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Online Student Again, Part 11: I passed! 

“Alright then, you’ve proven that you aren’t a total pudding brain. Now, I want you to learn geo-quantum astrophysics next,” says the Doctor.

After a delay due to server hacks at Rutgers University, I finally got my grades while I was vacationing in Ireland. My final grade was a B+ for my Digital Marketing class! While in recent years, I have had a reputation of having a straight A average with my grad school level classes, I was not disappointed in this grade. As I may have mentioned in a previous post, I got an 82% on my final exam. The test was one where it was one shot at 50 multiple choice questions. If I hadn’t studied the quizzes and taken the quizzes multiple times to practice (they weren’t graded), I wouldn’t have passed. Most of the questions on the test were the same as the quizzes! So there’s that. Some of the questions, as they were worded, were NOT easy. Even so, with the fact that I got an 82/100, I was greatly relieved.

As for my Capstone project which involved more work and thought towards the practical application of the information we learned, I got a 95/100, or an A. I was happy about this, as this is the part of the grade I actually fretted over more. I knew it would be difficult, because I didn’t have any clear cut projects from work or situations to base my digital marketing strategy on. So, in my mind, this was an educated shot in the dark. I decided that I would base my project on something that was real for me. I’ve mentioned that I had been thinking of starting my own consulting business, and so I based my project on the idea of my proposed reality–I needed to come up with a plan to promote my fledgling company to gain brand recognition and acquire customers. That’s fairly straightforward. As I’ve mentioned many times before, I understood how to approach the digital part of the strategy, but not as clear with the marketing. So, I did the best I could, and labored over this project. It paid off. The commentary of what was missing was minimal, mostly about re-evaluating after gaining clients and reassessing the stats taken based on that. That makes sense, but let me get some clients first!

So, once the exam was averaged with the Capstone, I got an 88.5% for the class, also known as a B+. Considering that this was not an easy subject for me to study, I still think I did well. I did not think much of giving equal weight to the test and Capstone then averaging the grades. The test, while it tested students on concepts, wasn’t well written and it was not really practical. Ultimately, the Capstone project was a practical use of the information and more of a projection of what I’d really have to do in “real life”, thus it should have been worth more, because these kinds of strategies are what need to be brought into the real world. So in my mind, while it’s not official, I still got an A for the class because that was what I got for the Capstone.

So there you have it. I got a B+.

Would I take this course again? Probably. The experience was very different from doing my online Masters at NJIT. My studies at NJIT were much more structured and directed than this course at Rutgers. This online digital marketing course was 10 modules of about 10 videos per module. The information in the modules was excellent, and the instructors were top notch. I wouldn’t trade that. When I was able to go to the “virtual office hours”, the instructors were approachable.  However, I had to stay super-disciplined in watching all the videos (3-4 hours’ worth of information that could be dry content at times) every week. I didn’t have the chance to interact with fellow students almost at all to exchange ideas. It wasn’t as rich of an experience as I had enjoyed with NJIT. Despite the lesser things about this course’s delivery, I know that I will definitely use this information going forward.

So, I will shortly receive my mini-MBA in Digital Marketing from Rutgers soon in the mail. I suppose the question will be–what will the next course I take be, and when? I don’t know yet. I’m the eternal learner, so I look forward to that answer, too.

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Online Student Again, Part 7: UX and Marketing–It’s an Experience, Man. 

It's all about the experience, man. Trippy.
It’s all about the experience, man.

This week’s online module for my digital marketing class was about user experience (UX) and marketing. I realized after taking this module that I know a lot more about UX that I thought I did, as it’s something I do every day either at work or even with presenting this blog. I had studied UX in grad school, and I remember doing the heuristic evaluations and discussions in visual design classes, but to realize that much of this is now second nature is a little bit of a relief!

The instructor for this module was Ronnie Battista, an experience design strategist for Slalom Consulting. He explained that UX is still evolving, as there doesn’t seem to be an agreed upon definition of what UX really is.

