It’s not too late to INTEGRATE

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SXSWi 2013
 just wrapped up this week. Many emerging media professionals openly aspire to participate in this high-profile interactive conference, and those who actually make the trip to Austin, TX, certainly like to blog about it prolifically. Check out any of the 308 articles already posted on Mashable.

Attendance at the event was 30,000 strong this year, beating all previous records. In fact, increasing numbers of marketers are taking time away from their busy working lives to attend emerging media conferences all around the country, and even across the globe. What motivates them to invest significant resources in time and money?  Undoubtedly there is passion to grow skills within a dynamic industry that is moving at breakneck speed, plus a desire to keep up with cutting edge technologies and digital creativity, all perhaps mixed with a healthy dose of fear about being left behind professionally.

For those who may have missed the whole SXSWi experience, there are countless alternative events to attend and learn from, offering great opportunities to network with the best and brightest experts in the industry. Use this 2013 Events Board as a resource to search by location, date and speciality.

One notable date for your diary is May 31, 2013, which kicks off the two-day WVU Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) INTEGRATE conference in Morgantown, WV.

Whether you are a seasoned professional, or someone who is considering enrolling in the IMC graduate program at West Virginia University, INTEGRATE 2013 is your opportunity to build your professional network and talk about the hottest topics in IMC…transform your career through innovative workshops and breakout sessions, and participate in thought provoking discussions about industry trends.

Leading the roster of impressive presenters,the keynote speaker at INTEGRATE this year is Jane Schachtel – Head of Technology, Global Vertical Marketing Manager for Facebook.

Whether you travel to Morgantown, WV, or find an conference closer to home, why not grasp the opportunity to advance your career, learn new strategies, absorb creative energy, exchange top tips, and benefit from peer-to-peer networking?  At the very least, whichever event you attend, you can take comfort in meeting many other marketing professionals who are working just as hard to keep up as you are.

Original content drives engagement

Social Media Censorship

This gallery contains 25 photos.

This emerging media blog is one of many thousands on the internet all dedicated to keeping up with the latest digital trends.  Many tech writers have already established a significant online following and write quite masterfully on the subject. With … Continue reading

Focusing on social media video content

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Visual content is a magnetic force in social media marketing, driving high levels of consumer engagement.  In a previous post the positive social media impact of using inspiring still photography and sensational images was discussed.

But what about the power of moving pictures?  On Facebook, videos are shared 12 times more than text and link posts combined. Throughout the internet, more than 4 billion hours of video are now being viewed each month.  In fact, YouTube has become the second most used search engine, right behind Google. It’s no wonder you probably felt compelled to click the big purple play button in the header of this post.

Paul Shepherd, CEO, of Coup Media advises:

“Video will only work for you if it’s useful, funny, extraordinary or otherwise emotionally engaging. If you know your objectives, know your audience and deliver video content that resonates then video can be super effective especially as mobile screens become the normal way to consume content.”

An acknowledged leader in video engagement through social media is luxury brand, Christian Dior.  As of the date of posting, the 198 videos uploaded to the Dior YouTube channel have garnered almost 79 million views.  In addition to aspirational footage of fashion shows, product previews, behind-the-scenes documentary footage, celebrity interviews and stunning commercials with gorgeous cinematic production values, the company posts useful content for the dedicated fashionista.  This instructional video provides Dior fans with a practical step-by-step guide to the secrets of creating a smoky eye using Dior cosmetics:

It’s always helpful to gain creative inspiration from companies that are social media superstars, but most marketing teams aren’t staffed to produce the depth of video content with the sleek production values that Dior consistently delivers.

The good news is that videos can be much more straightforward and still be effective in engaging the consumer on social media.  Home Depot is currently registering almost 30 million YouTube views with much more down-to-earth content. “How to fix a leaky toilet” may be mundane, but it is remarkably useful content and provides value to the DIY-inspired consumer:

Consumers are not necessarily looking for the highest quality visual content.  What they want are stories, told in a visual way, that educate, encourage, engage or entertain. Fortunately, this type of video content is now within reach of most real-life marketing budgets.

