What Skill Should You Learn Next (and Why)?

One of my favorite blogs is MetaFilter. In fact, it was the first blogs I ever heard of. I read an article in “Brill’s Content” (anyone remember that magazine?) about blogs, then a very new, very quickly emerging publishing format. MetaFilter was profiled. For those not yet addicted to it, it’s actually a community blog: members post links and short descriptions to the home page, and every post is open to comments. There’s also an adjunct blog, Ask MetaFilter (Ask MeFi), where questions are posted and answered by the community.

On New Year’s Day, someone posted the following question to Ask MeFi: “What skill should I learn next? What should I know?” I assume this was an attempt to format a New Year’s resolution, but it immediately struck me as a great question that those of us in interactive marketing should ask ourselves. Our world is rapidly changing. Many of us pride ourselves on the currency we have with the Internet. If you work at an agency, staying current is probably part of your job description.

So, what skill should you learn next and why? The Ask MeFi community certainly came up with some good suggestions: juggling, rifle-shooting, meditating, knitting, home brewing. I’ll suggest a few more, specifically for the new media and marketing crowd:

  • Video. If you’re going to work in interactive marketing in 2006 (and beyond), you must have a solid handle on video. I don’t mean the technology, specifically, but rather the skills around the conception and production of a good piece of video. A lot of people got into marketing through an interest in the Internet. That’s great and certainly has brought an entire new way of thinking into the world. But video is popping up all around the Internet, spurred greatly by Yahoo, Google, and MSN. Spend some time understanding what goes into a great :30 spot. Don’t sell your soul to the God of Broadcast, of course. Just read “Ogilvy on Advertising” (at least).

  • Optimization. Internet marketers have always dealt with the Myth of Perfect Measurement: the belief (by clients and senior executives) that Internet marketing is absolutely measurable and that all Web server data spit can be viewed as marketing intelligence. We’ve gotten to a point where most serious people reject that belief, if begrudgingly. But the question remains, what do you do with all that data? The best answer I’ve heard in a long while is to feed it to an optimization engine. These are services, provided by companies such as Poindexter and Blue Lithium, that can take all that data and use it to make improvements to your campaign. Learn how these systems work, begin taking advantage of them, and find ways to figure their costs into your overall ROI (define) calculations.
  • Interactivity. The Stone Age gave way to the Bronze Age; the Page Age has given way to the App Age. Web sites were, in the beginning, pages. There was a transitory time when these pages had interactive elements on them. Today, we’re at the beginning of a new age. Web pages are being overtaken by true applications. Visiting a site in your browser will soon be more akin to launching an app from your desktop. When constructing a new site, think about it as an application. It doesn’t matter whether this is a content site, an e-commerce store, or a bank-at-home tool. You must learn to think about interfaces and experiences the way application designers do.
  • Consumer media. Become fluent in the world of consumer media. If you don’t know what blogs and podcasts are, learn now. The currents of consumer media are only increasing and having real effects on how brands connect with customers and maintain their relationships. You need a solid sense of the core technologies around which these discussions bloom: RSS (define), tags, and so on, and you must able to communicate with those around you on how they influence purchase decisions.
  • Juggling. Hey, juggling is cool!
  • Bid management. Gone are the days when SEM (define) meant using your credit card and picking out a few words on Google. Today’s search environment is extraordinarily complex and competitive. Now’s the time to understand the mechanics of the auction environment and, more important, to figure out what the clicks are worth to you (hint: it’s not the same as what you pay for them). This is another area where the amount of data has greatly outstripped any individual’s ability to process it. Figure out which tool’s right for you and begin using it to monitor everything about your site that has a hand in determining the success of a search visitor.

This is only a short list, of course. I welcome your suggestions. I sometimes feel this interactive marketplace was willed into existence by a few people who were so intent on making it happen that they just did whatever it took. I remember one producer who found a bug in a Flash app. Not being able to find the programmer, she stayed up all night with the manual, figuring out not only what was wrong but also how to fix it. That spirit is still a part of interactive marketing, and I’m sure the hungry minds out there will take to 2006, just as they did to the previous 11 years.

Meet Gary at Search Engine Strategies in New York City, February 27-March 2.

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