“What’s the reach of your video now, darling?”
It’s 6.15 one morning during Week 22 of my Digital Mums social media marketing course. I’ve been abruptly woken up by my two children so I reach for my phone (I know, but who doesn’t?). I won’t even attempt to dress it up — I was checking for notifications on social media within seconds of opening my eyes.
With his first words of the day, my husband indicates he’s finally accepted that while I’ve had my phone glued to the end of my arm for the past six months, I genuinely have not been watching videos of kittens in wheelbarrows or dogs on skateboards. I have in fact been creating and running a strategic social media campaign called #MissionRevision for a local tutoring company in the run-up to the GCSE and A level exams. And it’s just exploded — big time!
“75,000,” I replied. Now that I was at the stage of talking numbers, he was taking it seriously. And I was getting a buzz from it, something I’d really missed since leaving my job as a chief sub editor on the Sky News website and mobile app last year.
The difference now was the incredible numbers were down to me alone. I made a great video and lots of people liked and shared it! I made it — there was no help from colleagues who were just a bit better than me at that, no expensive kit that does half the job for you and no access to a vast library of material.
I had a light bulb moment where I came up with a good idea (a mum and her teenage daughter texting about revision), found a clever and free tool to use (Texting Story — try it, it’s fun), did a bit of research (well, I’ve never texted a teenager before), put in some effort and found the confidence to help get the finished product noticed.
A week later and the reach (the number of different people who saw my post) stood at almost 120k with nearly 40k video views, more than 1k reactions (only one of them was an angry face), nearly 500 comments and 338 shares. Not bad for a Facebook page with only around 70 page likes!
I’m still stunned. I smashed my Facebook targets (aka KPIs — a particularly challenging week of the course is spent setting these). But it’s the snowball effect and positive comments I’m most happy with. Parents started to tag their teenagers in the comments one after another, while lots of LOLs and crying-with-laughter emojis appeared. A couple of the teenagers were blasé in their responses and one suggested it was the “cringiest conversation” they’d ever seen. But I have written and subbed enough news stories about politics to know you can’t please everyone all the time and hit the “haha” reaction in response.
So after several weeks of plugging away on Facebook — it’s hard graft running a new business page thanks to recent algorithm changes — I finally achieved a huge breakthrough. Digital Mums refer to Week 22 as “the sucker punch” in the course guide. It certainly was for me.
I had reached the peak after climbing the sometimes rocky path of studying part-time from home for the previous five months in the quest for #workthatworks, the ultimate work/life balance that Digital Mums exists to support.
This course, called the Associate Programme, is not for the faint hearted. It is fast paced, very demanding and not compatible with Slimming World. It covers all aspects of social media marketing and all the major platforms, even the ones you don’t use for your own campaign. It’s supposed to take up 15 hours per week but thanks to the 24/7 nature of social media and refusal of certain scheduling tools to co-operate, I often spent a lot more time on it. Working with a real client — known as a Programme Partner (PP) — meant juggling things a bit (well, a bit more than I already was as a busy mum) to accommodate them too.
My PP, the owner of Astrata Education, called me for the first time unexpectedly at 5pm one day when I was making my two-and-a-half-year-old son’s dinner, on his second day of potty training (admittedly a silly thing to attempt in Week 2 of my shiny new learning experience) and when I was due to collect my daughter from a playdate in 30 minutes’ time. All mums of under fives know this is not the best time of day to take an important call where you want to make a good impression. But I had to roll with it and somehow managed to sound like I knew what I was talking about. In fact, I realised I actually DID know quite a lot and what I didn’t know I was about to learn, through the lessons, assignments and practical side of running the campaign.
Everyone who is accepted on to this particular course — there are two run by Digital Mums — is from a marketing, PR, communications or journalism background. Everyone has different areas they feel more comfortable with depending on their previous experience. During the first half of the course, which covered branding, strategy and campaign planning, I often felt I was losing focus and desperate to get to the point where I’d be writing posts, choosing images, publishing content and tracking my metrics — the areas I had experience in and really enjoyed. But eventually I realised it was those initial weeks of learning outside of my comfort zone that made what I was doing a strategic campaign rather than just a random collection of tweets and Facebook posts I might fire off whenever I found a scrap of time to do it or because I realised I hadn’t done it for a while (sound familiar small business owners?).
Although all students have the support of Digital Mums throughout in the form of the G+ private community and video calls with tutors at key stages, it’s the peer group set-up that provides day-to-day sanity checks. At first, it felt pretty strange talking to three people I’d never met before on a Google Hangout (a bit like a Skype group call) from my kitchen and I secretly wondered if I was being judged for the double faux pas of not wearing make-up and not having a home office.
But I quickly realised the other mums in my cohort were all amazing. They are genuinely lovely women, all with impressive careers behind them and each with their own tale about why they signed up to Digital Mums. Some assignments required us to share our work with each other, which might sound daunting but actually provided a valuable new perspective. I’d never written a strategy document for a marketing campaign before so why wouldn’t I want my peers who had 10 or 15 years experience to check it over and give me a few pointers before I sent it off 1) to be graded and 2) to my PP? I was able to return the favour as we reached the stage where my strengths came to the fore. When one of my peers described me as “like a dog with a bone when things aren’t quite right” I knew it was a compliment and was completely thrilled (other subs will get it).
There was absolutely no competitiveness between the four of us. When one had a personal success in their campaign, like a celebrity retweet (Emma Bunton from the Spice Girls!), the rest piled in on our WhatsApp chat to say well done. And when someone needed urgent help, the others rallied round. I got several strange looks at an upmarket garden centre in rural Hertfordshire when I took a call from one of my peers who was battling to set up Hootsuite (that’s the same scheduling tool that didn’t always behave itself for me). I also never thought I would ever speak or write, let alone tweet for the whole world to see, the words “What sort of materials can be used for cement replacement?” but I did during this course — because a fellow mum was hosting a Twitter chat about sustainable construction that needed a bit more oomph.
Essentially what I have done over the past six months is build on the skills I already had while gaining many, many new ones along the way. I’ve got real experience of designing and executing a social media marketing campaign for a live client, and I’ve made three new friends at the same time.
Do I know everything there is to know about every social media platform? No, but no one else does either. It’s now part of my job to build on what I have learned and keep my knowledge up to date. But do I have the skills and confidence to go out there to find clients, devise a social media strategy for them, design a campaign and manage their platforms? Yes, I really do.