Big budget or modest budget, it can be the best video in the world, and yet it will be a total dud if no-one watches it.  Promoting your new video is the key to getting it out to as wide an audience as possible.  Tag it with the right keywords, make a text version of the script available, blog about it and promote it across multiple social media channels. Make sure it’s embeddable and thus more easily shared.  Add a Facebook “Like” button, giving viewers the option to share it with their friends, and a Tweet button for Twitter sharing too, you can even pin a video to a Pinterest board.

Of course, if you’re looking for more information on video content creation you can always go to YouTube and look up how to make engaging videos for social media – you’ll undoubtedly find plenty of advice and inspiration.

For emergency use only

Emergency use

It’s not just boy scouts and doomsday preppers that need to be prepared; every business should maintain a comprehensive Emergency Preparedness Manual. Planning for a crisis makes good business sense, whether it manifests as a minor local inconvenience like a boil water order or a major disaster such as a hurricane.

In times of emergency it is important for businesses to transmit critical information as quickly as possible to consumers, stakeholders, employees and the public. The beauty of emerging media is the capacity to exchange information with large groups of people, in real time, before, during, and after a crisis.

Anticipating every eventuality your team may face in the midst of an emergency is no easy task, but the following steps provide a helpful review in planning for crisis communications:

1) Plan for a crisis before a crisis occurs

  • Don’t wait until the imminent threat or onset of a crisis to determine appropriate emergency protocols. Anticipate problems and troubleshoot solutions in advance.
  • Educate your team on what kinds of emergencies might affect your company both internally and externally.
  • Establish which traditional and emerging media channels you plan on using during a crisis and make sure they align with your target audience.
  • Ensure multiple contact paths to decrease reliance on any one communication channel or device.
  • Alert your followers to the specific social media channels they need to check for the most up-to-date and accurate information about your business.
  • Prepare a comprehensive emergency manual that includes templates and pre-drafted text for website content, broadcast emails, Facebook posts, tweets, posters, flyers, signage, etc.
  • Source useful city, county, state and federal contacts and links you may need to pass along to your constituents, for official breaking news, alerts and tips.

2) Designate a social media team

  • Identify individuals with the authority to speak for the company in a time of crisis and determine the reporting structure.
  • Ensure that multiple crisis team members know how to fulfill the planned response e.g. uploading content to your website, broadcasting emails, posting on Facebook or tweeting.
  • Establish and distribute guidelines for social media use by general employees on their own profiles e.g. sharing official updates.

3) Provide clear and actionable information promptly

  • In a crisis, affected individuals require actionable information quickly e.g. is evacuation mandated? If so, where to? Provide links to official sources.
  • Be careful to align communications with official statements and include the ramifications for your business operations.
  • Make it clear that you are accurately aware of the crisis and taking all possible precautions or steps to resolve or manage the situation.
  • Ensure that a consistent message is being communicated across all traditional and emerging media channels, and cross-link where possible.
  • Employ calm, clear, concise language.

4) Continue to post information frequently and consistently

  • Even if full details are not available, or there are no new details to report, communicate accurately and frequently what you do know and provide assurance that the crisis is being monitored closely. This is a critical component to building and maintaining trust.
  • Answer questions to the best of your ability. Social media requires a two-way conversation and should not be considered as a one-way broadcast tool.
  • Photographs are a convenient way to provide serial updates, establishing a real-life visual connection to events.

5) Address rumors quickly

  • Rumors spread quickly in times of crisis
  • Monitor the spread of rumors both online and offline and address them promptly and directly. Track online mentions of your organization’s brand.

6) Ensure that important updates remain highlighted

  • When you need to relay important information, ensure that it retains online prominence  This could mean pinning it to the top of your Facebook feed or adding a banner to the homepage of your website.

7) Identify physical resources required in the event of a crisis

  • Determine the resources necessary for ramping up digital and traditional communication in the event of a crisis e.g. a dedicated generator to power a computer, phone and printer reserved for crisis communications, spare batteries for mobile devices, or, for larger organizations, increased bandwidth to prepare for sudden increases in website usage.
  • Build in redundancy and take a leaf out of the peepers handbook “Two is better than one and one is none”. Always have Plan B ready to roll.
  • Establish remote access to your systems to keep them going and make sure social media passwords are shared appropriately with the communications team.

