February 7, 2012
Five Tips for Staying Current in the Digital Age
Fluency for a New World
After a year that saw social media fuel revolutions across the Middle East, tablet devices lay claim to our laps and the emergence of a voice named Siri that knows every pizza place in town, it's become evident that the digital world is bleeding into the real one.
The implication for working professionals across all fields is unmistakable: digital fluency is necessary not only to get ahead, but also to avoid lagging behind.
Hanson Hosein, director of the Master of Communication in Digital Media program at the University of Washington, points to a telling prediction by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: some 1.2 million jobs related to technology, engineering, math and science will spring up by 2018.
That possibility likely translates to the infusion of even more technology in our lives, whether at home, on the go or at work.
“Professionals, and especially younger folks coming up, are going to be really literate in using these devices,” said Hosein. “They're actually going to be expecting to use those devices in the workplaces. It's really going to be up to existing professionals to get updated and know what's going on.”
During a recent interview with UW Professional & Continuing Education, Hosein outlined five tips working professionals can use to make sense of the ever-evolving digital world without getting overwhelmed.
- Survey the landscape. In your free time, find a way to experiment with emerging devices and technologies. You don't need to camp out overnight in front of an Apple store before the launch of every iPhone – just know what they're capable of.
Observe how your friends and family use technology and social media. That'll clue you in as to how people are integrating these tools into their lives.
“It's almost like how you used to need to know about the latest pop star to have a decent conversation around the water cooler,” Hosein said. “Now you need to know what people are using, technology-wise, to get a sense of how you need to position your company strategically as well. That fluency is important.”
- When it comes to social media, ask the right questions. The raw power of social media to unite and engage the masses – whether it be Facebook, Twitter or YouTube – cannot be understated. But increasingly critical to social media proficiency is the ability to gauge how well your strategies are working.
According to Hosein, never has more data been available about our behaviors and preferences.
Sifting through all of that information to reach any kind of valuable conclusion requires more than good analytics tools: you need to ask the right questions.
To illustrate this point, Hosein uses the example of Visa. The financial services giant hired an agency to study its social media impact during the Beijing 2008 Olympics. The numbers spiked enormously, leading Visa executives to believe their engagement efforts had paid off.
In reality, it turns out people weren’t just interested in Visa; many were looking into visas to China for the purpose of attending the Games, according to Hosein.
“If you don't ask the right questions, if you don't put the right terms in, and don't think about other possibilities as the right answer, you'll be led down the wrong road,” he said. “It's like doing a Google search. You need to put the fence around your search so it leads to the right conclusion.”
- Master the art of storytelling. Technology has given just about everyone a voice. As Hosein puts it: “It's now your grandmother in her home putting out YouTube videos.”
The downside is that the sheer volume of these voices has created an overwhelming din in the digital sphere. In order to break through, Hosein suggests going back to the basics: mastering the timeless practice of storytelling and producing narratives with a beginning, middle and end, along with a compelling, emotional hook.
Hosein, author of Storyteller Uprising: Trust & Persuasion in the Digital Age, has counseled corporate leaders from the likes of MasterCard, Microsoft Europe and CVS/pharmacy on creative approaches to thinking about and managing their creative communications.
“Every individual, every company or organization is now a media creator or media organization, no matter what you're doing, if you're an engineer, a lawyer or a business person,” Hosein said. “Companies are beginning to grasp that storytelling is the key. And they're even creating positions within the organization like ‘storytellers-in-chief’ to actually figure this out.”
- Learn a little of this and little of that. An important part of storytelling in the digital age is being able to convey ideas across a number of platforms.
Hosein believes everyone – even top executives – can benefit from learning to shoot and edit video, capturing audio and familiarizing themselves with code. Only by understanding the power of different forms of storytelling can they grasp how it can be integrated into an organization's overall strategy.
Injecting a bit of the creative process into leadership keeps things fresh, innovative and entrepreneurial, according to Hosein.
“I mean if kids can do it and teach themselves, you can too, and you absolutely have to,” he said.
- Find time to power off. Every so often, take some time off and unplug.
Even Hosein – a social media buff who heads a high-profile graduate school program and hosts the Four Peaks TV show – allows himself a once-weekly break from the glare of his favorite tech gadgets.
“Being connected all the time doesn't necessarily bring about great ideas,” he explains. “Some of the best ideas come to me when I'm in the shower or on an airplane, where I can't connect. So it's really important to do this stuff in moderation.”
To learn more about the UW Master of Communication in Digital Media, visit http://mcdm.washington.edu/. To find a variety of UW Professional & Continuing Education certificates, degrees and courses to boost your digital fluency, visit http://www.pce.uw.edu/ or call 206-685-8936 or toll free, 888-469-6499.