Becky Wilson runs a digital business called The Social Media Geek. She started business with help from The Prince’s Trust, Spring To Action and Creative Enterprise Hub. Becky has managed social media accounts for international organisations for a global audience, as well as being a specialist in retail industries, online behaviours and communities. Also part of The Digital Garage team from Google, she has nearly ten years’ of experience working with social media and six years’ in marketing.
“…I still get questioned at networking events by men in tech about my digital ‘prowess’. I even had one man challenge me on how many comic books I have read as my business had the word ‘Geek’ in it…”
Becky, please can you tell us about your career to date and what first got you interested in working in tech?
I have always had an interest in technology particularly from an online communities angle. While at university, I use to spend all my free time in forums and playing MMO [massive multiplayer online] games while being fascinated with how these communities interacted. I was very lucky to study rise of web 2.0 (social media as we now know it) and see how people created their online identity or persona.
If I’m totally honest, when I graduated, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do career-wise. I almost just ‘fell’ in to marketing as it scratched my creative itch but as it was the height of the recession, getting permanent work was tricky.
I had encouraged many of the businesses I worked for to become early adopters of social media to get talking directly to their customers and build positive business relationships. After helping these businesses to gain good success, I decided to go it alone and focus on digital marketing on a freelance basis.
What is it like running your own company, The Social Media Geek, and what does this involve day to day?
No two days are the same and that’s what I love. I spend most of my days managing my clients’ social media accounts, looking to make new connections and create content that will engage their audience and drive traffic. So it’s a lot of creative thinking with a lot of analysis in between! Although I am super passionate about my businesses, it can sometimes really difficult to switch off. Holidays really don’t exist for me but I love what I do, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
How did you get involved with The Prince’s Trust and what sort of support did they provide?
While I was reading up on how to start your own business, I had heard that the Prince’s Trust offer a four day workshop to learn business skills. It was free and at the end they give you a mentor to support you in developing your business for 18 months. Although I love marketing, sales and negotiation were always something that made me nervous. My mentor explained the best way to handle myself and learn to become more resilient if things were not always going my way. It was hugely helpful.
What is the best part of running your own business, and the most challenging?
The best part is having ownership over my work. Knowing that I have made a real difference to a business where my ideas and expertise is valued. Seeing positive stats from my customers’ analytics really gives me a buzz as I know my hard work is paying off.
Being on your own can sometimes be challenging and isn’t always good for your mental health. To combat this, I have just started working a new technology co-working space in Leeds called Futurelabs. It enables me to be around others where I can actually exchange ideas, discuss business and just generally be around other human beings. It beats going crazy at home on your own.
Please can you tell us about The Digital Garage at Google and what your role has been there?
The Digital Garage is Google’s initiative to help over 200,000 businesses in the UK get online. It is also a growth engine to help businesses reach new customers online and develop their business by getting a digital skills boost completely free. I think Google realised that many people learn more effectively in person so they set up pop-up Garages where businesses can come in for training and speak with an expert on their own digital marketing.
I was very lucky to be the team leader for the first one in the world in Leeds. Over the seven months the Digital Garage was in Leeds, my team helped over 3000 businesses with their online presence. Now I work as one of the trainers for the Digital Garage on Tour, travelling all over the country bringing free digital training to parts of the UK Google has never been. It is so rewarding helping SMEs and start-ups with their businesses, being part of this project is probably one of the best things I have ever done.
In your own experience, is tech becoming less male dominated?
In some ways yes. I think that many women are only just realising that they are in fact, ‘women in tech’ as the community is now having these discussions about gender balance in tech. As the term ‘tech’ has also broadened, there are definitely more opportunities for women to learn tech skills and get into roles that were traditionally more male dominated. With this, attitudes have also changed towards diversity so I think people are more confident in challenging the status quo.
There is still a long way to go; I still get questioned at networking events by men in tech about my digital ‘prowess’. I even had one man challenge me on how many comic books I have read as my business had the word ‘Geek’ in it. Although my knowledge on the DC Universe was more extensive than his, he seemed struggled with the concept that women could have an interest in comic book culture and technology.
Over and above networking, mentoring and unconscious bias training, what else can be done to improve gender balance in tech?
I think more work could be done in schools or showing primary school ages that coding, engineering and digital is full of amazing women. There needs to be more of an effort to show women in tech across the media. I mean, just Google search ‘Developer’ and about 98% of the images are white males.
For Leeds Digital Festival I was involved in an event with WISE to talk to young women about all the different types of jobs in tech. At the end of the event many of the girls wanted to learn how to design their own submarines or learn to be web developers, it was fantastic! Let’s do more of that!
What is coming up next for you and The Social Media Geek?
It’s exciting times for The Social Media Geek, I have just become an associate trainer for Leeds City College, which will enable me to do more training throughout the region and develop my own range of training courses. My client base is growing rapidly that I now have a team of freelancers that I can work on even bigger projects with.
I am also excited to be travelling to London with Herd.Careers very soon to promote Leeds as a tech centre for the UK. Combining this with my continued work with Google on The Digital Garage means that The Social Media Geek is really supporting tech in the North. And it feels amazing!
Second Life image credit: By HyacintheLuynes (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons