How I improved my digital fitness with a social media Zumbathon.

“Anne, you don’t even have a smartphone”. “You’re practically a social media dinosaur”. “Is this some kind of ‘old dog new tricks’ tactic to ward off the menopause?”. Let’s just say I wasn’t the most obvious candidate to be embarking upon a career reboot in digital marketing. My friends were very sceptical. Six months on and they are eating their words.

I came across Digital Mums completely by accident. I saw an article in the business section of The Times, a section I admit I don’t always read, maybe it was fate. Great photo (Ruth Thomson at the Soap Co), brilliant idea (social media management training for professional women looking to launch a freelance career in digital marketing), and desirable goal (flexible #workthatworks to attain the elusive work-life balance post-children). Sounded fantastic, if only I were 20 years younger and a bit of a ‘techie’. Sadly not. Nevertheless, I cut it out and kept it, and it stuck in my mind.

I was Head of International Market Research at Boots Pharmaceuticals in Nottingham when I first had to confront the dilemma of juggling a career with a family. I had spent most of my 20s working like a Trojan, in a world of global product launches, multi-country fieldwork, international conferences, roadshows across Europe, giving research papers in Athens, Lisbon and, eh Birmingham. As a languages graduate, I even presented research findings to our subsidiaries in French and Spanish. When I was pregnant with my first daughter I was (naively) aiming to ‘have it all’. Then reality bites. You can’t stay late at work when it’s your turn to do the nursery pickup, it takes a whole day to write a list of all the things that need to be done while you’re away (and you’re only going for one night), and it’s no fun sitting in your hotel room with a breast pump when everyone else is in the bar.

The elusive work-life balance

My boss and I wangled a job share on the premise that ‘two heads are better than one’, and for two years that served us well until our entire department was made redundant when the marketing function was relocated to Germany. Crap timing, I was pregnant with my second daughter. However, the job share worked, we were professional soulmates and ‘partners in crime’, so we set ourselves up as a freelance partnership so we could continue to work part-time. Fast forward 18 frantic years and the work in my particular area of expertise had finally dried up.

So, what next? Too young to retire but too old to embrace a totally new professional direction? Perhaps not. The more I thought about Digital Mums the more it appealed to me. Upskilling in social media management and rebooting my freelance career was a tempting prospect. But there was one major barrier. Despite having a solid marketing background I really was a social media Luddite. I had never tweeted, I posted on Facebook once in a blue moon, and as for Snapchat and Instagram, that was something that my kids did, not me. I hadn’t learned anything new for years. Or maybe I had.

A couple of years ago, I decided to get fit. The last time I had engaged in exercise voluntarily was running for the school bus in 1987. I enlisted the help of a very energetic friend, London Marathon runner and ‘Tough Mudder’. She took me to ‘Boot Camp’. I almost died. Never again. Then I saw the Zumba classes at the leisure centre. Ah ha! I’m sure I can do that, if drunken dancing was an Olympic sport I would be a gold medallist. And I loved it, with a passion. If I don’t get my fix I am unbearable to live with. Could I approach my woeful digital fitness in the same way? Maybe Digital Mums’ training was not a Boot Camp, more like a six-month social media Zumbathon? Count me in.

I took the plunge and applied for the Social Media Marketing Associate Programme: online lessons, video tutorials, weekly assignments putting learning into practice and management of a ‘live’ campaign for a programme partner. I got my basic fitness gear ready — new phone, new laptop, Twitter account (eek!) and filled the wine rack (‘maintain hydration levels during training regime’, very important).

Reducing risks and improving quality of life in residential and nursing homes.

My client was in B2B healthcare, a qualified speech therapist specialising in dysphagia and dementia. She was the founder of a national training service for care staff improving the safety and quality of life for people with swallowing difficulties, a leading cause of hospitalisations in residential and nursing homes. Getting to grips with a new medical area was par for the course for me and well within my comfort zone. So far, so good. It made the prospect of the social media learning curve awaiting me less daunting. My job was to devise and manage a social media campaign to raise awareness of the risks and impacts of this condition and how to achieve good practice in patient care and management.

Claudia Schiffer Cohort (well kind of, you don’t need to see a photo of me in my dressing gown in a Google Hangout)

Despite recruiting professional mums from all sectors of marketing, comms, advertising and PR, no-one, but no-one, is a master of all crafts when they sign up. Therefore, the live G+ community forum and peer group setup is designed to support your learning (and preserve your mental health). I was one of the Claudia Schiffer Cohort, wannabe social media muses in the making. My peer group were all mega talented and so diverse: a lawyer, a fashion editor, a marketing/events manager and a TV producer. As a pharmaceutical researcher, I felt like a wallflower at the school prom. But not to worry. We each fessed up our greatest fears about the course in the first of our weekly ‘Google Hangouts’ and never looked back. We bonded over a shared love of hot baths, wine, more wine and the TV fodder that would sustain us through times of stress, starting with ‘Victoria’ (Lord M, we all definitely would…).

