Getting down with the Digital Mums

Digital Mums is giving mothers the skills to move into flexible and mobile world of social media management. Co-founder Kathryn Tyler tells Toni Sekinah why her team excited by video platform Touchcast and how her desire for a dog ignited her entrepreneurial spark.

Kathryn Tyler headshot

Ten-year-old Twitter has transformed the way that companies acquire, interact and build relationships with their customers.

As businesses have realised its value – along with that of Facebook and Instagram – in forging connections with their clientele, a new job has been created, the social media manager.

The job is demanding as social media managers must be customer-oriented content creators but it does have the advantage of being having flexible hours. This makes it an ideal position for women with childcare responsibilities.

Online learning provider Digital Mums is training up unemployed mothers to become effective social media managers for small and medium enterprises.

The students undertake one of two six-month training courses. The Strategic Social Media Management Programme is for women who relevant transferable experience, gained from working in PR, journalism, marketing, communications or digital media and the confidence to work with a brand straightaway.

Those who gained experience in other industries can enroll on the Community Manager Course. These women create their own grassroots social campaign on an issue they are passionate about with lots of support from DMHQ.

One mother developed a campaign around buying healthy food locally while another, on the strategic programme, ran the feed of support network Parent Hub, amassing nearly 1,000 followers.

Tyler says that a “huge amount of hand holding that goes on” on the courses. “They’ll set up a Twitter, Facebook and Instagram page, just in the same way they would for a business. They have to reach influencers and think about content strategy.”

The course teaches the students how to inspire an emotional response from their audience and spread a message with humour and a human touch, according to former student and current social impact officer at Digital Mums, Tasneem Sherram.

The course is delivered online and the Digital Mums teams stays on top of all the latest trends in terms of solutions that can facilitate the remote training of its students.

Tyler says that Moodle, a learning management system “with a clever user interface,” hosts the learning resources while Google+ Communities is the ideal location for the student forums.

The most recent addition to Digital Mums’ array of technological tools is Touchcast. “It’s an interactive video technology platform and we’re really excited about it because we’re the only small business they’re working with at the moment.”

Touchcast, a medium is intertwines the web into video, allows users to create videos with links to other resources like Word documents, PDF files, even other videos, is being used by large organisations such as the BBC and the Wall Street Journal.

“It’s going to take our training resources to the next level,” says Tyler adding that Touchcast videos have already replaced the Digital Mums email newsletter.

Eighty per cent of the 20-strong team works remotely so they keep in close contact with each other using the Slack messaging app.

The live apprenticeship costs £2,000 while the social media campaign course costs £1,250. Tyler and Cochrane also charge businesses that come to them looking for freelance social managers a fee of between £500 and £1,000.

The company took a £50,000 loan from Big Issue Invest, which assists entrepreneurs who have founded businesses with a social mission. “The terms are very favourable, we only pay it back if we make money and we plan to pay it back early,” says Tyler.

Digital Mums has also just closed a round £200,000 private equity round from four private investors including a social impact programme, Big Venture Challenge.

Like many startups Digitals Mums in its present iteration is not what the founders set out to create.

It is an offshoot of a social media agency Tyler and Cochrane set up when they became unsatisfied with their previous jobs. Tyler felt she wasn’t being sufficiently challenged as the head of digital at Innovation Unit and Cochrane was working at M&C Saatchi but really wanted to work for herself.

“We thought that we’d love to set up our own business. I wanted to be my own boss so I could have the flexibility to get a dog and Nikki had just had enough of having bosses,” says Tyler.

They wanted to create a commercial venture with a social mission and so set up the agency to specifically train and do consultancy work with small businesses in social media management.

However while the consultancy and training was welcomed, they kept being requested to actually run the Twitter feeds of the SMEs. The pair tried running the feeds themselves but found they could handle a maximum of three at one time without going mad.

Tyler and Cochrane thought about bringing in young people to run the social media feeds. The unemployment rate among young people is 14.4%, almost triple the rate of the total working population, so hiring them would have been in line with the social mission of the company.

But weren’t sure they could convince small businesses to let young adults take control of their social media accounts.

Then they came up with the idea of working with mothers instead and so did some market research. They found that women with kids are more active on social media than most people and lots of businesses are marketing to mums.

“We thought it just makes sense and it went from there. The social media agency was like the unloved child and everyone loved Digital Mums,” says Tyler.

Tyler and Cochrane also both have a personal reason is focusing their support on mothers – they have experienced the effects of maternal unemployment first hand.

“Our mums were unemployed so we have a really personal connection to the problem that we’re solving,” says Tyler. Though decades have passed since then, the situation for working mothers is still very challenging.

Mothers-to-be sometimes experience workplace discrimination from the moment they announce their pregnancy as documented on Pregnant then Screwed. It states that 54,000 females a year are forced out of their jobs.

According to the Fawcett Society, 12.5% of women in low paid work – which is often the most flexible – are on zero hours contracts. Furthermore for many families childcare is so prohibitively expensive that many mothers are not any better off financially if they go to work.

These are the issues Digital Mums was set up to tackle when it was officially incorporated in 2013.

To date Digital Mums has helped 300 mothers change their working lives and by this time next year Tyler says they would have helped 1,000.

The founders are looking to extend the geographical reach of Digital Mums and are moving into cities like Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester as well as overseas.

“We’ll be taking Digital Mums to moms in the US. They’ve got an even bigger problem around flexible working than we have here,” says Tyler. They’ve also received requests to take DM to Slovenia, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia.

“We’re basically looking to do global domination within the next three years.” No doubt Cooper, Tyler’s pitbull terrier will be alongside every step of the way.

*This article was first published in March 2016 on TechCityinsider.

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