BuzzFeed and beyond . . .
The gripping story of one extra-ordinary London mummy and how she found her Thing
A bright yellow tandem with a child on the back grabs attention. It’s a guaranteed conversation-starter in South London. Online it should be just as effective, I thought. So I called the (embryonic) new me Upfrontandsocial and got a photographer to snap us riding around.
The Digital Mums course had hardly started. My passport still said ‘journalist’. But I was sure. Social media was My Thing.
Then my husband left me.
He packed his bags, and the surfboards, wetsuits, fishing nets (one pink, one yellow), an outward-bound kettle for making cuppas on the beach, and the child, and went to Cornwall.
Working-mum friends of mine do-si-do through holidays, taking separate weeks off from their partners. ‘How grim,’ I thought. Smugly. ‘We’ll NEVER do that!’ But Digital Mums needed six months to rebuild me into a social media marketer. And I made them a pinkie promise not to take myself out of school in term-time.
Being nowhere and everywhere is what makes e-jobs (and e-learning) attractive, especially when you’ve got young kids. DMHQ calls it #workthatworks. But ‘remote working’ isn’t really remote: you need wifi or a mobile signal. The Cornish cottage had neither.
[SFX: The Blair Witch Project-style scaredy HEAVY BREATHING] *
Being home alone in the first week of my first ever social media campaign gave me the heeby-jeebies. And it went on to be a tricky summer. I spent so much time glued to a screen my daughter made ‘digital mums’ out of Babybel wax and stuck pins in them.
But we survived, the neglected child, my domestic god of a husband who took on the goddess jobs too, and me. More than that, the course has achieved what I had secretly thought was impossible. It’s made sense of my BuzzFeed-headline career.
3 careers actually, 6 jobs and 15 years freelancing…
Between a false start in PR and a midlife misstep into corporate comms, I wrote for business magazines, then on lifestyle stuff for the Daily and Sunday Telegraph. As my LinkedIn profile says, ‘my skills lie in creating packages of words and pictures, in telling stories and in helping experts speak to audiences less knowledgeable than themselves.’
Sounds good. But I felt I was old media, sliding into e-xtinction. Until a mum at school, also a journalist, told me about Digital Mums.
[SFX: penny DROPPING!] *
I started in March 2017, and soon ‘met’ my e-study group — the Angelina Jolies. All mums, there was a senior marketer, an art director, an expert in brand strategy and consumer insight, and a journalist who knew an awful lot about technology. They were — are — a brilliant sounding board and booster squad. Whatsapp is our water cooler.
Naturally I stalked the AJs online. Instant imposter syndrome! The posh name for feeling a fraud was one of the things my programme partner, a career coach called Emma Fulton, taught me.
Emma was a management consultant but retrained when she became a mum. She’s rigorous and think-y and asked LOTS of questions before I knew the answers. But that’s the nature of training with a real client. (Learning how to manage that relationship is part of the course.) In Emma I found a kindred spirit, always supportive and up for anything that was logistically possible—even dressing up as a caped superhero and being filmed jumping off a bench for a blog about learning through play.
My eyeballs sizzled over those first 15 weeks from the volume of new information. In week 10 Emma had a baby. Her third. It didn’t seem to slow her down. But the timing didn’t feel great: the people we wanted to talk to, working mums, would be stressing about the holidays and/or going AWOL (as I finally did for the August bank holiday, hence the safari ‘deskie’, left).
Sod it, I thought! Let’s make that our hook. We’ll be the antidote to the prevailing doom and gloom. And so #40DaysOfMum was born. Together Emma and I rebranded summer, not as something to survive, but as a great time for mums to think about their careers, while having fun with their families — ready for her help in the autumn.
[MUSIC: ‘(I’ve had) The Time of my Life’ — Dirty Dancing] *
The meat of the campaign was Emma’s blog. I became her coach, helping her to shape her ideas and make her writing as feisty and funny as she is. It also helped me channel Emma-the-coach when I tweeted or posted on Facebook.
Very occasionally I forgot who I was and popped up, also as her, in the same Twitter Chat — like a second Mickey Mouse. Most exhilarating was a chat run by three of the AJs and co-hosted by our clients. A frenzied first for Digital Mums, it did wonders for spreading the word about Emma.
As did the whole campaign: the graphics, videos, animation, slide shows, gifs, round-ups on Storify, even a Spotify playlist, and the advertising, all spun out of Emma’s blogs to tell her story; the ‘curated’ content I shared (the feminist news agenda was brilliantly busy over the summer); and the #TalkToEmma competition, to win a coaching session, which was the climax.
I’m proud to say the dormant Twitter and Facebook pages blossomed and bloomed — I had the metrics to prove it. The #40DaysOfMum campaign also encouraged a friend of Emma’s to ask her to do an Instagram takeover. Nudged by me (as Emma) on Facebook, a well-known blogger invited her to pitch an idea for a guest spot — and accepted it. A winner of the competition suggested Emma speak to a network she runs. And Emma won too, getting new paying clients.
Sounds like ‘job done’! But it isn’t, for either of us. Rather, exciting new jobs just begun.
For the completist reader,
Meanwhile Emma has just launched Maternity Natters, a Facebook Group for mums on maternity leave to talk about how to combine work and babies.