behind the counter with sweetgreen’s social media lead

I had blogged about my experiences on social media with sweetgreen, and within a day their social media lead, Erin Kim, reached out to personally thank me:

it means so much to me that you not only noticed what we do, but appreciated it and talked about it with others. you’re so right in that sweetgreen is all about fostering meaningful and real relationships, and it means so much that you felt like we successfully made that happen with you

I was impressed their team had found the IS6621 site, and I guess I should not have been surprised that Erin took the extra step to acknowledge my blog –it goes back to this brands remarkable ability to recognize and “delight” customers in the moment. She was more than happy to speak with me, and share her sweetgreen insights for a “behind the counter” follow up post. We spoke about her current responsibilities and goals as leading all of social media, and the challenges she faces as the brand rapidly grows. She was animated and clearly very passionate during our chat – an ideal sweetgreen employee.

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Source: Erin Kim Instagram

Do you mind telling me a little more about your background?

I am currently the social media lead at sweetgreen. Prior to sweetgreen, I worked at Refinery29 as their weekend social media editor and at J.Crew and Madewell on their digital development team doing social media. These roles helped transition me from more editorial work to brand marketing. I graduated from NYU where I created my own major, “storytelling.” I looked at different mediums and how we communicate – I studied cinema, literature, art, and communication theory and the different ways they resonate with people to form stories.

Wow, a storytelling major seems so fitting for the stories the sweetgreen brand creates. As Social Media lead, what are your key responsibilities?

I work very closely with our Director of Content. She decides our key messaging point. Since sweetgreen is a seasonal restaurant we usually choose stories by the season. Since so much thought is put into our menus, this content alone supplies us with more than enough to talk about. For example, we use the seasons to talk about key ingredients, where we source our foods, our farmer relationships, and how each menu is different for our various markets. The Director of Content lays out the key themes for me, and then my job is to communicate and pick and choose how we are going to piece together these talking points into a cohesive story on our social channels. I also coordinate with our new store-opening calendars and make sure we are reaching out to fans in these markets. My role is both strategic and day-to-day community managing and engaging with our active fans.

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How do you decide what content to share and what user generated content to use?

We are careful about what we re-tweet and re-gram on Twitter and Instagram. As a brand we are pretty picky. This comes from our founders and CEO’s who are very thoughtful about what we put out there. We get a lot of great content and engage as best we can with anyone who wants to talk with us, but as far as re-graming we are quite selective. We want to make sure the content aligns with our aesthetic and it is something that everyone wants to see. I don’t like our feed to be too cluttered. We are fortunate to have many fans with great photographic skills so we will re-gram occasionally. We try to do a mix of UGC with strategic content.

You mentioned sweetgreen  focuses social media efforts on Twitter and Instagram. Are these channels used for unique purposes? If so, how would you differentiate the message and content on each?

Twitter is much more of a direct conversation and immediate. I am very active on Twitter. People will ask a question and expect a response, so I make sure to respond to them, especially for customer service inquiries or issues. I work closely with our customer service advocate to make sure she is seeing any complaints coming through on Twitter and Facebook.

On Instagram, people don’t expect sweetgreen to engage back. Instagram is more inspirational. This is where we produce a lot of beautiful photography and the content is elevated aesthetically and visually. Instagram is where I get the most strategic and thoughtful. Our captions aim to be more bold and offer meatier content. One of my goals has been to use our Instagram messaging to dive deeper into sweetgreen’s food ethos and how we design our menu.

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I’m impressed with your social listening. What are some of the ways you monitor what your customers are saying about your brand?

At this point, it’s about me being proactive about what everyone saying. It makes me happy to hear you say we do a good job because bigger brands do have listening tools. The truth is, sweetgreen is a younger, smaller brand, but the way we market and brand is as if we are much bigger. We try to have a big voice. As a Marketing team, we must stay creative in the ways we listen and find content. We use Google alerts, read many blogs, and set up tabs on tweet decks for key words.

My first blog focused on sweetgreen creating a “sweet touch” moment for me. What does “adding the sweet touch” mean to you?

For me, it is remembering the humanity of social media. Remembering the customers. I remember one experience specifically, there was a guy on Twitter and everyday for lunch he’d tag sweetgreen, Chipotle and a bunch of different restaurants and he’d say whoever responds to his tweet first he’ll eat there for lunch. It made me very competitive. After a few weeks he stopped doing this but I tweeted back at him one day asking where he was having lunch. He was super stunned by it because what brand remembers. The way I approach the sweet touch is trying to remember our customers and creating moments for them.

What a great story! What is favorite part of your job? What is your biggest challenge?

This job is so real. What I enjoy about social media is that even though it is digital, there is so much reality to it. There are so many real relationships that form through social media. Like me talking to you! When people tweet I respect that it comes from a real place – people are excited and there is an emotional factor involved. Social media means something. I love that my role is a mix of creative and strategy. At sweetgreen there is a clear mission about food, healthy eating and lifestyle that I can share and I can immediately see results in people’s tweets and messages.