8) Debrief post-emergency 

  • Continue to communicate post-emergency updates to your constituents.
  • Solicit external feedback on the usefulness of your communications plan.
  • Review internally what worked, what didn’t, and any surprises or challenges.
  • Update  your emergency preparedness manual, redrafting or adding templates and text.
  • Be confident that you’ll be even better prepared next time.

A survey by the American Red Cross confirmed that Americans are becoming increasingly reliant on mobile devices during emergencies, and your audience will expect you to reach them there with appropriately optimized content.

In fact, the Red Cross has developed a disaster online philosophy, using social media to empower clients and supporters to get or give help during a disaster.

A useful report detailing the results of an expert round table on social media and risk communication during times of crisis, presents case studies from bona fide “emergency experts” like the Red Cross, CDC and FEMA.

No matter how demanding your daily professional life may be, making time to draft a comprehensive emergency preparedness manual and social media strategy is essential. Your efforts may not earn you a boy scout merit badge, but it will win the respect and trust of your audience “in case of emergency”.

Fashionably late adopters

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Emerging media can no longer be considered a new phenomenon. Innovators and early adopters have been honing their craft across multiple social media channels for several years now, haring off in new directions and creating a sense of urgency to join in the race. But what about those businesses or organizations still hesitating on the sidelines?  Is it time for them to come out of their shells, stick their necks out and catch up? Or, have they already missed the boat?

As it turns out, late adopters actually enjoy some advantages to being fashionably late.

Typically, the industries that are still cautious about establishing a social media presence are the most conservative and risk averse. They are often faced with the added pressure of regulatory or compliance restrictions. Examples include, financial services, medical institutions, legal firms and not-for-profit associations, where brand messaging has historically been controlled by a handful of authorized and highly trained professionals.  While innovators are out in front, taking risks to gain competitive advantages, late adopters hang back waiting for credible evidence of proven processes to mitigate exposure and manage risk. In effect, claims Adam Egbert, companies on the cutting edge are the guinea pigs, adopting and proving new methods and technologies. Fortunately, latecomers can leverage the experience of those that have gone before.

By virtue of its public accessibility, social media strategies are easy to observe, evaluate and even imitate. While innovators and early adopters try everything new on for size, testing, integrating, measuring and running themselves ragged, late adopters can examine these enthusiastic efforts to judge what is worthwhile in the marketing mix, and how the puzzle fits together.  The latecomers have the benefit of watching what is trending, learning what works to engage an audience on YouTube, Facebook or Pinterest. Views, shares, followers, pins and likes are openly available and very revealing. The marketing industry itself is a valuable source of insight, with experts freely discussing best practices with empirical data to support their approval or dissent. Formal analysis by highly respected organizations such as Stanford, Harvard and MIT can also assist key decision makers with the transition to becoming a social business.

Late adopters who have expressed deep skepticism or risk aversion towards social media over a period of years, will have cultural adjustments to overcome when considering a change in the course of their traditional marketing strategy. While it can take a long time to reach internal consensus and approval to join in, once the decision is made, catch-up can be implemented relatively quickly, without the extended production schedules often associated with traditional media.

If control of the conversation remains a significant concern, it makes sense to ease into the world of emerging media. Lee Schneider recommends blogging as the perfect starting point. Content is controlled by the designated author/s, and reader comments can be moderated before posting. It is easy to accurately track audience engagement and the beginning of an online brand community can be established.

The writing is on the wall that social media is here to stay, and whether that’s a Facebook wall, a Pinterest board, a blog post, or all of the above, the good news is it’s never too late to join in and catch up.

Power of pictures: The eyes have it

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Stop you in your tracks photographs
– you know the ones: the infinity pool perched on the edge of a cliff in Greece; the romantic plantation-style inn with rocking chairs waiting on the porch; or the signature golf hole with greens as smooth as velvet.

These are the pictures you used to tear out of a magazine and save in a Places to Visit file. Now, chances are, you pin to a wish-list board on Pinterest, loaded with your personal vacation fantasies. Although some photo destinations may remain out of reach, no doubt others will influence actual bookings for trips.  A survey by eMarketer indicates that 32% of customers have made a purchase after seeing an image on a social image-sharing website, and 26% were able to click through from the image to make their purchases.

