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“Be passionate.” With Candice Georgiadis & Ashleigh Sherman

I’m extremely passionate about environmental issues, and I’m lucky that my job allows me to put my marketing skills toward environmental causes. Through our pro bono Stand Up initiative, we support environmental-focused non-profit organizations through a mix of PR and digital marketing services. I’ve been lucky to work with such amazing organizations as Friends of […]

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I’m extremely passionate about environmental issues, and I’m lucky that my job allows me to put my marketing skills toward environmental causes. Through our pro bono Stand Up initiative, we support environmental-focused non-profit organizations through a mix of PR and digital marketing services. I’ve been lucky to work with such amazing organizations as Friends of the Smokies, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, and the San Juan Mountains Association on their social media marketing strategies. I love when social media is a force for good, rather than the swirl of negativity that it sometimes is.


As a part of our series about How To Leverage Instagram To Grow Your Business, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashleigh Sherman, Social Media Strategist for Darby Communications. Darby Communications is a boutique PR & digital marketing agency serving the outdoor, fitness, and mountain lifestyle industries. As Darby Communications’ Social Media Strategist, Ashleigh oversees strategy for all of the agency’s social accounts, ensuring social best practices are followed, brand voice maintained, and social goals exceeded.


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

Thank you so much for the opportunity. I always love the chance to geek out over all things social media marketing! I actually studied journalism in school before I realized that path wasn’t for me. Though I didn’t love newsroom life, I did love storytelling, which I think is at the very heart of what any good marketer does. Every piece of content — be it a press release or a blog post or an Instagram caption — is a chance to tell a client’s story.

After graduating, I took six months off to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail — 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine. After emerging from the woods, I knew I wanted to be a part of the outdoor industry, helping outdoor brands tell their stories and encouraging more people to get outside. At Darby Communications, based in Asheville, NC, I’ve gotten the chance to combine my love of storytelling with my love of the outdoors, working with clients from all over the outdoor, fitness, and mountain lifestyle industries.

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

Well, these past few months have certainly been an interesting time for any digital marketer, but especially those in the social media world. As the agency’s Social Media Strategist, it’s been my job to help our client’s navigate their online presence during both the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests. I’m extremely proud of our clients’ responses, both digitally and otherwise — they have acted with humility, empathy, and authenticity. More importantly, those who chose to make strong statements backed those statements up with concrete action. As a marketer, I’m a huge believer in the power of words, but sometimes actions actually make the strongest statements. (It’s almost as if there’s a popular saying expressing this very sentiment…)

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 started out, I was coordinating a ton of giveaways for our clients. Giveaways, when done right, are a great way to grow your social media following or build your newsletter subscriber list. But they’re also a ton of behind-the-scenes work, with many moving parts to keep track of and many participating individuals to wrangle. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to let a detail slip through the cracks.

We once spent months coordinating a big holiday giveaway for one of our clients. The big giveaway was to be divided into a series of flash giveaways, each with its own theme and 3–4 participating brands. It wasn’t until the 3rd or 4th day of the giveaway that we realized that something had gone wrong on the backend — and we weren’t collecting any email addresses! Here’s the lesson: always choose transparency. We admitted our mistake to our followers and gave them another chance to enter, rounding out the giveaway with a sizable amount of last-minute entries.

Ok. Let’s now move to the main focus of our discussion. For the benefit of our readers, can you explain why you are an authority about Social Media Marketing?

Sure. As the agency’s Social Media Strategist, I oversee strategy for all of the agency’s social accounts, ensuring social best practices are followed, brand voice maintained, and social goals exceeded. We regularly leverage creative branding, engaging storytelling, targeted online promotions, and strategic brand collaborations to heighten a brand’s reach, capture new audiences, and usher customers through their sales funnel. We frequently work with very limited, even nonexistent, social budgets to dramatically grow a brand’s reach (imagine a 600% increase in followers in one year through an entirely organic strategy…it’s possible!).

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?

It really depends on the brand. Our clients often have limited time and resources. That’s why it’s our job to make sure they are directing their energy and resources to the digital marketing channels that are the best fit for them and their audience…and then making sure they are making the most of those mediums. When deciding which social media platforms are best for a brand, we ask ourselves three things: What type of content does the brand excel at? Where is the brand’s target audience spending their time? And where are the brand’s competitors spending their energy?

Let’s talk about Instagram specifically, now. Can you share 6 ways to leverage Instagram to dramatically improve your business? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Know how to work the algorithm. Instagram is famously tight-lipped about what content performs well in their algorithm and what content doesn’t; however, they have let a few things slip. Posting consistently, encouraging engagement on your own posts (by asking your followers to answer a question in the comments, for example), and engaging with other people’s posts all help your content be seen by more people.
  2. Be smart about imagery and captions. High-quality imagery has always been king on Instagram; however, high-quality captions are becoming more and more important. The longer someone stays on your post reading a caption, the better the post performs in the algorithm. That’s why long, journal entry-like captions are becoming more and more popular among both brands and influencers.
  3. Leverage hashtags, tags and geotags. Hashtags, tags, and geotags all give Instagram users just one more way to find your content. Use a mix of brand, community, geographic, trending, and other relevant hashtags to reach a wide variety of relevant audiences. Avoid using the exact same hashtags every day, as you will likely reach the same audience over and over again. For a cleaner look, stick these hashtags in the first comment.
  4. Use calls-to-action to your advantage. Always include a CTA in your Instagram bio. A short “Click the link below to shop your favorites” can do wonders for your referrals. Frequently include a CTA in your Instagram posts. A simple “Tap the link in our bio to find out more” will get your audience to your bio link. Finally, unlike Instagram post captions, IGTV video descriptions are clickable. Take advantage of this exciting Instagram tool!
  5. Don’t forget about IGTV and Stories. Speaking of IGTV…recent tweaks to the video platform have made IGTV a must-have for any brand serious about engaging consumers through video. Not only does IGTV now allow for vertical or horizontal videos, IGTV videos appear 4-times larger than photos on the Explore page! And Stories are great for driving meaningful engagement. Be sure to experiment with stickers such as the poll, question, and emoji slider stickers to drive engagement directly
  6. Coordinate targeted giveaways for major growth. Giveaways are where our clients see the biggest bumps in followers. The key is to be strategic about the brands you select as giveaway partners. Whether you’re using a giveaway to grow your social media following or build your newsletter subscriber list, make sure your giveaway partners’ audiences are aligned closely with yours. Otherwise, you’ll just lose all your new followers once the giveaway is over.

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’m extremely passionate about environmental issues, and I’m lucky that my job allows me to put my marketing skills toward environmental causes. Through our pro bono Stand Up initiative, we support environmental-focused non-profit organizations through a mix of PR and digital marketing services. I’ve been lucky to work with such amazing organizations as Friends of the Smokies, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, and the San Juan Mountains Association on their social media marketing strategies. I love when social media is a force for good, rather than the swirl of negativity that it sometimes is.

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 US 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 🙂

I’ve been lucky to meet some incredible people through my work, from Mirna Valerio to Jennifer Pharr Davis. However, if there’s one person in the outdoor industry I could meet, I think it would be ultrarunner and fellow thru-hiker Heather ‘Anish’ Anderson. In 2018, Anish became the fastest female Triple Crowner, first female Calendar Year Triple Crowner, AND first female Triple Triple Crowner. She is also only the person in history to have held the unsupported speed record simultaneously on both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. Her book “Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home” is one of my favorites and a must-read for any adventurer.

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

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