In the era of the 24-hour news feed, keeping a constant presence across several social media platforms can seem like a full-time job—and for Caitlin Coble, it is. As Social Media Director at TOMS, Caitlin, 26, is responsible for keeping the TOMS message alive, which is an admirable duty considering that, with every purchase of TOMS shoes or eyewear, a person in need is helped—one for one.
Caitlin’s position at TOMS followed “a series of very serendipitous events,” which began with her realization that she did not want to be a designer (while studying at design school), and culminated with her seemingly inconsequential decision to wear TOMS shoes to work one day. But once Caitlin came into contact with TOMS, her career goals became clearer and she’s come to enjoy the path she’s taken, even if it’s not the one she would have imagined a few years ago.
Working in the social media sphere means never knowing quite what you’ll be doing from one day to the next, so Caitlin must be quick, adaptable and organized to keep up. All of this she does, buoyed by her positive work environment, which allows her to be creative and to explore as “the voice” of TOMS. Caitlin’s experience in South Africa, where she personally gave shoes to children, re-energized her Career Contessa spirit and shows that one never knows where a career may take you. Read the full story below
Her Starting Point
Where did you get your career start?
I studied Apparel Design & Technology and Fashion Merchandising at Florida State University. During your last semester as a student there, you can stay and develop an entire collection, or you can go off to an internship. One thing I took away from design school was that I didn’t want to be a designer, so the choice was clear. I still loved fashion, but I realized I was more interested in the editorial side, and thus my search for an editorial internship began. I’m grateful that burning out on one thing sparked my passion for something different—you can’t plan for that.
When my professor asked me where I wanted to intern, I was quite shy about it. “Well, there is this one magazine I love…but I’d never get an internship there,” I told her. “Why not?” she asked. “Let’s call them.” It turned out that the fashion coordinator at the magazine was a Florida State alum, and she loved the idea of having a fellow Seminole in the fashion closet. A month later, I moved to an apartment in Brooklyn—my first time in New York City—and began my not-as-glamorous-as-Devil-Wears-Prada internship at a real fashion magazine.
I filed look books, hung clothes, called messengers and eventually wrote an intern blog at Nylon for two months.
How did you come to work at TOMS? What do you love most about the company?
My first job out of college was TOMS. I came to my role there through a series of very serendipitous events. While interning at Nylon, I was wearing a pair of TOMS shoes. I had read about them in Nylon that past fall, and after returning from an amazing volunteer experience in Peru in December of 2007, I was motivated to purchase my first pair. The web editor looked down at my feet that day and said “Everyone’s wearing those TOMS shoes! They have a press day this week.”
My eyes lit up. I wanted to go. She agreed.
I bought two new outfits and got a good night’s sleep. I was determined to walk into that PR office and convince people that I was a real fashion writer, not the naïve intern I really was. I met Blake, the founder of TOMS, and after a handful of basic questions and a few eager laughs, I asked him plain and simple, “So, how do I come to work for you guys?”
I knew about TOMS? And I actually wanted to work in their no heat/no AC warehouse office on the other side of the country? Blake must’ve sensed I was just young and stupid enough. And, thank God, I was. There was a position open and, after an interview that I thought I totally f*ed up, I landed the job. Two weeks later, I flew home to Florida, packed up my pick up truck and drove across the country, never looking back.
When I started at TOMS, I didn’t have a boss or job title. I think I asked to be president of something… they asked me to “start with manager—we’ll see how things go.” That was five years ago. I’m not the president of anything yet, but I have built a social media community for the One for One movement that I am incredibly proud of. I have a small team of people who are bright, fun to be around, patient and assertive.
Her Big Break
Was it always important for you to work with a company with a philanthropic core?
To be honest, it wasn’t such an intentional choice. Something about TOMS just truly resonated with me. But it isn’t just the giving that makes it a special place to work and thrive—it’s the creativity, the respect we have for each other and the desire to evolve. I have really high standards for a work environment now!
Tell us about your job and responsibilities.
My responsibility as the Social Media Director is to develop the voice of the brand online, and to nurture the online TOMS community.
Social media is an evolving space filled with a never-ending learning curve. How do you keep up and how did you learn the ins and outs of social media as a career?
