Skills for 21st century media

Yesterday I said everyone’s in the media business. What kind of skills do you need to be in the media business? The answers (at least some of them) are in this cross-posted article from The Big Idea.

It’s not often I get the chance to be really incensed when someone says something, because there’s usually some form of defensible truth there.

But not with Bill Ralston’s post Social Media – Shamans and Shysters. In one single post he has attempted to:

  • tar all social media consultants with the same brush – mixing up the practice of ghost-tweeting (or ghost blogging) with the consultants presenting at Social Media Junction (from memory, nobody mentioned ghosting, and I’m pretty sure we’re all against it)
  • oversimplify social media as just the tools (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc) and say they’re easy to pick up
  • accuse all social media consultants of trying to make a quick buck (when in reality, it’s sometimes a slow buck introducing something new during a recession)
  • accuse all social media consultants of shrouding simple concepts in jargon in order to make the aforementioned quick buck.

I know I could just ignore the post and deny him the link juice (the post is the top Google result for “social media course!”) … but this is a great opportunity to address concerns others might have, who may not have blogged about it (because they don’t like social media!).

So… is social media just the same as any other media?

Let’s look at the skill sets you need to succeed – not just in social media, but in any form of media over the next decade (because all media is set to become social).

Some of these skills are familiar, others unusual combinations of other skills.

Let’s look at the usual suspects first:

  • Writing. Good pithy writing makes for good blog posts, and even better tweets. As a former radio writer I tone my brevity muscles on Twitter – the 140 character limit is an excellent test of “is this a simple idea?”. The great thing about writing on the web is that you can test which words hit a nerve – by how many times your tweet is retweeted, or how many replies you get, or how many comments you get on a blog post.
  • Speaking to camera. Speaking in a personable style to a small black circle doesn’t come natural to most, but it’s an essential skill if you want to make web video work for you. You don’t have to make a big production, just get used to talking to camera as you would a person. And speak from the heart. And have something to say.
  • Interviewing others. Because I came from a freelance journalism background, interviewing others was a natural thing to do when I started iJumpTV. I didn’t realise how helpful it would be in terms of spreading content. When you interview someone, they now have an asset they can share with their network. It’s a win-win situation.

There’s also a not-so-obvious skill that’s incredibly helpful in navigating new media waters.

  • Community management/engagement. The Altimeter Group’s Deb Schultz calls this Tummling, derived from the Yiddish word tummler, an entertainer who encourages audience participation. It involves improvising content while working with the social dynamics of a group. This skill is easier if you have experience as a(n):
    • MC
    • orchestra conductor
    • street performer

One more thing, and I’m not sure if this is a skill or an awareness. I do know that if you put it into practice, it makes everything else work; and if you don’t put it into practice, all the other skills are rendered useless.

It’s the ability to learn from others.

It’s one thing to realise that now you can “be the media” for very low cost. It’s another thing to realise that everyone else can, too.

So an important difference between social media and (for want of a better word) old media is the way we look at our audience. In social media, your audience are also your competition – and your potential co-creators.

The old saying, “everyone’s a critic” is true, but everyone’s also a creator. This means your activity as a media communicator is less like a television programming director, launching things at your audience and hoping they work. It’s more like an entrepreneur, building connections and rapport and making deals.

Back to Ralston. If you’re tempted to agree with him that social media consultancy is just a few fly-by-nighters trying to make a quick buck selling ice to eskimos, consider this:

  • information on social media (jargon or no jargon) is available everywhere for free (for example these links). What costs is the time to sit alongside people, helping them work out what it means for them.
  • Couldn’t they work it out for themselves? Very possibly. In a few years, when they had some time. Just as in any other field (like, say, traditional media training), having an experience professional guide you through learning saves time and, in the long run, money.
  • People pay money for what they value. If people didn’t find any value in learning about social media, they wouldn’t pay for it.
  • We’re in the middle of a profound shift that affects all levels of society. Social media is just one symptom of this shift. As a society we’re like the blind men groping the elephant, trying to figure out what it is.

In a world like that, we need to talk to the other blind men. This is not the time to go it alone.

2 thoughts on “Skills for 21st century media

  • socialsammy

    Perhaps you should get Marie to hit you in the face before you write – because you seem to write incredibly well when you fired up! This is probably the best post I've read on iJump – in quite a while – maybe ever!

    I really like the blind man analogy – iThnk it's a perfect fit for the social media advice space because from my experience you end up “partnering” with clients and learning together (just as you said). It's definitely the ability to learn from others that makes a for great community management!

    The only other 'skill' that iThnk is crucial is “maintaining perspective” or bringing an “alternative experienced perspective” – to me this seems to be what makes good Masters of Ceremony – and allows for great community management – being able to direct an event/community requires the ability to rise above the clutter of whatevers going on and then point everyone in a direction that is fruitful for all. When people are in social media 'doing mode' they often loose perspective – I know I've been guilty of that!

    It's that perspective on things that I, even though relatively proficient with social media, still value about talking to people such as yourself!

    Awesome post Simon! Love it!

    P.S. I just read and commented on Bill Ralston's post – you might like what I wrote

  • Simon Young

    Thanks Sam, I'll bring up that idea with Marie … later 🙂

    You're right on the money with “maintaining perspective”, that's crucial. Being able to understand and even articulate the point of view of others, even when you disagree. That takes true leadership. A subject that's brewing away in my thinking, and growing into a book.

    Saw your comment. Nice work! The Bill Ralston in question is the former head of news at TVNZ, before that, he was instrumental in pioneering TV3's news back in the late 80s/early 90s.


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