Posted: Thu 1st Oct 2020
You can't help but feel optimistic after chatting with Natalie Sherman. Her start-up story isn't just one of success, but of purpose, meaning and social good.
She wants to make the world a better place, and she's using social media to do so. Naturally Social, the company she founded in 2015, is spectacularly successful at helping purpose-driven businesses, organisations and charities connect with, and engage, their audiences.
Many so-called experts claim to 'get' social, but it's clear that Natalie really does - which makes her a worthy Member of the Month. Here's her story…
How, and when, did you decide to launch Naturally Social?
I was Wiltshire Council's social media officer for about four years - a brand new position in local government at the time. I very quickly understood the nuances of how social could connect us with our community and help change people's behaviours.
I ended up taking redundancy in 2015. By that point I had been promoted to digital communications manager, but I think my vision had outgrown the council's. So, I used the redundancy money to set up Naturally Social.
It was just me to begin with. I felt strongly that the private sector could learn a lot from the public sector's approach to online communications, so I initially offered consultancy and training before expanding into social media management. Now, we're a full communications agency.
Quite a journey! How have you coped with expanding so quickly?
When we started working with larger clients, it was often a case of feeling frustrated at having to deal with their other suppliers. The designer or web person didn't always sing from the same hymn sheet.
So, to deliver the best possible work for our clients, we decided to become an agency offering not just social media, but PR, marketing, content writing, digital advertising, and design. This has future-proofed the business because, by offering everything in-house, we can work with bigger clients.
What makes Naturally Social different to other communications agencies?
Because I'm so passionate about digital as a force for social good, we only work with clients that are driven by purpose. This is our USP.
If someone asks us 'How are you going to make us more money?' then I don't want to work with them. If they want to make money as an outcome of good ethics, and a strong moral standpoint, then I will work with them.
Is social the perfect channel for championing purpose-led businesses and campaigns?
Definitely, because you get to influence so many people in a way you control. Gone are the days where the media would have to find your press release newsworthy. With social you can get right in front of people who care, and influence their behaviour and decisions.
That can be used for bad, as we've seen in recent months and years. But it's the easiest and quickest way to reach people who need your product and service, and to tell them how you can help. That's what I love about social media.
What are the key strategies for success for small businesses using social media?
Start by asking yourself two questions: 'Who is it that I'm trying to talk to?' and 'Where are these people hanging out online?' You also need to ask yourself how you're going to maximise your time, so don't feel you have to create profiles on multiple platforms.
So many solopreneurs and micro business owners come to me with the same struggle: trying to run five or six profiles and seeing no obvious benefits. So, pull your resources into one channel, do it well, and build from there.
The other big thing is 'conversation' - something that too many people forget about, but which has the biggest impact. You can spend three hours a week scheduling posts, but often those three hours are better spent in the communities where conversations are happening.
This is something I learned early on at Wiltshire Council. Rather than expecting everyone to come and like our Facebook page, we went into hyper-local groups to build relationships. That had much bigger impact.
Always do your research with groups. When you join one with a relevant, engaged membership, remember to think long term. You need to show up regularly and build relationships with these people so that, when the right time comes, you can mention what you do and drive them to your website. It's just like face-to-face networking.
How would you define social return on investment?
If you're a specific type of company you can measure sales, but most organisations need to change their mindset in terms of return on investment.
Can you drive people to your newsletter list? Can you get people to download a lead magnet or a freebie? Maybe it's as simple as visits to your website.
Tell us about your Enterprise Nation experience…
From the minute I've been involved with Enterprise Nation they've been nothing but brilliant.
When I launched Naturally Social I considered joining my local chamber of commerce, but it was ridiculously expensive and the support they offered was outdated.
Enterprise Nation - their brand, their offering, their pricing - just completely spoke to me. My way in was the Festival of Female Entrepreneurs, which I found so inspiring. Since then I've been a social media adviser as part of the She Means Business campaign, and in 2019 I was very fortunate to win in the marketing category in Enterprise Nation's Top 50 Advisers.
I think Emma, your founder, is amazing. The wider team make you feel like they know you - they're just really great at lifting up their members, bringing out their stories and supporting them.
What's next for you and Naturally Social?
Apart from world domination, you mean? Well, you can expect a satellite office in the east of England, where a couple of our staff members are based. We're on a fast growth trajectory at the moment, so we'll continue growing the team as we position ourselves as the go-to agency for any company or organisation with a story to tell.