Social media training – learning through teaching

I’ve been delivering some training courses with the nice people at London’s Social Media Academy recently, as well as doing quite a lot of work helping with restructuring their courses, documentation management and marketing copywriting.

It’s all good, but the training has been particularly illuminating. Across all groups and courses, what I’ve found are:

  • People don’t have time or resource. This is a very common theme but when you hear it volunteered in the first five minutes of every course, you realise the extent of the problem. It’s as if people have just started getting the hang of marketing and communications, and now they’re being asked to learn it all over again. My job is to show that online really isn’t that different from offline, we just use different tools rather than techniques.But still, it hurts.
  • People are scared. Fear still seems the overriding emotion. I think this is mostly because people have bosses who know they must do something but they don’t know what, so they make someone ‘it’ who then has to take it all onboard. They also hear scare stories about people sending emails detailing what they did to their boyfriends the previous night which then spanned the globe over the next 24 hours – and that just doesn’t really happen. If it goes wrong, no one really points and laughs. You just learn from it, but because it’s fluid and digital, you can change things. Small steps, not big bites.
  • There are great case studies out there. It’s quite daunting being tasked with showing people how social media can work for financial PR or sales, but there are good, compelling case studies for pretty much everything out there. The sales course was particularly interesting, as we checked out how companies such as BT and Dell are making good money with tremendous ROI. I think case studies are the key to persuading people about how social media can work.

And in every case I’ve impressed on the course delegates not to listen to geeks or evangelists.

If I were a geek I wouldn’t try to tie everything to business objectives. Instead, I’d get excited about linking Twitter to LinkedIn updates or how many followers I had on Twitter. No. I try to make sure everyone’s aware that social media must tie into what you want to do with your business somehow. Awareness is good, but woolly. Increased sales leads, reduced cost per acquisition, more phone calls, more brochure downloads – that’s what you’re after. OK, perhaps I’m slightly geeky, but in a good way.

And if I were an evangelist, I wouldn’t have left the social media space for a while last year. Because in truth, I really did think that 2009 would be the year the Emperor’s new clothes became apparent (or unapparent). I was wrong. In 2009, social media traffic totalled more than all previous years combined. All the curves are most definitely up. And while the tail-end of 2009 saw business dip, there is plenty of it around now. It’s nice for me, but I’m still prepared to be cynical as things pan out. It’s just that they’re not panning out that way.

For me, I’ve learned that training can be fun. I used to teach English as a Foreign Language at Berlitz in Madrid and remembered how it all works. You get The Awkward Delegate, The Keen Delegate, The Quiet One, The Loud One, etc etc. Everything that applied to Spanish people in the mid-90s applies to English people in 2010. The more things change, the more they stay the same…


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