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Sephora’s Brent Mitchell on How to Win Social Media and the Keys to Short-form Video Content

While there's likely no one, fixed formula for success, the retailer is winning in a fragmented landscape with its agile approach.

Brent Mitchell, Sephora’s vice president of marketing, social and influencer, jokes that he’s something of a “nepo baby” in his role.

“I was basically born on third base in terms of Sephora already having an amazing social media presence when I started,” said Mitchell, who has occupied his post since October 2021.

While he may have inherited an already-sizable social media following upon his arrival at Sephora, Mitchell has spearheaded key developments in the retailer’s social strategy since (because yes, in today’s fast-paced digital age, a year and a half is more than enough time to warrant near-overhauls in a company’s social media game plan).

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Among those shifts: Sephora’s Instagram, which counts more than 21.1 million followers, has almost completely done away with still image in-feed posts, focusing instead on short-form video content via Instagram Reels, many of which Mitchell says are cross-posted from the brand’s TikTok, and vice versa: “Good content is going to do well across platforms — why not make the most of a great asset?” he said.

According to Mitchell, roughly 90 percent of this content comes from the Sephora Squad, which is the retailer’s yearlong ambassador program that welcomes around 70 initiates annually, mainly consisting of midsize and macro content creators, and Sephora store employees, who make up about 10 percent of the squad.

While the Sephora Squad is not new per se (the program was introduced in 2019), it is ever-evolving.

“This is an area that allows us to build long-term relationships with creators that include guaranteed, paid content, but also lots of organic opportunities that anyone on the Squad can opt into at will,” said Mitchell, adding that while the Sephora Squad mainly consists of beauty content creators, it is widening its reach; for example, in 2022 the program welcomed Olympic gold medalist Kendall Ellis, and lifestyle blogger Emily Elizabeth, or @eggdressesup.

“It’s important for us to speak beyond our core beauty customer and expand the pie by bringing in some ‘beauty casuals,’ as we sometimes refer to them; people who maybe make a trip to a beauty story here and there, and we want to make sure that store is Sephora,” Mitchell said.

By partnering with creators who engage a range of different audiences, not only has Sephora grown its reach (and, consistently, those of its Sephora Squad members — by an average of 50 percent year-over-year, said Mitchell), the retailer has also reaped the rewards of an improved ability to get in on popular TikTok sounds and trending video formats in a timely manner, and thus avoid the TikTok kiss of death: being late to the party.

“You really can’t plan for a lot of those viral moments, but we’re getting a little better at understanding how we can plan for some here and there,” said Mitchell, who recalled the 2021 viral bout of Clinque’s decades-old Almost Lipstick in Black Honey as one of the earliest incidences of TikTok momentum causing a product to sell out at Sephora.

“At that time, we were still getting our feet wet and didn’t really know how to participate, but we’ve gotten much better about that,” Mitchell said. “Whether it’s stitching a video, adding a green screen moment or just straight up making related videos, we’ll get into the mix. Part of it is holding on for the ride along with the TikTok community, but we are also learning more every day how we can harness that.”