In Their Shoes: Crafting Digital Experiences in the Educational Toy Industry
Updated: Nov 8, 2020
DEMYSTIFYING DIGITAL MARKETING + SOCIAL MEDIA WITH CHRISTINA SMITH
It's your senior year in high school, offer letters are arriving in all your friends' mailboxes, and you wait with bated breath for which school you'll attend. But the letters come up empty. This is just one of the "checkpoints" on Christina Smith's professional pathway, a journey of perseverance with step upon step building a strong— and perhaps originally unexpected—foundation, bringing her to her current role as Digital Marketing Manager at Osmo, an educational toy start-up. Christina is a badass social strategist with a Master of Communication from the University of Washington's Communication Leadership program. Dive into her journey and learn about her digital marketing and social media world.
ABOUT YOU + YOUR CAREER
How did you find and land your current gig, especially when considering the transition from Seattle back to your hometown of the Bay Area in California?
Christina: I was previously at Pacific Science Center in Seattle, WA and as much as I loved my role at the Science Center it was just time for me to move back to California. My original plan was to move back to California at the end of the summer, but I was on LinkedIn and I was looking up social media manager or digital marketing manager roles and Osmo came up and I was reading the description of the job and the job kind of fit perfectly with what I was already doing at the Science Center. Originally, I was just a social media specialist at the Science Center, but I was also doing email marketing, web development, newsletters—I was wearing a lot of hats. So when I was looking at Osmo, it was all mostly just social media marketing, and there was some digital marketing aspects like blog writing and also video production work, which I was really interested in doing. So I applied to the job and then within a week they called me for an interview and I was like, “Wow, that was quick!” So with no leads and no connections with the company, it was my first job applying back to the Bay Area, and you know two months later after three interviews I got the job. They wanted me to start right away but because I had to move for the job they allowed me to work from home for a month, which was really great and it helped me pack and get prepped for the big move while also diving into the role and the company. I finally made the big move the first weekend of June 2019.
What was your pathway up until this point? Was it linear or have you had some twists and turns?
Christina: I’m gonna take it back to high school when I first graduated, because when I was a kid I wanted to be a dentist, but then when I was in high school I wanted to be an archaeologist. I loved Indiana Jones and I wanted to be the next female Indiana Jones. I actually had all of my prerequisites done, I was applying to schools, and I didn’t get into any of my dream schools. So while I was in community college, I took a comms class and one of my professors at the time said, “Well, you’re a great communicator. Why don’t you try communications?” and then I thought, “Sure, why not.” So, I took a few more comms classes and it ended up gelling really well with me and when I finished my prereqs with that I applied to Cal State Monterey Bay and got my degree in journalism and media with a minor in technical film studies.
When I graduated from undergraduate school, I could not find a comms job for the life of me in the Bay Area, so I kind of found myself wandering a little bit. I worked at the YMCA as a camp director for a summer, then worked as a receptionist at a vet office for a year, and then I found myself working at an online retail company called Zazzle as a customer service rep. At Zazzle, my role started as taking at least 80-90 calls a day, answering emails, helping customers design their wedding items like their announcements and invitations. While at Zazzle, I started working in community management for their social media. I would respond to all kinds of questions or bad reviews, and would troubleshoot on Facebook, Twitter, and various third-party review sites. I was at that company for about two years and while I was there for two years, my manager really thought I should be in social media because I’m great with messaging and I was able to upsell on different orders really well.
So ultimately, I interviewed for two other positions at Zazzle, but apparently I was not qualified because I didn’t have a graduate degree, which had been a bit frustrating. I realized I wasn’t going to move forward with that company and that’s when I applied to grad school. I only applied to the University of Washington Communication Leadership (Comm Lead) program because I have, for the longest time and without even visiting Seattle, wanted to live in Seattle before I turned 30, and the fact that I didn’t have anything holding me down in the Bay Area was just added incentive to apply to the program—I did it and I got in!
Before I moved to Seattle, I applied for an internship at Washington STEM because I wanted to make sure I had some kind of income coming in and wouldn’t need to rely on student loans. I was interviewed for a communications intern role by fellow Comm Leader Danny Gross, who would then become my supervisor. I was there for nine months before landing my job at Pacific Science Center! It’s been kind of weird because I started out doing a lot of customer service roles and now I’m still kind of in a customer service role but more on the retail side and not really having to interact with customers as much.
How would you explain what you do, and what your company does, to a 10-year-old?
Christina: Osmo takes a tablet, mostly with iPads and the Amazon Fire Tablet, and we take the camera and put this mirror over it and it kind of reflects this image that you’re creating on a table. We make tangible toys for the digital platform. So we take physical toy pieces, like tangram pieces, and we use a tablet to kind of reflect what’s going on on the table with your tangram pieces, and it shows your progress on the screen. There’s a game called Masterpiece where you can create your own art and see it come to life. We also have this game called Detective Agency, where it’s kind of like Carmen San Diego meets Where’s Waldo, and you get to solve mysteries and learn about geography throughout the process.
Jill: From what you’re describing, it almost feels like the future, considering there’s this real-world element to it—you’re doing something physically on a desk or a table—but then that’s transformed into what you see on your tablet or device to bring you into a different kind of world. Is that correct?
Christina: Yeah, that’s correct. It’s kind of like AI in a sense, but in reverse, because instead of seeing something digital in the real physical world, our company takes real physical pieces and projects them into the digital realm. And I would say that our company is singular in that regard because there’s not a lot of toy companies who are doing this kind of thing. It’s either strictly digital or strictly physical, and for Osmo, we’re bridging the two.