Images, particularly quality photographs, are a magnetic force in content marketing, and drive social media activity. It is vital for businesses to show, not tell, as visual content sites are fueling demand for inspiring photography and sensational images. A marketer’s overriding mantra that “content is king” has met its match with the new maxim “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

A study conducted in 2012 by ROI Research found that users engaged on social media sites enjoy pictures the most and 42% of respondents are more likely to engage with brands if they post pictures.

Images are a form of shorthand for communicating with consumers. Online audiences feel increasingly overwhelmed by the volume of information on social media these days, so it helps that photos are visually processed almost instantly, even faster than reading a post or a tweet.

Make sure you develop a tailored image strategy within your content marketing plan. Yes, stock images are useful and tweeting Instagram pictures can be part of your strategy – there is a legitimate place for behind-the-scenes updates communicated with the immediacy of this visual communication channel – but these sources will only take you so far. Part of your plan should include a realistic budget for professional photo shoots. Top quality professional photography adds authority and legitimacy to a brand. Studies have shown that over 45% of people say a website’s design is the number one criterion for discerning the credibility of a company, and much of the strength of web design hinges on populating a site with strong image content.

Based on experience, I would urge you to match the skill set of the photographer with the subject of the shoot. Some professionals excel at managing the demands of architectural photography, and can magically transform a dull, concrete facade into a building that exudes warmth and elegance. These guys know every angle and can add visual square footage to interior spaces, bouncing light off every surface to make a room positively glow. Other photographers are experts at shooting lifestyle images with models, making intangible emotions tangible and validating the aspirational nature of a brand.  Certain photographers even specialize within a very narrow subject niche, such as golf course panoramas or food photography.

Don’t just hire a great photographer, hire the right photographer. Make sure to allocate your marketing budget accordingly, and be confident that quality photography is an excellent investment in social media success.

Consumer as Chief Marketing Officer

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Word of mouth (WOM) has always influenced consumer decision-making. Receiving the personal advice, recommendations, and suggestions of friends, family, and acquaintances before making a purchase is both reassuring and validating.

Need a new camera? Ask the brother-in-law that’s a shutter bug.  A new car? Dad always has sound advice about automobiles.  Great restaurant? A foodie friend is the go-to expert.

Emerging media has expanded word of mouth influence to include the objective and subjective opinions of ANYONE choosing to share their experiences electronically – hence the term, eWOM.  Reading multiple five-star reviews, contributed by strangers across the globe, is now as likely to influence that camera purchase as a brother-in-law’s recommendation. If poor ratings in review sites such as Yelp or Urbanspoon contradict a friend’s restaurant suggestion, reservations will likely be made elsewhere.

Social networking has completely transformed how consumers interact with a brand.  What people have to say about a brand is now as important as whatever the brand has to say about itself. Consumers, en masse, are eager to share the role of Chief Marketing Officer. Of course, this challenges corporate traditions. The comfort zone of a top-down, tightly controlled commercial communication model is now outdated; businesses need to adopt open, equal, interactive dialogues within online brand communities.

A new research study quantifies the influence of word of mouth marketing (both WOM and eWOM combined):

  • 10 – 54% of the marketing impact for a brand is delivered through word of mouth, suggesting this is a key element of the consumer decision-making journey.
  • Word of mouth can drive nearly as much organic search as traditional marketing activities on their own, when marketing activities are also present.
  • A 10% increase in word of mouth resulted in sales lift of 0.2% – 1.5%.

Both WOM and eWOM, play a significant role in the consumer decision journey, acting as an amplifier of all marketing activities. Marketers need to account for the pathways through which word of mouth plays an intermediary step in the journey between marketing exposure and financial results. Analyzing the overall impact on marketing will help determine optimal budget allocations.

The speed of diffusion. reach, persistence and interactivity of eWOM is both intimidating and challenging to manage operationally. Companies have less control over WOM and eWOM strategies, as the way communication spreads among consumers is more random than in advertising. Authentic, responsive and transparent communication with consumers is vital. Creating a strong brand community through regular communications inspires loyalty and motivates satisfied customers to defend a brand against negative eWOM. The tone and language used in communications must be personal and relatable emulating a real online conversation. Responding to unsatisfied customers demonstrates responsiveness and limits the potential for further dissemination of negative reviews as a form of consumer revenge.