My peer group were juggling the training course with the demands of pre-school children. However, having older kids comes with its own challenges. During the lead-up to my campaign launch in January, my 21-year old went volunteering on a women’s empowerment scheme in India. Every time the phone rang my heart sank, convinced she had been arrested for wearing a crop top in public or taking an inappropriate selfie at a religious shrine. Fortunately, she returned unscathed and went back off to university just in time for my younger daughter to have a UCAS crisis. It never ends.

Encroaching on my children’s social media space

Soon the Claudias were embroiled in a social media maelstrom of jargon and a never-ending, tools ‘to do’ list: Pablo vs Canva, Unsplash vs Pixabay, Hootsuite vs Buffer, Audiense vs Followerwonk, BuzzSumo vs Feedly, PicMonkey vs BeFunky and on and on. Keep calm, you’re a linguist, it’s just another language. Plus, weekly assignments, lessons and campaign management, pimping platforms, finding hashtags, crafting competitions and trialling advertising. It was all new and exciting, and I showed off my new skills to friends and family. I bombarded my husband with emojis (no, not ‘that’ emoji, too many assignments to finish). I horrified my children, “OMFG Mum, what are you doing on Snapchat??”. “I see you’ve got the hang of gifs then….”, came a withering text from a friend. Hmmm, perhaps less is more.

Computer says ‘no’………

I won’t lie, it wasn’t always plain sailing, sometimes the workload was tough. And I had a few mishaps along the way. The first time I tried to bulk schedule on Hootsuite (took me 4½ hours), my laptop responded with ’59 of your 63 tweets are empty’. Epic fail. Trying to source enough curated content in a niche sector like dysphagia to maintain my posting volume was like living day to day in a spiralling helix of doom. Plus, I acquired a Twitter stalker with an axe to grind. On the positive side, it did give me the opportunity to FaceTime my daughter and do my best Ab Fab impression of Eddie, “Sweetie, I’ve been ‘trollied’ on Twitter darling”. The course was temporarily rechristened #workthatsucks. But, let’s be realistic. It’s not unusual to sustain minor injuries during a new exercise regime, you can’t achieve peak fitness levels overnight. Therapy included rest (Scandi Noir bingefest plus wine), sports massage (big whinge on WhatsApp with the Claudias) and medication, when required (more wine).

Soon I was up and running again, going for the high impact aerobic activity (Twitterchats, launching a new blog site for people with swallowing difficulties, schmoozing influencers), measuring the improvement in my fitness levels, and tweaking my exercise regime for optimum results. My younger daughter brought me endless cups of tea and baked me cakes in between revising for her A level mocks. What a treasure.

Smashing those campaign KPIs

I realised that I had finally nailed it during our main campaign event week. I managed to secure a whopping 47.7k Twitter impressions over 7 days (up from a baseline of zero, pre-campaign), plus 682 engagement interactions (retweets/likes/replies), and hundreds of new followers by the end of the finish line. To be honest, I had felt a teensy bit jealous of my peers sometimes when they were doing really fun things with their B2C brands. There’s not much flexibility when you are new to the game and cutting your digital teeth on a life-threatening disease area, or scope for witty banter when tweeting about the value of trans-cranial electromagnetic stimulation as a diagnostic technique. But that was the main revelation of the course for me. It doesn’t matter what your brand is, you’ve got everything in your social media toolkit to create and deliver a successful campaign for your client.

If you’re dithering over whether or not to sign up for one of the Digital Mums’ courses, just go for it. If a digital dinosaur like me can do it, anyone can. Yes, it’s a big commitment, in time and energy, but you will add many strings to your already talented bow.

So, I’ve finally come to the end of my six-month social media Zumbathon and I’ve mastered all the routines, I can: Salsa (define realistic and achievable campaign goals), Cha Cha (profile target user personas), Cumbia (nail the brand Tone of Voice), Merengue (curate and create great content), Samba (time manage with planning and scheduling tools), Reggaeton Pump (test, measure, reflect and refine the core strategy) and Flamenco (smash those all-important campaign KPIs). And I’m ready, as Digital Mums say, to ‘do the hustle’ and pitch for new clients. At my age, I might leave the twerking to Miley Cyrus (sadly, my pelvic floor is just not up to it), but I’m still hot to trot as a freelance #socialmediamanager. Step aside Shakira, I’ve got the moves like Jagger.