Sam Nelley: About Aspiring Digital’s Founder

Sam Nelley is the Founder of Aspiring Digital. Here you can read about his background and find out about his experience.

Hello there! If you’re like me, you probably don’t enjoy reading third-person stories which are clearly written by the person the story refers to. So here’s my story, written by me!

Sam Nelley, Key Account Manager

After leaving school, I was part of a reasonably successful band and studied audio engineering. I got a “regular job” in the construction industry in the year 2000. Over the next 5 years, I made my way into a management position for a plumbing supplies company. I then left New Zealand for a few years, travelling. When I returned, the offer of a job similar to my old one seemed like a good choice.

I found out the hard way that it wasn’t. Travelling had changed me and I wanted to re-engage my creative side. It took me about 3 years to figure out how, though.

Writing is something I have been interested in from a young age. I’d also taken part in rugby forums while travelling. Occasionally I’d contribute an article to their blogs. So, I eventually began thinking of ways to make writing a career. To me, the most appealing version of that was sports or combat journalism.

In 2011 I signed up to study journalism part-time.

Sam Nelley, Journalism Student and Blogger

My first experiences with online marketing began in 2011 while studying journalism. I blogged about my projects, rugby, snowboarding, and the changing landscape of news reporting. I then used Facebook and Twitter to attract people to visit my blog.

This started as nothing more than a way to document what I was learning. But, I eventually enabled advertising on the site. This helped pay for the site. It also pushed me to research how I could get more traffic.

As part of a project, I wrote an article on the then newly-appointed Chiefs head coach. The main thrust of it was: How are local fans going to relate to the new coach and the players he was bringing in?

My tweets and Facebook posts around this were designed to get clicks for site traffic. I must have been doing something right, because the Chiefs tweeted to me and before you could tweet #ChiefsMana, I was working with them to solve some of those issues!

Sam Nelley, Social Media and Digital Coordinator, Chiefs Rugby Club

Social Media Guru

I was contacted in early 2012 by the Chiefs Super Rugby team’s Marketing Manager. She asked if I would like to manage their Facebook and Twitter updates. Of course, being a rugby-obsessed New Zealander, and a Chiefs fan, I jumped at the chance!

My entrepreneurial approach drove me to point out how social media can be more than just gameday updates. I freely admit that I went way beyond the initial scope of the role. I had great support and earned the organisation’s trust. I’m still very grateful for how receptive the team was to my ideas.

about sam nelley social media and chiefs rugby

Measuring success

Facebook Pages were fairly new, and gathering “likes” or followers were the only measurements that mattered. All “reach” was what is now called “organic“. Most posts would usually be seen by Page followers on their news feed. “Likes” came from organic reach or shares by followers.

Twitter was all about who-followed-who, Re-Tweets from your heroes, Hashtags, brief stories, and sharing links. Instagram was just for photography nuts. And Snapchat hadn’t even been invented!

The Chiefs became Super Rugby champions for the first time in August 2012. Their Facebook page had 5,000-plus followers when I started (January 2012). This grew to 30,000-plus by the end of the season (August 2012).

Thanks to my dedication, strategies, and tactics, the Twitter profile had also grown quickly. Fans were interacting with the brand via comments, replies and messaging. Plus we’d had successes selling season memberships, tickets, and merchandise.


During the 2012 season, the role continued to demand more and more of my time. In 2013 the Chiefs recognised this with a contract role. It felt like my instinct to follow this path was paying off! I increased my research into strategy and tactics and was inspired by American sports marketing. Especially the Oakland Athletics, because they were great at bringing their culture through.

As part of growing the Chiefs’ community, I tried to include schools, club and provincial rugby teams from the region in social media posts whenever possible. This started to pay off. The Facebook following doubled, and then went over 100,000 during that year. Prior to the season, I had added an Instagram profile because that platform was growing. I began editing existing content to fit with the format and posting it using Google’s Picasa platform. Twitter growth remained steady throughout the season.

This was a result of hard work, but also due in no small part to the Chiefs going “Back-To-Back”! And, as social media’s marketing influence grew, I also had more opportunity to liaise with New Zealand Rugby’s marketing team which was an eye-opener.

Social Media and Digital Coordinator

In late 2013 I began working full-time for the Chiefs Rugby Club. I was to look after social media and coordinate digital marketing efforts across the website. I helped with the media and assisted the players and coaches. A social media safety guide I created for players proved useful, and later on, was repurposed for other rugby organisations.

Early-2014 saw the growing use of sponsored Facebook posts. Eventually, Facebook’s organic reach started to drop to force the use of these ads. Because of the Chiefs’ popularity, engagement kept the reach high. More changes were coming, however.

