It’s the final countdown!

It’s closing time

My quarter is coming to a close, and I want to take a second to reflect over my past few months. There are a few things that stand out. First of all, it is a lot harder to blog than I had originally thought. While the writing became easier as the quarter went on, it remained a challenge. When you make a post, there is a certain expectation. When you finish a post, you click the publish button and poof it appears on your blog. Think about that for a second. You are publishing something publically, with access to the entire online population instantly. While I could write an entire post on the amazing things technology let’s us do, I’d like to draw your attention to another side of it.

When you publish a blog post you are on your own. No editor, no publisher. You don’t have a legal department or a PR team to help if you make a mistake. When you post a blog, it better be ready for the world to see. It can be daunting. It can be paralyzing. If I learned anything this quarter though, I learned that it can be done.

I have never blogged before in large part because I was nervous about what people would think. I was right to be worried. I made a lot of mistakes. I even made a lot of grammatical and spelling errors in my posts. Every post I made I wished I could have done differently a week later. The great thing is though that nothing happened. The sky didn’t come crashing down. I made mistakes, and the only consequence is that I learned. I improved as I went. I grew as a writer and as a digital marketer.

Clearly, I still have a lot of room for improvement, but I took the first step, and for that I am satisfied.

What digital marketing magic did I learn?

The biggest trick was to forget what I already knew. I “knew” that Google Plus was a wasteland before I took this course. It turns out, I wasn’t just wrong, but I was dead wrong. As of today almost 1/3 of my views have come from Google Plus. In general, every online channel has its value. This can’t be overstated. I never even considered using StumbleUpon to gain traffic until another blogger posted about the success they had had. The first day I archived my posts with StumbleUpon I doubled my daily view record to 56.

So, to be successful with digital marketing you have to be constantly learning, constantly adapting. While this may seem vague and unhelpful, it is the most relevant tip I can give from my experience. The only way to get better is to try different things. Get creative, try something totally stupid. It just might work and you will definitely learn something.

To get a little less vague, here are the top skills every digital marketer should know. And yes, they are in order of importance:

  1. HTML – You don’t have to be a master coder, but you need to be able to get your hands dirty and make changes on your own.
  2. Social Media – Not just Facebook and Twitter, start by learning Google+ and go from there.
  3. SEO – As Google makes it harder to game the system, understanding real SEO tactics becomes increasingly valuable
  4. SEO & Social Media – No digital marketing works in isolation, but SEO and Social Media are especially intertwined. Make sure you understand how they work together (Hint: Google+).
  5. Inbound Marketing – Creating high priority traffic via relevant content and other Inbound techniques is extremely powerful.

Bonus Skills: Learn these skills and you will never fail to impress at a party (Disclaimer: don’t actually perform, or talk about these skills at a party)

  1. Database Marketing – Specifically SQL. Like with HTML, you don’t need to be a master, but knowing the basics can get you a long way.
  2. Future Trends – Mobile, Multi Screen, New Platforms (e.g. Xbox Dashboard)

That concludes my quick list of skills for a digital marketer. Are there other directions you can go? Absolutely, this is just ones man’s list, and don’t let it stop you from attaining your dream of working as a  programmatic specialist! The big takeaway is that digital marketing is about doing. There are very few areas of digital marketing you can’t start messing around with on your own. Get experience!

Statistics

Let’s take a look back at my 2014 “season” stats.

Player: Alex White

Team: DigiMark 2.3

Statistics

So. There it is. Alex White came in at just over 300 views for the quarter. It is easy to see the trend of views during the course. It started off slow, than started gaining a little traction as I played around with Google+ in the week of April 14th. After locally peaking in the week of April 21st, things trailed off. This is where I started to lose my drive. I got overwhelmed with other class loads, and I spent less time blogging, and less time promoting my blog. It is frustrating, because if I could have maintained my momentum over April 28th-May 12th I would have been in really good shape!

The big spike happens during the week of May 19th. This is where I got back into things, I posted again, and I promoted on Twitter, Google+, and as I mentioned above, StumbleUpon. After I archived my posts on StumbleUpon I saw a huge bump. That combined with the new content, and other promotions made a huge difference. SumbleUpon actually accounted for more than have of my views during this week.

