam. So, I am probably one of the very few social media marketers who’s experienced zero gravity.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was managing the social media for a historic hotel in Milwaukee, I live-tweeted about half of a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game before I realized I was posting it through the hotel’s account and not my own. Fortunately, the hotel is a fan of the team, too, so it was about as “safe” of a screwup as one can have. After that, if I was going to be live-tweeting anything from my phone, I made sure I was logged out of all other accounts at that time.

Which social media platform have you found to be most effective to use to increase business revenues? Can you share a story from your experience?

I’ve found great success on different channels, and it depends on the brand, objective and audience. Platforms are constantly adapting and improving their systems, which means we’re often uncovering new successes. Right now, LinkedIn is capitalizing on sales in new ways, like making lead generation easier, and it’s adapting to audience needs as well. Instagram has become a great platform for product sales with its growing offerings. We’re finding highly engaged users; and with robust and growing paid tactics, it’s an effective channel for directly impacting revenue. I start by looking at the brand’s offerings and objectives. Then I dig into audience demographics to determine the best channels.

Let’s talk about Instagram specifically now. Can you share six ways to leverage Instagram to dramatically improve your business? Please share a story or example for each.

Think like a general user. Whether you’re a college student trying to be an influencer or a business trying to make buzz, the rules are the same because the platform doesn’t distinguish between the two. These fundamental tips are the foundation to making your business increase dramatically by using Instagram:

1. Think visually. The photo on Instagram should stand on its own regardless of the caption. Don’t try to recycle content from other social platforms or different mediums (like a landscape photo from a Twitter post, for example). Instead, use content specific to Instagram to set your account apart and use maximum real estate on the platform. Instagram is a visual-first platform and it’s important to think of your image and how it relates to your audience. What visual story are you trying to tell? What will it inspire? Imagine the story your photo will tell without a caption before writing one to support the post.

  1. Connect your posts thematically. View your Instagram account as an ongoing story. To amplify the story, leverage different types of media functionalities, such as Instagram Stories and boomerangs, within the app. In addition, think about your hashtags. The newest Instagram trend is to follow hashtags, rather than just accounts. Because of this popularity, Instagram has increased its search capabilities, which gives brands the opportunity to “connect” with hashtags, location identifiers and other accounts.

3. Explore paid promotions. A little goes a long way when it comes to paid promotions on Instagram. Small businesses tend to shy away from investing in social media, but it only takes a few dollars to make a sizable difference. Paid promotions build awareness and capitalize on key efforts of any business. Social media managers only need $20 to $30 when advertising locally to make an impact. There are no minimal contributions on Instagram paid promotions, which means you have full control over your investment.

4. Walk before you run. The most innovative Instagram campaigns happen when the social media manager falls down a rabbit hole. Exploring and using Instagram outside of work serves as inspiration when coming up with a social media campaign. Sometimes the most successful campaigns come from using a platform in a way it wasn’t intended. This can lead to Instagram “hacks” that surprise the users and grab their attention. For example, my idea for building an Instagram scavenger hunt came from playing around on the platform. It sparked the idea that I could use geotagging and captivating images to guide users through a scavenger hunt in downtown Milwaukee.

5. Think about your audience. Your primary purpose on Instagram is to give your audience value. To do so, a solid audience analysis is needed to best direct efforts. What age group is your target audience in? Do they like basic product photos or perhaps they want to see the product in use? Do they follow dog accounts? Maybe you want to take a picture of your product with a dog to best grab their attention. Asking yourself questions about your audience gives you a better idea of how to strategically post on Instagram. You can only engage your audience if you understand what they want to see on social media.

6. Build a social team that responds as quickly as the platform. Businesses need a social media team that can quickly handle a crisis. A single negative comment on a post can escalate quickly if not handled correctly. You need people — even if it’s just you — who are always ready to respond to defuse a situation. On the opposite side, responding quickly to positive posts can be equally important. Say a celebrity shared an image of your product. Responding quickly and capitalizing on the opportunity can increase traffic and lead to more business. Being ready for both negative and positive social moments is key to increasing your business on Instagram.

Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am blessed to have a 12-year-old rescue dog that I adopted from the Wisconsin Humane Society when she was four years old. I firmly and strongly believe that the impact adopting a rescue animal goes far beyond their adopter. My dog has not only helped me through tough times but also many of my friends. I would honestly just put my weight behind the #AdoptDontShop movement. And senior pets. The gratitude senior rescue dogs have is unparalleled. It’s impossible to not feel good around them.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the United States, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂

Nick Offerman. I’d love to pick his brain on his woodworking shop and how he got into woodworking, and to get his thoughts on how someone like me with no access to tools could get into it — as I’ve always wanted to. I love Parks and Recreation, too, but I really want to talk about his woodshop.

Thank you so much for these great insights. This was very enlightening!

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