Friday, 4 October 2013

Social media headhoncha, Tamara Littleton, is in the hot seat

Tamara Littleton is founder and chief executive of eModeration, an early mover in social media that has been doubling in size every year since 2005. The business has grown organically, without external funding, and currently has revenues of circa £8m ($12.8m). A self-confessed geek, Littleton has no formal computer science background: rather, she has grown up with the internet and found it an inspiring sand-box.

Headhoncha: Why did you start e-moderation?

Tamara Littleton: From the earliest days of the internet I was fascinated by it. I'd had big company experience, working in publishing and then the BBC, managing all their online sites, except for News. I was used to fixing problems – sometimes getting up in the middle of the night in my pyjamas to fix something. I gave up a well-paid job but I thought, 'What's the worst that can happen? If I screw up, I'll just get a job'.

HH: Did you raise finance at the start?

TL: I started with £10k from my mother and a credit card - exactly how you shouldn't do it. For the first two years I continued to do some consultancy alongside the start-up until we had enough clients to support me full-time.

HH: From the name I'm guessing the original concept was for a reputation management company?

TL: I created a company looking after communities for brands, using my experience from the BBC. At the beginning it was about protection - especially child protection – online. There were fearful clients taking their first steps in digital marketing and we helped them sidestep the potential pitfalls of, for example, User Generated Content. 

HH: Was it difficult establishing yourself early on?

TL: I've always been quite a calm person and that reputation as a safe pair of hands probably helped us in the early days. Also I had a strong operational background.

HH: What does the company specialise in now?

TL: While we started the company focused on how to stop things happening now it's more about creating really good content. Moderation is only part of what we do. We also manage Twitter accounts for clients and content for their Facebook pages. The boundaries between social media, PR and marketing have become increasingly blurred.

HH: So you all work in London?

TL: Far from it - we have a 12-person office in central London so we can run our crisis simulations - wonderfully exciting - but everyone else works from home. More than half our staff are in the US and we have clients all over the world including Asia and Australia.

HH: What are the pros and cons of managing a remote workforce?

TL: We use social media in the way we run the company and tools such as Yammer. It means we can tap into a much wider source of talent. Many of our staff are women who want the flexibility of working from home but a real job. One of our differentiating strengths is that we do everything in about 50 languages and that's been possible due to the way we run the company. All our directors and the majority of our senior management team are women.

HH: Why are female entrepreneurs still in so small a minority?

TL: I don't think it's risk aversion, but it might be something to do with confidence. I'm not particularly aggressive or bolshy. I'm rather the opposite - collaborative  - and I'm running the company the way I want to. Maybe if there were more role models of company leaders - men and women – running businesses in a way that might be considered more female, it would encourage more people to start up their own companies.The media gives the impression that people at the top have to be aggressive and ruthless to be successful. The truth is you don't.

HH: Have you considered selling the company?

TL: I've turned down some ten offers for the business at various stages, but I'm not interested in selling. My focus has never been on the exit. I just wanted to build a company and keep doing it until I don't want to do it any more. When I started I was just driven by finding clients; getting it right; hiring great people. All I wanted to do was to dive in and work really and that's still what drives me. Growing the company fascinates me.


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