How small creative teams can build big followings on social media.

Cristina spent 20 years climbing the corporate ladder as a designer, art director, and creative director before turning in her lanyard and coveted parking spot for a position at a small cosmetics brand. As promised, the role has come with total creative freedom — her primary reason for taking the job in the first place. But this freedom has come at a cost. Her budget and team size are a mere fraction of what she once enjoyed.

To grow this brand, Cristina and her marketing colleagues will need to build a powerful presence across social media channels. The shopification of platforms like Instagram combined with a surge in online shopping has catapulted social media into a primary sales driver for many companies. An eMarketer report released in February unhinged jaws with its projection that social commerce sales would rise by 35% in 2021 alone. Meanwhile, a second study has predicted a sevenfold increase globally in the next six years.


Among those companies poised to gain the most from these trends are brands like Cristina’s — that is, small and midsize businesses that operate entirely online and rely heavily on social media for generating brand awareness and sales. Fortunately for her, creating big brand-level content doesn’t require an enterprise-sized budget and team. Here are four strategies to help even the smallest teams ride this wave of social-driven brand growth by building large and loyal followings.

Strategy 1: Templatize your content wherever possible.

Ekitzel Wood is a social marketer who has promoted brands from half a dozen industries in the course of her 10-year career. Across the board, she says, social media users are looking for “a unifying aesthetic” from companies, and particularly small businesses whose reputations may not be as well established as their bigger competitors.


To maintain a consistent brand identity across platforms, you’ll need a robust style guide filled with specifics about fonts, color palettes, and tone. But stop there and you’ll find yourself sprinting in place in the race to keep up with customer expectations. Customers want to see content that’s fresh and new — and tailored to their interests. To get ahead, Wood suggests “having your designers create templates that can be easily re-created and repurposed.” Doing so is key to stretching your creative dollars, whether you’re hiring an outside designer or working with someone on your own team.


Templates aren’t just for images, either. That’s because “template” doesn’t have to refer only to a standardized layout. It can also refer to structures your team can reuse when writing captions or planning a video.

Strategy 2: Incorporate stock images and videos.

In the past, “stock” was a bad word among designers, a term that summoned images of stilted models in conservative suits looking directly into the camera, their grins just a little too wide. Those days are long gone. Recent years have seen a surge in eye-catching images, videos, and — more and more — graphic design layouts available for general use. Brands that don’t incorporate these premade images into their library are in danger of falling behind the demand for new content created by the rise of social media.


For the biggest impact when using stock imagery, be sure to adhere to the following rules:


Avoid overuse. Instead of using stock images, videos, and templates as your base, think of them as a quick and easy way to build on the look and feel captured in the content you already have.


Use specific and creative search terms. “Bird's-eye view of city street at dusk” is more likely to generate an image with a creative spin than, say, “rush hour.” For something more on the artistic side, add terms for photo effects like blur or tilt-shift to your search.


Run a search engine query. This way, you can see who else has used a particular stock image. A few hits are inevitable. However, if those hits are from recognizable brands, particularly those in your same industry, you’ll want to find a different image.


Make it your own. Personalize your selected stock image by adding your own elements, from text to animations to cutouts of your products. You can also remove unnecessary objects and change color palettes to match your own.

Strategy 3: Go lo-fi.

Raw. Unfiltered. DIY. Behind-the-scenes. Customers crave it all, according to Facebook’s own observations. And no wonder. In a world where the leak of an unedited photo of a Kardashian counts for breaking news, people crave authenticity.


“Our theory is that people relate to the unpolished content more because they feel like they are actually gaining something from the experience rather than being marketed to,” explains Hannah Davidson, senior art director at The Stoke Group.


Exhibit A: BarkBox. The maker of subscription boxes for dog owners treats its audience to nothing but low-budget puppy content — user-generated photos and videos of dogs in seasonal sweaters, cuddling their owners, and looking like Tom Brady. In doing so, BarkBox has racked up nearly 5 million followers between Facebook and Instagram alone. Allison Stadd is the VP of brand reach and affinity for the parent company, Bark. Her take on their success is simple, and echoes Davidson’s observations about where customers are right now. The key, Stadd told Adweek in 2019, is to have the confidence “on social to not talk about the things that we’re selling.”

“Our theory is that people relate to the unpolished content more because they feel like they are actually gaining something from the experience rather than being marketed to.”

Hannah Davidson

Senior Art Director, The Stoke Group

Strategy 4: Act as a curator as much as a creator.

Here’s some real talk: Your followers care less about who created the content you share than how it resonates with them.


Take Nasty Gal. The women’s online clothing store embodies a swaggering, unapologetic form of female empowerment honed by repurposing pre-existing and user-generated memes, GIFs, tweets, videos, and images. Top go-tos include grainy, captioned stills from “Sex and the City” and “Friends,” famous feminist quotes, and tweets about self-love. These, plus endless selfies of women dressed in Nasty Gal clothing, have earned the brand 7 million followers across Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter.


This kind of curation approach is ideal for a small business looking to publish new content quickly without needing expensive new designs. That said, not just anyone can pull it off. To be successful, you’ll need all three of the following: skilled writers whose captions are key to folding found content into your brand’s story, content scouts with a sixth sense for social trends, and a team with an iron grip on your brand’s identity and purpose. Add these three elements together and you’ll have the beginnings of a social media strategy that’s all but certain to succeed.

Publish content, not ads.

Sure, having bundles of cash to spend on big, flashy campaigns is fun, but it’s far from a requirement when it comes to connecting with and mobilizing a highly engaged social media following. By playing it smart, your small or midsize businesses can hold their own against even the biggest brands when it comes to building awareness and driving sales. This means creating and sticking to formulas that work, both in design and process, while taking advantage of the growing ecosystem of creative assets available for general use.


“Social media users are looking for authenticity,” Wood says. Embrace unvarnished content, either of your making or someone else’s, and audiences are more likely to respond than to a highly produced ad that feels like, well, an ad.


In short, you can’t afford to reinvent the wheel with every post, and you don’t have to — as long as you have the right strategies, tools, and team members in place.

Adobe can help.

Adobe Creative Cloud for teams gives you the world’s best creative apps and services in a single, secure, integrated platform. With 20+ desktop and mobile apps, Creative Cloud Libraries for keeping assets in sync across apps and devices, and 1TB of storage per user, this complete creativity solution is designed to support your business at every stage of growth. Plus, you can count on simplified license management and total control over your software to help your team stay focused on creating great work.