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The best tools and sources for staying up-to-date with digital marketing in 2017?

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 23 Jan, 2017
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3 key steps for fueling your performance with the latest news and information

Google Reader is long-gone as a way of keeping track of the latest developments in digital marketing. The important industry information on platform changes that we still need is out there but it is coming at us from more sources than most of us have the time to track effectively. The good news is that, with just a little planning, you can still stay on top of exactly the information that you need to fuel your own performance and also give your bosses, clients, co-workers and followers great reasons to be glad that they have you around.

Gathering business information is a full-time job for me; I publish a newsletter, Who's Blogging What, that highlights important blog posts for 20,000 subscribers working in social media and online marketing. Given this, Dave Chaffey of Smart Insights thought it would be useful for Smart Insights readers if I explained some of the tools and sources I use to find the most significant developments.

To keep readers informed I have to constantly monitor well over a thousand industry blogs; just finding the right content consumes 2-3 hours a day, 6 days a week – much too much time for anyone who also has a day job and a need to put all that great content to work. But anyone can achieve similar results in just a few minutes a day.

Here are 3 steps that can turn you into a business information powerhouse, helping not only your own work but the work of those around you as well.

  • Step 1 – choose the right tools, carefully

RSS vs social media is now the big debate when it comes to content discovery. I value social media but there really is no question if you want to be an efficient and powerful hunter gatherer. You absolutely have to have your own plan based on RSS feeds. Your networks are invaluable and will frequently find great stuff but your need to take control of your own destiny and not rely on the efforts of others.

Begin by grabbing yourself an RSS feed reader that feels right for you.

Just search for 'Google Reader Alternatives' and you’ll see that you there is no shortage of options.  Many are cloud based systems that sync all of your devices. Most have some degree of social media integration so that they will highlight trending posts and facilitate your own sharing. Feedly has become the most popular RSS feed reader available in browser and as an app that shows you the popularity of blog articles in the categories that you select as being relevant to you (say Marketing, Tech, Social Media).

The search function is important and its quality varies widely so conduct some sample searches early on. Some readers like Flipboard are ‘magazine’-like when it comes to displaying content while others are more austere (or efficient, depending on how you look at things). Most are either free or they have a free trial option so just test drive a few and see what works best for you.

  • Step 2 – get your groups on

One feature is an absolute must – there must be functionality allowing you to segment your feeds into groups, which you can update, review and then ‘mark read’ independently.

The trick to getting the job done in minutes instead of hours is the careful grouping of your information sources.

Here is how I have my feeds grouped for a quick read:

  • Official: These are the blogs and press release sites maintained by the top vendors and innovation sources in your industry. For web marketers these would include Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and a few others. These are the sources that are most likely to be announcing news that all other blogs will be following up on. Most of these companies will link to their blogs from their home page but sometimes they make you do some detective work. Facebook, for example, makes important announcements via ‘newsroom.fb.com’ where they don’t even mention an RSS feed. If you encounter a business that is equally stubborn you can sometimes locate an RSS feed by looking at the source HTML (ctrl-u in Firefox or Chrome). Knowledge of HTML is not required, just search for ‘rss’ and it should lead you to their mysteriously unlisted feed.
  • News blogs:  Different blogs have different functions (although not all bloggers seem to know this). Some blogs report the news while others focus on analysis, perspective and advice. You need to look at all types but it helps to look at a few of the best news blogs first. Find a small number that you can count on to talk about all significant developments in your field. Sometimes you might only have a few minutes and by refreshing this group you’ll know right away if anything important is breaking in your industry. It’s much quicker than going through Twitter feeds.
  • Rock Star blogs: These are the blogs in your industry that you can count on to do the best job of explaining and analyzing new developments. Many of these blogs know that their job isn’t to break news so they don’t devote a lot of energy in that direction, choosing instead to tell you how you can react to the developments that you’ve just found out about elsewhere. They are definitely worth a daily read, so keep them in a separate group because you’ll most always be interested in what they have to say about the latest developments.
  • Deep-dive blogs: In a perfect world you’d have the time to read every industry blog every day. Back on planet earth there are just too many other matters competing to fill your waking hours.It still pays to keep a wide number of industry blogs in a separate group, but don’t feel guilty if you can’t get to them every day. These are the blogs that you’ll go through when (a) something really important happens or (b) you just happen to have the time. If you notice that a particular blog is getting better you can ‘promote’ it to your ‘Rock Star’ group for a daily read.
  • Tangential/vertical blogs: I’ve found, for example, that I rarely need to look at the blogs focusing on mobile devices unless there is a new phone, tablet or mobile operating system announcement.  I keep their feeds in separate groups so that they will be patiently waiting when I need them.
  • Remember the important RSS reader search function? A good one will find all of the blogs talking about a specific development. An RSS reader with a poor search function (and there are several) can give you a Boolean headache instead of the information that you seek.
  • Probation:  There is probably a kinder term that I could use but this is a group for the feeds of newly discovered blogs. Many will not live up to their initial expectation which is why all readers have a delete key. Any blog can have a bad day but when a blog that hasn’t established its value publishes posts that find you shaking your head it makes the decision to banish a lot easier from the ‘Probation’ group.