Two things: I am blessed to be surrounded by some really intelligent women—women I look up to and respect, who understand me and my perspective, and who know a great deal about the social media space and business. Secondly, the wonderful thing about the Internet is that information is greatly accessible. If you have a question, ask. If you aren’t sure, Google it. If you want to know how other brands are doing things, find them on those platforms. You just have to commit to endlessly learning.
What tools do you use on a daily basis, and why? Do you have any favorites?
My favorite tools are pen, paper, creative minds, conversation and collaboration.
What skills are necessary to be a Social Media Manager?
You have to genuinely care about the brand you’re working for, plus you have to be the following:
- Exceptionally organized
- A great writer
- Able to develop real relationships
- Understand the business
What is the most challenging part of your job? How do you overcome these obstacles?
Getting people to believe we do more than just “tweet and scroll through Facebook.” We are building a brand, developing a voice, inspiring a community and uniting a diverse landscape of individuals. It’s no small task.
(But yes, we also tweet and scroll through Facebook…every day.)
Give us a glimpse into your day-to-day.
My parents would be surprised to hear that I told you that I actually wake up early most days, and try to start with a short jog or a gym session. I have coffee at home with my fiancé and watch the TODAY show—a ritual I just can’t seem to part ways with (#guiltypleasure).
I typically get to the office around 8:30 a.m. and sort my emails based on urgency. I try to spend the majority of my first hour checking out our social landscape, making sure that nothing has exploded overnight and seeing what our fans have to say.
Hours two through nine (or sometimes ten) get a little fuzzy. It can be any variation of the following: going down a slide, meeting with the partnerships team to brainstorm ideas about how we’ll tell the story of a product collaboration, running over to the media team to ask them to move up a video deadline, snapping a photo of our president crushing someone in ping pong for our Instagram channel, ordering lunch, answering emails, putting together timelines, revising said timelines, scratching said timelines and starting over, congratulating a fellow co-worker on getting engaged (huge trend at TOMS right now), answering more emails, researching new social media tools, reading articles about cat videos, Pinterest, YouTube and analyzing lists of “the best social media” that TOMS isn’t present on (yet).
I have one anchor meeting each day that gives me peace: a stand-up meeting with my team. It was actually an idea brought to me by one of the team members a few months ago. This is a time for us to all get together, review exactly what content is going out the next day one last time, and make any changes or toss out new ideas. I am blessed to work with some really smart and creative people who really get their hands dirty in the social media space.
I close my day by handwriting a to-do list of everything I should get to the next day. I’m a sucker for great stationary and taking notes. Making lists by hand is something even a social media manager can appreciate.
I don’t work too late. I never have, and I don’t intend to start. Most days I leave right at 6:00 p.m. or shortly after. Our generation is growing up in a world where its normal to be connected 24/7, but you have to practice work/life balance. Even with a job you love, your life should be more than your job.
What advice would you give yo aspiring Social Media Managers? Where should they start their career, and how can they stand out in a crowded space?
Believe in who/what you are working for. Be a good writer and know your grammar (can I say that enough?). Have high standards and a confident point of view. And lastly, be prepared to go with the flow, learn and accept feedback and trust your instincts.
You’ve accomplished so much already in your career! What’s next for you?
More of what I’m doing now—with a little more insight, a little more confidence and a little more patience.
Has there been a defining moment in your career so far?
After you’ve been with TOMS for a year, the company takes you on a Giving Trip to experience giving first-hand. It’s an experience that re-energizes you, and also allows you to answer your skeptical friends, “Yes. We do actually give shoes to kids. And it’s awesome. I’ve done it.”
My first Giving Trip was in South Africa in 2009. We had a partnership with Element Skateboards that helped provide new skateboards to kids in the skate camps Element supported. We visited a few areas in and around Durban and Port Elizabeth to hand deliver shoes and boards. Just thinking about it brings a smile to my face, and so many memories I can’t even put into words.
What advice would you give to women trying to figure out their own career path?
I studied fashion design in school—spent four years in illustration classes, CAD tutorials, late nights making flat patters, early morning draping sessions and countless hours behind a sewing machine. And what was my conclusion at the end of it? I didn’t want to be a designer. You have to allow yourself to explore different paths, try new things and be comfortable with accepting that there’s one guarantee: things rarely turn out exactly how you imagine they will.