Carole Baker is not shy. (Which, as you’ll soon see, is an understatement.) Nor is she demure, reserved, risk-averse or dull. She is, in fact, very much the opposite of all the above descriptives. However, when most people think of social media, when they think of the people who market themselves as social media experts, the image in their minds—and who they often end up hiring (often grudgingly, and often frustrated with the “results”)—is of a perky, ADD-ish, former cheerleader type who has a ton of followers on Facebook or Pinterest or Twitter. That’s not Carole.
And that’s not at all who you get when you partner up with her on your social media campaign.
Carole is hardworking, experienced, take-charge, professional, full of ideas, witty, charming, down-to-earth and mature—all while still being absolutely committed to having fun.
All of which are the result of a life fully lived—an almost self-made life, and from a very early age. One where she took on various responsibilities, both because she had to and because she wanted to.
Born in Lawton, Oklahoma, Carole really grew up in San Antonio, Texas. That’s where her father relocated to—not so much by choice but because it was his calling: as an ordained Baptist minister, he was called to Buckner Baptist’s home for unwed mothers in San Antonio. It was a place for teen moms (and it’s still there), where their babies were soon put up for adoption.
“So I grew up surrounded by pregnant women…some as young as 14 years old,” recalls Carole, whose mother worked both as a nurse and as the clinical coordinator of neonatology at one of San Antonio’s main hospitals. What with two parents so dedicated to their jobs, Carole soon found herself in charge of her three younger sisters. “I was pretty responsible for my age. I’d cook everybody dinner. I’d be in charge of everybody doing their chores. I’d do most of the grocery shopping, too. My mom would drop me off with a blank check at the Piggly Wiggly or at HEB.”
“So, growing up in such chaos and being the first-born,” adds Carole, “that’s given me the freedom to experiment in the kitchen and in a lot of other different areas later on.”
Her mom was also a Lamaze teacher and a lactation consultant. And she filled the Baker home with her work, and her homework. “I’d come home and my mom would be screening a film in the living room that would be this image of a baby coming out of a woman’s va-jay-jay—big as life,” says Carole. (Mincing neither words nor images.) “So I half grew up never wanting to have kids, while the other half of me couldn’t wait to be a mom.”
Eventually, she’d get married and become a mom (to two daughters). First, though, she went on scholarship to the Atlanta College of Art. Only, however, for one year. “I was very talented and did a lot of tile work and murals,” she says of the art she’d made in high school and earlier. But back then, women weren’t especially encouraged to become artists. “So it never dawned on me that I could make a living as an artist. Plus, there was this split between the so-called real artists versus those prostituting their art [their language, not hers]. I didn’t know where I fell.”
And then came the freshman critique, whereupon one of her instructors told her her art was very “primitive.” Which could’ve been really good or really demeaning. Carole wasn’t sure which, and so she left.
Around that time, her parents had decided to relocate again. This time to the Washington, D.C. area. Carole followed them there and soon got a job with the Webster & Sheffield law firm. It was a pretty heady time—going to embassy parties, hanging with the rich and powerful.
But she then switched from law to outside sales for an office furniture and supplies store. “That got me out of the secretarial world,” says Carole. “And since I’m outgoing, I was really good at sales. And I thought, That’s the direction I should take.”
So she did.
Eventually, her new career in sales took her to Cincinnati, where she worked for Miami Systems. Acquired in 2010 by Staples, Miami at the time was Cincinnati’s largest commercial printing company. Back when printing really mattered. “Back when forms were a thing,” laughs Carole. “So I sold business forms.”
She then moved to Dayton. And got hired on with the Chisano Marketing Group (now known as 78Madison, in New York City). While living in Dayton, she also worked as a college recruiter for The School of Advertising Art. “I’d go speak to these high school students, and I’d get to advocate for them,” says Carole. “I’d look at their portfolios. I was the first person to tell them, You are really talented. I loved it.”
