How to transform your digital marketing agency to a culture of learning in 8 easy steps, and why it’s necessary to accelerating growth.

by Scott Cunningham on April 18 2019
Maholo Team 2

 The only thing consistent about digital marketing is that it’s inconsistent. I heard this quote from someone, somewhere and it stuck with me because it compelled me to reflect on whether it was true. 

Overarching digital marketing campaign strategies are generally similar and are typically derived from classic direct mail marketing. However, there are a million tools, paths, tactics, tweaks, hacks and ways to achieve our goals. This means in order to be the best at our profession as digital marketers, part of our responsibility is to commit to learning.

 Learning at your agency cannot be an afterthought or a burden. Learning needs to live at the core of your culture.

 Once mastered, your agency’s culture of learning will dictate,

  • How your account managers handle, inform and guide clients
  • How every member on your team will master the digital marketing craft
  • How you develop winning strategies for clients that generate measurable revenue growth, and
  • How to earn authority and attract better prospects

 As the saying goes, “if you’re not growing, you’re dying,” and this couldn’t be truer for digital marketing, one of the fastest, ever-evolving industries. This article will give you simple steps to help you integrate learning into your agency, and build a better culture and company as a result.

1. To develop a culture of learning, start with on-boarding.

 Upon recruiting your next great digital marketing star, or even an established marketing professional, you need to embed learning deeply into the on-boarding process to align new team members with how you approach strategy, and to build good learning habits.

 At Social Lite, we ruthlessly adhere to the Customer Value Journey (CVJ) marketing methodology. The CVJ is so deeply rooted in our agency that it not only frames how we approach every digital marketing campaign, it also guides our language, project management tools, proposals, events & workshops, sales and on-boarding processes, and practically every other foundational function.

Scott CVJ Social SchoolHere I am sharing our passion for the Customer Value Journey
at Social School.

If a new team member isn’t able to learn the CVJ methodology during on-boarding, this person will not succeed at our agency. Knowing this, it’s essential we start training on day one and keep the spirit of learning burning every day thereafter. When a new hire starts, an hour per day of learning is scheduled into his/her calendar for the first month. Additionally, this person is also required to participate in our team learning rituals every week.

2. Enforce, yet embrace, learning rituals.

Rituals guide every aspect of our culture. Each week, we have director meetings on Monday mornings, account status meetings on Tuesday mornings, and owner meetings on Friday mornings. To promote a fun workplace and to nurture colleague relationships, we participate in team yoga at our office once per month, we compete in a lawn bowling tournament every July, and we celebrate every staff member’s birthday with a little office dessert party.

Learning needs its own rituals. Agency-wide, on Wednesday mornings, we all shut out any and all distractions including phones, computers and especially client emails. At our choosing, we each spend one hour learning from various digital marketing education centres online. Some of our favourites include Digital Marketer Lab Elite, HubSpot Academy, Google Academy, and Shopify Partner Academy (note that we are certified partners with all four platforms, and we’re proud to be in good company!).

Social Lite U | Class in SessionBe sure to schedule your learning rituals in everyone's calendars! 
Class is in session for  "Social Lite U" every Wednesday morning. 

Our individual teams also have their own learning rituals. Our content team, for example, spends the first 20 minutes every morning learning one new fact, strategy, or tool that will make their job better, and they share it amongst their team. One way to vet whether an item is worthwhile sharing is to ask: is this something we would publish on our agency’s LinkedIn account? If the answer is yes, we found a winner!

DMOur favourite place to learn is Digital Marketer. Simon and Scott have visited a few times, and were thrilled to give a presentation at their headquarters in Austin, Texas for Partner Training Day in January 2019.

3. Assign a “Minister of Education” to lead, inspire and enforce your team to learn.

 Someone at your agency needs to be your leader in learning to keep the integrity high and to hold others accountable. This is an essential step to ensuring people are adopting your learning rituals. The person you assign to this role needs to be an inherent advocate for education, someone who naturally pursues digital marketing learning and has notably grown his/her own skills.

Minister Of Education
Our Minister of Education, Ian Cooney, teaching eCommerce strategies to a live audience at one of Social Lite’s quarterly Shopify Meetups.