Battista explained that people, ultimately, are the most complex interfacing systems in the world! Within all those interfacing systems, there are three general types, namely

  1. Human, such as HCI (Human to Computer Interface), such as kiosks, devices, advertisements, and websites
  2. Industrial, as in industrial design, which are physical objects. Best example I could relate to items that include ergonomic design.
  3. Service, which comprises of both online and offline parts of a service experience, such as the end-to-end experience visit to a theme park to make the experience as easy flowing and enjoyable as possible.

User experience drive behavior and action, so Battista said that UX needs to address who your audience is, what does your audience need to do, and your efforts to help the audience to that. The end product needs to be user-centric.  There needs to be a user design lifecycle to complete this, meaning a series of steps done in order to get from start to finish whereby management is consulted, but the client is consulted again and again until it’s done right.

Battista explained that there are many ways to create these steps, but the basic plan that is taught in the Rutgers program is this:

  1. Contextual Inquiry , meaning “professional people watching” – seeing how people use or will use the product in action
  2. Set design goals
  3. Design User Interface
  4. Evaluate design models
  5. Build prototypes
  6. Test Prototypes
  7. Evaluate test results.  If the test results are negative, start back at step 4 and repeat until you get it right!

This is something I’m fairly familiar with as a content strategist and web publisher–I do this with my internal clients often, and sometimes it’s a nonstop tweaking that never seems to end!  Sometimes the design goals are limited by the content management system (CMS) that is used, so I have to be creative and work within those system parameters.

Battista continued to say that we have things that can work, and some challenges, but there are some things to keep in mind. Things are changing fast because business is about being fast. Big companies are having a hard time with this because it forces cultural changes. However, UX is seen as the innovation driver, and it’s becoming integral to many business/IT roles. Tool-time UX software is getting very good, as software options for UX research, design, and evaluation are exploding to the point that most of the UX work being done is commoditized. Big Data is a “Big Brother” that knows big things about you, so analytics come into play giving deeper insight almost to the creepy factor, but it can be seen as better than some qualitative insights.

In the end, it’s all about customer satisfaction and providing the customer with what he/she needs! It promotes brand loyalty. Battista gave a great example of a friend who was a diehard loyal fan of a particular car brand. When the brand wouldn’t reimburse the friend for a recalled part after two years, the friend said that they lost a customer. Coincidentally, the friend ended up in another car brand’s commercial praising his customer experience with the other brand after visiting a “confessional” booth at a dealer.

Journey mapping is needed to figure out how to create the experience. Many companies start with a system or software and work backwards, when it should be figuring out the experience and then deciding on which software or system meets that need. Battista quoted Forrester Research saying, “In order to break from their tunnel vision, complex companies need to understand their customer experience ecosystem.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Journey mapping is taking the idea of customer personas and walking through what their journey/experience is with your brand, from start to finish, whether they are happy with the product or  you need to make up for disappointing the customer.

Battista said that good customer journey maps rely on these seven factors:

  1. Establish goals and outcomes
  2. Do not limit mapping to actions
  3. Represent the customer perspective
  4. Treat it as a research project
  5. Combine qualitative and quantitative
  6. Build to communicate
  7. Executive ownership & governance

Going through these steps and paying attention to the details of the customer journey help with a more positive UX outcome.

So how does UX fit into marketing? Battista said it depends on how well it’s done, and it’s not always well. UX and Marketing generally are basing their evaluations on similar requirements, but perhaps from different approaches. Most importantly, though, UX should be included in the inception of the process, not at the end. He added that when dealing with agencies, you must ask what they are creating and why (understand the ROI), own the cross-channel experience (any breakdown in the total experience spoils the entire experience), REALLY understand your audience, make sure that the customer has a real voice that people will listen to, get educated (learn to understand buzzwords and trends), take control of measurement and evaluation, and exhibit self-awareness and appropriate selfless-ness. Most importantly, never forget PEOPLE.

