Archivist, zine maker and social media manager: Meet sweet-thang zine founder, Zoe Thompson
Can spending a lot of time on social media actually be enriching? Zoe Thompson, founder of sweet-thang – a zine platforming art by Black people of marginalised genders – is proof that it certainly can, having met creatives and collaborators on Instagram and even Blogspot. Balancing zine-making with her role as social media manager for UK literary subscription service Books That Matter, she creates for and interacts with social media daily, which has led her to see first-hand the change that can come from it. Here, Zoe tells us about travelling abroad as an archivist and zine maker for festivals and how social impact initiatives have helped her grow her practice.
Social Media Manager, Books That Matter
Zine Maker, sweet-thang zine
Place of Study
BA English with French for Professional Purposes, University of Sussex (2017–2021)
Events Marketing Manager, UX London (2022)
What I do
How would you describe your job, and specifically what you do at Books That Matter?
Books That Matter is the UK’s leading book subscription box and literary brand championing women authors. As their social media manager, I am responsible for curating and executing a social media content strategy that communicates who we are and what we do.
I spend my time working on graphic design for our socials, as well as filming and editing videos for TikTok or Reels. I work alongside our partnerships manager to implement an ambassador and influencer strategy. It’s important that I’m always researching the latest marketing trends and book news.
What are some influences behind your work?
I am inspired by things that are unconventional and subversive – brands that go against the grain when it comes to getting creative on social media, for instance, such as Oatly and Miista on Instagram.
“At Books That Matter, I curate and execute a social media content strategy that communicates who we are and what we do.”
Can you tell us more about how you founded sweet-thang zine?
I’ve always been compelled by DIY culture and magazine publishing. I made a blog on Blogspot when I was around 15 and met so many cool young creatives. I loved the collage aesthetic of zines and was at first inspired by the legacies of platforms like Rookie Mag.
Once I investigated what zines were, I realised there was an entire history of underrepresented people and groups who used zines to express themselves. As a space that celebrates Black creatives, sweet-thang was born from the desire to spotlight voices and artists that aren’t usually platformed in mainstream media.
I oversee the editorial direction of the zine, commission features, manage all digital content and lead the creative design of the zine itself. I also manage the social media platform, which includes writing copy and creating content. I also handle all of the submissions and edit them together with our features editor.
“As a space that celebrates Black creatives, sweet-thang was born from the desire to spotlight voices and artists that aren’t usually platformed in mainstream media.”
Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
I definitely think that you can take it upon yourself to find online courses that help you understand the world of social media marketing on a professional level. But it also isn’t essential that you complete any specific training, because you can learn as you go.
Ultimately, if you’re passionate about the company you’re working for, you’re already halfway there! There are also a lot of people who share their knowledge on platforms like Instagram and LinkedIn – I’m really inspired by The Self Hood and Pretty Little Marketer.
What’s been your favourite project to work on from the past year, and why?
It’s hard to choose as this past year has been such a fruitful one for me, particularly with zine-making. I think my favourite project is going to Braunschweig in Germany with Touretteshero, which is a neurodiverse, disabled-led, multi-disciplinary arts organisation with a mission to create a more inclusive and socially just society for disabled and non-disabled people.
I was commissioned as a zine maker, archivist and workshop host to document our time at Staatstheater Braunschweig for the Theaterformen festival last summer. It was the first time I had taken zine-making abroad, and that was incredibly fun!
How I got here
How did you go about landing your first freelance social media clients?
Towards the end of my degree, my university offered final-year students and those within the first year of graduating the opportunity to secure a six-week internship with a local SME [small and medium enterprise] through a programme called Step Up.
We underwent employability training, which involved five online workshops on things such as crafting an elevator pitch and mastering interviews. I landed a role as a sales and marketing outreach executive with a diversity and inclusion consultancy called Watch This Sp_ce. I learnt so much in that role and particularly enjoyed running their socials. I was extremely lucky to continue with them on a freelance basis as their social media consultant. From there, it became a lovely chain of securing work through recommendations and word of mouth.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
My biggest challenge was dealing with burnout and being overwhelmed. I was trying to do everything and had yet to master the art of saying ‘no’; it was a mix of taking on too many projects and not knowing how to switch off.
I was struggling with a scarcity mindset, working overtime and having poor boundaries with myself. Looking back, I realise that pacing myself would have been healthier, even if it meant less income. Not only did I bite off more than I could chew, but I also had nowhere to spit it out – so burnout entered the chat.
“My biggest challenge was dealing with burnout and being overwhelmed. I was trying to do everything and had yet to master the art of saying ‘no’.”
If you could pick three things that you’ve found inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
I am super inspired by Calypso Barnum-Bobb, who is a self-discovery coach, and I’ve loved following their journey this year. Their 21 Days of Self Discovery challenge equipped me with the tools to approach self-help in a fun, community-driven way.
Being a member of Babes On Waves – a platform promoting diverse talent – has also been instrumental to my growth in my career this year. It’s such an awesome community. I’ve found jobs, widened my professional network, and collaborated on fun creative campaigns.
And lastly, being an associate artist for the radical Lewisham-based youth arts collective, Sounds Like Chaos, has made it possible for me to grow my practice as a creative. I have been a part of the collective for almost ten years and am now an associate artist. [Through it,] I've been able to develop my practice as a creative and take part in meaningful social impact-led projects. My work includes making zines for their campaigns and projects, communications strategy, to recently hosting a workshop at the Wellcome Collection. Working with them makes me excited for a future where young people’s voices are at the forefront of radical change.
How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
I would say they’re both very important, but for someone who is trying to strike a balance between using social media for fun and using it for work, I’m leaning towards the idea that you don’t have to turn every platform you have into a CV.
Sometimes dog pics and memes are OK – in fact, they keep me sane. As a social media manager there is a pressure to master your personal brand, but I don’t think [having a brand] is for everyone. But if you are going to promote yourself, I would say LinkedIn is the best place for it. It can be a very intense platform filled with lots of corporate noise and cringy posts, but ultimately, it’s set up for you to showcase your work in a seamlessly creative way.
I’m quite a lazy LinkedIn user; I only post whenever I feel like I have something important to share and mostly use it to discover new businesses and people making waves in their community. If you put effort into making your profile neat and authentic, it can be a useful way to find clients. I’ve done this by liking posts, commenting thoughtfully, and engaging with platforms I would maybe want to work with one day.
“LinkedIn can be a useful way to find clients. I’ve done this by liking posts, commenting thoughtfully, and engaging with platforms I would maybe want to work with one day.”
What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
Have a savings system in place. I made a goal to save a certain amount each month and tried to stick with it as much as possible, and it feels good when it starts to add up.
As a freelancer, your salary can often fluctuate each month, so having something to fall back on is a smart move. I’ve taken on several projects this year to fund my business, such as zine-making workshops.
What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Anything that costs you your peace is too expensive.
What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role, in both freelance social media work and zine creation?
For freelance social media work, set up a LinkedIn profile and make a creative PDF portfolio – I made mine on Canva. In the portfolio, feature your most relevant experience, showcasing the skills that are most required in the industry.
For zine creation, start engaging with zines by supporting their events and issues. Also, think about what community you’re trying to reach and don’t be afraid to be specific and tap into a niche.
P.S. Check out sweet-thang’s latest print issue! You can support us by buying a copy here.
Interview by Yaya Clarke
Mention Zoe Thompson