Agency /The Social Tea: Leading an In-House Social Media Team

The Social Tea: Leading an In-House Social Media Team

Ever thought about working in an in-house social media role but want to get an idea of what it’s like before making the leap? We spoke with Nicole Redfern, former Head of Social Media, Global Cross-Brand Strategic Initiatives for Expedia Group and she gave us great insight into what it’s like to build and lead an in-house social media team – and how you can do it too.


Nicole, can you start by telling us a bit about your career journey and what led you to the field of marketing, communications and  heading up social?

I’ve always loved the media, so I studied journalism at university and started my career in boutique PR agencies. I made the move in-house to Wotif Group (which was later acquired by Expedia Group) as a PR Executive and when our Marketing Manager left not long after, I took on social media too. Over the years, I formed Wotif Group’s first dedicated social media team, worked across 10 different brands, worked on huge projects, like throwing a festival and building an iconic ‘big thing’, and ultimately took on a global leadership role. It was quite the 13 year journey!


You’ve recently wrapped up an extensive tenure at Expedia Group. What has been one of your favourite campaigns to work on and why?

It’s hard to top the time we built and delivered a nine tonne Big Melon to the regional Queensland town of Chinchilla, which lives on to this day. To launch Wotif’s new brand platform ‘It’s Aussie for Travel’, we asked Australia what should join the ranks of the Big Banana and Big Pineapple as a tourism icon. Through an integrated PR and Social-led campaign, Australia voted and ‘Melonie’ was born. The campaign was a huge hit, breaking social media records, featuring on CNN and the front page of The Courier Mail and most importantly, made a meaningful impact to an Aussie town. It also helped us shift the way PR and social campaigns were viewed and valued internally which was a huge win.


You have a knack for project management and executing large-scale initiatives. Can you walk us through a particularly challenging project and how you navigated it to success?

As a Sydney girl, it was a pinch me moment to lead the social media program for one of Expedia Group’s biggest global moments last year, the launch of the first-ever multi-brand loyalty program, One Key. This  saw me fly to New York for the launch including the ringing of the Nasdaq bell, lighting up the Empire State Building and a wow-factor launch party. Months in the making, it was a complex project that involved working closely with our Expedia, and Vrbo social experts, agency partners, creative, loyalty, legal and many more teams to devise strategies, create assets and ensure the launch was a hit, which it was! We generated a 467% lift in positive sentiment around One Key and attracted nearly 7000 members to the new Facebook private community in launch week.


During COVID, you and your team ran 93 virtual happy hours. Can you share a memorable moment or lesson from these sessions?

It’s easy to forget now, but those early days of the pandemic were pretty isolating as we all quickly adapted to work from home. I sensed the need for our Sydney and Brisbane based teams to connect so my team and I hustled to host a virtual happy hour the very first Friday of lockdown and it was an instant hit. Over nearly two years, a group of 20 or so of us all hosted cooking classes, gardening segments, scavenger hunts, trivia and even towel folding lessons. But what was really beautiful was the way every single person contributed in some way to make it special.


How did you support your team during stressful periods, and what initiatives did you implement to maintain a positive culture?

This is a huge passion of mine. Social media isn’t a 9-to-5 job, so I’m a big believer in work-life blend, over work-life balance and empowering my teams to make work and life work for them. This was even more important in my most recent role where my team, my boss and I were operating across five different time zones which required plenty of flexibility and trust. One of the best things I did was introduce a daily Slack stand-up template with four simple questions for the day asking:

  • How the team was feeling
  • Their biggest priority
  • Any challenges they needed help with
  • Recommendations and wins which featured both work highlights and our TV show, podcast and cooking tips.

It was essentially our global virtual morning office kitchen chat, and it really helped unite us as a team while creating a safe space for sharing.


Working in-house would have its perks and challenges. What would you say would be your top for each?

Working in-house, I loved the opportunity to immerse myself within one company, the exposure you get to other departments, key stakeholders and how the business works more broadly, plus the ability to make decisions autonomously and make things happen quickly. If you’ve come from agency-side and have worked across multiple brands, not having that same diversity can be challenging, but I was fortunate at Expedia Group to work across different brands there too.


Social Marketing is an ever-changing beast, are there any specific places you go to stay up to date or suggest with what’s new in the world of socials?

I have an amazing network of social media colleagues past and present, who are not only great people to bounce ideas with, but a wonderful resource for sharing insights and new developments in the space. I also follow some great people on LinkedIn like Annie-Mai Hodge who is always generous with her weekly round-up of ‘Social media updates you need to know’. And then I think it’s super important to immerse yourself in the platforms themselves as a user to pick up on changes and trends. Scrolling socials is definitely part of the job!


What excites you most about the future of marketing and social media?

It’s such an evolving and dynamic space to work in, so there’s never a dull moment. I’m looking forward to seeing more and more businesses invest in the power of strong, well-resourced, in-house social media teams. Social media is still relatively new as a marketing discipline, but its potential is immense. The companies who build robust, multi-disciplined social teams and empower them to create strong social brands will shine. It’s also going to be interesting to see who leverages the potentially disruptive technology of AI in innovative and strategic ways to help win at social and have net positive impacts for communities and companies.


Doing in-house social media strategy is something many are looking for, what advice would you give someone wanting to make the shift from agency to client side?

In-house social media roles can be harder to come by but they teach you so much. Depending on the size of the company, there aren’t always as many progression opportunities compared to the more formal titles and promotion structures of agencies, so that’s something to make peace with before you make the move. However, the rewards for your growth and career will be so much greater than regular title changes. Go in at a level you feel reflects your experience then act like a sponge and soak up knowledge beyond your specific area of social and you’ll reap the benefits.


With your extensive experience, what advice would you give to someone aiming to build a career in marketing communications and eventually lead their own teams?

It’s important to remember you don’t need to have direct reports to be a leader. How you show up at work everyday, the way you contribute in meetings, the extra things you volunteer for to build your management skills all count. When team leadership opportunities do come up, you’ll be putting yourself in the best possible position to confidently put your hand up. I’d also encourage people to build your network and lean on those you admire and respect for mentoring and advice, most people are happy to help when asked and the worst they can say is no. Having that support as you build your career is priceless.


Want to chat with Nicole about what it was like working at Expedia Group or about being a social media leader? Connect with her today on LinkedIn.