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I Took 4 Online Courses While in Quarantine. Here’s A Review On What I learned on Digital Marketing and Storytelling.

I Took 4 Online Courses While in Quarantine. Here’s A Review On What I learned on Digital Marketing and Storytelling.

On March 11th I started self-isolation because of this pandemic. During the first couple of days, I used to check out the news way too often for my own sake. I had to make it stop. So I did what any (former) geek would do. I started learning. I took online courses. I am now working on course #5 and thought I could share what I liked and recommend here.

Facebook Blueprint Certification (105 minutes for the exam)

I got my Blueprint certification in Media Planning. Finally. I was planning (ha!) for that one a long time. The exam material is ok, it is a comprehensive approach to everythingyou need to know about advertising on the Facebook family of apps. But it needs a lot more structure and a guiding flow to help the user process all that info without getting lost.

One piece of advice: if you scheduled an exam, only focus on the media planning lessons. That’s all you need for the certification. The exam is full of ‘what if’ scenarios so make sure you understand bidding strategies very well and get ready to be asked countless times ‘what is the recommended budget?’.

Ahref course titled Blogging for business (5 hours)

This is an SEO centric and plugs in their product a little bit more than I’d like them toBut it’s a useful SEO take on why and how to blog for business purposes. And it’s now free of charge! (it used to go for almost $800).

I dug into the course expecting it to be a comprehensive take on blogging, more focused on the strategy. My mistake, the agenda, the approach does come from an SEO company. Do not get me wrong, I do recommend it to anyone doing content marketing. cool tactical tips & tricks on how to leverage SEO tools to get content ideas and help grow traffic and business. I would, however, change the course’s title to SEO for your business blog.

Getting a YES: How to Prep, Pitch, Persuade, and Close by Tom Goodwin (50 minutes)

To be honest, I’d take this one course in the kitchen while chopping off veggies for a meal (yes, isolation at home made me spend a lot more time in the kitchen!). There’s nothing groundbreaking about this course, only common sense insights on how to approach pitching a project/a business/a campaign. I’ll give them this: it is very well structured and there are enough pauses for you to properly stir the pot while you’re cooking dinner. I would not have paid for this course, nor do I recommend you do.

PIXAR’s The Art Of Storytelling (12 hours) : loved it!

I am in no way a story artist or movie maker, but I loved every hour I spent with the Pixar artists who explained how they create the amazing animations we all enjoy so much (think Cars, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Up, Inside Out, Monsters Inc, Coco, Ratatouille). The first lessons on character building and story structure are particularly useful for marketers as well as wannabe writers all over the world.

What’s next? Intro to Psychology from Yale on Coursera. I am already on week 3 of the material and enjoying every lesson. Yesterday I spent my evening learning about our memories and how we can use 2,000-year-old techniques to remember a speech. You can, too, just watch this cool science journalist give a talk on memory and how pausing to process everything that’s happening to us/around us helps us not just improve our memory, but our lives, too.

Do you want to take up some online courses, too? I found this neat list of online courses for digital strategists you can check out, it’s put together by Stephen Brooks. Think With Google also has an article curating free resources they recommend for building digital marketing and leadership skills. Pause the news cycle, close the social media apps. Geek out, don’t freak out! 🙂

Marketing During A Pandemic. Focus On The Business Need & Long Term Strategy.

Marketing During A Pandemic. Focus On The Business Need & Long Term Strategy.

As the world got hit with a pandemic marketing budgets across the globe also got hit hard. Some marketing executives out there are asking themselves if and when they’ll get their advertising $$$ back. I think we need to take some time to regroup and refocus on realigning marketing with (new) business priorities.

What I’m advocating for in this article is for us, digital marketers, to spend this time in a more strategic way, building marketing strategies that outlive the media buy cycle. Focus on leveraging internal resources to come up with content that our users NEED., not just what our product owners want.

I say this because I’ve seen this over and over with small and big clients. Blast campaigns with 3–5 ad creatives that send people to that one landing page that gets the user to click ‘Submit’ and sends and email contact to a salesperson. When we get the campaign budget approved, we seem to forget all about user persona, intent, click funnels, lifetime value of a customer, relevant messaging. Unfortunately, most of the time when campaign budgets get approved the marketing strategy is forgotten.

Now that advertising campaigns are paused and we escaped the brief-media plan-report-report-report cycle, we actually have time to refocus on content strategy and the value it brings our clients and our colleagues. Remember the PR team? the sales team? the talent acquisition team? Yes, the content you as a digital marketer provide should support ALL of those teams, not just your own marketing needs.

So let’s pause for a while. Ask ourselves some questions, reassess the strategy and internal resources available.

What changed in your business during/after this world crisis?

It might be business priorities/goals. It might be the supply chain or the way in which you deliver your product. It might be how you close the sale.

Personal trainers are a great example. some of them have changed their business models substantially: from being collaborators with established brick and mortar gyms, they’ve changed to delivering their own training live online via webcast for small fees. Other examples include all kinds of educational content (formal education, coaches, psychotherapists. STEAM education hubs) or even B2B companies (so long, tradeshows and live events! no more lists of leads, farewell building connections/personal relationships).

