Digital 101: install the mental model first

Success online is NOT an arcane mystery, nor strange province of the geek gods. It’s elemental and learnable, even if it seems unfathomably complicated at the beginning. Nothing beats a sturdy mental model to make sense of a new territory. We begin our programs, with these 13 superstition killers. Like grammar is to vocab, the practices of the Web make more sense, and start becoming a language when you have a good WHY to the HOW:

Culture Precedes Commerce

 

1. Learn improv
Want a future-proof skill, apart from being a data-scientist? Experimentation, resourcefulness, negotiation, context-awareness, audience participation, inviting feedback, and a sense of the absurd are all wrapped up in improvisational theatre/comedy. A weird, but formidable competence that will afford you the luxury of being at ease with whatever comes at you, and being a valuable team player. Put it on your learn-list if you have your sights set on leadership.
APPLIED SKILLS: AGILE DEVELOPMENT

2. Be specific + descriptive
Know how to describe yourself and your offerings. In clear words (and synonyms). Handy not only for the hideous cocktail party “so, what is it that you do?“. But more importantly for the machines. If you tag and describe your content and profiles accurately, you can be found by the search engines. With analytics and keyword research, you also have a sense of how competitive your offering is, and whether you need to refine it further to find a profitable niche.
APPLIED SKILL: SEO + SEM

3. Be fascinating. character wins
Can you stop attention – and hold it -
In a sea of sameness, derivative copy churn and crud; is there something about you/your work that is difficult to replicate? Nothing is too boring when presented by someone who thrills to their subject, observe: quadratic equations + Salman Khan or parasitology + Carl Zimmer (no vampires or zombies needed). Novelty, surprise, shock, celebrity, prizes.. there are numerous ways to captivate briefly, but it’s hard work. What comes naturally (and unusually) to you that you can crank the volume up on? Leave perfect, polished and standardized to the machines, they will beat us at that game any day. It’s an asset to be a little weirdly wonderful, even in your professional dealings, because it draws on the richness of authenticity over increasing automation.
APPLIED SKILLS: CONTENT STRATEGY + ATTENTION ECONOMICS

4. Teach what you’re learning now.
In case you haven’t realised lately, look at how much learning is going on around you online. En masse we’ve left the shore of the known. Cracks are showing in all the reliable institutions that used to offer us authority and guidance. We’re having to figure out how to DIY our health, energy, education, finances, we’re learning from each other. Not waiting around for the authorities to put a seal of approval on it. The best time to share is as you’re learning it yourself, before the Curse of Knowledge sets in! Get on in, do your bit for the progress of our species.
APPLIED SKILL: INFLUENCE + AUTHORITY

5. Be trusted. Earn + collect social proof
Google has conditioned our behaviour by rewarding authority and trust in its algorithms. You get to rank higher in search, if there are more people who hyperlink to you as a worthwhile source. Social proof is the aura of assurance that comes from: testimonials, referrals, word-of-mouth advocacy, followers, likes, ratings. Not all are accurate, or trustworthy, but we’re strongly biased to trust the recommendation of others who have tried something themselves, over the positive spin of the marketing department. Invite feedback and ratings if you want more visibility. With a caveat. The Internet is great at smoking out shady dealings and hollow promises. It means companies in competitive markets need to do better, to earn trust again. What’s not to love?
APPLIED SKILL: TRUST ECONOMICS

6. Give Evidence. Show your Tell
One of the big ‘secrets’ of web (and life) success, we nicked from Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist: Do Good Work, Share it with People. Make SHAREABLES. If your work is currently intangible, find a way to fix the ideas into a video series, a book, infographics. If you want to have influence, you need to have something that can be past hand to hand, click by click.
APPLIED SKILL: PRODUCTION

7. Say thank you (put it in the credits)
The (under-recognised) killer app of our digital age is gratitude. It’s not an easy practise to institute effectively, but its value is disproportionately rewarded. Well worth picking up, Gary Vaynerchuk wrote a whole book on its potency for business now. Skills to pick up will be online reputation management, social CRM and finding ways to surprise your fans. The other dimension of thanks is giving the credit to those that have inspired you, or whose work you’ve built on or remixed. Get over the stubborn myth of original ideas. Our greatest evolutionary advantage as humans comes from our ability to copy what’s working, and adapt it to our own context. Use and create Creative Commons licensed video, music, photos, research, and don’t forget to give attribution to the creator. Help build a strong thank-you economy – a surprising number of us are willing to share our gems, for the long term benefit to reputation, and social proof.
APPLIED SKILL: ORM + SOCIAL CRM

