A question I hear—and you hear—from senior marketing and advertising executives is “how can you stay on top of everything that’s happening with social networks?”
There’s a hint of frustration or even despair in the question. When you think of the firehose shooting out new ideas, companies and trends that are happening across the collision of social networks, search and content marketing it’s impossible to hear about them, let alone understand them all (even if you read Social Media Today everyday :- )
My own answer is two-parts—one reactive, the other pro-active.
In his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” Stephen Covey lists as habit #7 “Sharpen the Saw.” What he means is that no professional can be excellent at what they do without continuing to sharpen their understanding and skills.
Conferences, books, blogs and Twitter are all great sources of information, if you know where to look. But more than once a week I’ll see an ad for a conference on social media, or online marketing or blogging and I’ll jump to the registration page to see how much it is.
I went to SXSW this year for the first time. The interactive conference has grown to the point that it’s twice it’s as big as the film and music festivals combined–more than 16,000 registrants. I told my wife it was like “Interactive Woodstock.”
More than one pundit, jaded by years of attending, has declared that SXSW interactive has jumped the shark. True enough there were no big product announcements or memes like Twitter or FourSquare.
But I loved SXSW. Almost every single session I attended was solid learning, and the few that disappointed were some of the big speakers. The content strategy track was fabulous, with great, specific advice and case studies. Real practitioners giving their best counsel.
And I met a ton of people. I got into the habit of just walking up to people and introducing myself and finding out who they were and where they came from. That’s how I met Paul Isakson and Farrah Bostic and Rick Leibling and….
Confab is the annual content strategy conference. Un-planning is the edgy new wave account planning conference. Douglas Rushkoff from NYU has a conference in New York this Fall I signed up for in a New York Minute. Our Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association has 10-15 events every year that are the equal of anything at SXSW. These are the conferences I go to for sure.
I read Social Media Today. Mashable, I’ve got my “best friends” Twitter feed in Tweetdeck that feeds me a dozen great links every day. It’s the first thing I turn to in the morning when I log on.
That’s how I stay up on what other people are thinking. But that’s precisely half the challenge. Attending conferences, following white papers andTwitter links are all reacting to what others are doing and saying.
But precisely the other half is doing–however simple and modest, practicing the art of the Social Internet.
I liken it to being an athlete who reads books on how to play golf, but the real learning comes from picking up a golf club and hitting golf balls. Or a doctor who goes to medical school–the real learning comes when you’re working with real patients.
In our practice we try to help our clients engage with their customers and prospects. We do this in a wide range of communication practices. We certainly want to find ways to use new models of engagement like social networks on behalf of our clients.
The truth is that there is such a bias towards 20th century marketing models within clients that far too much thinking and too many decisions are made to spend according to what channel is used–traditional media channels–than why we’re communicating at all.
As a result we sometimes find that as far as we can go with a client is building a Website, period. The Website plugs conveniently into the media campaign that uses television, magazines, and so on.
But you don’t have to wait. There are non-profits that are dying for help who we work with all the time. They love to hear about new ways that they can reach and engage patrons and volunteers.
Non-profits are perfect clients for social media. Social media is driven by passion, and at the heart of every non-profit are people who are passionate about that cause.
Oh, and by the way, many brands love to partner with non-profits as a way to prove they authentically care about the community and aren’t just trying to sell toilet paper or blue jeans.
Every bit of your capacity should be filled with work on behalf of your company or your clients. If you’re fortunate, you’re getting experience and understanding about how social networks work.
But if you’ve got some left over, pick a non-profit and pick up the phone. You can find a non-profit that is doing real good in your community or our country and you can practice the work that you want.
Keep buying books and going to great conferences and reading smart bloggers. But there’s a reason doctors have “practices” and a reason why we’re social media “practitioners.”
It’s because we practice.
- Trends at SXSW Interactive (blogs.cisco.com)
- The Most Complete Twitter Application List Available – 2011 Edition | Social Media Today [del.icio.us] (socialmediatoday.com)