Since we are growing so fast and attracting so many new customers. A challenge is how do we keep our authenticity and communicate with ever person and maintain our intimacy. As we grow, there will be more opportunities to engage and I fear we won’t have the bandwidth. My goal is to try to give attention to everyone since I see this as a way to be unique compared to other restaurant chains.

Baltimore

Baltimore, Maryland. A new store will be opening here soon. Source: sweetgreen Instagram

So I promised my friend I’d ask, any intention of selling your awesome sweetgreen snapbacks in the future?

We have so much merchandise and I’m not entirely sure how this process works, but I’d love to provide you and your friend a sweetgreen snapback! Send me your address!

Thank you! and thank you so much for your time, your insights have been so useful and inspiring and I’m looking forward to sharing them with my class.

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8 comments

  1. This a great post! I am very impressed that you were able to set up this interview. The first thing that stood out to me was Erin’s storytelling major. The essence of marketing is trying to communicate information to the consumer is the most engaging way possible, which comes down to telling a story. I also think being particular in the information a brand puts out to the web is critical for creating a strong brand. Consumers are easily susceptible to information overload, and they will ignore too much information thrown in their direction. Putting out concise and simple information across social media resonates well with the consumer. Sweetgreen’s use of Twitter and Instagram for engagement and inspiration respectively is a perfect example of recognizing how different networks can complement a business. They do not try and overextend themselves across networks, and they excel in their two different channels. Overall, this was a great post that taught insights from a marketers perspective.

  2. What a cool experience to talk to someone working within social media for such an impactful brand! We’ve discussed a few times why certain media channels should be chosen, and I thought the reasoning behind the strategy and the choice of channel were insightful. Everyone has limited resources, albeit some less than others, but the competitive advantage comes from using those resources in the most meaningful ways possible.

    It’s clear that SweetGreen has gone above and beyond to connect to their consumer, which is vital to their ability to compete. Erin is not only a talented storyteller, but she’s able to forge authentic relationships with people based on a passion for fresh produce and healthy lives. And that’s the impact social media as a tool can have – when wielded well.

  3. Laura, this is a great post, thanks for sharing! It provides a great real-world connection to much of we’ve talked about in this class, and for me also in Digital Marketing. It’s interesting to hear what such an actual social media marketing job is like, what her responsibilities are and how the brand creates and manages its messaging and content. The whole idea of storytelling makes perfect sense, and I think there are way too many brands out there that just focus on content (any content), and forget that there should also be a compelling, coherent story there that matches the brand and truly engages and delights customers. They’ve got it figured out for sure!
    Again, great post. But: what’s a snapback?? ;-)

  4. Wow what a great opportunity to talk to someone in the industry. It is great to hear how her career path has lead to her current position, especially for those of us interested in taking on a similar position someday. I also find it interesting that Instagram is used mostly for inspiration posts and less for user engagement – I wonder if they would see an uptick in followers if they engaged their insta users more. It’s also be interesting to know how they are measuring the link between social media growth and sales

  5. Great decision to follow up with her, Laura! As I’d expect from a brand that’s doing it right, she sounds insightful and bright. I think Sweetgreen has a pretty good understanding of who makes up their target market, and they’ve hired exactly the kind of talent to reach that market. If they continue to execute like they did with #IS6621 in this case, I’m expecting them to continue to grow quite a bit.

    Besides, their food is delicious!

  6. Laura,
    This is awesome on so many levels: the content, your contact, and your images are all so engaging. I thought you chose really interesting questions to ask her. I was particularly interested in her answer to the question you asked about Twitter vs. Instagram. I would be interested to learn more about their Facebook approach. Facebook typically is both a great place for a brand to engage and a great place to share content, so I’d anticipate that they mix their Twitter and Instagram strategies to satisfy the needs of the users on this platform. Although, if they have a strong presence on Facebook too, how do they make sure not to spread their resources too thin by taking on too much?

    It makes me like Sweetgreen even more after reading this interview and hearing about Erin’s willingness to help and answer questions. Smart employee and great social media lead, particularly because she took a risk by engaging with your blog and used it to further publicize the brand. Thanks for sharing!

  7. ashleighpopera · ·

    Awesome interview! I really enjoyed reading this. Looking at Sweetgreen’s social media platforms, I can see what she means by the company being “picky”- you can definitely tell they are super selective in how they create their brand story. I also love how she talks about remembering the humanity of social media. This is definitely something that seems to be forgotten by a lot of companies on social media nowadays, but is something that Sweetgreen does particularly well. This along with how she mentions there are so many real relationships that form through social media really show Sweetgreen’s values as a brand and represent how they interact online. I know I personally loved Sweetgreen’s response to my tweet after they catered our class!

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