How do you find new blogs to monitor?

That’s the easy part. Start by looking at a small core of well known industry blogs. You’ll find that they frequently reference other blogs that might be new to you. You should also be able to find published lists of blogs in your industry.

You can also search for a topic of interest at google blog search to see who is covering it. New blogs should go right into your ‘Probation’ group unless it comes with a stellar reputation. Don’t hesitate to give a new blog a tryout, if you don’t love it you can always set it free.

  • Step 3 – Set your ‘gathering’ routine

Now that you have the steps in place to hunt for new information you’ll need a routine for capturing the kernels that you want to apply to your work. Just like working out at the gym, the best routine is one that you can stick to.

Pick a time (hopefully in the morning) and a place (desktop is better than mobile) to get your regular update on industry news. Get ready to go through your groups in a sequence that makes sense for your day’s demands.

Some people read posts as they are gathering while others (like me) gather first and then read. In any event, you’ll want to have some type of record of what interests you. Most readers have some type of ‘read later’ function and that is fine for marking important posts (especially if you are on a mobile device) but the old fashioned way works better for me.

Pasting links to a notepad or spreadsheet allows me to organize and provides greater flexibility in adding my own notations – why I want to save something, for what project and with whom I might wish to share it. You’ll also have a ready place to make notes to yourself about trends that you are detecting and subjects that you want to dive deeper into.

Gather your goals first.  

Defining your objectives before you start is, as always, critically important. My own objectives are to quickly find out what has happened, why it happened, what trends it is building upon and what might it predict about the future.

Along the way, I’ll hunt and gather for a secondary objective of ‘how-to’ posts with advice and instructions for using new tools. For example, if Google updates its search algorithm or Facebook its newsfeed I’ll be looking (for months) for posts to emerge about how people are finding success working with the new developments.

Just remember…your competition is also smart and they also work hard. The trick to becoming more valuable is to keep up on the latest information and to understand what it all means in context. There are great tools available to do so and the small investment in time is well worth it.

Recommendations for blog content

  •  Mashable, ReadWrite and Marketing Land all do a great job of reporting the latest marketing news.
  • Two others that help to provide very helpful business context are Venture Beat and Ad Age. For great analysis of events turn to GigaOm and Moz
  • There are some valuable social media blogs that aren't getting all of the attention they deserve. Vancouver based Wishpond has been posting some terrific content on the integration of social media into an overall marketing plan.
  • Heidi Cohen has been providing very useful advice on turning content and blogging into actionable marketing resources.
  • Two social media bloggers that should be on everyone's list are Jeff Bullas and Jon Loomer. These two are written by people who study all of the details first and are generous with advice based on their findings. They are all the types who carefully read the rules on the back of the box before sitting down to play Monopoly.
  • For the most helpful information on e-commerce the go-to blogger is Linda Bustos at Get Elastic. If you are looking for help with user experience to gain more customers you'll find that Unbounce and Usabilla are consistently excellent.
  • You already know about Smart Insights, which does everything well but their posts related to email marketing are particularly valuable. They also have their summary of What's Hot in Digital Marketing each month and their Digital media cheat sheet to keep members up-to-date on the latest changes.
  • Finally, to measure the results that you are getting from all of this great information you'll want to keep up on analytics from Razor Social and LunaMetrics.
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