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Keeping up with Digital Marketing in 2017

Which tools and sites do you use to keep up with digital marketing?

The idea for our new guide for marketing agencies ‘keeping up with digital’ came from a conversation that the Smart Insights team and I had earlier this year - around how agencies often struggle to ‘encode’ a way of refreshing their digital knowledge within the business.

Agencies that I speak to or work with will often say that they know that staying on top of all the opportunities that new or evolved digital technologies, platforms, media, techniques - and more - can help them and their clients.

It’s a ’good thing’ to do.

But they find it hard to put a structured approach to that together. Hence the guide.

As we worked on the new resource we realised that many of the most useful digital marketing sites and tools that we recommend are also relevant for other types of marketing teams, even a 'team of one'.  So our new member resource works for other types of business too:

A structured approach to updates

I have to say straight away that I can guarantee I don’t know what the latest Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, CMS, CRM, AI, UX, CRO, AR, VR, MR (you get the point) ‘thing’ is. I would be a liar if I said I did. [Editor's note: The Smart Insights Digital Media cheat sheet covers all the major updates from the main search engines and social networks]

But I think I have a pretty good handle on some specific changes that have just happened – and a strong grasp of digital tech and digital marketing themes and trends and where that might be taking us, and our clients in their own marketing.

That's because I have a framework set up that helps me. Without that, trying to stay on top of the latest in digital marketing can cause a sense of being overwhelmed by the tsunami of change affecting us all.

The approaches in the guide come from my experience based on using that framework and from working with a range of agencies over the years and seeing how they approach this issue.

I break down some ways of staying up to date with the subjects that interest you or where you that you know having a handle on will benefit your clients. Both should hopefully intersect of course.

I talk about having an ethos in your agency of “staying curious and making time for learning”.

And ‘making time’ is a big one of course – agencies are busy, busy places! But I believe you can fit learning into individual and team schedules in a few ways, which I talk about in the guide.

A big part of staying up to date is curating a range of quality information sources that will then serve you – when you need them - rather than you randomly jumping around the web.

Recommended tools to stay up-to-date?

There are many great free digital marketing tools available to help marketers, so choosing the best tools to share updates in a business can help here.

The tools I explain in more detail about in the guide are those you can use to curate news and insights that are relevant for you:

  • Feedly
  • Podcasts
  • YouTube
  • Twitter Lists
  • Twitter saved searches
  • Google alerts

Of these, we recommend using Feedly as a way of aggregating primary news sources. Feedly at its core is a great content aggregator. It works based on the RSS feeds from blogs. Agreeing the best for you to follow for your industry helps knowledge sharing.  You can also (via the Pro paid option) integrate it into a range of additional platforms such as Buffer or Hootsuite for which using Twitter lists is really useful so that you can have separate streams for different types of news, e.g. social network updates, Google, competitors, etc.

If you're looking for a new tool to use for updates take a look at Zest which is a Google Chrome extension, new in 2017, which Dave Chaffey and the team at Smart Insights tell me they use and is well worth checking out. Its curated content is specifically designed for and updated by marketers. Like Feedly, you can use it to review the most useful content recommended by 'the crowd', in this case 'your crowd' of marketers.

You should also look at tools for sharing the most relevant content within a team. Slack is a good option here.

Outside of feeds, I look at courses, seminars, events, partner presentations, agency innovation spaces, books (agency book clubs or libraries) and agency blogs. There’s more detail to those in the guide.

What I do myself

When I was putting the guide together and to sense check where and how I access the latest news or thinking in digital, I kept a record for a week.

In that week I:

  • Listened to five podcasts: in the car, half an hour each
  • Checked my Feedly account 4 times: for the latest insights and news from curated sites and blogs within specific subject channels, which could inform projects I was involved with.
  • Went back through a book I bought a while back: this is about personal branding and I was checking what I’d implemented from it and what I should be still addressing. Both for me but to fold into the advice I give clients: agency owners and their team members).
  • Started reading a book that I had added to my Kindle a couple of weeks ago: (spotted through one of my Feedly channels): ‘Fully Connected’. This is an example of how books can help spark your thoughts around wider themes. In this instance, ideas that may impact you the individual in a digital world, (I had an eye on that also in terms of me / clients as marketers).
  • Checked two of my Twitter lists: for some nuggets that might have helped me on a specific digital marketing proposal I was working on.
    I have 18 subject/group lists at last count but I don’t refer to them all, either daily or indeed weekly. I pick what I want to read at when there’s a need, rather than try to read the Twitter update ‘firehose’.
  • Read some email newsletters from tech providers I have signed up to. Although I have to declare that I have been unsubscribing from many email lists and instead of adding the provider’s blog feed to my Feedly, if I value their content.

So that was my week in terms of keeping digital marketing trends and updates on my radar.

Alongside that, I created, viewed and interacted with content and updates across my social profiles with family, friends, clients, ex-colleagues, industry peers and people in my interest ‘tribes’. I also updated a blog I have and tried out a couple of new apps I'd spotted.

I’m referencing the above because ‘keeping up with digital’ isn’t just about reading, listening or watching ‘stuff’. It’s about trying things out, using technology, using social media so you can spot new features or bits of functionality. And with your marketer’s head on, think ‘how could this apply to my clients?’.

Why try to keep up to date?

Why keep learning about new technologies, media channels or wider (digital) marketing trends?

I like a good quote and this one from Socrates explain my next train of thought well:

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”

For this guide, I take that as meaning that reading / watching / hearing what’s new in digital is less about collecting news updates and more about turning those updates into insights. Insights that spark ideas about where you can help clients develop their services or marketing programmes.

The intention behind Socrates line is covered in point 3 and 4 below, in the answers to ‘why keep up with digital?’. These are expanded on in the guide.

  1. Keeping ahead of clients.
  2. Enthusing your team.
  3. Gathering the tinder to light content fires.
  4. Generating account growth or new business.

Having read this blog post and then the guide, it would be interesting to hear what approaches (or indeed challenges) you / your agency take, in keeping abreast of digital marketing developments.

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