At our agency, our Minister of Education is Ian Cooney, who is also our Editorial Director. An employee of Social Lite for 5+ years (and Social Lite’s first hire!), Ian has dabbled with nearly every strategy and tactic we have deployed, often leading the adoption. Today he directs our content and advertising teams, and as a true master of the trade, he will be the first to emphasize the importance of learning in his rise to digital stardom.

 Ian wears the Minister of Education hat well. He is quite serious about learning, and most importantly, he is an enforcer. We jokingly threaten that Ian will bring out his whip if somebody isn’t prioritizing learning. Find and assign someone like Ian as your Minister of Education.

 4. Enforce, yet embrace, teaching rituals to articulate what you’ve learned.

The only way to become a master of what you learn is to articulate it to someone else. Write a blog post, share a thought on social media, or present to a crowd. Better yet, as an agency, form a ritual not only for learning, but for teaching as well. 

At Social Lite, we have a Friday team ritual that fosters teaching and further drives collaborative learning. Our entire team meets from 3pm-4:30pm, where we go in a circle and everyone shares three items with the group: 1) a win from the week, 2) a big up to someone else on the team, and of course, 3) we share a takeaway, which is something we learned that week.

Remember when I mentioned earlier that our content team spends 20 minutes each morning learning something new? Well here’s their chance to teach it to our team, and by articulating it, they begin to master it. Monday Dot ComPrior to our Friday teaching ritual, everyone uploads their weekly Takeaway to, our project management tool.

Prior to the meeting, everyone uploads their takeaway to a project pulse in our project management tool, Because everyone records their takeaway through this systematic approach, it makes it easy to reshare and reuse this great content on social media. Once we complete the full circle and everyone has shared their win, big up and takeaway, we finish with the last individual, who stands at the front of the room and gives a formal, 20-minute presentation in the form of a blog post featuring a strategy, case study, tool or other topic. This is the climax of the learning experience, when one becomes a teacher.

Maholo Team 2Pro tip: invite others in your network to participate in your teaching rituals to share knowledge from outside of your agency, like when Ed Bisquera from Inbound 808 presented to our team from his office in Hawaii, as featured in this photo.

We pre-create the presentation schedule through a random draw, then once we cycle through everyone’s presentations, we re-draw names to create the next schedule. And every Monday, we display the upcoming Friday presenter on a light box sign near the front of our office, which helps build anticipation while serving as a reminder to the presenter to prepare.

Next Up MikThis light box sign in our office displays the name of the upcoming weekly presenter for Friday's education ritual meeting.

5. Publish your educational content as part of your agency’s marketing campaign to boost your industry authority.

 When you create teaching rituals, where everyone on your team is sharing knowledge, you are also creating opportunities for quality content production. It’s a fairly simple yet brilliant routine. Learn stuff, share it with others, then turn it into content for your online campaigns. 

Turn takeaways into social posts.

As mentioned earlier, in our weekly Friday meetings each member shares a takeaway from something he/she learned that week. And these takeaways can certainly become social media posts for our team members, and further, for our agency.Nick and Ivana
Examples of how to turn weekly takeaways into social media content for your agency.

Turn weekly presentations into blog posts. 

Also mentioned earlier, one person each week gives a 20-minute presentation in the form of a blog post, which we publish on our agency’s website. And when every team member contributes high-level blog content every week, we create a robust content campaign that improves our SEO, drives engagement and website traffic through social media, and ultimately boosts our industry authority as professors of the trade.

Education Blog Example of how we turn our weekly presentations into blog content. Click here to read the blog post featured in this GIF.

6. Encourage and support your staff to build their personal brands and be industry leaders in the subjects and tools they are knowledgeable and passionate about.

The content you teach to others becomes your personal curriculum.

Articulating what you learn into a blog post is a big step to better-understanding topics and developing your subject matter expertise. But this knowledge base you establish has a snowball effect. When you learn core principles, you grow your understanding further when you articulate what you learn into content. Then you have the opportunity to grow your subject matter expertise further by developing presentations, video, and curriculum around those topics.  

