What L&D can learn from Social Media Marketing World 2015

For a long time derided as a “fad” social media is now a crucial string to every self-respecting marketer’s bow. It is one of the signals of a new age and a new kind of human evolution, the end of the industrial business and the democratisation of information and power. There is much learning can apply from the latest social media marketing trends and the recent Social Media Marketing World 2015 event gave me an opportunity to coalesce some of my thoughts around this. The article I will be referencing throughout can be found here.

“#1 Video is Hot in Any Format” Michael Stelzner shared a number of interesting statistics around video use in the marketing world. Most apparent for me is reducing consumer tolerance of video length. For the past few years the convention has been that 2-3 mins makes a watchable piece of content, and it’s this that we’ve applied in our work on The Hub (BP’s video sharing platform). However, the compulsion to “trim the fat” from any learning or marketing video seems to be increasing in intensity, a fact most clearly demonstrated with the success of Vine and Snapchat. Hence on a recent project for graduate onboarding, we’ve been looking at 20 second quick tips and the result has been very positive. When people are looking to learn something, don’t be so vain. I’d say even this video is over-indulgent despite being one of many great examples where video is slimming down.

“#2 Visual Content Drives Traffic” The outdated view of communications and learning in siloed businesses is that people need to be told everything in black and white copy. This stems from a fear that employees might have a thought of their own and disagree with the company line, or be creative in their interpretations, a big no-no for lawyers. What results is a saturation of copy-heavy slides in formal learning and uninspiring and unimaginative digital content.

What interests me about this image is how it appears marketing and learning are anchored at different ends of the spectrum when it comes to visual content. Marketing naturally excels at level 1, and on the flip-slide learning is at level 3. The recognition of the power of shareables hasn’t quite dawned on learning, although this is changing as businesses start to modernise. I hope to be a soldier in this war. Vive La Revolution!

“#3 Consistency is More Important Than Frequency” With my blog I seem to be failing pretty hard in both these areas, and the same is true of learning. Often I see territoriality and political maneuvering get in the way of a consistent learner experience as professionals struggle to put the common good over their individual need to satisfy their line managers. I see this as another symptom of an industrial system in business which is on its way out. Michael Hyatt’s assertion that consistency builds trust is an important message for us, given that a lack of consistency in any learning “intervention” is hugely damaging to the perception of the whole experience. Marketing on the other hand grasps this, pays attention to the detail and shows learning to be sloppy.

“#4 Organic Reach is Alive and Well on Facebook” I have insight that this may not be the case, nevertheless the power of repeating messages and reusing content was discussed by Holly Homer in relation to Facebook. Again the importance of deploying learning content across many channels and over a sustained period can be inferred here. Often legacy online systems are a serious barrier to this and can completely cripple any attempt to build a coherent narrative for learners. The advice we follow is to work around these systems if you have to; the audience must come first.

“#5 Pinterest is the New Google”

I’m excited by the possibilities of visual search. A recent visit from at Blippar – a leading augmented reality company, highlighted its impact on levels of engagement. I’m not a big Pinterester but I might try and rekindle my early exploration. “39% of Pinterest users will use it to search before they use Google” is a staggering statistic given the assumed monopoly of the world’s most profitable company in this space. For me, this represents the importance of personalisation as users are empowered to build their own vision of information on the web. Learners traditionally are passengers to the whims of learning professionals. They are prodded and pushed in all kinds of directions to the extent that learning becomes something to be tolerated between entertainment – where intrinsically motivated learning takes place. We talk a lot about performance support in the Learning Innovation and Technology team, and this is one way to enable personalisation as learners can access resources when it suits them, not when it suits us.

“#6 Post Like a Fan Not Like a Marketer” It’s tough for those raised in the age of “industrial business” to understand that people tend to ignore directives and the corporate line. While fear of reprisal has driven action for decades, the need for engagement is growing as employees are empowered through technology to be flexible in terms of when, how and for who they work. When there are external examples of a better way to do business multiplying exponentially, it has never been more important for employees to be engaged with an authentic voice. Human beings don’t want to feel like they’re being talked at by a collective entity, they crave a personal touch. They want to understand and be understood.

Post like a learner, not like a learning professional.  

“#7 Hug Your Haters” I’ve already touched on the importance of “learner-centric learning” and Jay Baer’s keynote at the event reinforces this principle.

We need to be servants to our learners and if this aligns with the demands of the business, that’s great, but I’d argue it’s not essential. Many of the requests from the business tend to be grounded in the old industrial paradigm of directive to action, not on the latest insights into human psychology and motivation. In learning complaints tend to reveal themselves as negative feedback through crude and outdated measurement tools. I’ve seen much negative feedback explained away – and it’s rare that learning professionals are agile enough to deal with it. When you’ve spent 6 months agonising over the content of your slides, passed them through legal and trained up your facilitators, why would you want to make changes over a bit of negative feedback? This applies across the whole 70:20:10 spectrum, not just in formal learning. What we should be doing is working with learners and listening to their needs rather than developing learning that puts business and politics before performance. It never fails to strike me how similar marketing and learning are. The former however, has the advantage of clear measurement in terms of sales uplift. There’s plenty that can be done in learning to close the gap, which right now is about 20 years, in terms of the way learning earns its role in business. Social Media is a great place to start the journey because it’s predicated on voluntary activity and has some powerful ways to track engagement and action.

Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

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