Unfortunately, I lost momentum again as the quarter came to a close, and that successful week ended up highlighting my success over the course of the quarter. Now one thing I do want to point out, is that I only posted my blog on my personal FB page once, at the very beginning of the quarter. It was in response to someone who was starting their own blog, and wanted some ideas. I got one view from Facebook all quarter. I am actually very proud of that fact. While Facebook is a great resource for Digital Marketers, I felt like it was disingenuous to use my friends as views for my blog. My goal was to learn how to market digitally, and while I didn’t excel, I also didn’t pad the stats. My numbers would have been better with a hundred or so views from my friends and family scattered in, but it seemed a lot like selling your daughter’s girl scout cookies around the office. Everyone who works for you kind of has to buy them, and it doesn’t mean your daughter learned anything about how to sell.

One last point:

Map of Views by Country

I was really excited at the international audience I achieved. There may be some random bots in there (I’m looking at you Cyprus), but it was really cool to see the World Wide Web in Action. I got views from 13 different countries, and 4 different continents. Pretty impressive for a 3 month old blog. I mean I am 22 years old, and I’ve only been out of North America once! All in all it was a great quarter. I was nervous, I made mistakes, and a mere 7,583 words later, I learned a whole bunch. Until next time.

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Marketing, the sequel is better than the original (#sql)

You're in marketing and you know SQL?Do you not?

Database Marketing

More specifically, SQL marketing, and no I don’t mean marketing for SQL. I’m referring to the trendy topic of database marketing (as my title suggests). In a recent post, I discussed the merits of marketers learning basic coding. I concluded that coding is in not only beneficial, but in a lot of cases necessary for a modern marketer. I’ll save you some time so you don’t have to scroll to the last line of this post, learning the basics of SQL is just as important. By Vault Analytics’ estimate, learning SQL will put you in the top 1% of marketers. Assuming that number is even close to true, why wouldn’t a modern day marketer take the time to learn SQL?

But don’t trust me, trust Steve Stedman, the proprietor of the popular SQL blog Stevestedman.com. During a discussion earlier today, I asked him point blank about the value of marketers learning the basics of SQL and he said:

I have taught all sorts of after hours SQL courses, and not once can I remember I marketer in any of my courses. And thinking about it, Knowledge of SQL would be incredibly valuable for a marketer!

I myself am currently a marketing student, and Moz has already made a great case why every marketer should be technical, but for a second, let’s think like economists. There is a very clear inefficiency in the market. Take advantage of it! People spend small fortunes to get an undergraduate degree to set themselves apart, but luckily for you, I have just presented you with a pretty low hanging alternative. So for the marketers reading this who can already structure a SQL query I applaud you. For those marketers who don’t know what SQL is, I present an easy solution: W3 Schools

If you have more time maybe consider checking out SQL for Dummies on Amazon. I haven’t read it myself, but 81% of reviewers on Amazon said they liked it, and that is good enough for me! More practically, you should consider asking around. As a professional, many of the people you know may have some knowledge of SQL. Tap into that knowledge, to get an idea of what that might look like check out this piece by Udemy’s head marketer Dinesh Thiru and scroll down to the section “How We Learned SQL.”

You may not have access to someone as knowledgeable or willing to teach as Dinesh did, but you have access to someone. You may notice in the foot note Dinesh mentions his fiancé apparently already knew SQL and was not impressed by his new found skill. That just emphasizes the wide range of people in your network you need to consider asking.

If blogs are more your style (you are here after all), consider checking out the previously mentioned blog by Steve Stedman, or alternatively the very popular SQL Authority for a nice mix of advanced and beginning concepts.

So, like I concluded at the beginning of this post, SQL is definitely a skill worth learning for marketers.

 

It’s time to get tested… (#ABTesting)

In 6th grade most of us learned about the scientific method. That’s back when with every lesson we were wondering “ughh when will I ever use this?” The answer turned out to be: in your marketing career! Companies have been using what is known as A/B Testing for awhile now to maximize their online efforts, whether that is conversions or any other metric you set as a goal.

See the beauty of digital media, is that it is inherently measurable. Every action can be tracked, and thus tested. Companies can (and do) test everything from the color of a “Buy Now” button to the layout of their pages. If you are unfamiliar with the process, Smashing Mag summarized the process quite well in their Ultimate Guide to A/B Testing. The idea is basically to pick two separate options, let’s say in this case a red button or a green button. Then show some visitors to your site the red button, and some visitors the green version. If done correctly, a company can much more accurately determine which changes get real results from their customers in a real world environment. Testing allows us marketers to rely less on our gut, and more on factual data!