HubSpot Video

 Video is a powerful way to teach and reach wide audiences. Here's a video our Director of Strategy (and co-owner) Simon Trafford made for an educational digital marketing quiz. Click here to take the quiz.

The sequence goes a little like this. You learn a neat trick about Instagram advertising, for example, and you write a blog post about it. Then you start paying attention to other concepts related to Instagram advertising, and you adopt the new knowledge as part of your cohesive understanding about this topic. So you write more blog posts about Instagram advertising, and suddenly your colleagues and industry peers recognize you as an authority in this space. Then you are invited to develop and give comprehensive presentations to live audiences about Instagram advertising, and your authority soars further from there. 

Understand this. If you knew nothing about Instagram advertising, it would be difficult to picture yourself as an industry-famous leader on this topic, and it could be intimidating to pursue this goal. So instead start with the basic learning principles outlined in this post. Make learning a habit and a ritual, start with baby steps, and you will gradually grow your understanding and leadership on certain topics = snowball effect.

 Teach your curriculum through blog posts, videos, and presentations.

At our agency, we encourage and support our staff to build their personal brands and be leaders in the subjects and tools they are passionate about. This is an ultimate goal, because we unconditionally promote learning and education, and we encourage our people to take it as far as they can. As you can see through our events and workshop page, our staff run their own group workshops on topics like influencer marketing and ecommerce marketing, and more to come. SL-shopify-24

Every member of our team is encouraged to teach at events, not just a select few. Our people present at conferences, meetups, panels, and workshops.

We collectively had a snowball effect experience with Shopify. After many attempts, we finally earned our Shopify Expert designation a few years ago. At that time, we started paying keen attention to the latest tools and strategies that worked for Shopify to grow our expertise further. We then wrote social and blog posts about what we learned, and the next thing you know, last year we started hosting sold-out, immensely popular local Shopify Meetups, which we now host every three months. Shopify sends out invites, we send out invites, the room fills, and our entire team takes turns presenting high-level ecommerce case studies and strategies at these events. One of the areas we are now recognized as leaders in is … you guessed it … Shopify. 

IMG_0760Growing an ecommerce community at Social Lite's Shopify Meetup, October, 2018.

7. Retain clients and staff by leading through education. 

At our agency, we have a motto, and it’s to lead through education. Instead of pursuing emotionally driven arguments with clients or colleagues, we instead guide conversations based on data and what we can demonstrate. And when we can tactfully demonstrate digital marketing strategies and results to others, we in turn become professors of the trade with heightened industry authority.

Social Lite x Shopify-49

Learn, teach, content, repeat.

Gone are the days of making campaign decisions based on rash, unjustified comments or input from colleagues or clients. When you are a professor of the trade, you can’t be a lever puller — you are the expert who needs to lead the strategy and campaign. And when you steer the campaign in a successful direction, client retention at your agency improves. And when your team’s campaigns win, staff retention at your agency improves. When clients and staff are committed to your agency, only then is sustainable growth possible.

And with all your heightened authority as an industry leader and professor, you will attract better business through your inbound marketing campaigns, and from the events you are speaking at. I know because we have followed the exact cycle laid out in this article, and the impact education has had on our agency is transcendent. 

On the flip side, you want to repel staff and clients who aren't believers in your strategies, methodologies, and philosophies like the plague. They will only prevent your growth and hurt your culture. 

8. Circle of education and content

Learning guides our content; articulating content builds our expertise; and our expertise is fed back into our work. Then our work is featured in a case study, which guides the next presentation, which grows our authority. Our authority attracts better business, where we learn more, teach more, develop more case studies, and the cycle continues perpetually.

Team CelebrationYou, too, can transform your agency into a culture of learning by following these 8 steps.

Transforming your agency to a culture of learning is synonymous with transforming your agency to a better, sustainable business where you will develop your industry authority, attract better prospects, retain clients and staff, and increase revenue and profits as a result.

If you are in the Edmonton area on May 22nd, 2019, and you have an invested interest in growing your business, I invite you to attend our Accelerated Growth Summit, the latest manifestation of our commitment to education. Click here for more info and to get your ticket.


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