The timeline newsfeed became a top story newsfeed, which would display content popular with friends or connections first. Ads based on user interests would appear among those posts. You could target those ads using interests.

There were more challenges. It looked like Facebook would evolve into a paid media channel. Twitter began losing appeal with young people. Instagram and Snapchat were growing fast, but the latter was too scary for brands to use at that stage.

Next Steps

I saw lots of changes at the Chiefs during 2014. A new CEO, a new marketing manager, and a whole new province, to name a few. Eventually, I needed to start thinking about my next career step.

During Super Rugby’s mid-season break, I had a contract role to help cover the Junior Rugby World Cup. I used my own Twitter account on the first day. I took photos and interviewed players and coaches and fans.  By the morning of my second day, the organisers signed me in to use World Rugby’s official account. It was a nice complement to my abilities, and one last enjoyable experience working in rugby.

Sam Nelley, Digital Content Editor and Sports Publicist at SKY TV NZ

Digital Content Editor

After the Super Rugby season, I took a role at SKY TV in Auckland. My first title was “Sam Nelley, Digital Content Editor”, working with the Emerging Platforms team. Although my social media copywriting skills made it easy to write synopses for shows, there were other challenges.

For example, I had to learn to use Google Analytics to drive the user experience. Preparing images and using a Content Management System (CMS) was new. Troubleshooting media issues within the CMS was another new experience.

Sports Publicist

I took the role of Sports Publicist for SKY TV in mid-2015. In this role, I worked with talented presenters, gifted producers, and gathered some fantastic contacts. I expanded my knowledge of the inner workings of the news media, too.

The overall aim of the role was to get more coverage in the media for SKY’s content. This was done by supplying information about the content to the media, and access to talent. This meant organising interviews and photo shoots.

Because of the Public Relations aspect, and the need to write press releases, my understanding of process within a large corporate also evolved. Plus, I gained the ability to use Adobe InDesign. This was great for creating useful content to inform the media. I also contributed to SKY’s website content.

Throughout this time I kept an interest in with Social Media Marketing. I simply felt the need to keep up with the different advertising options Facebook and other platforms were offering. Plus, I had agreed to help out All Blacks and Chiefs star Sam Cane with his Facebook page!

Sam Nelley, Social Media Marketing Manager, Cookie Time International Ltd

In August 2016 I began work as “Sam Nelley, Social Media Marketing Manager” for Cookie Time International Ltd. This was at the height of the “digital revolution”. Facebook ads were becoming common, as were Instagram ads since Facebook had acquired that network.

Sam Nelley Social Media Marketing Aspiring Digital

This role was based in Queenstown, New Zealand. The overall goals were raising brand awareness and driving traffic to the online stores for Cookie Time, and OSM (One Square Meal). We would also try to keep brick-and-mortar customers up to date with new products.

I worked with content creators, who were making content to increase brand and location awareness for the two retail stores in Queenstown and Harajuku, Japan. To help these talented people, I began implementing a content strategy..

This was initially achieved by defining Brand, Culture and Product as three categories. We could then ensure each channel had a different type of content posted daily. It also made the content creators job more efficient. By mixing it in with competitions around holidays or event dates, it became successful.

I also oversaw and helped with monitoring Facebook customer comments and messages. Regular communication with the in-house creative team made sure the Cookie Time and OSM brands were visible on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


I experimented extensively with various ad campaigns on Facebook and Instagram. Different targeting tactics, along with ad formats, and various marketing funnel ideas were tested. I refined my knowledge of targeting and re-marketing tactics.

I also began to discover and make use of new tools. For example, HootSuite’s AdEspresso allowed simple split-testing and auto-optimisation tools. Facebook’s Carousel ads helped with advertising a variety of products in one go.

During Cookie Time’s Christmas 2016 online campaign, we applied all our learnings. Many of the tactics succeeded at scale. The use of video ads to gather a retargeting audience was incredibly effective at selling. Using this tactic to grow email marketing lists, and the subsequent use of those lists, also proved hugely successful.


As a natural extension of my role, I became more involved with evolving the eCommerce store. I identified deals that performed well in terms of sales via Facebook and suggested variants. I’d also make time to check over the site for ways to improve the user experience and suggest minor changes. I’ve continued to learn more, especially via Shopify.

Aspiring Digital is a Shopify Partner. You can see more about our eCommerce services here.

Influencer Marketing

At the request of the team, I developed a program to promote OSM via athletes. The idea was simple: Support for the athlete by providing product in exchange for regular content shared on their social networks. Successful partnerships evolved and the athletes became micro-influencers. Influencer marketing for Cookie Time campaigns, via an Influencer management agency, also took place.

