Friday, 12 March 2010

From virtual to real world - the face of social media

My mobile has been made redundant
To paraphrase a famous Madonna song, I'm a virtual girl living in a virtual world. I haven't had a face-to-face business meeting for over a year and a total of four business telephone calls in the past three months. All communications are through email. So while I check my hotmail and gmail accounts on a daily basis and several times a day on weekdays, the mobile phone languishes in my handbag for emergency use. I'm not sorry about my phone's early retirement, I bought it after being pestered by clients when I was working inhouse, only for those clients to (perversely) continue booking me via email.

Addicted to the world wide web
As many homeworkers I'm addicted to the internet and linked to several business and social groups with hundreds of virtual friends. Some networks are great for keeping in touch with what is going on in the media/PR sector (LinkedIn,, Gorkana, ukPress...), others provide information on my specialist interests and then there are accounts one must have (like Twitter) and websites one must be a member of (like Facebook). All networks provide virtual water cooler moments, although malicious gossip is discouraged for fear of libel.

Fish out of water at the Only Marketing Jobs’ Cambridge Link-up
Having been entrenched in virtual networking forums for months, it was quite unnerving to attend a networking event with real people. When I arrived at the Only Marketing Jobs’Cambridge Link-up just before 6.30pm, the venue was filling up, mostly with men, which was a change as I have been working in female-dominated offices for years.
I arrived a bit later than expected and with a bandaged thumb as I had sliced off the top with a scalpel while cutting my business cards. In my virtual word I have never needed cards because a website link will always do, so I left it a bit late for a printer to sort them out and had to do the job myself while trying to cobble together an outfit for the evening. Since I’ve become a homeworker I stopped wearing suits or casual chic outfits and there have been days when I’ve sat in my PJs typing away to meet a tight deadline.
And there I was, standing in a busy bar in central Cambridge, surrounded by networkers and job seekers, my name on my badge and a drink in my hand. It wasn’t long before somebody approached me so we started talking and it was surprisingly easy and good fun. I’m at my most articulate when I write and of course I get reactions when people hear my accent and realise I’m not British. I had a short discussion about accents with a Scottish woman at the event and she reckons that if you have an accent people tell you more. This could be true as I did quite well in market research at the start of my career, although sometimes people raised their voices when speaking to me, which I now know is the British Way of dealing with foreigners.

Talking to strangers is not rocket science
During the rest of the evening, I sidled up to men or women on their own, which is a neat party trick when faced with a room of strangers. Tackling groups requires huge confidence and the lack of intimacy is not conducive to getting to know individuals - people behave very differently in group situations.
So I quite enjoyed the speed networking upstairs, an area that was less crowded and full of eager networkers. Among the photos of the event there is one of myself speaking to the lucky lady who later in the evening won the champagne raffle.
Overall, I spoke to heaps of people, all with different and intriguing jobs. I even met somebody who used to work for some of my London magazine clients and there were a few discussions on SEO, which somebody defined as a dark art. Having spent hours reading about it while trying to switch from print to web writing, I haven’t seen much hocus pocus. SEO is a mix of dull html stuff and challenging writing rules for somebody who has been paid to churn sensational headlines, witty puns and word games. It’s back to basics with character counting, judicious use of keywords and a balancing act between accessible content and quality output.

Calling all Cambrige homeworkers
While working the rooms, I found other homeworkers who relished talking shop away from their computer screen. There was some talk of setting up a group and organise a few local outings. I started a conversation in the Marketing Lounge, so click here if you’d like to be involved. Amazingly, I stayed till around 9.15, then walked home with my small loot of business cards.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Women's Day - my daughter's first march

Cambridge womens day photos

Having picked up a flyer about events celebrating International Women's Day in Cambridge, I decided to join the Women For Women International March from Victoria Bridge to Magdalene Bridge. Michela and I arrived at the start just before 12. It was a cold morning but there was a lot of enthusiasm and we got a few smiles as Michela was the only child in the march. I'm not quite sure why, a few mums stopped to write messages on the banner but they didn't join.
After a few really good speeches, truly inspirational and heartfelt (unlike a lot of trite stuff spouted on TV debates) we marched towards Magdalene Bridge, bang in central Cambridge, where we heard a few more inspired speakers and enjoyed the performance of a drumming group. Michela really enjoyed this bit and I was glad to join in the dance to warm my frozen limbs.
Talking to some women during the march made me realise that although I have lost an active interest in politics (despite my degree in Political Sciences), I was still holding on to some ideals and trying to do my bit. I have always been shy with strangers and getting involved with various projects in the local community as a charity volunteer (for NCT and Breastfeeding Network) has made me feel active and more confident at times when looking after a child felt like I had mothballed my brain away for future use.

I'm full of admiration for the speakers, women who are involved in international projects to help and protect more vulnerable women. As a speaker pointed out, in the UK we do have a level of protection and access to medical help. It might not be perfect but we don't have to fear for our lives or starve like many women and children in war-ravaged countries.

Happy International Women's Day! 

Cambridge women day photographs