Statistical Testing

The key phrase in the last paragraph was “if done correctly”. The problem is, when you set out to do a test, it can be tempting to look at the results and jump to conclusions. I mean you ran a test right? You can explain the changes to your boss with confidence:

Because Science Meme

Don’t be that guy. It is essential to remember that this process is still subject to basic statistical concepts like sample size. Just because 8 of your 10 visitors last night who saw the green button clicked through, doesn’t mean you should rush out and switch every button on your site to green “because you tested it”. The reason I started this post talking about the scientific method is because this process is very much an experiment and should be treated as such.

A Word of Warning

When conducting A/B testing, remember this is an iterative process. You will end up making a bunch of incremental changes over time. While each of these changes is based on improved metrics, there is very little overall direction in this process. It is possible that while each change makes sense at that point in your sites development, the page is deteriorating over time. You can end up with a  scattered approach, a page that has a bunch of pieces working in isolation, but don’t have a common goal. While A/B testing is fantastic for optimizing your page, don’t forget that it does have drawbacks. Jakob Nielson wrote an excelent post almost 10 years ago pointing out the inherant short-term nature of A/B tests.

Like Jakob, I can only say don’t lose sight of the long-term, and with that final caveat, test away!

Don’t Market Yourself into a Corner (#Coding)

Marketing is changing.

If you have a job in marketing, and someone is hired to work with you as your digital counterpart, you need to be worried. That isn’t a new job, it’s your job. As a marketer, you need to have an understanding of the digital marketing space. To have an understanding of digital marketing, you need to understand how to code. Immediately some people have a visceral response to this message.

Some argue that the idea of everyone needing to learn to code is ridiculous. It is simply an unnecessary skill for most professions. I disagree. While the linked post discusses the merits of a NYC mayor understanding JavaScript, a marketer in today’s world comes in much closer contact with code on a daily basis. Additionally, learning to code isn’t about actually learning to code. It’s about understanding how coding works.

As a marketer, you need to understand how to read code you are interacting with. You need to know how to make basic changes and manipulate the code without calling in a software engineer. The same way you need to read a balance sheet, you need to be able to look at HTML without your eyes glazing over. At that point you might as well be this guy…

Clint Eastwood "Get off of my lawn"

 

Learning to Code

Fortunately, there a lot of resources to get your coding up to snuff. I myself just tried out codecademy. I started at 9:37 and finished up roughly two hours later at 11:47.

Codecademy Start Screenshot

 

Codecademy Finish Screenshot
You probably noticed that I had Facebook open in another tab while I was working. Not to worry I stayed on task for the full two hours! Codecademy’s training was relatively intuitive and easy to use. It starts you off with an existing website, and give you the chance to start putting together the site yourself with skills it teaches you.

I did run into a few bugs while I was working that I wasn’t able to overcome, even with my roommate who is majoring in computer science sitting on the couch next to me. After a little bit of research, it appears that the site has some compatibility issues with both IE and Firefox. If browser compatibility is an issue, you’d think they would suggest a specific browser that would minimize bugs for users.

All in all, I felt my two hours were well spent. I am by no means an expert programmer, and more hours on codecademy won’t get me there. But it will give me the tools to better understand coding as a discipline, allowing me to make informed decisions and complete miscellaneous coding adjustments quickly without outside help.

Paid Media… all the pieces matter (#paidmedia)

Paid Media. Owned Media. Earned Media. In today’s digital media landscape these three categories have narrowed into:

  1. Paid Media
  2. Shared Media

Owned and earned media have become so closely tied that they no longer merit separate categories. Now, shared media does not refer to sharing on social media (as trendy as that might be to suggest!). Instead, shared media represent a category of digital media that is shared between the consumer and the marketer. As the web gets ever more interactive, content like this will continue to gain traction. It is important to note however, that during this transition paid media is still its own, standalone category.

Too often in the age of buzzwords, marketers fall back on the terms of the week. Content marketing. Inbound marketing. These are incredibly powerful areas of digital marketing… but they are not reasons to forget about the most ‘traditional’ of the digital medias. One of the first concepts aspiring marketers learn in their academic careers is the marketing mix. You learn about how all the pieces fit together to create a cohesive marketing strategy. In advanced courses you may learn about the importance of integrated marketing communications. A common thread throughout marketing concepts is that they are indeed a mix. There is no cure-all in marketing. The whole discipline relies on a blend of tactics to create an effective strategy.

