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On Branding: How a Digital Agency Goes Start-to-Finish with a Social Media Branding Strategy

Apr 26, 2016 10 min readCase Studies
Photo of Kevan Lee
Kevan Lee

Former VP of Marketing @ Buffer


Imagine having a way to control how you’re presented online, a way to identify yourself or your company and differentiate yourself from others.

Sounds a bit like social media, right? Sounds a bit like branding.

The two go hand-in-hand. Branding happens on social media, and social media is an outlet for the voice of your brand. Many people have found success with personal branding and company positioning online, and agencies have come along to help people with both.

One of these agencies, Januel + Johnson, was kind enough to let us peek inside the way they run social media for their digital agency and how an emphasis on branding extends to the very root of all the content, scheduling, and engagement they provide with Buffer. Get the specifics on how J + J find success for their clients with a 360-degree brand strategy, with social media and Buffer at the heart.

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None of our content looks scheduled. Yet with Buffer, it all is. That’s one of the biggest things that people say all the time. In fact, I get so much high engagement that people always think that I’m online, but I’m not, which is awesome.

– C.J. Johnson, Januel + Johnson

Growing a following on the strength of branding

Many agencies begin as an extension of one’s expertise: web design, SEO, advertising.

For C.J. Johnson and Ambar Januel, their unique advantage is with branding.

Branding has been a huge asset for them both at the personal level. C.J., an actor and director who lives in Los Angeles at the heart of the entertainment industry, found Buffer early on and has grown his following to 57,000 on Twitter. This follower growth brought attention and led to opportunities to share what he had learned about social media marketing and personal branding with others.

My following kept growing because I was using Buffer to schedule posts. My content is all about images. Photos. Videos. Because I’m the person that’s behind the camera, I know it’ll be high-quality and customized.

I saw that type of content was really kicking up some serious action and engagement. What ended up happening was people started asking me, “Hey, how are you able to get all these followers? How are you able to do this systematically?”

Everybody I talked to, I would say, “I use Buffer.” I would give them tips. I eventually was able to turn that into what I have now, which is Januel and Johnson, J + J, a premium branding agency. We specialize in branding period. That’s from the creative aspect of it, the social media, the publicity, everything.
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“None of our content looks scheduled”

Branding is the most significant selling point for Januel + Johnson, and a huge part of this branding effort is the social media presence. C.J. and his team want their clients to have great success on social. For Januel + Johnson, this all starts with the content.

Their emphasis is on visual content. They prioritize custom images for their clients, and they have the in-house production team to pull off some beautiful shots (C.J. leads a majority of the photoshoots for the team).


Their visual strategy includes a few go-to elements:

  • Custom images
  • Emoji
  • Gifs

This is the formula that worked for C.J. as he grew his following, and it’s been working for clients, too.

The overall effect of this specialized, visual content is that it’s impossible to tell what’s been scheduled and what hasn’t.

The secret, of course, is that a majority of it is scheduled, within the Buffer dashboard. Januel + Johnson ensure that every social media update is unique and special, be it with a custom image, an emoji, or a GIF. And the result is a Twitter feed that looks completely in-the-moment.

One of our strongest assets is that we provide clients with the information to figure out how to schedule posts efficiently and how to get the best results. One of our biggest tips is to customize the content to fit whatever that particular client is into and what networks they’re on. And Buffer is a key part of it. I believe I manage 32 accounts in Buffer — at one point it was 50. I’ve used Buffer in every sort of way you can think of.

Before I started my own agency, I was working for a digital arts company, and I was managing 100 accounts there. We’d do two to three posts per day, per account, per channel. It was LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+. Not only did those accounts see growth, but they always had consistent engagement. I think that that had a lot to do with the fact that I used two rules when it comes to content:

Be informative, be entertaining.

In any situation, there’s always a call to action. Even if it isn’t a specific, “Hey, have you checked this out?” or “Hey, visit us here,” I always have a link at the end of the post. That helps a lot. And I don’t do link shortening. I leave the link as-is. That’s just for branding purposes.

From the beginning we would do a mix of photos, emoji, and GIFs. We would have customized videos, customized photos, including a call to action link, including the emojis and including the GIFs. We’d shake it up. Nothing looks ordinary. None of our content looks scheduled. It all is. That’s one of the biggest things that people say all the time. In fact, I get so much high engagement that people always think that I’m online, but I’m not, which is awesome.

When it comes to social media content, the more unique you are with posts and the more consistent you are, the better results you get.
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Looking for big results? Give it three months

Social media, with its real-time nature, tends to lend itself to an expectation of quick results.

Of course, this can’t always be the case (and rarely is), which is why a long-term social media strategy and a consistent brand on social are so key.

Januel + Johnson have found that three months tends to be the sweet spot for a strategy to take hold and for results to start coming in. They believe these first 90 days to be so key that they make this period a requirement for any new clients that they take on.

Our goal is to empower people in general. Entrepreneurs and creatives. That’s our number one goal.

Typically what we do is we have a three-month period. I like to call it a trial period even though it never is officially a trial. It’s basically a three-month minimum to work with us. Typically within those three months I see gangbuster results.

