When do you need to re-learn the basics of social media?

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My CEO, Joe Cronin, had a very interesting question as a follow up to the recent post on social media leaders.

At what point do you need to go back and relearn the fundamentals? Things have changed so much in the last 10 years – the fundamentals are completely different. Anyone who learned them 5+ years ago is now doing things wrong – fundamentally, right??? They would have to be re-trained in new fundamentals???

Yes and no. The fundamentals, the basics, always remain the same. The tools that we use to implement them change routinely and regularly, which is why it’s so important to read lots of blogs, participate on Twitter, and stay connected to your community – without that connection, you don’t have the eyes and ears of the group working for mutual benefit.

I liken this to the martial arts. As a white belt, you learn a few basic techniques, you learn how to not get punched in the head, how to fall to the ground safely, and other core basics. As you advance up the ranks, you learn more techniques, newer techniques, more complicated techniques that require more skill, but the core principles remain the same – don’t get hurt. Even at the master levels of martial arts, the same fundamental basics are at work, just expressed differently than a white belt.

The same is true in social media. You may just be getting started understanding your community through tools like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc., but the core basics of social media – community, connection, communication – remain the same. No matter what hot network you sign up for, no matter what the shiny object du jour is, the basics remain the same.

You do need to constantly learn and gain competency in the tools you use to manage your social media community, of course. Applying ideas for promoting something on MySpace even from three months ago don’t work now, because the site changes constantly. The MP3 encoder you used for your podcast in 2005 should have evolved into something better for 2008. The basic underlying principle remains the same, however.

If you understand the principles of social media, if you have underlying goals, metrics, and strategies, then no matter what tools come along, you’ll be able to apply your skills to the new stuff and make it effective for you as soon as you learn the tool. It’s a lot like driving a car. Once you understand the basics, it doesn’t matter whether you get behind the wheel of a Prius or a Ferrari – you can still get from point A to point B.

A hat tip and a pile of links for my CEO as thanks for the great question.

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