As a marketer, my task is to promote products and services I know nothing about. That's how I developed this list of six quick and easy ways to expedite the learning process and follow trends in an industry I'm just learning about.
No doubt you know what I'm talking about. You work at a marketing or PR agency, or as a consultant, and a new client or project comes along. And there you go, jumping in with both feet. As you probably also know, that process is typically trial-by-fire.
I'm less interested in getting burned than quickly mapping a route to make myself an expert in a new industry and getting ahead of the game.
I've built up an arsenal of tools and tricks to not only to learn about industries, but keep up with the latest trends. Even if you know nothing about, say, Quinceanera fiesta dresses or pneumatic tuggers, you can successfully promote, market, and create content about them with the right knowledge.
If you're in the same boat, read on. I bet one of these ideas will help you to quickly and easily get a grasp on virtually any industry or subject matter.
1. Alltop: Use this as a starting point.
If you want to quickly find out what people are saying about pretty much any topic, your best bet is to try Alltop. This news aggregator features blogs (by topic) that the staff handpicks. Search for the topic you are interested in, and there just may be a page for it. Examples include "Zombies" and "Network Security," to name a couple.
2. Google Alerts: Receive ongoing intelligence.
Finding stories in an array of publications once required you to comb through periodicals by hand or hire an expensive clipping service. Now, the magic of technology allows you to set up a Google Alert for an industry keyword (e.g. "cloud storage" or "project management").
Google Alerts are free and take seconds to set up. Google will notify you by email or RSS when new stories emerge so you can easily stay up-to-date on your topics of choice. You should also set a Google Alert to track your name and business. That, however, is another article.
3. Twitter: Find news and intelligence.
Even if you're not a Twitter power user, you can still use the service to find blog posts, articles and tweets on any topic. With a social media dashboard like Hootsuite, you can set up a search for a particular keyword and easily monitor what's happening.
Or, you can create a Twitter list that includes industry leaders, bloggers, and competitors. (Even better, you can make the list private so no one knows about your snooping-err, research.)
Plus, you can use Twitter search as an alternative to Google to help you find people talking about a certain topic, or links to relevant content.
4. Books and magazines: Go old-school.
If you're a marketer and you read an in-depth book or two about a client's industry, you'll probably be more knowledgeable than most of your competitors. Having an informed grasp of a particular industry can not only help you create better content, but help you better understand the context of industry trends.
5. Field work: Venture beyond your desk.
Agency marketers or PR pros, this one's for you. Get to know your clients-in the flesh! Get out and visit your client company's offices. Spend some time there, and talk to employees. You'll get a better feel for the company and its niche. Some of my best ideas have come out of client visits. Plus, who doesn't love an excuse to get out of the office for a bit?
6. Keep your information in one place.
Now that you've compiled an impressive pile of information and research, you need a tool to help you store your data.
I use Evernote to collect links, record information I'd like to reference, and create all sorts of lists. Evernote is cloud-based, so it syncs your notes between computers and smartphones. Plus, your notes are part of a user-friendly database that makes them easy to organize and retrieve.
Competitors include SpringPad, SimpleNote and OneNote, each of which has its own benefits.
If you make a few tools part of your research routine, you'll be able to quickly and efficiently grasp even the most obscure industries or subject matter—and be better equipped to help your clients tackle their marketing goals.
Do you use any other tools to help you understand your clients and the fields they work in?
Ashlee McCullen is a staff writer for Apron Addicts, a website about kitchen fashion and home style. She also writes about mobile technology and self-improvement. A version of this article originally appeared on the V3 Integrated Marketing blog.