What are the (new) business goals marketing needs to support?

Survive the crisis? That might translate into customer loyalty programs and a higher focus on customer support as well as upselling programs provided you have relevant products/offers for your customer base.

Brand reputation? Your investors do not need a reason to distrust you in these times. Focus on mitigating risks, closely monitor any customer reaction and keep your stakeholders happy. Employees are stakeholders, too, and sometimes they can be the greatest reputational risk. When you’re done analyzing risks, also look at your leaders and assess if you can launch/boost a thought leadership program.

Redesign the sales process to allow users to buy your product online? You need an eCommerce expert asap. And some work on your website and payment process, a payment processor and a UX/UI designer to help. You probably will need outside resources and $$$ to invest in all these upgrades. You might even have to learn some new tricks yourself. Improvise, adapt, overcome, right?

What teams/functions need digital media support?

Some of those teams might need your support — salespeople might need help in figuring out what is the best webinar app out there or how to leverage new digital tools to contact potential leads; talent acquisition people might need to figure out how to communicate with potential hires during these months of uncertainty (email marketing to the rescue?). Some Project Managers might need your help to reassess project management tools — they need to be more agile in this crisis, but communicating with their teams is harder than ever and some of them don’t have communication skills, they’re engineers.

Q&A done, now (re)write your strategy.

Start with the business need. Always the business need. Let’s say ours is to survive the financial crisis that follows the crisis (whose isn’t it?). This is what my strategy would focus on:

Deliver stellar customer support for the existing clients. I’d get my customer support people to pay even more attention to support cases logged in via social media. I might reassess the FAQ page and build more content on how to use our product/services. I’d create some quick and easy to understand video content for customer support, helpful how-to articles for the content hub that the customer support team might link to in their responses.

Revamp existing content, focus on evergreen content. 

Some ideas might include:

  • Getting audio in the mix: a)add audio versions to the content hub articles, b) turn relevant evergreen pieces of content into an audiobook, c) start a podcast or get promoted on one, d) record Q&As with product engineers and salespeople on industry trends and their thoughts on how the industry might change after the pandemic.
  • Support the sales teams. What better opportunity to become friends? I’d help them revamp their sales pitches/decks. Create great video training for them on how to leverage digital channels to sell online. Support them in figuring out how to do webinars and work together to come up with a playbook on how to make & promote webinars for all teams. Create social content for them to share and teach them how to do it in a professional way. How about an online demo of your product?
  • Come up with alternate products, digital products. Start building them. Ideally, you know your audience well enough to be able to list their pain points and come up with potential digital solutions.

Maybe you could build an online academy for professionals in your industry? Say. Your-Brand-Academy? You could award certificates for a fee in case your company has proprietary tools/programs/apps. Look at UiPath: it needed to educate the market about their products so they built an academy around process automation, their products, and offerings. They do not charge for it (yet), but it is one of their major digital initiatives. Other players in the SaaS for the digital marketing industry (Hubspot, Ahref) built these online training and are charging as much as 799 euros for one course! And they also use them as a great tactic to promote their own product. I took the Ahref Blogging for Business course and I can tell you that they were plugging in their product every couple of minutes, it looked like you couldn’t do any blogging without their SEO tool.

Or you could leverage these courses/exams and require your company’s potential hires to take the test before joining the company? this way you’d also help the talent acquisition team qualify their leads and improve the recruitment process.


See how all of the above tactics fall under the bigger picture strategy? Optimize processes to help the business do much with less and survive a difficult financial crisis that we all know it’s coming. The best thing about it? Most likely, most if not all of them can be done with internal resources. Because digital marketers are agile, they could do all of this and more. And if they don’t know how, they can learn.

How To Deal With Fake News And Improve Digital Literacy

How To Deal With Fake News And Improve Digital Literacy

We all heard of it. The American president and hordes of other European politicians dismiss a lot (if not all) negative press about them as ‘fake news’ spread by their competitors. It’s come to a point where they even denounce their own statements (caught on camera) as fake news.

With companies, the challenge is a bit different. They have to fend off potential crises that can affect their brand reputation. Citizenship journalism, as important as it has become to our democracies, has one important risk: people became self-publishing journalists without the know-how a trained journalist amassed.


As a so-called millennial I’ve grown up getting a lot of my information from digital sources. I went to college and studied communications and got used to asking basic questions around my media intake: yes, I’m talking about the “five ‘W’s” of journalism: “Who,” “What,” “When,” “Where,” and “Why.” Basic, but still very important.

These days a lot of media literacy programs out there trying to educate citizens and consumers on how to deal with the fake news phenomenon while they navigate the complicated and convoluted media landscape. It’s complicated for us, people who grew up with the likes of Google, Yahoo Messenger, blogs, Facebook and social media of all sorts. I can only imagine how difficult it may be for people who are used to traditional journalism, people who say things like: It was on TV!, I read it in the newspaper! They are used to journalism and journalists playing the role of gate-keeping, for them whatever ends up in media (be it TV, the paper, the magazine) was validated as being truthful. And they transition that trust to other media sources — basically, any/all internet related sources.

