The Concept of State of Digital

The Concept of State of Digital

1st September 2013

State of Digital isn’t just a website or just a blog. It is a platform which will help get people forward. As founder of State of Digital I believe its very important to inform you about the thoughts behind the site. After all, we are not just giving you a fancy new design. We want to thoroughly change the way we in digital marketing are working together.

With State of Digital the aim is to get people collaborating and talking about the steps forward with their own backgrounds in mind. After all, even though an SEO Account Manager and a Technical SEO might both be interested in SEO, they will look at things differently, from a different perspective. We will be trying to get these and other roles in digital marketing closer together.

But I’d like to explain the concept a bit more to you. Hence this article.

Why the re-brand?

As said in the welcome post, we are re-branding for a few reasons: there is more to digital than search and more importantly: I believe that we should be tearing down silos instead of keeping them up. State of Digital will be a lot more than ‘just’ a blog. And everything we will be doing is based on a theory I developed when doing training sessions in the past few years.

How the concept came along

I do a lot of training sessions on digital marketing. In these sessions I try to get the students to think differently: much more consumer focussed in stead of trying to spread their own message, not thinking about how it is received and what actually ‘gets’ to people the most.

Everytime I did a session students (usually marketers) would come up to me and say that they loved the direction they were heading in, but they had problems getting it through to the rest of the organisation because their colleagues (and in many cases their managers) didn’t understand what they were talking about.

The principles

It got me thinking about things. As you know I studied history and I started adding pieces together. A few principles came together: how Nelson Mandela organised the Nelson Mandela University on Robben Island, using the teach-the-teacher principle, how the human mind is influenced (as you know I’ve been talking about that a lot), how it learns and a principle used by an institute in The Netherlands which trains diplomats starting with culture before politics.

Let me explain each of these a little more in depth.

Teach the teacher principle

The “teach the teacher” principle is based on how we as humans tend to learn. When you are in class each of us ‘receives’ the content best in a different way. Some like reading, others like hearing for example.

There is however one thing which we all have: as soon as we are told that the content we are about to get taught is content we after that have to teach othersour mindset changes: we pay much more attention. And opposed to the old game ‘Telephone” where you have to whisper something in someones ear, we are not just looking to get the message across, we are looking to get the meaning of what we are saying across.

We are influenced

As you know I have been talking a lot about how we are being influenced in marketing and how marketers can use influence marketing in their campaigns. The idea behind this is actually something which you can easily connect to learning: we tend to believe others more quickly than the old and familiar entities. Meaning that, yes we listen to a teacher, but we are much more open to listen to the people close around us. Our colleagues for example or our peers in the industry.

These two principles taught  me I should not just train people, I should have people train each other.

Training diplomats

This principle I learned when visiting an Institute in the Netherlands who trains young diplomats to be better at negotiating with other diplomats from different backgrounds. The institute gets diplomats from different cultures to understand each other by first looking at cultural elements first (make them cook together first for example) and getting them to understand different cultures by experience before the actual politics fall into place.

This taught me that when it comes to getting different people from different backgrounds to work well together, they should not be sending information without thinking about who they are sending it to: they need to get a (cultural) understanding of the people they are working with. Managers, Marketers, Executives, they all have different backgrounds and different starting points. To get them to work together they need to understand that.

The Nelson Mandela University

The final principle came straight from my history study. It is a principle used by Nelson Mandela and other prisoners in Robben Island where they created the Nelson Mandela University or Robben Island University.

At Robben Island the prisoners were only allowed out a small amount of time each day and the prisoners were ‘held dumb’ by the authorities.

“The authorities attempted to impose a complete blackout, they did not want us to learn anything that might raise our morale or reassure us that people on the outside were still thinking about us”, Nelson Mandela says in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.

The prisoners however had committed themselves to self development. So they came up with a plan and everyone with a degree was given a subject to teach. They then took the teach-the-teacher principle to have the ones being taught also teach others.

Putting it all together

Based on the above principles I created new training sessions where marketers were also teaching managers and vice versa. The synergy was unbelievable, they started to understand each other. Because they weren’t just sharing knowledge, they were teaching knowledge. And they were trying to make it understandable for their target audience: their colleagues. They were combining all the principles!

This got me thinking about the site as well: aren’t we taking the wrong approach? Shouldn’t we be writing with a much bigger focus on the reader? And shouldn’t we be writing much more specific for people in specific job roles?

And that is how I came to the new format of the site. Much more focus on the roles of the readers, on their needs. But also on their backgrounds. The rebrand you are seeing now is the first step towards this new developed principle. Everything we will be doing will be done with this in mind. The first steps were trying to break down silo’s by stepping away from ‘just search’ into digital and by making the content available in ways that everyone, with every background, can relate to. In the next phase (starting now) we will be adding the teach the teacher principles more and more as well.

The keypoints

You could summarise the direction we want the site to go in, in these keypoints:

–       getting the right content to the right people at the right time
–       getting organisations to the next level in digital marketing
–       getting people from different backgrounds in their jobs talking on the same level and looking in the same direction when it comes to Digital Marketing


Written By
Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.
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