It was actually while in Dayton, while lying on her couch one day during a snowstorm that had the city at a stand-still, that she first discovered Twitter. By accident. And she took to it like a fish to water. That was way back in 2007. “I’d just make stuff up and I’d have this great success,” she remembers. “So I started selling myself to companies. To do their social media campaigns.”
She did one campaign, for Cassano’s Pizza (through a boutique advertising agency) in Dayton, that took off—and taught her plenty about social media and its potential. “They had 40 locations and they wanted to rebrand around this new pizza they’d come up with that was an all-edge pizza,” explains Carole. “So I divided Dayton into quadrants and chose a social media influencer in each quadrant. They’d use their flip cameras as brand ambassadors. We did an online launch with 12 events. And it was a huge success.”
Carole, then, was using social media before most people even knew it was social media.
“And because of my intense love for social media,” she says, “I went to all these conferences and was able to find companies to sponsor me to attend. Back in its day, from 2008 to 2013, BlissDom and BlogHer were the premiere social media conferences for women.”
She also founded New Media Dayton, now managed by Rick Cartwright. “It’s the biggest social media group in the Midwest,” says Carole. “And I started it because I needed a community of people who were passionate about social media, like I was!”
Adept at blogs and blogging, and aware of which bloggers were the most effective at gaining and growing and maintaining an audience, she decided to try her hand as a social media consultant. And did that for two years before moving out to Phoenix—again, to where her parents had, again, been called.
Not long after moving to Arizona, she got hired by Denver’s ShopAtHome.com to manage and recruit professional bloggers, which grew to 1,000 bloggers. “It was like eBates,” says Carole. “People would get rewarded for shopping through them.”
But the Denver traffic soon wore on her. To the point where she needed to move. Having long before attended a friend’s wedding at Santa Fe’s Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, where the bride and groom had hired a mariachi band to serenade them, she practically willed herself—as many people who move to Santa Fe do—to create an opportunity for herself in the City Different.
“I love the culture, the outdoors, the hiking,” says Carole of her love for Santa Fe. “I fell in love with the way the light looks on the adobe. I love the smell of the piñon and the cedar—they’re very sensual. The whole place is womb-like. Every sense in my body said, This is home.”
She’d also been visiting Santa Fe on and off for 20 years. And even now can’t quite believe that it’s her home. “That I live here now,” she confesses, “feels like a miracle.”
As for her profession, social media’s not only a knack, it fits her personality. “I don’t have that, You’re screwing up thing—I’m bold,” says Carole, who sees herself as the wild card in her family (everyone else having earned an advanced degree or two). “I don’t always succeed but I’m the one who’ll raise my hand and say, I’ll try. I’m really good at jumping into things and figuring out where to go.”
She also has an informed, intuitive sense for what works, and how to put people and things together. “Sometimes I feel like I can see things in a situation that don’t yet exist,” she says. “I’ve got years of working with people and I have the know-how for getting teams to work together. I’m really good at building community.”
One of her specialties, in fact, is creating Facebook communities. Unbeknownst to most folks, even most social media pros, group conversions are higher in Facebook communities. Even so, “When you’re helping a company build,” says Carole, “you can’t just stay in social media, you have to mix it up with everybody and see the big picture. It’s not just digital it’s broader and more inclusive.”
Getting clients to see that, and other realities, is a process—and can be a challenge. Carole is nothing if not a straight shooter. “Social media to me is not a magic bullet,” she says, realizing that even saying that is not always what people want to hear. “The expectation is that you’ll immediately see sales go up. But you may not see results or sales go up for up to a year. Social media will amplify what’s really going on. If you have bad customer service, social media will expose that.”
And as Carole will also point out, again, telling it like it is, “Social means getting together and having a drink. People have to get together in real life.”
But as honest as she is with people, she’s also all about having as good a time as possible. “I want everyone to have fun working with me,” she says with a laugh. (Of course.) “Why? Being able to laugh, it gives space. And when people have space, they do better work.”