8. Develop superb taste in people
This is the one thing that WILL change your experience online. If you think the internet, particularly social media, is full of trashy uselessness; you most certainly need to refine your people filters. Worse than just being on the receiving end of boring feeds, you are inadvertently sucked in. We develop the aggregate tendencies, habits and limitations of the people we hang out with – that means virtually too. As much as eating junk food, and expecting high quality performance, your brain deserves healthy, nutrient-dense brain snacks. Junk in. Junk out. Be ruthless about whose personal outputs you see daily. Remembering that the most innovative people keep the most diverse networks, so actively choose quality people in fields you wouldn’t ordinarily get to see.
APPLIED SKILL: LIFEHACKING + PRODUCTIVITY

 9. Even if you don’t know – give it a go. make stuff!
Fortune favours the brave. Experiment! Social media has flipped the price and scale of production and distribution into the hands of whomever chooses to get online. Grab the opportunity. There are so many free ways to begin making your own blogs, video, music, podcasts, games, apps. Why not hook up an Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Little Bits? Head over to Instructables.com. Find out how easy it can be to make things with code for free with Codecademy.com. Get tinkering. We don’t expect everyone to become a web mechanic, but we highly recommend moving from the passenger seat, to the drivers’ seat in your online journey.
APPLIED SKILL: BECOME A MAKER!

 10. Develop a clan
No matter the size of your business; we are increasingly sustained on our community, our fan-base, our constituents and those who believe in us,than a faceless market segment. If you are trustworthy and add value to their lives, these are the people who will be your immune system when you’re hit by trolls. Do you have the business asset of 1000 true fans? The participation, feedback, crowdsourcing, co-creation will give you the kind of R&D and creative illuminations that were once only afforded by a deep pockets. There is an art and science to community management. And to the opt-in direct marketing that delights, draws fans closer, and sells product – it IS possible.
APPLIED SKILL: COMMUNITY + CROWDSOURCING + EMAIL & DIRECT MARKETING

11. Why be shy? Give fans a reason to buy from you. When people have bought into your vision, very often, they’re really happy to buy from you. What have you got at the ready to offer to those who want to convert their interest immediately. Enter, e-commerce. Be it for products that you make and distribute, affiliate goods that you get commission from, info products, it’s worth getting over our squeamishness of trade online. There are a lot of important logistical and legal aspects to this, but we’ve found the biggest hurdle to be the psychological hump of contemplating making money in this vast global marketplace. It’s far easier than you think.
APPLIED SKILL: ECOMMERCE + CROWDFUNDING

 12. GRIT is good. be tenacious
It takes time to be great. Even online. The Internet is a great sprawling super-organism, to make an impact in your market, you will almost certainly require disciplined determination. It seems so contrary to the distracted ADD of modern life, but it’s a solid, steady bet for long term success. If you bring all the other lucky 11 to bear, all it will take is the tenacity to keep at it relentlessly. You will become a signal in the noise. This is the Stoic ‘keep eating right and working out’ advice for long-term luck. We’d all love a buy-in, quickie fix, but frankly nothing is as sturdy to build your online force. Just dig in.
APPLIED SKILL:  SLOW-BREWED STRENGTH

 13. Don’t wait for your BIG IDEA!
“Man on hill with mouth open, waiting for roast chicken to fall in, will wait long time”.
Please don’t agonize, forcing your whole being to come together in one blazing epiphany before you get going online. We highly recommend reading Stephen Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From for the assurance that very few of the most important ideas of any age were born out of a singular moment of genius. Start with a hunch, bring some character, let other people refine it with you, make things and get feedback. Even the best things aren’t predictably awesome at their inceptionLearn from history, develop a valuable culture, and the commerce will find you.
APPLIED SKILL: PROCRASTINATION KILLER + INNOVATION GENERATION

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