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Teaching Digital Marketing – 3 Lessons

It's the end of our first week of teaching digital marketing at Robert Gordon University (RGU) Aberdeen, and I've decided to share a few observations here, in the spirit of transparency.

Naturally, what I'll choose to share will be highly selective - I won't talk about how we're teaching the course (as it's unique and different - you'll have to experience it for yourself ūüėõ ),¬†but suffice to say that it's practice-led, has plenty of industry input, and is geared towards actually getting a¬†digital marketing job.

Oh, and there are live clients to work on!

In week 1, there are three¬†things that I wanted students to understand - and by that I mean UNDERSTAND, as in, a little light switching on in the brain (if not already lit ūüôā ). Below is what they are and why they're important.

TL; DR: Lesson 1: Know the Why; Lesson 2: Be autonomous, acquire mastery, find purpose; Lesson 3: Don't know it? Google it. And share what you know.

Teaching Digital Marketing - Three essential lessons

1) It's about the WHY, not the WHAT

teaching digital marketing - measurement memeWhen it comes to Digital Marketing, one of the biggest issues I (still) see, is that there is a focus on the WHAT, i.e. the operational. For example, having a presence on Facebook is seen as a social media strategy or social media marketing. It isn't. Having a Facebook page is simply that: having a Facebook page (= operational).

That's not the same as strategically using the channel of Facebook towards a measurable business objective. Strategic thinking helps you answer the question why you're doing something. If you don't know why you're doing it, and / or you don't know whether it's effective, then you're just answering the what. And related to that, if you can't measure it, you can't improve it.

Unfortunately, there are still too many WHAT people and WHAT organisations. Often, in my experience, a WHAT attitude is correlated with stagnation - the opposite of innovation.

Lesson 1: Know the Why.

2) It's about YOU, not anyone else

Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose

Teaching digital marketing won't work if the subject is approached as if it exists as a finite body of knowledge - because it doesn't. This also means it can't be taught by 'broadcasting' knowledge to students. Students can't be seen as passive recipients of knowledge.

I believe instead that everyone has something to bring to the table, and that knowledge is co-created, fluid - more like an action between people, and always 'in progress', never final or complete. While I have a lot more digital marketing knowledge than the students, they are experts in their own areas (we have digital content creators, for instance, and people with fashion degrees! Neither of which I know much about).

Agile learning
CC image courtesy of VFS Digital Design on Flickr

This means that students have to take responsibility for (and ownership of) their learning. The underlying philosophy is one of agile learning , based on the concept of Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose. I won't go into detail here, but it essentially means taking charge of your development and become really good at what you really love doing, and (importantly) being given the freedom to do so.

In terms of learning and teaching, it's actually a win-win, since it should reduce the need for micromanagement. It should make students want to be there, and want to learn, rather than being bored at the next text wall coming their way.

Naturally, an agile approach to learning is essential to becoming a successful digital marketer. Once you start the journey, knowledge and skill acquisition is constant, and a necessity. Things in digital change all the time and it's your job to keep up-to-date (good agencies build in 'reading time' into their staff's schedules).

Lesson 2: Be autonomous, acquire mastery, find purpose.

3) It's OK Not knowing everything

It's actually almost impossible to know everything in digital marketing. That would be like saying someone studying medicine must know and be an expert in all specialisms, e.g. able to work as a Gynaecologist one day and a Psychiatrist the next, as well as e.g.  able to perform heart surgery, organ transplants, and cosmetic surgery.

Google it
CC image courtesy of Mez Love on Flickr

What it's about is specialising in two or so complementary fields, while having good broad knowledge across the disciplines. If you don't have the general knowledge you won't be able to ask the right questions, and if you don't have your expert areas, you won't be able to bring much value to the table (nothing worse than a jack of all trades / master of none! You'll risk being replaceable, and you don't want that).

Because you can't know everything, it's important to be supportive of others, build relationships, and to share and exchange skills and knowledge. I hate the term 'team work' (I prefer working alone) but the team ethos here just means looking out for each other, and informally mentoring and supporting your peers where they struggle.

The same ethos is actually how it works in the real world - that's why we have a mentoring scheme with DigitasLBi - a global marketing and tech agency, who through their Edinburgh office are a stellar example of how the industry can (and should) support skill and knowledge generation in the next generation of digital marketers. DigitasLBi really understand and support the way we're teaching digital marketing, and I hope that we and our students can give something back to them too!

game level
CC image courtesy of Ricky Romero on Flickr

The final aspect to the Not Knowing Everything dilemma challenge is the ethos of problem solving. Finding solutions. You'll need to develop first class skills at problem solving and 'thinking outside the box' when it comes to digital marketing.

This is not just true of a career in modern marketing - it's a principle that'll serve you well in how to live your life on the whole. The way I approach it is that life is basically a video game with various levels and missions and, just like in a game, you'll need to figure it out for yourself (GameFAQs allowed!).

Be comfortable with the fact that you can't at any point have full knowledge of the game - quite the opposite - it's vague and confusing, and not knowing the answer can be scary (it's part of the game). This means you have to have a sense of curiousity and almost a need / obsession to try and solve it and progress, and figure out how things work when you get stuck.

The good news is that the answer is out there, it really is! And nothing beats the pleasure and happiness of figuring it out, and becoming better as a result. Amazing.

Lesson 3: Don't know it? Google it. And share what you know.



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