A question I like to ask in an interview is: What is your elevator pitch? Kerry Watkins immediately launches into a well-prepared and upbeat mini-speech which starts, “There are 3.5 billion social media users in the world, with 9% year-on-year growth. There are 1.6 billion people logging into Facebook every day, half a billion people using Instagram Stories every day. The new boy TikTok has already gained 500 million users, and was the most downloaded app in the US last year.”
The volume of users on social media is staggering, and it is no wonder that almost every business, large or small, is tweeting, posting and engaging like crazy. But how many have a genuine plan on how to convert the activity into customers or advocates? Do they know why they are posting content and whether or not it has any effect?
Back in 2010, Kerry instantly recognised the potential of the platforms. Then working as an Operations Manager in hospitality, she recalls, “It was clear to me that social media was going to be a game changer in terms of marketing and communicating, particularly in the hospitality sector at that time, full of young people and early adopters. And this was exciting - these were our customers and advances in tech were changing the way that people communicated, discovered events and shared information.
“I saw a huge opportunity to embrace social media. Not only to promote the businesses I looked after more effectively but also to engage in two way communication with our customers using the channels they were spending all their time on.
“The result was an ambitious social media strategy, shaving tens of thousands off the expenses line, an engaged audience and our organisation getting ahead of the game at an early stage in terms of digital.”
As well as disrupting the approach of the business, Kerry started her own social media blog, and Social Brighton was born. The blog quickly attracted attention and Kerry realised that she was able to help other businesses take advantage of social media.
In 2014, she reached a crisis point in her career, which many female entrepreneurs with families will recognise and identify with.
“I was travelling a lot to London when my daughter was young,” says Kerry. “There’s something about having kids that gives you a different perspective. I remember opening my laptop one Monday morning and fighting back tears because I was so stressed. I was working for a group of middle-aged male directors and I had a completely different outlook to them.”
With a five-year-old daughter to look after, she took the plunge and Social Brighton became a full-time business.
Despite a bout of Imposter Syndrome, Kerry’s drive came from her resolute faith in the possibilities that social media presented. She says, “What was really exciting about social media, and I still think is very exciting, is the way it gives individuals a voice. We are all self publishers. We can share opinions and messages globally in an instant. And whilst there are risks that come with this, there are also huge opportunities.”
“My mission was to empower businesses to implement a coherent social strategy. It’s not just about putting content out there. It is essential to set clear goals, otherwise you have no clear objectives and no way to measure how effective your campaign has been. Social is really more a communications channel than a marketing tool. If you think about who your target customer is and what they're interested in, you going to stop them scrolling past your posts. Your content should be more aligned to them rather than just talking about yourself.
“We deliver training and coaching and we also encourage businesses to look at their culture, so that it's not just a marketing person who works remotely doing the social media. We have also developed an agency side of the business, particularly in paid social which is more complex than organic social, but the emphasis is always to help businesses deliver results through social.
“We have to be creative and excellent communicators but also act as data analysts.”
Dropping overnight from a decent salary to zero was a big risk, but it was a gamble that paid off. Now based in Hove’s Platf9rm with a young and talented team of creatives, Social Brighton is firmly established as the go-to business for social media marketing and training. Five years on, Kerry has no regrets, “I still love what I do and I love being able to come into the office and work with a brilliant team. We're still small, but I think the people that I work with is very important and I'm really lucky to find our particular team of people who are just great at what they do.
“I see my role as leading and developing these young people in their 20s. I'm trying to develop them all to make myself not so needed in the business in the future. I want them to treat it as if it was their business.”
Making a difference
For Kerry, creating a business has no value unless it has a purpose, as she explains, “I want to offer good employment with a work/life balance (we recently implemented a four-day week!) as well as to try and help businesses use social media more responsibly.
“Businesses have a responsibility to make the digital space a positive place for our children. My daughter will be a teenager soon and I don't want her going on to Instagram, seeing things that aren't real, seeking validation through engagement or seeing things that negatively impact her mental health.
“I’m keen to work on more social impact projects, particularly around gender equality. I've worked on four or five different global projects with gender equality objectives in developing countries.
“For instance, the aim of one project was to improve health care and education for women who live in the slums of Kenya. We’ve managed campaigns to challenge social norms in certain African countries where violence against women is the norm. We’ve delivered global advertising campaigns for a charity called The Girl Effect, which tries to improve confidence and opportunities for women. These projects really give me job satisfaction and represent to me the good that social media can do.
“We organised a conference in October 2019 called ‘Grow19 - Make Marketing Mean Something!’ which we're going to run annually. Over 100 people came along who were interested in how to become more responsible and ethical marketers; something I really wanted to develop as the heart of our business. We're going to continue doing these kinds of annual conferences and events. It’s all about using social for good whether we’re businesses or individuals - and making the digital space a positive and progressive place to be for all.”