Every now and then I get asked by my students, people I meet at our events, or just anybody else, “Where should I begin to learn about digital marketing?” It’s a tough question: We’re not doctors or lawyers, and there is no set career path or accredited certification required to practice our craft. I know people that have taken undergraduate and graduate degrees in our field, and I know people that have stumbled into it after working in unrelated careers for years. And neither path necessarily produces a better marketer.
For many looking to bone up on their skills or to shift careers, it can be helpful to explore a more traditional path like the university degrees mentioned above, or on a more accessible level, a bootcamp-style program like General Assembly or BrainStation. These programs can be transformative and help unlock doors to a career in digital marketing, however they also come with a hefty price-tag and a serious time commitment. One way to dip your toes in the water are one-off continuing education courses at a community college or short-run seminars at these non-traditional institutions.
But in my book, the best bang for the buck for somebody truly starting at square one are not necessarily traditional classrooms, but through a suite of tools that you can start right now in just a couple clicks. Most of these tools are free or low-cost, and several of them will even guide you through actual hands-on practice with the platforms and software that digital marketers use on a daily basis.
Fresh off a rebranding to start 2020, Skillshare is still one of our favorite platforms for learning new things. The company’s strength is in creative topics such as design, animation, and illustration, but there are still tons of excellent courses in branding, social media management, SEO, and other more general marketing topics. I personally hop on Skillshare from time to time to help learn new tools and brush up on best practices, and their platform is one of the most user-friendly online learning tools I’ve encountered. A differentiator here from some of the platform-owned tools below is that the courses are largely taught by independent practicing professionals, meaning you will learn some tips and tricks that you won’t find in the metaphorical owner’s manual. There are thousands of free classes in a variety of subjects, but some of the best content (and offline viewing) is reserved for premium members at a modest price.
Google’s set of courses and accompanying certifications are probably the most widely recognized on this list, as the company has been providing extensive training programs for many years. There are options to dive into several Google products, but most relevant to an aspirating digital marketer will be the courses on Google Ads, Google Marketing Platform, Analytics, and YouTube. Most classes clock in at less than five hours, so it’s easy to knock one off on a slow day or over a couple evenings.
Once you learn the ropes, you can then take certification tests on a handful of the topics. These tests do require studying, but they will be worth it. Showcasing Google certifications on your resume can give you some instant digital marketing street cred and help you stand out in a crowded field of wannabe applicants or freelancers.
Despite strong entrants from Sketch, Invision, and other firms, Adobe still makes the gold standard creative software on the market. Between Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, xD, After Effects, Premiere Pro, and other software in the Creative Cloud, you can make just about any vision a reality — across just about any medium. You’ll need a license for the apps that you want to learn, but once you’re set up you can dive in to multiple levels of courses that will let you hit the ground running on these professional-grade tools.
Between them, Facebook and Google make up more than half of the total digital advertising market, so it is imperative that you are familiar with both platforms as you begin to wade into the space. Luckily, Facebook has also built out a robust learning platform named Blueprint to help empower marketers and business owners to learn their tools. Blueprint has dozens of short courses broken out into different use cases and features of their business products. Remember that Facebook owns other gigantic platforms Instagram and WhatsApp as well, so you’ll also find content related to those two in here.
Like Google, Facebook also offers certifications that can be valuable on your resume. There is a cost associated with some of the tests, so make sure that you bone up on your material before you get started on those exams.
Once upon a time, LinkedIn Learning was known as Lynda. Even with its recent rebranding, this platform still offers one of the deepest libraries of online courses, covering dozens of topics in business and technology. Its digital marketing library is robust, both with a featured “learning path” that includes 15 hours of expert videos and a certification at the end, and with over 100 other lessons in branding, advertising, content marketing, and more. Unlike the offerings from Google and Facebook, this is a premium paid platform and will cost you a few bucks to get all the content … however with a little bit of poking around you may just be able to find free access through your local library.
As much as we love to curl up with a good book, the field of digital marketing moves at too fast a clip to make most books on the topic relevant. That being said, there are plenty of fantastic tomes on the core tenets of good marketing that should be on your list, and we’ve covered a few of our favorites in a couple earlier blog posts. If you want more to read, here’s a good rule of thumb: If the book came out more than a few years ago and people are still praising it, it’s much more likely to include “timeless truths” about marketing than the latest release. There are also plenty of great books to check out about more specialized sub-topics within the marketing field, such as branding, copywriting, and graphic design. Reading a book is like borrowing somebody else’s brain, and whether you read specifically digital marketing books or really anything else, the simple act of doing so will help you be a better communicator and a more well-rounded leader.
All of the tools above can be digested from the comfort of your own own at any time of your choosing, but there is still something about real-world interactions that can’t be beat. On any given day, and in any given big-enough city, you’re apt to find dozens of free or low-cost events on sites like Meetup or through organizations like the American Marketing Association or the American Institute of Graphic Artists. Each event will be different, but seeking out and attending these talks and presentations will allow you to meet people in the field, ask questions of the presenters, and build relationships.
Regardless of which tools you explore, the best way to get started is to simply start. Find something you want to make or something you want to promote, and spend some time experimenting with real-world platforms and software to conjure it into reality. There has never been more opportunity, and there has never been more information at your fingertips. Good luck!