Social Media

Meet Penguin Random House’s head of social media, Alyssa Castaneda

‘You don’t have to be a head of social and be TikTok famous, or Instagram famous, or whatever to be successful in your role. I think that’s a misconception,’ she told us.
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Alyssa Castaneda

· 5 min read

What’s it like to lead social media at a company? In this series, Marketing Brew attempts to figure that out by going straight to the source: heads of social themselves.

Books: They’re basically the opposite of sports. And yet, when Penguin Random House’s head of social media, Alyssa Castaneda, was in college, she wanted a career in sportsball.

That passion sent Castaneda to Adidas, where she held a slew of social media and community roles. But when publisher Penguin Random House (PRH) reached out to her about its head of social media role, she took the opportunity.

It was a fit: Adidas and Penguin Random House are both brands that, in Castaneda’s words, are “driven by culture.”

Publishing, though, is a “traditional industry,” she told Marketing Brew. Perhaps, she mused, PRH wanted to change that—hence why it hired her last year. She’s on the consumer marketing team, reporting to PRH’s director of brand strategy.

According to Castaneda, her role largely involves creating social media and influencer marketing playbooks for the company’s various arms, including its children’s sector, Brightly. Those playbooks guide various teams through understanding the publisher’s social media strategy from a 30,000-foot view (remember, the publishing industry’s last big digital innovation was the Kindle in 2007).

We sat down with Castaneda and dug into what being head of social media actually means to her in practice.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

MB: Do you oversee all aspects of social—paid, organic, influencer, etc.?

AC: I primarily do owned social media strategy and influencer marketing strategy—there’s a separate centralized team that does all of the paid media advertising and strategy for Penguin Random House.

MB: How many people report to you, and what do they do?

AC: There are about five people who report in to me. There is one person dedicated to Penguin Random House on social. She handles essentially all of social except for TikTok and manages briefing the content into our design team, posting the content, building out the editorial calendar and the vision, and adjusting the strategy and content strategy as we go.

I have another person dedicated to our children’s vertical Brightly. So she does the same thing, but for Brightly. I have one person dedicated to influencer marketing and partnerships. And then I have two TikTok partners who essentially focus on just running our TikTok account and creating content and posting content on there regularly.

MB: Was someone in this role before you, or are you the first person in this role?

AC: The role was actually vacant for one year before I took it on, and only existed for one person before that.

MB: Since you’ve taken on this role, what’s something you’re most proud of that you’ve done?

AC: The shift of changing industries, that can be really tough—at least it was for me.

It was a huge leap to be like, “Okay, I have worked in sports for so long. That has been my entire career.” And just taking a leap of faith and saying, “I am a social expert, and that expertise can be translated no matter the industry that I go to.”...There’s times where I really question myself, like, “Do I understand this? Am I the most credible person to be doing this job if I don’t have a traditional publishing background?” I think just getting to a place where I’ve really [been] leaning on my expertise is such a value.

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It’s not something to be scared of, changing industries. It’s something that you can really be proud of.

MB: What’s the biggest misconception about being head of social media?

AC: What comes to my mind immediately is that if you work in social…you are also, like, so obsessed with social, and that you have to have your own personal brand, or all of these crazy things that you’re investing into—on your own—in social.

I’ve honestly felt more pressure as I’ve gone through my career—maybe because of something like TikTok, where people are good at amplifying themselves in their own way on social or building their own brands.

You don’t have to be a head of social and be TikTok famous, or Instagram famous, or whatever to be successful in your role. I think that’s a misconception.

MB: Do you think the head of social media role at brands will exist five years from now? 10? How do you see this space evolving, and how does that impact what kinds of roles will be available to social professionals in the future?

AC: I wouldn’t be surprised if social roles transitioned into more community roles. But I could still see the head of social being a role. I just think thinking of it in terms of community-first is almost where I see it going.

As what we know of as social media becomes more decentralized, what you’re really trying to do is build and engage and reach a community, whether [that’s] through partnerships or content, or the channels that you’re on.

MB: When you say decentralized, what do you mean by that?

AC: I’ve been reading a ton about and learning so much about the metaverse or, for example, just the evolution of social media over time…I assume that evolution will be what we know as the metaverse, where it’s even more decentralized than what we see today. So instead of these common places, like Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok, it’s moving onto platforms like Discord, or so on and so forth, where it’s driven by the individual user.

MB: So you don’t think a head of social role will exist in a decade?

AC: I think it would exist, potentially under a community role. [But] I honestly could go either way. I could see community almost being the overarching theme.

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