Social Bites: AJ Brinnand (QuickBooks, Team GB, OK Magazine, etc.)

What’s your name?

AJ Brinnand

What major social media accounts have you managed?

QuickBooks, Team GB, OK Magazine, a few West End shows, the list goes on…

What were the best things about managing these accounts?

Running accounts for big brands is a bizarre yet brilliant job. With a smaller profile you hustle hard for engagement and have to build community from the ground up. Managing an established brand’s socials is almost like a pseudo-celebrity experience.

Screen Shot of OK Magazine tweets about celebrities on the Cannes red carpet

Responding to comments or engaging with tagged posts can make someone’s day, they’ll share it with their followers and tell you how much they like the brand. It’s warm fuzzy feelings all round. And heck, I’m guilty of it too—I love getting fun replies from my favourite brands!

What were the HARDEST things about managing these accounts?

There are, of course, two sides to every coin. While the majority of your audience will bring positive sentiment, there will also be criticism and sometimes outright trolling alongside it.

Screen Shot of a tweet by AJ Brinnand showing a string of angry people responding to a tweet

I’ve been lucky to work with very responsive customer care teams who, for some brands, will manage the majority of questions and feedback for the accounts. That lets me focus on the content and community building.

I do try and go the extra mile to help find resolution when I can. Many companies have adopted “customer obsession” values in recent years—I think I naturally subscribe to that.

How did you think up your posts?

Depending on the account, a lot of my content has been reactive. Live events, cultural moments, jumping on a trend. I love creating content that is part of a conversation or moment. That’s easy to do when you’re a reactive account following sport moments, but much harder for some of the more corporate accounts I’ve looked after.

Every company has a slightly different way of working. I’d say in general, I try to put a foundation of a content plan together anywhere from 8-6 weeks out. That allows time for other teams like marketing or events to feed in creatively, to brief any assets that need to be made, and to get sign off on anything outside the norm. Bigger campaigns or tentpole moments will have been on the calendar for much longer than that. But equally, I always leave wiggle room and flexibility for that reactive content.

Were there long approval processes for social content or have you been trusted to pretty much do your own thing?

I’ve learned over the years that befriending the legal team will repay in so many ways. Thankfully I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some fantastic forward-thinking and fun legal folks. Who said lawyers are boring! They are a super valuable resource, whether you’re asking for permission or begging for forgiveness.

Whenever I join a new company, as part of my induction I’ll always meet with legal reps to get a lay of the land, check their understanding of the social strategy, and start to build that working relationship. For most of my recent content, I’ve been trusted to do my own thing. It’s only for things like competitions, UGC, and certain reactive content that might need some additional sign off.

What have some of your most popular posts been, and why do you think they struck such a chord?

One of my most popular posts has the worst grammar. It was the last day of an Olympic Games, myself and the three other social media managers had been running around all day and were finally at the Closing Ceremony venue. A little emotional and mentally exhausted from a non-stop few weeks. Completely winging it and off-script. But hey, I think it captured the spirit of the event and some of the replies still make me emotional to this day.

Screen Shot of a tweet summarizing TeamGB's Olympic results

What have some of your favorite posts been, even if they aren’t necessarily the ones that went “viral”?

Any posts where I can create a sense of community. There’s often a debate around audience vs. community online, and I firmly believe social media is a two-way dialogue. I don’t want to throw content out into the world or just ask people to comment. I want to start conversations with followers and get to know them.

Some of my favourite small brands take the time to send personalised DM notes or like my posts from their brand accounts, that means the world and goes the extra mile. I try to replicate that at scale with accounts I manage. I want people to feel like a part of something. That’s how you build real brand equity.

Has a post ever landed you in hot water? (Tell us ALL the juicy details!)

I’ve definitely made my fair share of mistakes. Incorrectly naming famous people comes to mind. That can become a problem if you’re a celebrity magazine.

When I first started running the @TeamGB social profiles I was 18 years old and had little understanding of brand tone of voice. I would occasionally slip a slang term or colloquialism into some of the live commentary social content and quickly learned how badly that could go down. Some of the stiff upper lip traditionalist British followers didn’t like that.

I also once meant to post a picture of an athlete winning a gold medal but instead attached a picture of a dirty dinner plate. I didn’t realise for 2 hours. That actually won me an award of best social media blunder.

What do you wish you knew before you started managing this account that might have made things easier at the beginning?

It takes time to soak up a brand’s mission, tone of voice, style, audience, and purpose. If I see job listings expecting candidates to “hit the ground running,” that’s a red flag for me. Even if you’ve been a lifelong fan of a brand from the outside, it takes time to pick up their hat and wear it properly.

Diving into brand guidelines, trawling back through social profiles, and having introductions with brand/marketing leads is a great way of settling in to a new social role. I make that my mission at any new job I take on.

Also, I was at a Twitter event once where a partnership manager shared how important it is for brands to create thumb-stopping moments. If I could go back and tell myself anything, I’d go one step further and say to focus on creating content that people want to bookmark. Platforms are putting emphasis on saving and bookmarking content now, whether it be posts that truly resonate or add value in some way. That’s the kind of content I want to be making.

What’s your advice for someone starting out in social?

When hiring for junior social media roles, I sometimes see people pitching themselves as “aspiring social media manager” or “budding journalist.” Welcome to the age of the internet. If you run your own social media profiles or write articles for a blog, you’re not “aspiring”—you’re doing it. Whether it’s for your own personal brand or a side hustle you’ve created for fun. Making your own social profiles is the best way to test and learn without worry.

Frankly, what you studied at college means very little to me as a hiring manager compared to real examples of accounts you’ve run or content you’ve made.

What’s your advice for brand managers to get the best out of their social media managers?

Trust your subject matter experts. Bring them into discussions early. Let them be a part of campaign planning. Give them budget for organic social. Make it easy for them to achieve the best possible results. Thank them for working evenings and weekends because they love what they do, but don’t expect it as part of the job. Have open discussions. Foster a sense of being one team, even if you’re 100+ people strong in your comms team. And maybe tell them to hydrate every once in a while.

so good!!! I LOVE these weekly glimpses into different brands I know and love!