Sam Nelley, Digital Marketing Contractor and Freelancer That Wanaka Tree

I took an opportunity to work with a small start-up company in April 2017. Their business was selling various services in Australia, via their Queenstown-located call centre.

The aim of my role was to use Lead-gathering campaigns and retargeting tactics on Facebook. This would complement Google Ads and Search Engine Optimisation strategies.

Lead Form Ads via Facebook and Instagram

Gathering a large number of Leads via Facebook was easy enough. However, the conversion rate proved to be less than expected. This meant experimenting, testing, learning, and optimising.

By changing the content according to interest, demographic and time-of-day targeting, we were able to gather more qualified Leads.

Pre-Launch Brand Awareness

I was also tasked with raising awareness ahead of an indoor snow park venture which was co-owned by one of the start-up’s founders. The strategy here was to set up and launch Facebook and Instagram posts and ads targeted for Brand Awareness.

Using video and post engagement tools I was able to create a collection of audiences, which were then re-targeted with offers designed to drive conversions. Queenstown presents a unique task for targeting due to the largely transient younger population and short-term tourist visits. To overcome this, I targeted parts of Australia and New Zealand and narrowed the audience using interests.

Migrating an existing TripAdvisor profile was difficult but eventually successful. And, I added their location to Google My Business. This also placed the business on Google Maps. As the overall digital strategy evolved, there were plans to add Search Engine Marketing (SEM) campaigns. I would also publish blogs with relevant keywords to help Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) tactics.


My love of snowboarding helped me find Queenstown’s iconic Snowboard Workshop. They specialised in the waxing, tuning and repair of snowboards and skis. The customer experience was fantastic and I became an instant fan. After following them on Facebook and Instagram I could see they had great content but needed some strategic planning. So, I contacted the owner and made an offer. He replied that they would actually like some help with their boutique snowboard and ski equipment rental business, SkiHireNZ.

I suggested some ideas they could follow, using tools that they either had already or could easily learn. I began tutoring one of the senior staff members in basic Facebook Ads use.

The basic aims were to raise Brand Awareness for the store location and online. Online booking links to hire snowboards or skis. We used a video to make an ad, targeted to people interested in snow-sports. This audience was narrowed by selecting locations on the way to Queenstown from within New Zealand or overseas.

Once we had enough of an audience gathered from video views engagements, we set up retargeting with a discount offer. We also discovered that Instagram Story ads were gathering clicks to the website at a rapid rate, and at low cost-per-click. This led to simply extending these campaigns.

By the time I left Queenstown, we were all were very satisfied with the results. SkiHireNZ has continued to grow, and I am proud to have helped.

Digital Marketing Specialist, 9 Spokes International Swiss Army Knife

Currently, I am working with 9 Spokes, a Fin-tech startup based in Auckland, New Zealand. 9 Spokes are in the B2B (business-to-business) space. This has been a new challenge for me, and one that continues to provide learning opportunities.

My title is Digital Marketing Specialist. It’s a flexible title which fits with the wide-ranging role. For example, I’m part of the team responsible for the development and execution of 9 Spokes’ digital marketing strategy. We work to build awareness of the brand and products in international markets. I can find myself working across Social Media, Search Engine Marketing and Optimisation, Customer Journey, eCommerce, User Experience and Interface, and Blog Writing.

Another part of my work is to identify and engage with influencers and audit the outcome. I contribute to ongoing product and service development. And, I’m available as a resource for enterprise customers and partners.

Founder, Aspiring Digital

I started Aspiring Digital to build a business of my own. I thought about using my name as a personal brand. “Sam Nelley” would be distinctive, thanks to the spelling of my surname! However, I’m a fan of bringing people in to collaborate on projects. So, I decided I needed a standalone brand. Aspiring Digital Logo

I’d seen Tititea/Mount Aspiring many times from afar. It’s the highest peak in the Queenstown Lakes area. And, it overlooks one of my favourite parts of the world.

The Maori name for Mount Aspiring is Tititea, which translates to “steep peak of glistening white”, which inspired the logo. I took inspiration from the colours of the area too. And of course, the word “aspiring” is defined as “directing one’s hopes or ambitions towards achieving something”.

Aspiring Digital now works with a variety of clients, providing:

  • Strategic Digital Marketing Consulting
  • Digital Advertising Management
  • Social Media Management
  • Brand Development
  • eCommerce
  • Content Production
  • Influencer Relationship Management
  • Tutoring and Mentoring


So, there you have it, the story until now. If you have any questions for me, please reach out, or check if it’s been covered in our blogs. I’m always happy to talk about how we could work together!


Sam Nelley