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HERstory: Kelsea Cozad

Social Media Manager @ EXPRESS

We’re excited to present a candid conversation with Kelsea Cozad, a social media powerhouse at EXPRESS, who’s scaled heights across a variety of industries. Kelsea’s story is one of resilience, creativity, and sheer determination, shaping her into the seasoned strategist she is today.

In our chat, Kelsea delves into the core of organic social media – relationship building. She speaks about managing through crises, the aftermath of a sudden layoff, and her strategy to connect across diverse sectors. Her journey is a testament to the power of adaptability and authenticity in the marketing world.

Ready for a dose of real-life wisdom from a powerhouse in social media management? Don’t miss Kelsea’s insights on balancing creativity with data analysis, the magic behind successful campaigns, and the importance of remaining curious. Hop on for this inspiring ride!

You’ve led social media in a range of sectors from retail to insurance and even food and beverage, how do you adapt your strategy to such diverse industries?

No matter the industry, organic social media always comes down to relationship building; my bread and butter. It’s my opportunity to connect with my target audience in real-time in the most authentic way possible. Now, the “connecting” may happen by bridge for one industry and by spaceship for another, but distilled down, we’re all online to connect. We’re all scrolling to not feel alone. 

I adapt by never losing sight of the mission. How can I build a relationship between a brand/product/service/whatever and my target audience?

You were involved in a mass layoff at Olive. How did that affect you and your career trajectory? And what advice would you have for others in a similar situation?

Getting laid off was a gut-punch, wrapped in a slap-in-the-face. It completely eroded my trust. I’m a spiritual person and things like trust and faith come very naturally to me. I trust that people are generally good. I have faith that things will work out for me. I believe that my leaders have my best interest at heart. This event shattered that framework for me. I had to stare my greatest fears in the eyeballs. What if people aren’t really good? What if things aren’t going to work out for me? What if I’m the only one that has my best interest at heart?

I entered my job search a jaded, skeptical Kelsea, likely to my benefit. I was critical in my interviews. I poked holes where I saw them, unapologetically. I asked hard questions early and didn’t settle for non-answers. 

The collapse of that framework had to happen for me to take inventory of what really mattered for me in a job. That became my list of non-negotiables. I wouldn’t work anywhere that didn’t meet that list. I wouldn’t settle, because, as I had newly learned, no job is 100% secure. So what did I have to lose? 

I’d encourage anyone walking through an event like that one to embrace whatever it is you’re feeling and allow it to shape you, not shake you. 

What was it like to manage social media during crises at Bob Evans Farms? How did you navigate the storms and what were your key learnings from that experience?

If we go back to the foundation of organic social media: relationship building, a crisis is a major hurdle in that relationship. I’ve always tried to treat them how I’d treat a crisis in a personal relationship. Staying accountable, listening, validating emotions, remaining transparent, and giving everyone the space and grace to move on at their own pace. I learned all of that in war rooms at Bob Evans. We worked with an amazing PR firm, Sedlock Partners, who I still remain in contact with today. Elizabeth Sedlock taught me so much about the art (not science) that is PR. 

Many people starting in social media management might feel overwhelmed with the plethora of hard and soft skills required. Can you share your thoughts on the balance between hard skills like data analysis, and soft skills like communication and creativity?

I would tell them that the soft skills are the hard skills. 

Your creativity will help you in data analysis.

Your vulnerability will make you a pro at community management.

Your empathy will make you a better strategist. 

Find someone smarter than you and ask them questions. But don’t ever be mistaken that you’re not already fully capable. 

The campaigns you’ve been part of, such as the “Unapologetic, Root x Bubba Wallace” campaign, have won awards and garnered significant attention. What elements do you think are key to a successful and impactful social media campaign?

The keys to a successful social media campaign are:

  • Relationship building (internally and externally)
    • Externally: When I have a good relationship with someone, I don’t just know what they’ll like, but I know how open and receptive they’ll be to my new ideas. 
    • Internally: Having a collaborative, focused team that’s clear on the direction is paramount.
  • Curiosity
    • Continuing to wonder why or what if will take you to new heights and push you to uncover new insights about the humans you think you know. 
  • Timing
    • The Bubba Wallace stuff was well-timed for what we were all walking through as a country – but it was ill-timed for the people of color on the team.


Kelsea has shared POV template for y’all to download for free! From Kelsea:

POV Template

I’ve found in my career that social superstars have great instincts and know what works and what doesn’t work on their channels. However, they don’t always have to tools to communicate that in a succinct, executive-summary format. I have a simple POV format that I’ve used to help my reports put their thoughts on paper. 

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