I think maybe it’s because the first month is that trial transitional phase.

The second month you’re building the system.

The third month you’re seeing out-of-control engagement.

I can tell you this, when the content is really, really good and it’s scheduled out to perfection, and everybody is doing the role of what they need to do to succeed, obviously, the results are awesome. Typically, when they’re not consistent about posting, or the content is not very good — looks like spam, looks redundant — then it’s just a mixed bag of results.

Week-in-the-life: A social media scheduling workflow

An emphasis on quality content raises a key question: How much time does it take to make and schedule all these awesome tweets and posts?

The content that Januel + Johnson creates includes:

  • Custom photos
  • Videos
  • Emoji
  • GIFs
  • Evergreen content
  • Events

Plus a good mix of scheduled updates …

… and real-time engagement.

(And even some that seem real-time but are actually scheduled!)

Here’s how C.J. and his team pull it off.

Typically at the beginning of the week, I put everything in the queue. Then as updates, announcements, anything that happens on the fly, I add those to the queue as they come.

I usually do two weeks out for each client. And I’ve been doing this practice, even when I had 100 profiles to manage.

What I would do is I would add all the content to the queue in a very systematic way: Monday motivation, transformation Tuesday, wins on Wednesday, etcetera. Then I would add images. Usually, those images are images that I take myself or one of my team members takes, because we are very technical and creative. Then we add emoji to spice it up to make it look a little more unique. And then we take out links, or we add links to make it look like we’re not promoting anything.

This all happens Monday-Tuesday, and then on Wednesday and Thursday we typically check in for engagement and reshuffle the deck. I might look at something and say, that will work next Monday instead of this Monday, and maybe this is more important to push out right now.

I’m trying to apply that knowledge to everyone. I think it would be really smart if everyone would just take out a couple of hours, it doesn’t even have to be a couple of hours, at the beginning of the week, write out all updates in an Excel sheet. Then go back to it and review it a little bit later just to make sure that it’s the language that they want to use, put it in Bulk Buffer and export it all at once and then just clean it up.

I look at breaking news, then I will look at trending topics, and I will add them in the Buffer queue as every other post. Then, I will put in original content, split into different categories: question, call to action, entertaining, a quote, a funny GIF. If you break that down, with two posts a day per channel, I’ve already filled up five days out of my week.

No matter what, Monday through Friday is those two posts, that’s good to go. Anything special that happens, then that’s an extra post. We know that Saturday is the weakest day to push out content. Sunday is debatable depending on that the industry is. The weekend is always a beta test for me.

Anytime anything happens on the fly, I do have Buffer on my cell phone, so I’m able to easily adjust. For example, the other day I was speaking at a live event that I didn’t even know that I was going to be speaking at, and it was easy for us to push out something immediately on all channels at the same time.
Oro_San Francisco_JJ_Campaign 1-386

The big question: How do you measure the ROI of branding?

ROI is a question that seems to come up quite often for social media marketers. It gets asked of branding, too.

At Januel + Johnson, the topic is one that they address for all their clients. There can be some data behind the answer: things like sales and engagement help address the topic slightly. There’s an even higher-level discussion to be had as well.

The ROI of branding and social media becomes extra apparent if you were to image what it’s like without either or to compare it to the alternatives.

Branding is the funniest thing ever because nobody ever talks about things like, say, a Super Bowl spot, in the same way. Nobody ever challenges that. But if you put out a Facebook post or a Tweet, people want to know, “What’s the point of this?” I always tell people, you’re saving money, period. You’re saving money, period, and this is so easy if you just just take a step back and think about it for 5 minutes.

Now people know what reach is, and when you’re trying to explain to somebody that your reach is 50,000 but you only have like 200 followers, then do those numbers really matter? How did that translate to sales for us? What did that look like? What does that mean?

For C.J. and his team, a bit part of the discussion is with building awareness and consistency, two things that social media as a medium and Buffer as a management tool have helped make easier.

If I’m not Ryan Gosling or Will Smith, how do I get awareness? YouTube and Vine and Instagram became a huge voice for creatives, but then as people started taking that more seriously, then they started asking, how do we consistently post? What are we consistently posting? And just thinking about that gives everybody a headache.

Everybody you talk to now says they know they need to be on social media. Everybody knows that they need a powerful tool to get them over the hump, or to give them an edge on someone else.

The big two questions I always get are what is the return on investment and, if it’s not working, why is it not working. Like I said, it’s different for each person, but I can typically go in there and see oh, this is probably the reason why it’s not working, or this is the reason why it is working, and really customize the strategy to really get peak performance.

I’m really happy with the results of what I’ve seen with Buffer. Like I said, if I use Januel+Johnson, for example, I have 80 posts in the queue right now. As long as there’s a steady stream of content going out, it give us a huge advantage. The reason why I always try to put as much as I can in at once is because it also gives us an opportunity to make sure that if anything gets too busy, in case we miss something, in case we’re working hard on a different campaign and we want to put it out there, we still have content going out.
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Image sources: Pablo, Unsplash, J+J

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