Social media should be a no-brainer. After all, it’s all about conversation and relationships – and in fact our conversational instincts can serve us well in blogging, podcasting, social networking and other social media channels.

Instinct alone, however, won’t suffice. You need skills, knowledge and experience to succeed in social media – from tech chops, to the unique demands of various social media venues, to the social nuances of dealing with conflict between online antagonists.

You can develop those social media muscles with training (self-directed or with a teacher), by watching others and – most important – through practice.

And “practice” in more than one sense: learning involves making mistakes, sometimes big ones. Those can be hard enough to swallow if you’re communicating as an individual, although you’ll find a lot of people willing to cut some slack for teh n00bs.

But when you’re out there on behalf of your organization, there may be more at stake. People are less forgiving of institutions than individuals, and depending on your organization’s profile, the damage to its reputation could be significant.

That’s where your blog comes in. Smaller in scale, more manageable in scope and simpler in concept than more ambitious social media projects, your blog can be the perfect place to build your skills and experience – and those of your embryonic social media team.

Here are some of the ways you can make your blog serve as a training platform as well as a conversational communications channel:

  • Go in prepared. Yes, it’s a training ground – but it’s also happening in the full light of day. So before you begin, give yourself a grounding in blogging by reading other blogs, commenting on them, and seeing what appeals to you and what doesn’t. Consider blogging behind closed doors for a little while before going public, and you’ll not only start settling into a consistent voice, but you’ll have a solid body of posts to show the world.
  • The same applies to team members. They don’t have to be seasoned hands, but be sure they know some of the basics before you give them the keys. (And by “the basics”, I mean about blogging generally … but also about your blog’s goals, tone, policies and culture.)
  • Assemble your blogging team with some thought to the future. Choose folks you’d like to develop as potential social media team members, and let them try on different roles – from writers to community animators to editorial managers – and discover their strengths. And if you’d like to try someone on for size and see how they adapt, bring them on as a guest blogger for a little while.
  • Set learning goals and milestones for yourself and your team, and take them seriously. Plan a curriculum that includes self-guided study, practical experience and – if you have the budget – formal training. And think strategically. What skills do you need not just as a blogger, but as a manager and strategist? Learn about analytics, conversions and calls to action.
  • Look to the future: what kind of social media initiative will your organization likely want to pursue? Draft your blog’s roadmap in a way that will take you in helpful directions, anticipating and honing the skills that will serve you well when the time comes – by adding the odd video or audio clip if a podcast is in your future, for instance.
  • Look for overlap. Think about your organization’s training needs; where do they map onto some of the skills you and your team members can develop through the blog?
  • Build a peer social network on Twitter, LinkedIn or other services, and ask questions. There’s a strong sense of community among social media types, and asking for help with a technical issue or a pointer to a resource will almost always get you – if not the definitive answer – a solid starting point.
  • Share what you learn among your team, and broaden it to your organization. Holding lunch and learns, lightning sessions or monthly seminars can help spread the knowledge about tools and strategies. Alternatively, social bookmarking, a wiki or an internal blog can let you organize your collective expertise and share that blog or podcast you just discovered.
  • Offer training opportunities to the rest of your organization. An internal internship on your blog could help a customer care rep learn more about engagement, a marketing manager get a handle on social media culture, or your ED’s speechwriter brush up her conversational chops.

Here’s how you’ll know you’re creating a high-value training platform:

  • You have a clear picture in your head of exactly what skills and knowledge your team has, where you need to improve, and where individual members’ strengths lie.
  • Blogging, blog monitoring and other social media activities are faster and easier, because they’re becoming second nature.
  • Team members’ performance assessments show improvements in areas related to their social media activities, such as facilitation, collaboration and communication.
  • You and your team members start trying out new skills, because you’ve mastered the old ones.
  • You’ve developed a network of people – peers, mentors, prospective new hires – you can count on for sharing ideas, knowledge and support.

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