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Following on from an earlier article on how universities are failing to educate students on the career opportunities available in the internet industry, here’s a how-to guide on how to break in through the back door.
Firstly, don’t wait for your university to catch up. Asking some questions to your lecturers might help the students of the future, but I doubt it will help you in the near term. You’re going to have to figure this out for yourself.
Thankfully there is a wealth of information available to help you do this, as well as some fantastic support networks. Employers will admire your gumption.
As noted on Tuesday, one of the biggest challenges for e-commerce and digital marketing managers is finding the right staff. This is a problem that will worsen unless more graduates understand that the industry craves new talent, and that there are some amazing opportunities out there for the taking.
So here are my ten tips to help you muscle into the fray. They are filed loosely under three areas: Education, Participation, Action.
1. Read, and read some more…
Specifically you want to be reading blogs to get a feel for the bigger picture. This E-consultancy blog covers all of the main topics in digital marketing (ours tends to focus on practical tips and trends, rather than breaking news).
There are plenty of others, and there are lots of amazing subject-specific blogs. For example, in the search marketing space I’d recommend Search Engine Land, SEOmozBlog, TopRankBlog, and SEOBook. Set up some RSS feeds to make things easy. I spend at least 20% of my time reading... it comes with the territory.
Whether you’re a student or not, you need to do your homework. It’s one thing keeping up to date with what Google is doing as a company, but it’s something else to figure out what makes Google tick.
How do search engines work? And what’s the value of understanding them? Read our beginner's guides to SEO and PPC (others include e-commerce, usability, and analytics). Read free papers from Google. Read some free articles.
And if you’re serious then invest in the real deal.
3. Watch with mother
The best way of learning is by practical example. Following a real-time case study is useful… some bloggers will explain what they’re up to in advance, then execute, then report on the results.
You can also watch expert videos. And taking on a practical experiments yourself is also highly recommended…
4. Launch your own blog
This ticks three boxes. One: it gives you experience of running a website. Two: it helps you focus on a subject. Three: it educates you in internet marketing disciplines.
I once set up a blog with the purpose of securing a top Google result for a relatively popular term, and managed it in 38 blog posts in the space of about six months. It’s much harder now, but doing that little experiment taught me so much.
5. Make friends and influence people
You might already be using some of the tools that are being adopted by social media marketers, such as Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter. The former, Twitter, is particularly good. Many bloggers use it to extend their reach into a subject-specific community beyond the realms of their own blog. There is a vast internet industry posse on Twitter, including MC Hammer.
Twitter helps raise awareness of what people are up to. It's full of great links. Follow subject experts to get the inside track, and to hear about breaking news and developments.
6. Leave comments
The notion of participation inequality is thus: if a blogger has 100 visitors, 90 will ‘lurk’ (reading articles / comments), 9 will contribute now and again, and 1 will get involved regularly and leave lots of comments. As such it is easy to stand out… all you have to do is participate frequently.
Most bloggers will allow you to link back to your own blog (or Twitter profile, as I tend to do), which helps drive traffic back to you. It’s about raising awareness, and adding to the discussion. This applies to forums too, and sites like Digg (as well as Digg’s internet marketing equivalent, Sphinn).
7. Help out other bloggers
If you’re too awed to set up your own blog then why not contribute to somebody else’s blog? Assuming you have an opinion, can write, and are able to commit, then many bloggers will be happy to have an extra contributor, especially if you’re focusing on a niche.
It will provide you with two things: awareness of goings on in a particular sector, and experience of Google / search engine optimisation / how to promote and seed your blog posts. Some articles are better written than others, from a Google perspective. Figuring out how to write for search is invaluable. It is something that all digital marketers – and journalists - should be aware of, yet many aren’t.
8. Set up relevant profiles
If you are still studying and are yet to take on a job then you might not have heard of LinkedIn. In a nut, it is Facebook for businessfolk, only without the ‘stupid boxes’.
There are LinkedIn alternatives but for me it remains the best. It’s like an online CV, with added extras. Use it to create a profile detailing what you’re all about, and over time you can connect with relevant people (whenever you meet or deal with them).
9. Seek out some experience
Taking on an internships or other forms of work experience can really give you a taste for what working for an internet-focused company can be like. Note that it’s not all pool tables and fussball, since internet pureplays / startups do not account for the lion’s share of digital marketing budgets.
Email me if you need a steer on where to look in your area, and I'll provide pointers and connections where I can.
10. Network offline
There are regular events in most major cities (and some smaller ones). Sites like Upcoming and Meetup will help you find them in the US, you should check out the Second Chance Tuesday, Open Coffee Club, Internet World and others. More are listed in this post.
Digital marketing is pretty much everything we cover here at E-consultancy. In a nut, our focus is to support what’s actually going on, rather than buying into the hype, but it is also about preparing for the future. Almost 75,000 internet professionals use E-consultancy to get the inside track.
We publish lots of practical research , to help people get to grips with the fundamentals of best practice. And we run lots of training courses . We’re also into qualifications, which may be coming soon to a university near you.
Chris Lake is editor in chief at E-consultancy and can be found Twittering here.