The following corporate responses from the Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco on Trip Advisor and Nike Support on Facebook, demonstrate responsiveness to eWOM in a brand-appropriate voice:

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There is no room for smoke and mirrors in today’s socially net-worked world. Corporations can connect directly, in near real-time, with customers whether locally, nationally or internationally, building and enhancing customer relationships.

In 2013 and beyond, word-of-mouth marketing is not just “nice to have,” but is a game-changing element of today’s marketing mix.

Luxury brands and emerging media

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By it’s very definition, social media is the darling of the masses. Can luxury brands mix new technology with tradition while maintaining the aura of exclusivity necessary to appeal to affluent consumers? Is there a way to reconcile the sophisticated ambiance of a bricks and mortar luxury retail or service environment with the persistence of communications required to gain market share via social media?

Yes. But developing the social media presence of a luxury brand requires a thoughtful extension of that brand’s online presence, consistent with the existing real-life brand experience.

A new Social Media Guide by Abrams Research, which specifically addresses the luxury market, recommends:

  • Looking at each social media platform independently rather than repurposing existing digital assets.
  • Considering each platform as an opportunity to fill a new or different need in digital the space.
  • Focusing on quality content rather than quantity.
  • Communicating visually with instantly appealing images.

The aspirational nature of luxury brands can be harnessed if sharing is approached in the right way. Customers are often eager to share their association with luxury products, but require the tools to do so. Like attracts like. Leveraging the passion, interest and connectivity of a brand’s supporters establishes connections to more affluent consumers. Social media enables customers and fans to share the value and experiences they derive from their luxury purchases in digital as well as physical spaces.

Constructing a narrative for a luxury brand that ties into the narrative customers have created about themselves is key.

A purse doesn’t qualify as a luxury item because it costs $4,000; it qualifies as a luxury item because its calfskin leather, imported all the way from Valencia, has been hand-treated using a process that has been kept as a family secret for six generations, features 22 karat white gold clasps, and maybe most importantly because it was mentioned favorably by a friend or celebrity on social media.

There is no one-size fits all approach, each luxury brand must carefully examine its core identity and commit time and resources to bringing their optimum social media campaign to life.

A fine example is provided by women’s designer, Tory Burch. In addition to an active brand presence on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, the Tory Blog is rich with content on style, culture, travel, entertaining, music and expert advice tailored to the Tory Burch woman.   The copy and design rival any traditional high-end fashion magazine. and the content is not focused on selling but on building a lifestyle brand that speaks to the consumer like a trusted friend. Tory Burch herself contributes posts and publishes personal photos that make her accessible to consumers who identify with her.

Tory Burch luxury brand blog

In the luxury travel industry, Four Seasons, is an example of a hotelier that has embraced social media. The company’s corporate Twitter account interacts globally with all customers and individual properties are equipped with their own Twitter account that acts as a concierge service for guests who may have questions about that specific hotel or the surrounding area. The authentic rapport with guests is excellent as you can read in the Twitter exchange below:

Four Seasons Twitter Account Exchange

Four Seasons is equally as engaging on Facebook, pushing awareness of what’s happening at their properties to people using both organic and paid strategies. What is the payoff? Almost half (48%) of Facebook users become fans of pages because their friends are.

Social media offers luxury brands an unprecedented opportunity to provide exemplary customer service to their clientele, connecting in a way that is immediate and powerful. Luxury brands must commit to being honest, receptive and communicative with their customers and respond promptly 24/7. Customer service is not just fighting fires; social media can educate and enrich a customer’s experience with a brand if staff are trained and equipped to be both creative and proactive.

Affluent customers crave special attention from their favorite brands through both traditional and, increasingly, non-traditional channels. Marketers need to emphasize status and lifestyle through compelling digital storytelling, effectively intertwining product browsing with content and imagery so that visitors become immersed in the brand world.  In this way, marketers can realize the potential for social media to help build a strong brand community of loyalists, new customers and aspirational fans.

“Pull” to open doors

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There are lots of buzz words in marketing speak. Any conversation centered around integrated marketing communications is likely to spark a debate about push versus pull marketing.

