Notion Is All About Slow Growth on Social Media
"Social media isn’t a short game to win—it’s a place where you can build something lasting."
When it comes to brand social, it’s easy to get enamored with the loudest, fastest-growing accounts. You know, the ones that pick fights with other brands, are horny on main, latch onto every trend (no matter the ethical questionability), and are just generally “unhinged”. And while that strategy works very well for a handful of brands, it’s not the only option when it comes to establishing your digital identity.
In today’s newsletter, Alex Hao, Social Media Manager at workspace platform Notion, makes a very strong case for slow growth. For Notion, that means thoughtfully embedding long-term brand goals within day-to-day social initiatives. You’ll find that the bulk of Notion’s social content almost always ladders up to one of their goals, ensuring that each narrative or story is present across various platforms. Sure, it’s not a strategy that will bring overnight success or answer your manager’s “make it go viral” demand—but it is one that will help you thoughtfully grow a very dedicated, trusting community that truly knows your brand. And that’s worth a lot.
I know I say this all the time, but this is one of my favorite interviews. It gets into the nitty gritty of social strategy (helpful screenshots included!), has advice on how to advocate for slow growth to your boss, and ultimately gives hope for building a successful social presence that doesn’t rely on trends or growth hacking.
Rachel Karten: First can you tell me about your current role and any previous social media (or not) roles you've had?
Alex Hao: I’m currently the social media manager at Notion—the all-in-one digital tool for collaborative notes, docs, wikis, databases, and project management.
As I like to call it, my role is “social media and shenanigans”: although the bulk of my job is strategizing and creating content for all of our brand social channels, we’re a small team and I’m also involved in other initiatives like copywriting, planning marketing activations, and supporting creative production across the company!
This is my first role in social media! Prior to this, I was in healthcare consulting, doing lots of analytics, reporting…and slide-making (decking, for my fellow ex-consultants). I looked for a place where I could move quickly, work directly with users, and flex creatively—and since I was a Notion user already—it seemed like a great fit! I joined in March 2020 on the customer experience team to run social support & engagement, and transitioned to become our first-ever social media manager on the marketing team about a year and a half later.
RK: I had a similar path of going from customer experience into social media. How did speaking with users and customers every day play a role in how you interact with and build a relationship with your social audience?
AH: Support and user engagement are such valuable experiences for anyone at an early-stage startup (and honestly, any stage of company) to participate in. There’s no analog or replacement for direct conversations with real people in your community and user base.
Customer experience roles are crash courses in so many disciplines: every day, you’re refining how you write in brand voice and tone (comms/copywriting), explaining the value of features (product marketing/sales), and absorbing user perspectives and feedback (user research/product management). All skills that make a great social media manager.
RK: How big is the social team?
AH: We’re a superstar squad of two and a half Notinos (Notino = Notion employee), sitting on two different internal teams! I lead social and oversee outbound social media content, which I produce myself. The iconique Niki Frias is our social support specialist on the CX team, and is the voice of Notion on social and in community channels: when you tweet at us, she’s the one on the other side of the screen. The “and a half” references our extra special guest star: influencer marketing lead Lexie Barnhorn. She’s not officially on the social team but she’s the mastermind behind many of our hit TikToks, and someone I collaborate with often to bring amazing content and fresh perspectives to our channels.
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RK: How would you describe Notion's social strategy?
AH: The user is at the center of everything we do. We’re building for them, alongside them. Following that philosophy, we strive to make each social media post directly relevant, useful, or delightful to the person viewing it. Users trust that they’ll see valuable content when they follow us, which allows us to build a dialogue and relationship with them. This manifests in ways like:
I talked a bit earlier about the opportunities of working in CX: another benefit was being able to embed myself directly into users’ perspectives over email, chat, and social media. This helped me develop an understanding of what users wanted to see: what features were exciting to them, what content resonated, what aspects of the global community kept them coming back to Notion.
Social is a fast-paced environment, so it can seem both efficient and fitting to lean into trends to growth-hack your way to a new follower count, rather than indexing on something less sexy like “value to the user” as a north star. But we’re big believers in slow growth—investing in our product and community sustainably. Focusing on users’ needs and interests, and delivering on those needs and interests, is core to that.
