Tag Archives: lifelong learning

A big pile of binders

Three steps to self-taught communication measurement

I finally got rid of it before my last move: a three-inch, three-ring binder containing the be-all and end-all in Corporate Communications Measurement – well, at least as it was in the mid-1990s. I had been hauling that thing around with me for almost 20 years – during almost my entire career, even though I stopped referring to it about 5 years after it was published.

I was reminded of it last evening when I participated as a “Speed Mentor” event for communicators just graduating from their studies. I have been a mentor for IABC before, and I really enjoy it. Last night I got 15 minutes with three different “mentees” – in an event put on by my professional association: IABC-British Columbia.

This post is for Heidi, an up-and-comer who asked where I learned how to measure communications. I had to admit I’ve had little formal training in communications or marketing. I have a BA and MA in the social sciences, but no Journalism or Communications degrees, even though that’s where I started out, and it’s been my entire career. So how did I learn? A number of ways:

1. Translate existing formal education into career skills

My Master’s thesis was an original study that consisted of a literature review and a research project that combined quantitative and qualitative research methods. As such, I have been formally trained in the scientific method: how to construct a research survey that will measure an adequate-sized sample, define terms, and ask questions designed to get honest answers to the research question (not just the answers you expect to find), and analyze the data professionally.

I guess this doesn’t really fit the definition of “self-taught,” but the ability to construct survey questions, conduct statistical analysis, and parse survey data has been one of the most valuable skills I’ve used in my career. I’ve been asked a number of times to conduct surveys of stakeholders and target audiences, and have been able to confidently lend my expertise.

2. Tap the resources of colleagues and professional associations

A big pile of bindersThe gorilla-sized 3-ring binder mentioned above was an IABC publication. It cost hundreds of dollars to acquire, but I took advantage of the professional development budget allotted to me at my job to buy such publications, and to take a seminar or two. Through IABC internationally, in Saskatchewan, and in British Columbia, I’ve been able to take webinars, connect with others in similar jobs, share knowledge and resources, and get certified.

I am also a big believer in just calling up people (whether they’re in IABC or not) who do things that impress me and asking them how they did it and how it worked out for them. I’ll even ask them about budgeting and resources. You’d be surprised how forthcoming people are when you just ask, as long as there are no proprietary or trade secrets to keep.

3. The internet is a wonderful, vast Personal Learning Network

Since I’ve worked in post-secondary education I’ve learned about this thing called a PLN – Personal Learning Network. Which is just a formal name for something I’ve been doing all along as a self-motivated learner (see “calling people up and asking them how they did it” above). These days my PLN is mostly online: I have various lists in my Twitter feeds for my personal interests; I have my RSS feeds broken down in a similar fashion.

My PLN is pretty informal, but it can also be more formal, with a specific learning outcome (another education term that means “I have something specific I need to learn about”). For instance, when I learned how to do technical rock climbing, I didn’t take a formal course. I learned from friends who had been doing it for years, I took out books  and periodicals from the library, I joined the Alpine Club of Canada and went on organized climbing trips with them.

When it comes to communication measurement, in the years since the gorilla-sized binder, I have compiled an extensive list of blogs and feeds, and I tend to find out about a new way of measuring impact when I need it. For instance, Google has a great set of resources on how to use website analytics. I’ve learned how to use applications like QuarkXPress (formerly the industry standard publishing software, now supplanted by Adobe InDesign), Photoshop, Excel, Adobe Acrobat, and online tools like Campaign Monitor, WordPress, SurveyMonkey, and Hootsuite by asking people, looking it up online, and playing around with them myself.

Other online resources I have or still use/follow:

  • Ragan.com – some paid, and some free articles and webinars.
  • Lynda.com – learning new apps and skills online – subscription based. Ask your employer to subscribe if you can’t do it yourself.
  • Social Media Examiner
  • Beth Kanter’s Blog
  • Convince and Convert
  • Hootsuite blog 
  • Love your Life Online – Alexandra Samuel is everyone’s online mentor!
  • Time to Write – for the creative writing types
  • Grammar Girl – I listen to the podcast while on transit to work because it’s good, and because of an embarrassing incident in my career. I always thought I had a far superior grasp of the English language, until a Board member of an organization I worked for (who was and remains a University President – and a friend) pointed out that I had confused “complement” and “compliment” in a piece of print collateral. I was mortified and humbled. Lesson? Never, ever stop learning, and never be afraid to admit to needing a refresher, no matter what your perceived level of expertise.
  • Jeff Bulas – internet marketing
  • UnMarketing – I saw Scott Stratten speak at Social Media Camp one year, I like the cut of his marketing jib!

4. Bonus tip! sign up to give a presentation at a conference.

See one, do one, teach one. Convincing yourself (or yourself and a colleague) to put a proposal in for a conference (like Social Media Camp, or a TedX, or Interesting Vancouver, etc.) does several things:

  • It forces you to take stock of what you DO know (because you know more than you think you do, and everyone has something to share, and if you’re just starting out, you have a unique perspective that many have lost).
  • It forces you to think about WHY and HOW you know what you know.
  • You will probably get comp’d an entry fee to the conference, and you’ll be able to learn from the other presenters.


Photo: Communication the Work Way, by Dave Matos, used under a Creative Commons license.