But what are they talking about?

Push marketing is, admittedly, a little pushy. It consists of content pushed out to an audience who are passive recipients. TV and radio advertising would be good examples. Online, push marketing might appear in the form of a banner ad or live chat pop-up.

Pull marketing, refers to an active audience who are actually looking for what you have to offer, are pulled in and choose to connect.

Both strategies have merit in an integrated marketing communications strategy, but pull marketing has a particular affinity with emerging media. Search engine optimization is one of the purest forms of pull marketing. In an online search by a prospective customer, a marketer’s goal is to make sure their brand is positioned for the searcher to find it easily.

Author, Greg Verdino, expands the definition of pull marketing to being visible where your ideal client hangs out and becoming part of their communities.

Pull is not about pulling consumers in; it’s about giving consumers a reason to pull us in.

Pull means that we to go to them, join their communities, give them reasons to voluntarily draw us into their personal media experiences. We’re not interrupting them. They’re opting into us.

Valuable collateral in pull marketing is expert knowledge. Share it with others. Emerging media vehicles for pull marketing include websites, blogs, discussion forums, industry articles, whitepapers, webinars, infographics and videos. All of this suggested content must be authentic and have intrinsic value for the audience.  Thinly veiled promotional vehicles will be obvious, and possibly offensive.  Building trust and relationships through pull marketing is a long-term commitment to a relationship with an audience – on their terms. They choose where they want to go in the digital realm, when and how they wish to connect, and what they decide to experience.

A brand that has consistently proven itself to be a thought-leader in sharing expert knowledge is American Express.  The Open Forum is Amex’s online community for small business owners. It offers the concept of “collective ingenuity” with other business owners as they discuss and share ideas and experiences. Monthly traffic on the Open Forum website has grown to over 1 million visitors, the Facebook page has 327,000 likes, the Twitter feed has amassed 191, 500 followers.

Pull marketing through emerging media, done well, has great potential to open doors and grow your audience.

Keeping up with emerging media

Orange Keep Calm Sign

As contemporary career advice goes, keep calm and keep up is the bare minimum in polite guidance. A less diplomatic career counselor would be more direct – adapt or die. Professionally, that is.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re adapting to emerging media. Well done!

Professionals active in the workplace today face a new world order. Emerging media has an impact on almost everyone whose job involves any digital interaction with a computer or a mobile device. Yet, this powerful force in our personal and professional lives is so dynamic it is challenging to define theoretically. Inherent in its very title is the propensity to evolve and change. To further complicate the issue, common vernacular often uses the terms, emerging media, new media, and digital media, interchangeably. As a practical matter, emerging media encompasses such mediums as websites, smart phone applications, blogs, podcasts, video ads, social networking, RSS feeds, micro-blogging, message boards, forums, advergaming – basically any method for communicating and connecting within the digital landscape.

It would be logical to assume that the brunt of the pressure to adapt to the emerging media revolution falls on the shoulders of professionals active in fields related to media, communications and marketing. Not so, claims Shaila Dewan of the New York Times:

“The need to constantly adapt is the new reality for many workers, well beyond the information technology business…retooling becomes increasingly important not just to change careers, but simply to stay competitive on their chosen path.”

Ironically, professionals are using emerging media to keep up with emerging media. Industry blogs, training videos, ebooks or peer-to-peer forums, are all examples of valuable tools that lend themselves to learning on-the-job and building a skill set in new areas of expertise.

Those who seek the benefit and validation provided by a higher level of formal accreditation in emerging media and marketing can take advantage of a growing number of dedicated university courses, offering undergraduate and graduate programs. The Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) Masters program at West Virginia University (WVU) offers a customized selection of 30 courses equipping graduate students as certified leaders in emerging media and marketing.

In a hyper-connected world it is not enough to just do your job well today, always remain willing to rewrite your job description tomorrow. The emerging media knowledge you have already mastered may not be so relevant in three years time, it could even be obsolete. Prepare to invent, adapt and reinvent your role, continuously, over the course of a career.  Companies will not hire or retain those who do not display competency in keeping up with the pace of change. Whether you choose to adapt through ad-hoc or formal education in emerging media, keep calm and commit to active learning.