I’ve been online since I was 14 (17 years ago…wow! am I old or what?!) and doing social listening for 8 years now. Social listening actually requires you read A LOT on countless online media. For the first 2.5 years, I read 100 articles or mentions/day on average and compiled summary reports in the morning and the afternoon. It’s safe to say I had my fair share of on the work training on fake news and spammy sources. I learned a lot and I decided I could share with you some of the things I learned. I hope it helps.

Who: Sources, Authors, Sharers

When you analyze a piece of news/reporting look at who wrote or produced it and ask yourself the following:

  • Follow the money: who creates and hosts the content? Is it an independent source or is it tied to specific interests?

Writing and producing content has its costs and someone needs to foot the bill.

Media moguls monopolize the public agenda, they invest resources in one topic that they want to influence, they want the public opinion to swerve a certain way. Look at how the topic was covered previously and if you see a pattern (multiple articles published on the same topic, the same view and tone&voice).

  • Who signs the piece?

Look at what the author has published and check if they have a preferred topic or they have previously expressed an opinion on that topic. Look at the material and try to scan for tone & voice: do those headlines seem like they come from an activist rather than a journalist? If yes, take everything they say with a grain of salt.

Another thing on the checklist — if we’re talking about a news outlet, check to see whether the name is the real deal or it’s just a pen name. Some news outlets will require some of their writers to sign articles under the same pen name and it’s sometimes very obvious. Why would you do that?

  • Who shares/syndicates the content?

Sometimes when you want to make a piece of news viral your best bet is to drive shares on social media. Look at who shares the content: if each and every single time a very aggressive Jane Doe journalist writes a piece on Trump/vaccination/immigration/big pharma conspiracy/any of the hot topics on the world wide web and it ALWAYS gets shared by the same activists/filter bubbles, question it, ask yourself if the piece was not published with specific goals in mind.

What you read: sources, links, backlinks

If the piece of writing is online, you as a reader can do a background check and assess the following:

  • sources: who’s quoted in the piece? who did the author interview? If the sources represent just one side of the argument then you need to read another piece that takes the opposing view. Read carefully and use your common sense
  • links/backlinks: who does the article link to, official sources or obscure media sources without any authority? Also, if you can, take into consideration how you landed on the article itself: did an anti-vaxxer website link to the article as a source? Again, read carefully and use your common sense

When, where and why: take a history lesson once in a while. Or stop to think about the bigger picture.

The public agenda is volatile and subject to the fast-changing news cycle. This week we’ll read about Brexit, EU leadership, Iraq war, Superbowl AND a proposal for new policy around international relations and national defense. And users/readers tend to interpret the topics in silos like they are not connected to each other at all. Most of the time they are. For example, a policymaker or candidate might push for new legislation or added budgets for defense BECAUSE of the other topics on the public agenda, because the moment is ripe for him/her to win some political capital or votes by claiming we need to defend the nation from 3rd world countries/immigration/external policy.

That happens because our attention span is shorter than ever, we don’t take the time, nor do we have the patience to put news/articles/opinion pieces into context. No wonder, we’re flooded with info from all over!

However, in a data-driven world digital literacy is a much-needed skill, individuals are valued more and more on how they find the correct information and how they process it. We need to train ourselves to have the patience to read more than one news article, to investigate the background story and connect all the missing pieces of the puzzle. To act as a reporter, if need be, and validate the information from different sources, play devil’s advocate, question the motivation for writing that particular article in a specific time & place.

This is a lot of work. It’s not easy. But it’s useful for us as individuals and citizens. It can help fend off fake news and malicious intent. It will take up a lot of our time so we need to carefully think about what media we consume, what matters to us and what can/will influence our lives.

3 Ways To Leverage Social Listening In Digital Marketing

3 Ways To Leverage Social Listening In Digital Marketing

I wanted to do a quick 1-minute bullet list on how you can actually use social listening in a hands-on approach. Not just metrics or brand tracking, but actual ways to leverage that data to help support different functions.

Paid Media Targeting

Social listening tools can provide:

  • a list of top hashtags used in Twitter conversation. Target those in paid Twitter advertising and compare results.
  • a list of keywords to include in SEM campaigns and display campaigns

Influencer Marketing

  • Leverage a list of the top influencers to build influencer marketing programs
  • Analyze top content from influencers and share on your own channels. Spread the love with smart curated content. Get recognized as a thought leader who is interested in the industry trend for real.

Content writing

  • Get the list of the most shared articles by your audiences. Share it with your content marketing/content writing team and get them inspired. Make them focus on what is valuable for the end-user, not the Marcom execs.

If you like this list, please share it with your team/colleagues. Or send a comment if you have any other ideas.

ro_RORomanian