Social Media Marketing: Build Your Chops

Quick: What’s the hottest trend in social technology making its way into business?

Answer: Change.

So how do you stay current? How do you develop skills you know you need and keep them up-to-date? How can you do this in a way that the people around you can replicate (so that you can scale yourself…), and all in a way that is efficient and fits within your training budget? This week let’s examine some options.

First, of course, there is the social web: you can participate. Even if you have zero interest in telling your friends that you’re standing in line at Starbucks, just do it. See if you can “cipher” the rationale for those who do it regularly. When you read that kind of post, do you think to yourself “C’mon…get a life!” Try it yourself a few times, and look at it from the perspective of the person posting: if you were standing in that line, right now, you could be making a new friend. Which means you could also be meeting a new customer. Understanding social technology is like understanding a square dance: it makes a lot more sense when you’re in the middle of it right along with everyone else.

The second big activity is subscribing to, following, reading, paying attention to…the thought leaders at the intersection of social technology and your particular business. If you’re into the technology itself, follow Jeremiah Owyang, Paul Greenberg, and Esteban Kolsky. If business-to-business is your thing, pay attention to Paul Dunay and Indium’s Rick Short. Hospital administration? Look up Paul Levy, former president and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston. Enterprise social technology? Connect with Susan Scrupski at Austin’s Dachis Group. No matter what your interest is or what your vertical is, there are people who are writing smart things that can help you right now. Open Google, search for them, and get connected to them. To make it even easier, there is a long list of experts and thought leaders across a variety of disciplines in my newest book “Social Media Marketing: The Next Generation of Business Engagement.”

OK, so with the above done, how do you build specific skills? If you’re a HootSuite subscriber, take advantage of the HootSuite U program. This applies to any tool you are using: most tool developers offer training, so start with that. Going further, how do you create a solid foundational knowledge, if for no other reason than being able to understand and apply more than 25 percent of what the people referenced in the prior paragraph are themselves writing about? The answer is formal training, and the good news is that it’s available through a delivery channel that will fit anyone. Here are some of my favorites.

At the college level, a handful of universities have implemented social media classes: Ira Kaufman has invited me (virtually) into his class at Virginia Tech (he’s now at Lynchburg College). Kathy Snavely at Harrisburg Community College includes social technology in her marketing classes, and there are contemporary programs at both Baylor’s Executive MBA and St. Edward’s University here in Austin. So, check out the universities near you and see what they offer: a few nights over a semester, and you can earn the foundation-building perspective you really need. But what if you can’t swing a regular class? What if your job as the social media go-to person for your organization has you on the road?

If you’re looking for a certification program that covers all of the essentials, check out the University of San Francisco’s online social media program. I went through this recently, at the invitation of USF’s Joe Schembri. Like my books, it’s comprehensive: this is not a “one-hour/five multiple choice questions later you’re certified” deal. It’s the real thing, online.

Also online, Ann Handley and her team at MarketingProfs have a series under the “MarketingProfs U” brand. The great thing about these is that they are “case method” – lots of example, lots of real-world scenarios. If you can do it, consider enrolling in a program like this alongside the USF certification program. Social media is changing fast, and so the more viewpoints you can collect, the better.

And last month, Incisive Media launched the ClickZ Academy. The five course e-learning program includes an 11-module program on social media led by Liana Evans, Lisa Buyer, and Krista Neher.

If you are looking for intensive workshops – if your training budget and schedule afford you with two or thee days to “get smart,” then look at the social media marketing training programs from the American Marketing Association and Social Media Executive Seminars. (Disclosure: I have created course materials for both of these organizations, and have been paid by them for presenting that material in the past.) The AMA offers B2B-specific social media training programs too.

Both the AMA and SMES offer intensive, comprehensive workshops with the objective being the development of a strategic plan for social media marketing. Simply put, rather than leading you through the steps of setting up Facebook – which Mari Smith and Chris Treadaway’s book does beautifully for under $30 – or creating a Twitter presence – ditto here for Hollis Thomases’ book, also under $30 – the AMA and SMES intensive workshops show you what you need to be paying attention to and why. The AMA workshop is well-suited for marketing professionals across a variety of businesses and non-profit organizations; SMES, as its name implies, offers custom-created workshops focused on the executive team.

Finally, if you’re looking for additional insights around social analytics – my passion – there are a number of webinars and similar (generally free!) online programs. I participated recently in such a webinar, sponsored by NetBase (on whose marketing advisory board I serve). That webinar featured Steve Rappaport from the Advertising Research Foundation and Eliska Johnson from Coca Cola. The webinar drew nearly 2,000 listeners and ran about an hour. There are a number of great presenters including Jason Falls in the upcoming sessions. Check out the entire NetBase series.

The above ought to keep you busy building real skills: whether you want a certification program or a quick dive into a focused topic, there are course and learning formats to suit you. Take the time to get your chops up, and then take it to the next level by developing your own in-house workshop to build the skills of your entire team. Take a tip from Andy Griffith: just as he invested in Aunt Bee and Barney, by building the skills of the people around you, you’ll increase your own effectiveness ten-fold. And if that’s not enough, consider this: in the high-change environment of social technology, spreading the work out and building cross-functional support will also keep you sane.

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