Cafe Witness

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Your Free 10-Step Social Media Diploma

I received an email from Full Sail University today, touting (among other things) their Master's Degree in Online Marketing.

Seriously?

Can an educational institution really offer a justifiable Master's Degree in a field that's barely five years old, with precious few documented and proven success stories?

Curious (if not incredulous), I read their program overview, whose 12 courses include:

* 1 class on New Media Marketing Analysis
* 1 class on Web Metrics and Analysis
* 3 classes on Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
* A Final Project and Thesis, "in which you’ll create and produce an Internet marketing campaign for a company that you’ll select as your subject of study"

And, perhaps most interestingly:

* An Internet Consumer and Behavior class, whose description begins:

What makes people motivated to search, research, and buy products on the Internet?

That's the kind of insight you'll be getting for a "Master's Degree" in Online Marketing? You'd think knowing what makes consumers tick would have been covered somewhere in undergrad, no? Or is the internet really all that different from reality?

That's what the accountants at Full Sail would have you believe, I'm sure. But all a course like this really does is flood the marketing field with inexperienced hacks who'll be able to charge their clients Master's Degree fees while outsourcing the actual work to people like me, who know how to do it.

(Side note: does Full Sail list the names and credentials of anyone who designed their Master's Degree courses? I didn't notice it on their site. You'd think most of us who create social media for a living would have heard of anyone Full Sail claims is worthy of bestowing Master's Degree-level knowledge, no?)

So if you were considering spending precious tuition money on a Master's Degree program in Online Marketing, Social Media or any other current buzzword that schools believe they can make a quick buck on, let me suggest this cost-effective alternative:

Your Free 10-Step Social Media Diploma

1. Read Blogs. It really doesn't matter who you're reading, so much as that you *are* reading. For marketing types, try the Ad Age Top 150. For anyone, read Chris Brogan; he's the equivalent of a walking Master's Degree in all things social media, and his blog is free.

Reading blogs helps you understand who's talking, what they're talking about, and why -- plus, how (and when) they're doing it.

2. Comment on Blogs. It's not a conversation unless you're talking, too. Be polite, be relevant, be brief. Above all, be yourself. (Unless yourself is an asshole; social media already has a lot of those, so you're not cornering much of a niche.)

3. Start Your Own Blog. Once you know how other people are doing it, start one yourself. Maybe it's about you, or your business, or your city or fields of interest. Maybe it's about all of those things. Start with one, find your voice and structure, and expand as necessary.

4. Subscribe to Blogs. Use Google Reader or another RSS aggregator to create your own daily reading list. Again, what you're subscribing to is less important than the act of *actually* subscribing in the first place, and understanding how it's done. You can't expect others to subscribe to your ideas if you don't make the effort of subscribing to theirs.

5. Design Your Own Blog. Maybe you're comfortable mucking around in code, and maybe you'd rather leave that to the people who do it better than you. Experiment with WordPress, Blogger or TypePad, or ask someone with design experience to set one up for you. Trade your expertise -- be it in marketing, recipes or landscaping -- for theirs. (If you can't barter, you can't sell.)

6. Use Twitter. If the web has a water cooler, it's Twitter. The chief current example of "microblogging," Twitter is an endless stream-of-consciousness discussion, the cultural zeitgeist in a bottle. Ever-changing, it forces you to think fast and be brief.

7. Listen to / Watch Podcasts. A podcast is the (poorly-conceived) name for any web audio or web video. It can be embedded on a webpage or downloaded to your hard drive / mobile device. It can be corporate or independent, entertaining or informative, serialized or stand-alone. iTunes has a wide variety of shows listed, while Blip TV, YouTube, Sclipo and Podanza each appeal to a different crowd. There are others; experiment.

8. Create a Podcast. It can be audio or video, short or long, interesting or dull, bad or good. No matter how it turns out, you'll learn something in the process of trying to explain yourself to a worldwide audience of complete strangers. And your next episode will be even better. And better. And better. (Authors allegedly start out by writing 1000 horrible pages; bloggers and podcasters get up to speed a bit faster, and without having to recycle all those trees.)

9. Check Your Stats. Creating media and not observing its life cycle is like dropping a baby into a jungle and hoping for the best. How are you supposed to know whether it stands a fighting chance? Use Google Analytics, Lijit and other stat-tracking tools to see who's finding your media, how they're getting there and what they're doing when they discover it. Then, once you have a handle on the whos and whys, you can better execute the hows -- as in, how to create media people want to see, and how to help them find it.

10. Get Out of the House. A computer is a tool, not a destination. Social media implies "people," as does marketing, which implies "market" (which, in most cases, is comprised of people). You may meet people online, but you don't know them until you're in a room with them -- and they don't know you, either. Join a Tweetup. Attend a PodCamp. Ask when your local chapter of Flickr photographers is getting together, and tag along. The connections you make in the real world only strengthen your relationships online, while providing the kind of interpersonal experiences that create trust, friendship and honest interest in what others (and you) are doing.

Navigate your way through these ten steps and you'll already know more about social media and online marketing than the graduates of most pricey online degrees -- and it won't have cost you a penny. Save your money; start a blog.

UPDATE: Chachi pointed out that I can't very well offer a Master's Degree without a printable diploma, so he graciously created one especially for you. Download your Online Marketing and Social Media Master's Degree diploma here.

Photo by m00by.

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