How to: Develop an Advanced Understanding of Social Media

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Social media, as a professional endeavor, is still in its youth; has just started to think about the opposite sex, get hair in weird places, and catch wind of the Hunnic acne horde. I’m foregrounding this claim because, to some, it might seem like the glut of social media job opportunities is indicative of maturation. And it might follow to these individuals that there are plenty of resources in place for the would-be social media professional. Well, they’re right and wrong. 

First, a Warning

A freshly-minted social media enthusiast might still have use for the social media maven, ninja, guru, or sherpa. These advice-dispensing recycle bins are still the most obvious source of social media news, and behind them the well-known blogs that are only as useful as their guest bloggers, expensive conferences, webinars and pseudo white papers.

Careful study of these sources will quickly render you into a social media buzzword parrot which is all well and fine until you’re expected to expound on the implementation and measurement of a ‘growth hacking’ effort or detail the importance of node centrality as it relates to your niche community. “But, but engagement and most active on Tuesday mornings and…”

Maybe you recognize the situation? Maybe you’re a not-so-new social media professional just looking for other places to learn about your craft. And you know that these programs that offer printable credentials are just not worth the money. And you know that schools haven’t quite yet figured out how to offer comprehensive social media classes.

Here are some alternatives to that. It is my goal to provide you with a few starting points, and you’ll have to allow yourself to fall into the rabbit hole and explore on your own.

Online Courses without “Social Media” in the Title

What are social media users?  They’re consumers. They’re part of offline social networks. They’re subject to persuasion, impulses and motivators. They’re human, right? Yes, these are classes. Yes, it is hard work and will require time. Yes, it’s free. Social media is not learned by reading blog posts. I encourage you to at least go through the lessons and write down what is interesting to you or that you need to know. You don’t necessarily have to do the homework, etc.

Check out some of these courses that can help you to develop a more complex understanding of your fellow social media user.

Social Network Analysis: Evaluate your social networks. Instead of counting on “Retweets” and “Followers” to denote your community’s influencers, analyze this:

“Everything is connected: people, information, events and places, all the more so with the advent of online social media. A practical way of making sense of the tangle of connections is to analyze them as networks.”

Game Theory: Learn to consider all sides of the actions you take as a social media professional. How does incentivizing work the most effectively? Is gamification right for my small-medium size business?

“Popularized by movies such as “A Beautiful Mind”, game theory is the mathematical modeling of strategic interaction among rational (and irrational) agents.”

Introduction to Consumer Neuroscience and Neuromarketing:  The course title is self-explanatory. Whether or not you think of your social audience as ‘consumers’ which means something very specific to some people, always remember – you’re always selling something to somebody.

“[The course] will go through to the basic concepts of the human brain, the elements of the consumer mind, how it is studied, and how its insights can be applied in commercial and societal understandings of consumer behaviour.”

Experts in Fields related to Social Media

So, now that we’ve expanded our idea of social media expertise by considering other fields – we can look to the people active in those fields. Several of these experts have content up that you can peruse at your leisure. Remember, take note of what is useful to you. Some examples:

Lada Adamic: Expertise Sharing Dynamics in Online Forums

Nicholas Christakis: The Sociological Science Behind Social Networks and Social Influence

Dan Zarrella: The Science of Social Media, Harvard Presentation

Academia.edu: You can seek out new research related to social networks (and they are out there!) before it gets turned into popblog mush.

Learn Analytics

Seriously, seriously. If you have any intentions of being a social media professional – go out and get your:

Google Analytics Certification

AdWords Certification/Partners Program

Concluding Remarks

That’s right, gang. Social media is not just “being nice in public.” Dan Zarella, linked to above, says:

“I go to a lot of social media conferences and read a lot of social media advice and most of it is what I call ‘unicorns and rainbows.’ Stuff like ‘engage in the conversation’ or ‘hug your followers.’ It’s good sounding advice, and hard to disagree with – I’m not going to tell you to punch your customers in the face. The problem is that it’s not based on anything more substantial than what ‘feels right’ typically.”

You don’t one day decide to be a financial analyst and read a few blog posts and start looking for a job. You don’t become a product manager by asking a few people their personal philosophies on product management. It takes work and it takes time to up your savvy. And of course, OF COURSE, this is not a complete list, or the only ways to go about learning about social media. These are just some ways that have worked for me. Good luck!

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