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Social Media: Jump In

Here are some stats I’ve been reading everywhere lately:

  • If Facebook were a country it would be the fourth most populated place on Earth.

  • YouTube served more than 75 billion video streams to 375 million unique visitors in 2009.

  • By end of 2010, 26 million people are expected to use Twitter.

  • More than 75% of all active internet users regularly read blogs.

But these days it’s not enough to know the stats. Marketing professionals need new skills to meet the new marketing paradigm that’s taking shape around us. And we don’t mean subtle changes afoot. We’re talking seismic shifts in marketing–the largest since, well, since forever, especially once tweens/teens reach the workplace. Stick your head in the sand and someone (probably younger) will be doing your job better than you real soon. Jump in to social media.

Now, I’m not saying ditch traditional marketing methods. Far from it. As we like to say, “It’s an and/both world.” But understanding what’s happening out there right now–and working it into your marketing mix–is absolutely business-critical. This is an investment in your career development–and your business’s future–and will shine new light on how you approach marketing.

Schedule Time

Don’t tell me you don’t “get” social media or don’t think it’s “useful” if you haven’t spent any time trying it out. Only problem is, there is no magic pill. No manual. Just jump in and start dog-paddling. Dedicate a specific chunk of time every day–15 minutes should do it–to learning firsthand what blogs and social media are all about.

Graze the Blogs

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the volume of noise on the web, so start with two or three good blogs that hit close to your personal or business interests. Time magazine’s “Top 25 Blogs of 2009” is as good a place to start as any.  But don’t just read–observe the interaction. Pay attention to how marketing messages reach the audience–ads, video, polls, comments, rating systems, etc. Browse the archives and note how content is organized and categorized. Click the different web links that the author includes. Read the comments people post.

Follow the Competition

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s also the easiest and fastest way to get into the swing of things. Conversations are already going on around you–about you, your products, your industry, your competitors. Find competitors who are already blogging or have a presence on Twitter, Facebook, Ning and LinkedIn. Follow them and arm yourself with free knowledge won at their expense. (The competition is using YouTube as well, but be careful when you visit that site. It’s easy to lose your focus and end up watching funny dog tricks, laughing babies and American Idol outtakes.)

Hire Young

Or at least people who think young. Once upon a time, the kid fresh out of college knew next to nothing. This meant menial tasks and a drawn-out process of on-the-job training. Not anymore. Today’s recent college grads–and interns–have grown up steeped in the electronic age. They are on Facebook regularly, Tweet all the time, understand what works and doesn’t work on YouTube, are comfortable with mobile couponing, and can tell you straight up whether or not an idea is going to fly. Many of them rarely use personal email because it’s not part of that big worldwide “conversation” that’s going on.

Find a New Mentor

You have expertise in your product line and a firm understanding of how your company has succeeded in the past. What you probably haven’t done is get schooled by the young/young at heart in your company. We call this “reverse mentoring.” Our interns have been pivotal in opening our eyes to new possibilities. We’re now closely integrating traditional methods–print, broadcast, tradeshow–with electronic, social and viral marketing methods and, at the same time, expanding our reach, lowering our costs and speeding our ability to react to what customers and prospects are saying.

Take a Class

There’s no substitute for jumping into the deep end, but you’ll also find real benefit to taking a class or seminar from a credible source on specific topics of interest. The Small Business Development Center at Lehigh University offers a classes on electronic and social media marketing in early 2010. Invest a few hundred dollars to take a class on Google Analytics (an outstanding free tool that analyzes your website traffic). You’ll also find no shortage of online classes to take in the comfort of your own home. Thinking about integrating Google Ad Words into your marketing mix? Google offers a bevy of tutorials and even an Ad Word Certification class.