RK: Talk to me about this idea of slow growth. I think a lot of accounts these days see the "overnight" success of a few brands, usually on TikTok, and assume that path is both replicable and desirable.
AH: Totally! I understand how enticing it is to lean into that cycle of trend → virality → influx of engagement → next trend. After all, working in sprints and making outsized impact is the name of the game for social. It’s a key part of why I enjoy my role: within a day or two, I can point to exactly how I’ve contributed to my company’s initiatives.
Slow, sustainable growth isn’t necessarily an outright rejection of trends. We do jump on trends, just not at the expense of our long-term commitments. You can move fast and grow sustainably at the same time.
So what we really mean by “slow growth” is thoughtfully embedding long-term goals within day-to-day initiatives. For us, long-term goals include: making Notion a better product based on user feedback, strengthening our global community’s connections to each other, extending brand awareness to new audiences, and educating on the value Notion can bring.
We map those goals out to our channel strategies, and ensure that the bulk of our social content ladders up to one of them, that each narrative is present across platforms. Essentially, these are evergreen social campaigns, not focused on a short-term initiative, but rather on delivering a core brand experience.
An example from Notion is our product feedback → launch follow-up process:
When a user writes into us on Twitter, their product feedback is recorded and tagged, and helps inform product development.
After their feedback is recorded, they get a personal response in acknowledgement (big shoutout to Niki, our social support specialist)!
Then, when that product update is released, we find the tag, go back, and respond to individuals who made the initial request. Even if it’s a full year later!
Here’s an example:
In this case, I linked the original user feedback tweet. You can see that we have an initial response letting them know we recorded the feedback, and then a follow up linking to the announcement tweet once the feature goes live!
This dedication to what some may consider to be “non-glamorous” or “low-ROI” or “slow” has, over the years, built a sustainable user-base online that truly trusts Notion. This type of relationship with users pays dividends on social media.
RK: What are some of the downsides of "growth hacking" and focusing on quick engagement over meaningful community building?
AH: The benefit of Notion’s type of strategy is that over time, core characteristics of the brand crystallize—the user becomes comfortable with these traits and content types. Your brand develops a personal presence, which is good, because social is a personal medium. Nobody wants to reply to tweets or TikTok duet with a brand that is clearly corporate, or clearly pandering to a trend. They want to engage with a real person, a real team.
So one of the downsides of growth hacking is that it doesn’t allow you to establish that type of consistent brand personality. You’re not riding the wave, you’re simply carried by it. And what happens when it’s low tide later on? What are you outside of the latest trending hashtag?
Arguably even worse, your brand could become shoehorned into a specific voice and content strategy that doesn’t allow you to achieve those long-term goals we talked about earlier.
For inspiration, marketing teams often look to brands like Wendy’s, which pioneered the “sassy social media manager” movement, or Duolingo, which found astounding success turning their mascot into an influencer, or (a recent favorite of mine) Irish Domino’s Pizza, which has essentially become a RuPaul’s Drag Race live-tweet account. But the thing about these accounts is, they’re established brands. Before they pivoted into their current territories on social media, their names and reputations had already achieved some level of ambient awareness.
So it does make sense for these brands to create hyper-specific characterizations to gain (and game) notoriety—getting their names into the heads of even more people (AKA becoming more of a household name) directly contributes to their goal of selling more Frostys, or pizzas, or premium language classes.
That strategy doesn’t work for everyone. It’s different for, say, a B2B + B2C SaaS tool…like Notion! Firstly, we’re not yet a household name—our brand isn’t yet familiar to many people. Secondly, it can be difficult to succinctly explain all that Notion is capable of (arguably part of our je ne sais quoi). And thirdly, our audience spans everyone from TikTok teens to enterprise teams. A feed full of memes isn’t going to clarify why Notion is useful to a new user stumbling across our TikTok. Sassy quips on Twitter aren’t going to convince a CTO why her team should adopt Notion for their task management needs.
