A friend recently asked what sorts of great B2B content marketing stuff I’ve read lately that I could recommend and I realized… I haven’t read any in a really long time. Not because there isn’t any to be had per se, but because who and what I read has diverged very far from marketing over the past few years.
What I study now isn’t marketing, but almost entirely pure data science and machine learning. I take what I learn and I apply it to the discipline of marketing, but the people and material I need to learn from in order to keep growing aren’t people in the marketing realm for the most part.
Why? Because I’ve changed over the years. I’ve learned what I need to know to be competent in marketing – and yes, there’s always more to learn – but in terms of professional development, the area where I have the most growth potential isn’t in marketing, but data science and machine learning.
This is a critical point for all of us. Who you follow on social media for professional purposes, what you follow, what you read should always be changing. You shouldn’t be following the same people all the time; what you consume should change as your skills continually upgrade.
Obviously, this excludes those folks you follow as friends and acquaintances. By no means does this advice apply to people you actually like and enjoy hearing from. It’s exclusive to professional development and training.
How To Know You’re Following The Right People on Social Media
Here’s a simple test to determine if you’re following the right people on social media for professional development purposes. Look at the last 20 posts from your social media feed of choice. How many of them contain something you don’t fully understand, something that you need to investigate?
If the answer is none – if nothing surprised you, confused you, or intrigued you – then it’s time to change things up.
When I look at my feed, probably 75% of it is stuff that I don’t fully understand. Over the last weekend, I was watching videos from Max Kuhn, reading tutorials from Julia Silge, and hacking away alongside Shirbi Ish-Shalom. I was confused most of the time, and it took more than a few watches to get what they were saying, to understand the topics they were showing, but when I was done, I had a much better idea of what they were trying to share.
How do you find those people? Start at the major hubs for your domain of expertise until you find some content that is new to you, and then start following those authors.
What If You Can’t Find the Right People?
The more advanced a practitioner you are, the harder it becomes to find people who are talking about and sharing stuff that you don’t know on social media. The pool of eligible candidates grows thinner and thinner every day as you advance your skills, because most people stop learning and growing substantially at a certain point.
When that happens – when you reach a point where almost nothing is new in your field or domain, what do you do?
You have two straightforward choices: blending or research.
Blending is the practice of taking up a second, parallel domain and learning from it, then blending it with your primary domain of expertise. This is what I do – combining marketing with coding, marketing with analytics, marketing with data science, marketing with machine learning and AI. It opens up tons of new possibilities for you. The downside is that you have to be able to think in parallel across domains, which is challenging. Imagine being a sushi chef and learning plumbing – the lessons you can port from one domain to another may require considerable mental gymnastics to make them work (but it can be done).
The second choice is research. At a certain point, the best stuff in your domain of choice isn’t going to be on social media posts. It’s going to be in academic research, or primary research you perform yourself. You won’t be consuming other people’s data and content as much as producing your own, to answer the burning questions that can’t be answered otherwise. The downside of this approach is that it’s a lonely one – it’s lonely at the top, especially if you’re researching things that are proprietary and you’re limited in who you can ask for help.
Either approach is how you develop new capabilities when you’ve tapped out your usual sources, when you’ve hit diminishing returns on what your peers and juniors in your field have to share.
It’s Always Lonelier At The Top
No matter what, recognize that as you become more skilled, the pool of people you can confer with and be challenged by always gets smaller. Too many people stop making serious efforts at learning after a certain point in their careers, their lives. We see this all the time – people parroting old SEO advice, people recycling the same content with nothing new, people reciting the same platitudes ("just create great content!" and "be more human!") with nothing for the advanced practitioner.
Recognize that your journey will grow tougher with every step, but if you’re dedicated to being the best you could be, then that toughness is what makes it possible for you to be the best. It filters everyone else out that isn’t striving for the same professional heights as you are.
See you at the top when we both get there someday.
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