Lastly, as part of understanding personas, he pointed out that digital natives are used to not having privacy issues the same way “old timers” do, meaning that they are more willing to share and provide information that could be seen as compromising privacy. As a result when looking at the bigger picture, there is a question of how people are digitally connected and the information they are willing to share now.

Battista concluded with the statement, “Digital strategy should be an imperative!” I couldn’t agree more!

Overall, while there were some of the deeper marketing elements that I needed to pay more attention to, as a content strategist, the basics were easy for me, as much of this, as I mentioned, is what I do on a daily basis. While I knew I had the ability, I hadn’t thought of UX strategy as being one of my strengths in my skill set. After this module, I’m thinking it is now!

I’ve got three more modules to go, a final exam, and a capstone project, so the end is getting closer! Stay tuned for the next module, which will be online customer acquisition. Since I’m starting to feel that starting my own consulting business is in the cards later this year, this will be a unit I’ll pay very close attention to.

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Online Student Again – Part 3: Social Media Marketing–Now You’re Talking My Language!

social-networksThe next module of my online digital mini-MBA in Digital Marketing was about social media marketing. Simply from the name of it, I suspected that I had a better chance with this topic than I had with search marketing. I took a look at the slides and completed the pre-reading assignments, and sure enough, I understood ALL of it.  Why? Because I’ve entrenched myself into social media from the beginning of my tech comm career, and it’s why you are reading this article. It’s all about how to use social media for promotion and starting the conversation with your readers through the use of meaningful content.

I was lucky that I had a great course on the theory and practices of social media at NJIT, which I still refer to in presentations and still greatly affects me to this day. That course was what started this blog, after all! I learned many of these marketing concepts through trial and error over the last three years.

There were so many concepts that easily clicked for me, which included what I’ve been struggling to get people to understand not only from a social media perspective, but from a content strategy perspective as a whole! It seems that most of the issues from a corporate level stem from a cultural standpoint, and that corporate culture is not willing to evolve and change with the times! There are other complications, but that’s the primary one. I know from working with several companies, I’ve seen this often. There’s some progress, but it’s not the progress that I would recommend. (But I’m a consultant at the bottom of the food chain, so I know I don’t have a chance to be heard anytime soon.)

The biggest part of this module that I agreed with entirely was that social media is not another type of media along the lines of singularly directional TV, radio, or print. Social media is SOCIAL, people, so it’s about that two-way communication that I wrote about in my last blog post. The instructor for this module of the course, Mark Schaefer, is the author of several books on the subject and has been in marketing for 30+ years, and discussed much of what I’ve come to understand on my own! He went into deeper detail of it all, but he talked about the idea of creating strategies that create relevant content that connects. He said that we are already experiencing content overload, and the key is figuring out how to filter the relevant content that connects people to each other. It’s no longer B2B (Business to Business), but rather P2P (Person to Person).  Mr. Schaefer is also the author of Tao of Twitter where he provides insights on how Twitter can be used effectively–and ineffectively–for content marketing.  As students of this course, we all received a digital copy of the book. Based on how this module went, I definitely plan to read this! (Perhaps I’ll do a TechCommGeekMom Book Review about it as soon as I finish it.)

This time, I got 100% on my quiz on the first try.  So many of the concepts in this module were easy for me, I think simply because there was such a strong connection between content strategy and social media concepts that I already knew or learned on my own in the last few years, either from experience or from various presentations I’ve seen at conferences (Intelligent Content Conference is a great example–did you see that discount there on the right side bar? If it’s still there, take advantage of it! It’s a very good conference on this very topic!)  After last week’s struggles with Search Marketing, I was relieved that this module, while truly packed with a lot of information, was much more my speed and less confusing.

I know Rutgers offers another mini-MBA program that is solely on social media marketing, and I’m sure that I’d like that very much, but I think I’ll wait and see how this mini-MBA goes first. I’m not sure that I necessarily need the social media marketing mini-MBA, but Mr. Schaefer said he teaches in that one, and if this module was a broad summary of the larger course, then I think I’d be okay!