Digital marketing is no different, abandon paid media at your own risk. Lester Freamon summed up this same concept in HBO’s series the Wire:

Lester Freamon of the wire saying "All the pieces matter."

 

So paid media is still around and it shouldn’t get left out, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t constantly evolving…

 

Programmatic

You have probably heard the phrase programmatic. Or maybe you’re like me and you aren’t exactly ‘trendy’. Either way, programmatic is a concept you need to know. Essentially, it is a further iteration of real time bidding (RTB). Instead of just a bidding system though, the idea of programmatic is essentially this type of bidding combined with additional capabilities. The definition is different depending on who you talk to, but some of the types of additional capabilities people envision are cross platform bidding and automation of the whole process. The keyword in the last sentence is envision. There are all sorts of cool ideas on programmatic, but perhaps the most important idea is that it isn’t a reality yet. There are pieces, but the whole package (again definitions differ) is not yet here. Unfortunately, there are still a few obstacles in both the short and long-term. The main three issues today are:

  • Technical Hurdles
  • Cookie Threats
  • Inventory  Quality

Technical hurdles, while challenging in the short-term, will not be a deciding factor in the long-term adoption of programmatic. Cookies as we know them however, are getting assaulted on all fronts as evidenced by recent EU regulations. As modern society tries to grapple with the balance between “Big Brother” like privacy violations and a more responsive internet, the momentum of programmatic adaption will likely be hit hard. Another in the way of widespread programmatic adoption is issues of inventory quality. This manifests itself in two sides of the same coin:

  1. Poor placement of ads
  2. Lack of quality ad space

If Publishers fail to offer up their best inventory, then programmatic will have a very hard time taking off indeed.

A final obstacle for programmatic to overcome, is a perception that involving algorithms and automation will take creativity out of marketing. This is simply not the case. Fear of a changing ecosystem is natural, but there is a saying that creativity loves constraints, and a new methodology for digital advertising should be looked at as a fresh coat of snow. Remember, it is a lot easier to make the first snow angel than the last.

 

 

Google+, a social ghost town? (#GooglePlus)

Google+ may not seem very popular. Most people know very few people (or no one at all) who use Google’s latest social media offering. With Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and more, already out there what is the allure of Google+? Why should I spend my time on yet another social media site? These are valid questions to ask, and the answers may surprise you.

First, Google+ now boasts more users than Twitter according to Business Insider.  While there a plenty of reasons why Google’s user numbers may not be as impressive as they look, the usage is clearly on the rise.

However, even if these usage numbers are substantially less than advertised, there is at least some audience. It might be worth asking what does the audience look like? Luckily, Chris Smith over at BGR has already done a lot of the legwork to answer this question and the results are fascinating. Let’s look at the top three types of users on Google+

  1. IT Professionals
  2. Senior Decision Makers
  3. Company Owners

This information should leap of the page. If you are in any kind of B2B, Google+ is a conduit directly to senior decision makers and company owners. Incidentally, the people you are least likely to reach:

  1. Age: 55 to 65
  2. Work in Financial Services
  3. Support Level Employees

Whereas Twitter is a hotbed for journalism, on Google+ you essentially skip all of the low level noise, you speak directly to decision makers. You reach those people who have the final say on which solutions their companies implement.

Additionally, if you have a technical product, I recommend you stop reading and start building your Google+ profile right now. It has never been easier to get the IT department on your side! For those of you who are still here, perhaps you are still unsure of the value a Google+ presence provides your business. Don’t be. Beyond audience, Google+ offers an incredible benefit that other social media platforms simply can’t compete with.

 

Search Engine Optimization

SEO revolves around Google. As search engines continue to integrate social pulse into their rankings, Google+ will become constantly more essential as a way to boost search engine rankings. Kristin Curtiss sums up this relationship well in her Google+ glossary (worth a read for those new to Google+).

Also, remember, that no one loves Google more than Google. And, let’s be honest, you want Google to love your business and the content you produce too.

Shell Robshaw-Bryan does a great job explaining the basics of how Google is utilizing its own social platform to improve search rankings in her article on social media today. It is fairly straightforward, all of the inputs like sharing and +1 on Google Plus work as indicators. These get rolled into search engine rankings, and can have a drastic impact on your companies rank. With ever more competition for the top three spots on Google, social media becomes a place to differentiate and gain ground on the competition (in addition to any direct benefits from your social media presence).