So rather than making “growth hacking” a core part of our strategy, and risk becoming beholden to it, it’s something we leverage sparingly—when it can surprise and delight a user-base that is familiar with our “normal” content. And when you’ve already cultivated an engaged audience via other strategies, jumping onto a trend that aligns with your brand yields some killer results. Here’s a recent example from our LinkedIn.
RK: Do you have any advice in terms of managing up and explaining to a boss or manager that slow growth is worth the investment and patience?
AH: Great question! Well, hopefully this interview can be a great point of reference, haha 😉
In all seriousness—I would say initially that this type of strategy is highly contingent on company-wide DNA that demonstrably values thoughtful community building. Social can’t single-handedly carry this type of growth effort: this strategy has to roll up to company goals, as I mentioned earlier, and integrate with other teams’ operations. So it’s absolutely possible that this isn’t right for your team.
If you are trying to appeal to a manager or leader, it’s always prudent to tie your proposal to business impact and corresponding metrics. Find out what major goals they’re chasing over the next 6 months to a year, and tailor your explanation to make your initiative on social directly relevant to their success. If you’re trying to start something new, suggest a short experimentation period so you can compare results to the status quo. If you’re trying to stop doing something, make sure that there’s data or feedback supporting its inefficacy.
When I speak with my manager and leadership, I keep in mind one of our values at Notion: “Debate to make progress, not to win.” Center explanations around the progress that can be made with correctly-allocated time and investment. Help your manager or boss see that what they want, and what is best for the company, is steady and consistent progression. Social media isn’t a short game to win—it’s a place where you can build something lasting.
RK: How would you describe your TikTok strategy? I think Notion has been really successful at telling all of your social stories on that platform, as opposed to just doing trends or just speaking to a very niche piece of your business.
AH: When we first started our TikTok, it very much followed the strategies I outlined above—this was intentional. We wanted to launch alongside content that explained what Notion was and how to use it. Here’s a peek at the strategy doc I drafted as we were planning for our initial launch (which kicked off in March 2022):
This decision was made so that by the time we started hopping in on trends, there would be plenty of content for people to reference that was core to the Notion brand. People coming across our profile for the first time from a viral TikTok (such as this one) would be able to orient themselves and understand what our product is.
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As we’ve become more established, our TikTok strategy has evolved to be more nimble. We’ve answered the question: “At the base level, what are the things that make Notion feel like Notion?” We have that now—everything else can be experimented upon.
I would say that our secret sauce, and the one that really lets us tell all the stories we want to, is relying on our team as our talent. TikTok is a capricious platform and it’s not scalable for one social media manager to try to keep up with everything (confession: I actually don’t even use TikTok personally…sorry!).
Tap into the people on your team who already use TikTok, who already know what’s hot and what’s not, and who have their own stories to tell. On our team, we spun up a “Social Culture Squad” with a corresponding Slack channel, and it’s a space where anyone in the company can suggest a fun trend or content idea that they think aligns with our brand.
Additionally, we leverage the diversity and personality of internal team members across five global offices as the “face” of Notion on TikTok. Anyone can volunteer for the on-camera role, or even take half an hour off from their normal daily tasks to produce the entire TikTok themselves before passing it off to myself or Lexie for final approval. This brings a collective energy to the brand channel that is personal, yet consistent—exactly the vibe that we want our community to feel when they engage with our content.
RK: Is there a post or campaign that you're particularly proud of?
AH: Yeah! Our very first experiential campaign happened earlier this year in New York City. I got to play multiple parts, from planning an interactive social giveaway, to creating promo content, to copywriting for out-of-home ad placements. This all culminated in our first-ever coffee cart popup, which over 1,000 people visited in SoHo over two days, and produced our most-liked Instagram post ever!
It felt like all engines firing: product marketing, community, influencers, out-of-home ads, and social media coming together to create something truly special.
RK: What do you love about working in social media?
AH: I’ve always been a cheerleader (metaphorically, that is — I was a marching band kid). So the best part of my job is being able to collaborate with all the fine folks across teams, amplify their accomplishments across the internet, and witness firsthand how users respond.
I’m extremely grateful that the team trusts me to be this person, the one who gets to package the gifts they’ve worked so hard to create and send them off into the world! 🖤