Where to Get a Social Media Education

As e-marketing evolves, it’s increasingly being pushed toward social applications and the social Web. This is new ground for a lot of us. Beyond the hype — think “buzz,” “viral,” and similar terms that sound great but are often nebulous in actual practice — there’s an emerging skill set and capability that marketers are expected to possess. Here, I will examine two organizations that will help you get up to speed up quickly. As if tailor-made for tough times, each offers a free membership level.

Social Media Club

First, there is Social Media Club. Formed by Chris Heuer and Kristie Wells, this national organization features local chapters that typically meet monthly. Meetings include a discussion usually led by a practitioner that revolves around an aspect of social media or a related issue. At a meeting I attended in Austin, TX, Brand Autopsy‘s John Moore took us through an hour-long exercise of social media and word-of-mouth concepts that we then applied to six emerging businesses. Participants in the exercise developed marketing strategies for their respective companies, then presented them to the group.

Following the InnoTech conference recently, Austin’s Social Media Club focused on gaming and its application as a social marketing platform. Led by InnoTech award-winner and GameWager founder Thomas Marriott, the session was helpful in broadening attendees’ perspectives on the media that are open for marketing.

When was the last time you worked with a group of your peers, developed new media marketing strategies, thought through the issues around the social Web, presented all of this to an audience, and got to eat all the pizza you wanted? This is what the Social Media Club is all about: It offers an accessible, informal way to quickly get up to speed, not just on techniques but also on knowing who else in your community is working on the issues that you are interested in.

Social Media Club has chapters in a couple of dozen cities and is looking for interested professional to start more. Check it out.

The Society for Word of Mouth

Long-time practitioners and recognized experts Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba have launched the Society for Word of Mouth (SWOM). The first annual conference was held this past week in Austin, where Ben and Jackie now live, no doubt having been attracted here by…positive word of mouth. The conference, dubbed SWOMFest, featured a half-dozen insightful speakers and, as with Social Media Club events, a participative case study.

Held in the Long Center for the Performing Arts, SWOMFest opened with an act from “Night of Living Dead.” Next up was GSD&M IdeaCity‘s Haley Rushing. Founder of the Purpose Institute, Rushing talked about the fundamental role of purpose in building not just a brand but in fostering and driving meaningful conversation around the brand. Simply put, if your brand doesn’t stand for anything, what is it exactly that you expect your customers to talk about? Snappy new technology, an end-of-summer sale, or a celebrity endorsement may get people to look at you. But to drive real conversations, you’ve got to serve up the steak, which in this case means standing for something.

Next up was screenwriter Yaphet Smith, who talked about stories. Stories play a fundamental role in word of mouth and therefore in successful social media campaigns. Simply put, stories are the vehicles that make whatever it is that people are talking about interesting to others. It’s cool that my friend has an iPhone. But what gets me to talk about it is what she does with it, what it means to her, and how I relate to that story.

The afternoon session featured Sean McDonald of Dell and Trey Reeme of credit union TDECU. McDonald talked about Dell’s use of Twitter, where Dell successfully sells a lot of refurbished gear — so, yes, Twitter is for business; about Dell’s IdeaStorm, built on the salesforce.com platform; and about Dell’s support forums, built on Lithium’s community platform. Reeme talked about the importance of using the social Web as a listening engine to drive continuous operational improvement.

The highpoint came when we got to develop marketing extensions for Mambo Berry, a mobile frozen yogurt start-up. Taking what we’d learned during the day — purpose, stories, social technology — we spent about 90 minutes with founder Jacob Boone. Boone told us about his motivation for launching Mambo Berry, the steady march to profitability, and the competitive landscape and industry issues. For example, we learned that because bananas are popular and weigh more than kiwi but cost less, they are a source of fat margins for his competitors (who charge based on weight) Boone, in keeping with his brand ethos of purity and simplicity, sets prices based on standard sizes. We took that information and synthesized a dozen-plus viable marketing extensions that made business sense for Boone to test.

As with Social Media Club, it was the hands-on case study and exercise that got us involved and thinking in specific terms about the role of word of mouth and social media in real-world, practical business applications. This kind of hands-on approach is central to my book, “Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day.” The book contains 55 one-hour, daily exercises designed to show you how to think through and apply social media to your business. It’s all about the adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” and it is exactly this hands-on aspect that makes the Society for Word of Mouth and Social Media Club so beneficial.

Lagniappe: Social Media Breakfast, Social Media Today

“Lagniappe” is a Creole word meaning “something extra.” I told you I’d share two hands-on learning sources with you. As a thank-you for making it this far, here is something extra. Take a look at Social Media Today. Cofounded by journalist Jerry Bowles, Social Media Today brings together important, influential bloggers and social media experts. The benefit to you is that you can subscribe to all of them by simply joining and subscribing to Social Media Today.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this suggestion: the Social Media Breakfast. Launched by Bryan Person, Social Media Breakfast operates in a dozen cities and offers monthly breakfast sessions with speakers, short workshops, and similar that designed to connect you to local practitioners and resources engaged in social media and its application to marketing.

There you have it — four easy ways to get into social media faster than you thought possible, and to do it in a way that will connect you to the people who are right now helping to shape this emerging medium.

Join us for a Consumers and the Influence of Blogs: What It Means for Your Marketing Mix on November 20 at 2 pm EST. Find out how online consumers discover blogs and navigate between them, what kind of opportunity blogs represent for advertisers, and much more!

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