My root into social media was bit different for most because when I left university, it was 2002. At that time, the social media world was limited to MySpace, Friendster, and Facebook wasn’t even on the scene. Seven years later, I found myself working as a Press and Media Relations Manager, then subsequently a digital communications specialist for the UK Government.
This was really my first opportunity to explore social media professionally when it was in its infancy. I worked for the Intellectual Property Office which was not really using social media at the time (in 2009), unlike other government departments. However, I started to create different profiles for the department; this was unbeknownst to anyone because the bureaucratic nature of the public sector and these types of organizations are always nervous with this type of communication. I did this for a while and had great success with it. Eventually, after being in the role for a while - and as I got better at it, I was nominated for some social media awards in the public sector. In 2013, I got offered the opportunity to work in the Cabinet Office, specifically for the newly formed Government Digital Service (GDS) in London. At that time, this was the place to be if you loved all things digital in government. It was like the Facebook of the public sector world; it reminded me of some sort of Silicon Valley startup with people sat on bean bags working on their laptops, and funky chill-out areas to get creative with colleagues. This was unlike anywhere else in government at the time.
Later in 2013, I became Director of Social Media for The Next Web
(TNW). At the time, TNW didn’t have any formal social strategy in place, but they knew they had the potential to leverage their content and business activities using social platforms. The co-founder of TNW, Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, became a great mentor to me. From Day 1 I was given a lot of creative freedom. He would say things such as “Do what you want, we trust you” and “We know you’re good at what you do, so don’t ask for permission, just ask for forgiveness”, or “Go experiment!” This was great, however, I still kept nervously asking for his input because this was a big technology news brand and events company, and I was doing things that might not work or if they failed, could make them look bad. He just kept saying things like “Keep pushing and doing things that are unusual or kind of quirky, to the point where we get taken to court and get sued. That’s when I’ll know you’ve pushed it to the limit. Up until that point, just do whatever you think is best and I will defend you”.
That was a lot of creative freedom. It gave me a lot of confidence and enabled me to experiment without fear of things going wrong or thinking that it could end my career at TNW, or anywhere else for that matter! This freedom to experiment was the complete opposite of my previous role working in government (at that time), where you had to ask for permission to do everything. I was with TNW for 5 years, but in April of this year I branched out on my own to become a freelance social media consultant. Now I work with companies such as the BBC, UN, Red Cross, and lots of cool social media startups. Typically, I tend to work with a smaller number of very big and well-known brands.