Why Mainstream Media, Your Boss, and Others Are Playing Catch Up

Talking to your boss about online marketing is like explaining sex to a 3-year-old. It’s going to take a while for them to “get it.” Be the adult and be patient.

For the last decade, I’ve had to consistently remind myself that most people are new to online marketing.

Whether it’s a speech about Web site usability or an article on SEO (define), the industry we live, breathe, and eat is mind-swimmingly new to most in the business world, including our own executives (yes even those running agencies). And now, as I finish final preparations for the agenda for the Online Marketing Summit in San Diego, I’m reminded that we still have a long way to go on the education curve.

Moreover, that same mantra is even more true for journalists and editors of mainstream media. I’m not sure if it’s just the more conservative publications like “The Wall Street Journal” that I read every morning along with “The New York Times,” or if it’s just a little of my own personal bias, but I was shocked when I read a technology journalist had written what an editor called a “ground-breaking story” on the subject of e-mail being dead.

Those in e-mail, social media, or online marketing have been hearing this conversation for at least 18 months. But the way it’s portrayed as a new thought-provoking discovery by WSJ’s crack staff really concerns me.

And then it hits me: mainstream media is simply a reflection of mainstream business — and is an indicator of how far we must go to educate others.

A second example: in the same publication a few weeks ago, an author discussed how she was annoyed by the banal Facebook updates from friends. My first reaction was really! Is this journalist so sophomoric when it comes to social media that she’d expose herself as a Facebook novice and write an entire article about this?!

Much like a freshman coming into what we called D-hall in college and saying at the top his/her lungs, “Wow, school food really sucks!” To which you’d get the entire dining hall looking his/her way saying, “Uh, no duh, freshman.” So, I’d ask: Why does “The Wall Street Journal” have a non-online savvy journalist writing about the space? But alas, that isn’t the point.

Actually, I’m the one who needs to grow up a little. I must stop being such an online marketing elitist and re-trench on my mission to educate. And this brings me to the heart of the matter.

We need to remember that we’re the seniors in the emerging world of media (let alone digital). We must be the mature adults in the room and educate, slowly and methodically, others who haven’t gone through freshman year.

We need to stop focusing on how little others know, as I had the inclination to do above (and yes, somewhat hypocritically, to demonstrate the point). We must feel compassion for those who don’t get it and help them to the other side. If we “grow up” and understand that we’re now in the driver’s seat, the industry will evolve much faster.

The path to change is linear: empathize, educate, plan, integrate, and execute. Taken out of order — like asking for a big budget for a new social media campaign without understanding the ripple effects of such viral efforts — will increase the likelihood of failure.

Why is this important? Well, anytime we want something in this world, we usually need to ask someone for help. Whether it’s budget for upgrading the Web site, extra time from the information technology team to execute on long overdue SEO, or a social media foray.

To ask means to explain. And explaining why you need help becomes an exercise in education on the basic fundamentals underlying online marketing and the tremendous impact it has on all businesses.

Yes, we’ve all been beating this drum for five to 10 years, but finally now, recession-induced, we’re getting the audience. So we should be prepared to pull out those old PowerPoint decks that explain the cost effective, measurable return you can get from such efforts and not assume that this is a given. Nor should we assume that anyone knows the terminology we’re using.

My director of the Online Marketing Institute constantly reminds me of this when I ask, “Can’t we launch this new certification program faster?” To which he replies, “Yes, we can. But we can’t educate the world in sustainable way if we do. It takes time and the need for education in this space is not going anywhere anytime soon. So, one step at time.”

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