What are the top three skills and traits a person should have to be able to do the work you do?
You have to be flexible. You can come up with a campaign and all of a sudden you have to toss it or you have to pivot and change messaging.
You have to be able to think outside of the box or at least hear others’ perspectives so it can give you an idea of what kind of messaging you want out there, and it helps you see other ways to think about your product.
And then you have to be willing to learn because you don’t know everything and you have to at least admit when you don’t know everything. That’s what I’m learning with my journey. For instance, at Pacific Science Center, I didn’t know email marketing and all of a sudden it got thrown at me but instead of panicking, I learned. With this position at Osmo, I’m doing a lot more graphic design than I’ve ever done before, so I’m learning a lot with that. Even in undergrad, I had no idea how to set up a production and thank god I learned in undergrad because I filmed my first commercial last week!
What’s something unique about your industry that you didn’t necessarily know beforehand?
Christina: Whenever somebody asks me what I do, and I say social media management, everyone just assumes it’s just finding a picture and posting it. I think people don’t realize how much strategy and data is behind social. I have to report weekly how things are going on the social side and then I have to pivot or amplify my strategy based on what audiences like. I think that’s something that a lot of folks don’t realize goes on behind-the-scenes when companies are posting to social.
What advice do you have for someone interested in having a career in digital marketing? What lessons have you learned?
Christina: Take as many classes as possible. And you don’t have to go to grad school necessarily, but there are things like Hootsuite certifications for social media marketing. I strongly advise taking those kinds of classes because it only strengthens your experience. Make sure you keep learning because things are always evolving. Especially in the social and digital realm, because technology is always evolving, you need to always be on your toes with the latest digital trends.
I would also strongly advise to not just take any job that offers it to you, make sure your values align with the company that you’re applying to. Osmo is kind of kismet for me because I was already coming from an educational nonprofit sector, and Osmo encapsulated a lot of the values I hold.
WHAT KEEPS YOU ORGANIZED AND ENERGIZED
What do you absolutely need at your desk to function?
Christina: I need pictures of my friends and family. You know how you go to weddings and get those little photo booth pictures? I have a couple of those taped around my monitor. I have a tumbler of Tina Belcher from Bob’s Burgers and it says “I'm a strong, sensual woman” and inside it has Starbursts because it’s my stress candy. The third thing is I have to have a plant on my desk, I need some kind of greenery to offset the white walls.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
Christina: Two apps that I like to go to when I need to destress and disconnect from work are Pokemon Go and the Harry Potter Wizards Unite game that just came out. In the Harry Potter game, you’re a wizard and you have to solve a big mystery that’s just happened. Another app I like to go on a lot is Pinterest because I like to decorate and do a lot of DIY projects and cook. I’m back on WW, so their app is a big go-to for me. Lastly, another app that I like to use a lot because I love to take pictures and consider myself an amateur photographer, is called Snapseed, a photo editing app.
Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
Christina: Funny enough most of my personal board of directors are back in Seattle. When I was at the Science Center, I found myself a mentor, Rowe Redick, and he actually graduated from the Comm Lead program, too, and he was kind of my go-to for work, especially for creative stuff.
If I needed to bounce an idea off of someone, he’d always say, “I don’t know why you keep coming to me, you have such a great eye, you can do it.” It was great having that encouragement, or if I did have a bad idea he’d always challenge me and ask those questions like, “Ok, but how do you think it’d impact xyz?”
In addition to Rowe, I’d add two of my old coworkers, Eryn and Rayven, because anytime I have questions on what’s current in trends they know everything. I have a new coworker, Jasmine, who works specifically in influencer marketing and her knowledge has been incredibly valuable since I started. Finally, I currently work with a graphic designer, Courtney, and she’s just got an incredible eye and is wonderful to bounce ideas off of as it relates to creative assets.
How do you recharge? What do you do when you want to forget about work?
Christina: Zumba. I go to Zumba three times a week with my best girlfriend and it helps me unplug. I’m not on my phone, I'm not checking Facebook or Instagram for customers who have questions. It’s just an hour of me dancing, so it’s really nice.
ADVICE AND CLOSING THOUGHTS
What’s your #1 interviewing tip for people on the job hunt?
Christina: Research the company that you’re interviewing for. Do not go in unprepared.
What I did for both the Science Center and Osmo is I actually took a look at their own social media channels and did my own audit. I went through what I saw was trending—what posts worked, what didn’t. I also asked technical questions like what tools they use for social media management? Do they use UTMs for their links? Do they have to worry about SEO keywords? Ultimately, just make sure you do your homework before the interview.
What's one piece of advice you'd tell your former self?
Christina: Everything happens for a reason because if I hadn't made the decisions I made in the past, I wouldn’t be where I'm at today. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
What are you reading and listening to right now?
Christina: I’m reading two books right now. Crazy Rich Asians because the movie was so awesome that I needed to read the book. For all the true-crime fans, Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered. For podcasts, I really like storytelling ones and there’s one called Mythology, and it’s about all the myths in the world and the story behind them. The Clearing. My Favorite Murder and the last podcast I think is worth mentioning is called Disgraceland. It’s about musicians and all the stuff they’ve done in their past. There’s one about how Keith Richards was a drug trafficker and about how Lisa Left-Eye Lopez had burnt her ex-boyfriend’s house to the ground—crazy stuff.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that hasn’t been mentioned yet?
Christina: People should trust their journeys and trust that they’re making the right journey for themselves.