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How social media entrepreneur Zoe Cairns became an international speaker and TV expert

By Chris Price

Fans of ITV’s This Morning and BBC News channel may have seen Zoe Cairns talking about the rise and rise of social media in business.

The former Chapter School pupil from Strood has become an international authority on the workings of Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and every other online communication tool.

Yet there was a time when she never dreamed she would speak on her favourite topic at the European Parliament or advise the Dubai School of Government.

Zoe Cairns of ZC Social Media

Zoe Cairns of ZC Social Media

She launched her consultancy, ZC Social Media, in August 2010, six months after quitting her job as a social media manager for mortgage broker Henderson Ponsford in Gravesend.

She had wanted to be a computer programmer after completing her business information management degree at Canterbury Christ Church University but struggled to get a job in the City against “first-class honours degree students getting there before me”.

She worked as a mortgage adviser for more than six years but after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, she wanted to be able to work at her own pace and decided to take the plunge launching her own business.

She had to establish her reputation as a social media consultant and joined Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, where she “went to every networking event you can imagine”.

She began sharing her knowledge at speaking gigs, her first being at the KM Group Women in Business Lunch at Eastwell Manor, near Ashford, in June 2010.

“I really started to build my presence locally,” she said.

Zoe Cairns with her fiance and business partner Gareth Cairns

Zoe Cairns with her fiance and business partner Gareth Cairns

“I was doing more networking than work and I was trying to speak on every circuit.”

It took her 18 months to establish ZC Social Media, which offers online training, management and strategy from an office in Medway Innovation Centre in Chatham.

“It was a real journey,” she said. “After 12 months I wanted to give up because I was thinking it was not going to work.

“But I persevered and tried to stay confident in what I wanted to do. Just as things were getting tough, that is when things started to follow through.”

Today, she runs the business with her partner, Gareth.

She took on apprentices Beth Henry and Sam Francis last year, who have become digital media manager and social media manager respectively. Her mother Debie Cairns looks after the accounts and admin.

“It has really developed into a nice little agency,” said Miss Cairns, who is a school governor, has volunteered at Brixton prison and worked with Young Enterprise. “I didn’t think I would be where I am now when I started the business.

“I have always been ambitious. I always push myself because I never give myself enough credit. I am constantly driving myself forward.

“Life is about taking action. Do what you want to do and follow your dreams.

“I wouldn’t have done so well if I had not taken action and not had good support networks and mentors around me.”

What is the biggest mistake businesses make on social media?

“You shouldn’t spam people with sales messages. It is not all about selling. It is about building a relationship. Being controversial or political on social media can also be damaging to your business. If you aired your opinion on the referendum, that could deter clients if you create a negative dialogue. You have got to be careful.”

How have you grown your business using social media?

“So many people focus on getting transactions online but my business has grown because of people I have established relationships with. Referring, networking and just sharing information has started to reap its rewards. When people realise those relationships give them good value, people think you are genuine and believe you have integrity. Then they want to give you business.”

How has social media changed?

“When social media first came out it was used as a broadcasting tool for PR messages. Now it has become a communication tool. It is all about engaging with people. It gives you the opportunity to expand the reach of your message.”

What is the most common misconception about social media?

“There are negative things which put people off social media like cyber bullying, phishing, people faking profiles and grooming. That is all terrible but we need to reassure businesses about the value of social media and address any problems they have. One guy said to me he doesn’t want to use Facebook because he’d seen a TV programme where hackers spied on users through their webcams. We had to reassure him this would only happen if he clicked on strange links or opened dodgy-looking emails.”

CV

Born: 11/10/1981

Live: Strood

School: Chapter School, Strood

Family: Fiance Gareth and two huskies Blade and Keva

First job: Behind the counter at Mangals Chemist in Strood

First wage: £3 an hour

Salary now: Undisclosed

Car: Mercedes ML

Favourite book: The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin S Sharma

Music: Bob Marley

Bob Marley

Bob Marley

Gadget: iPhone

Last holiday: Bali

Charity: Battersea Dogs Home

Typical day

Zoe Cairns typically gets up at 5am and checks her social media.

She usually gets to her office at Medway Innovation Centre in Chatham at about 9am and goes through a series of one-to-one meetings with clients.

Her working day normally comes to an end at 6pm and in the evening she works on business development until about 9pm.

Other nights she may spend working at speaking engagements or networking events.

In her downtime she likes reading, gardening and walking her dogs. She also likes to travel and is a keen baker.

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