All in all, Google+ is a worthwhile place to focus your company’s online efforts. Try it out, it will be worth it!

Why can’t we be friends?! (#socialmedia)

I’ll be upfront, the best way to utilize social media is to buy followers on Twitter. Then, constantly bombard them with outbound communication.

That probably sounds wrong to you. You are right! The unfortunate reality is that a lot of professionals and companies actually use these types of methods in their social media campaigns, and in doing so, entirely miss the real benefits of social media interaction.

Communication is a Two Way Street

The key point here is that instead of focusing on building a social media “presence”, professionals need to focus on building relationships via social media. Whether you are on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or any other platform the goals remain the same.

  • Engage with your customers
  • Allow customers to interact with the brand

And perhaps most importantly…

  • Listen to your customers

The biggest mistake a company can make in social media is getting too focused on communicating campaign messages, when they should be focused on the customers. Without doing any formal market research, a firm can use the conversations already taking place on Twitter (or any social platform) as a way to understand perception, pain points, and the language your customers use. In a new piece put together by MOZ on how best to utilize social media, they make a few recommendations on the kinds of content you should send out via social media. The first group of types fall into the category of relevant content. For instance, they suggest sending out jokes, adjacent content, and tips and tricks. All of these would be built around the unique values and lifestyles your target audience holds. The other suggestion however is responses. MOZ specifically says

“Social media relies on conversations, so jump in and be a part of them.”

Take their advice! Dive in, get involved, join the conversation that is already taking place.

 

A Word of Caution…

While I advise “diving in” that doesn’t mean you can forget your tact (or common sense). Don’t forget that the point of joining the ongoing conversations is two-fold. You build relationships through a responsive brand, but you also gain insight into the mindset of the consumer. As soon as you stop paying attention to audience sentiment, you put yourself at risk for incredibly damaging PR slip-ups. And unlike Applebee’s, try to avoid heated arguments with your audience in the middle of the night…

Instead of arguing, acknowledge your customer’s concerns. Express regret at the situation, and don’t diminish their opinions. As a marketer it is your job to always champion your customers. In this case, the same concept holds true for your detractors. Don’t belittle them, instead focus on identifying a realistic solution that when carried out shows a true understanding of the situation.

In general, while it may go without saying, avoid the following mistakes made by Applebee’s:

  • Posting responses to a PR disaster within an existing thread. Instead, show you truly understand the gravity of the situation, by recognizing your official response merits its own post.
  • Attempting to censor the community. It will not work, and will undermine trust.
  • Getting in arguments with your audience. Moral high ground is irrelevant. By engaging in an argument, you will always lose.
  • Late night posts/decision making

Like the overarching marketing discipline tells us, the solution to a social media disaster is not the biggest factor. The most important thing is empathizing and understanding the pain point. Applebee’s clearly failed to accurately identify the problem, and therefore all of their ensuing attempts to diffuse the situation were bound to be off the mark (understatement of the century perhaps).

 

EdgeRank

Now an interesting, and controversial, topic within social media is Facebook’s proprietary newsfeed ranking system known as EdgeRank. For those of you who need a refresher, here is a hand explanation courtesy of social media guru Batman.

This explanation gives a general overview of the EdgeRank concept, but not everyone feels so fondly. As EdgeRank has evolved (some say the current algorithm is an entirely different system) it has increased the amount of time people spend on their newsfeed as Batman showed above. Mark Cuban famously disagrees with the complexity of the new system, pointing out that brands now have to avoid certain relevant content in case EdgeRank will punish them.

While Mark Cuban has a point, many people saw this as a greedy business man trying to avoid paying for reach. As usual, the reality is probably somewhere in between. Cuban is right when he says quarterly scores for a basketball game should not end up out of order in a newsfeed. There are definite downsides to a complex algorithm like Facebook uses. Facebook absolutely needs to be wary as they try and balance the needs of their users (active members) and their customers (paying businesses). Some of the retorts to Cuban’s concerns gloss over the fact that he is not complaining that he has to pay more, but that the algorithm in its complexity is in fact diminishing the experience for the users.

On the other hand, Batman did point out that Facebook users have increased the amount of time spent in their newsfeed from 27% in 2011, up to 40% in 2012. How much of that is attributable to EdgeRank, rather than despite EdgeRank is debatable.