The next module is something that I think I’ll have a pretty decent understanding of as well…mobile marketing! Y’all know that I love my mobile tech comm and m-learning, so I have a feeling that many of the concepts that will be brought up in this module will be familiar to me or easy to understand as well. Until the next module…

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Stage 2 of non-pudding brain: It’s official. I’m a student again.

"Ah, glad to see that you are working on stretching your intelligence, TechCommGeekMom. Now, when you are done, you can help me with this equation on this board..." --The 12th Doctor
“Ah, glad to see that you are working on using your intelligence, TechCommGeekMom, and not becoming a pudding brain like the rest of your human race. Now, when you are done, you can help me with this equation on this blackboard…”
–The 12th Doctor

As I stated in my last post about my resolution not to be a pudding brain in 2015, and understanding that in order to get ahead in the next year, I need to learn something, and learn something new. It’s been mentioned before that content marketing is the skill emerging most in content strategy jobs, and so I need to make myself eligible to get on that bandwagon. I have a strong customer service/client services background, and my career has steered me into content strategy, but what I lack is a basic understanding of marketing, especially digital marketing.

I looked at many programs, and there are a LOT of good ones out there. During my process, I needed to figure out what would give me the most bang for my buck in the shortest amount of time, so that I could hit the ground running even while I was in the midst of my coursework. It would be best if it was online and part-time, obviously, since I’m still working full-time for the moment. (My contract doesn’t expire until the end of April.) I also looked carefully at curriculums to see what topics would be covered that would satisfy the gaps that I think need filling in my skill set.

Rutgers_Scarlet_KnightsAfter discussing the options with my husband, who reviewed some of the choices I had narrowed my list down to, I can now say that yes, I am officially a student again. I have registered to take the Mini-MBA certification coursework in Digital Marketing at Rutgers University. It starts at the end of this month, and finishes by the time my contract ends. It covers several topics that I have some familiarity with, but not enough experience or actual training of any kind.

I’m excited to start classes. I’m fortunate that an online version of this coursework was available, and being a veteran online student, this is ideal. I find that I actually do much better in an online format than a classroom format. Online learning isn’t for everybody, and I’m a person who enjoys listening to classroom lectures, but find it very difficult to take notes during one. (Hey, it’s hard for me to take notes or write social media posts during presentation events–why do you think I learned to type so fast?) My brain is a little slow to process and summarize concepts quickly then write them down, so online learning is usually great because if there is a video or audio recording, I can rewind the recording if I didn’t catch something, or take my time reviewing slide presentations. Online discussions can be as animated as live conversations. I’ve often found that online class discussion threads are great writing exercises as they force you to truly think and strategize what you want to say in a way that encourages plain language and clarity to all readers.

The other thing I’m excited about with this class is that the online format is for MOBILE!! Part of the tuition goes towards a new iPad to deliver the coursework (or you can get a discount on the tuition if you already have an iPad, like I did). I tried to use my iPad when I could during grad school, and it helped when I would try to get papers done during my lunch hour, or review information on the go. This time, it’s different. Everything is being delivered to a mobile device, so it’s automatically going to all be on mobile. So, I’m looking forward to seeing how that works out. I’m still an iPad aficianado, and have often promoted the use of iPads and tablets as learning tools (look for early TechCommGeekMom articles about the topic), so now’s my chance to do it myself!

So, I’ve made my first big, bold move for the year. Pudding brain will be erased, and some new information and skills will be attained in order to better my chances in the job market later this year. This is how I chose to invest in myself this year. Conferences are still good, and I’m not knocking them, but when I am done with this, I will have a small credential that will boost my resume.  Maybe I’ll get to a conference later this year, but in the meantime, this will be my educational focus. This is part of the mini-reinvention of myself. I might end up in another straightforward content strategy/web publishing job later, but having these additional skills can only help, not hurt me. I’m glad I have my husband’s support in this (he’s going to be a weekend and weeknight widower again for a short time), and I’m hoping that the tech comm community will support me in this endeavor as well.