The digital space is exciting. It allows you to reach consumers at scale. It brings you closer to your customers on the channel of their choice. It allows you to personalize your message and your service. It gives you the ability to tell your stories in fun formats and in new ways.
Many executives are shifting their focus – and their budgets – from traditional to digital marketing. For all these reasons (and many more), this space now draws the attention of professionals across many areas of interest: marketing, research, paid media, branding, customer care, sales, recruiting etc.
Independent of your focus, if you are a young professional looking to succeed in this space, there are a variety of skillsets you’ll need to be able to accelerate your career trajectory and, with it, your pay. Let’s look at some of them:
Content is king. Everything you do online revolves around content. But creating great content isn’t enough. To stand out in already saturated space you need to become a great storyteller. You need to find ways to tell stories that are relevant to your audience in the right format, on the right channel, at the right time.
Great storytellers are not born, they are made. To become one, do the following: read on the subject, learn from the best storytellers in your industry and beyond, pay attention to what stories resonate with you and take note, look at how the coolest brands tell their stories, and carry a notebook with you everywhere you go to jot down powerful stories other people tell and ideas about the ones you want to craft and share.
If you think community management is something a random intern should do, think again. Best-in-class brands don’t hire interns to manage their communities, and for a good reason. To successfully build and nurture your community you need to have someone at the helm who understands your industry, your business, your brand; and at the same time someone who loves your customers and is willing to serve a tough role of being a bridge between a brand and a customer. Great community managers have a tough job of balancing the needs of the company and the needs of the community.
Possessing this skillset requires actual experience. Yes, you need to be intimately familiar with the social networks and the tools that allow you to manage high volumes of inquiries. These are hard skillsets that will take you halfway to your goal. However, it’s the soft skills that come with actually performing this role that are priceless. Find a community manager role and do it for a year or two. Or alternatively you can start a community in a role you are in. If you are going for the latter, be careful not to interfere and overlap with the current brand communities.
Whatever role you perform, always remember to measure the impact. Measurement and optimization is a must when it comes to any digital role. However, go beyond just vanity metrics. Really study the art of extracting insights from data. One of the roles that continues to be in high demand is that of the Data Scientist, someone who can turn big data into true business insights.
Strive to acquire analytical skillsets in your current role. Learn the tools that can help you automate some of the analytical tasks. Talk to people who know the field deeply. Or go one step further and take on a role that solely focuses on business intelligence. No matter what you do after that, you will be in high demand because of your knowledge of turning data into insights.
A lot of social media is about organic and owned content. But if you want to be successful in the digital space, you have to possess skillsets that span POEM (paid, owned, earned media).
Some might argue that there isn’t such a thing as organic reach anymore. I disagree, but that’s a topic for another blog post. Here, I’ll say that you need to be very familiar not only with how to create owned content and spark earned media, but how to amplify that content in alignment with your brand goals. Learning the paid media side of the house is important.
To learn it, either partner with the paid media counterpart and dig deeper into how the whole POEM works together, or step into the role for one or two years and actually execute paid media campaigns.
Knowing technology is a critical part of any digital job. If you are outsourcing it to an agency or a contractor, you are missing out big time. Unless you are using the tools yourself, you don’t really understand what they can do for you.
Make an effort to learn multiple tools (listening, engagement, content distribution, analytics etc.) and dive into their impact on your performance and business in general. Engage with the vendors to learn more – usually they’ll have training materials and in-depth demos to help you dig deeper. Partner with IT folks if necessary. Also, try to understand how other business units are using the tools. In a more senior role you will be asked to scale technology globally across geographies and teams and this knowledge will come in handy.
Here is the harsh truth that most people don’t want to hear – if you are not using social platforms personally, you have no clue what they can do for your business. I’ve seen it time and time again. Firsthand knowledge is absolutely necessary to not only figuring out how those platforms will serve your immediate goals around customer engagement, but also to creating successful marketing strategies across the whole customer journey. Any knowledge – strategic or tactical – will play a huge role in defining your career trajectory.
To learn about various platforms, just jump in and try them out. Then do a lot of reading about the functions and features (there isn’t any shortage of content out there on the web). Subscribe to niche publications (such as 'Social Media Examiner') that keep you updated on the latest feature releases and platform changes. Talk to your peers about how they use the platforms to their advantage.
Digital spans business units and functional teams. It also has many layers, which means large teams are involved in the strategic execution across those functional teams. You need two distinct skillsets here (which actually align nicely): the ability to collaborate with people across your own team and organization as a whole, and strong project management skills to ensure the campaigns are run smoothly.
Both are learned with age and experience. Back in the day, when I was just starting out, I read a lot of books on communication and listened to my mentors’ advice on how to engage with people. I also understood early on that project management skills – no matter the role – are critical for success, because you need to know how to manage complex programs (from budget to stakeholder/partner alignment to execution). I did get a Project Management Professional (PMP) certificate. I don’t advocate that you do (unless you are passionate about it), but I do suggest you read a lot on agile project management techniques and tactics and implement them in your work environment. “Digital” nowadays means “real-time” and the agile project management approach will help you succeed.
Understanding trends is important if you want to stay ahead of the curve in your career. Mine is successful because I look ahead and I try to predict what will be business critical or “hot” in the future and position myself to align with that trend. If you do that, you will always be the invaluable “expert” who management comes to when they have questions about “that new thing everyone is talking about”.
I suggest spending one or two hours a day reading. Subscribe to a list of publications in your industry and in digital that are of most interest to you and set aside time to educate yourself on what’s happening, what other experts are saying, and what your peers across industries are doing. Here’s the key – don’t limit yourself to just your industry. Make sure you look at best-in-class across the globe and learn from the best. Draw inspiration from wherever you can get it. And don’t be afraid to steal ideas, approaches, frameworks and blueprints. Try them out on a small scale, discard the ones that don’t work and perfect the ones that do.
There is no secret sauce. There is no magic bullet. There are no hacks. The way you become successful is through hard work, building your internal and external network, and looking for a strategic path to pile up as many professional experiences as you can. Never stay in a role for longer than two years unless the role continues to evolve and you continue to grow. Otherwise outline the list of skillsets you need to possess and find the roles that will ensure you get them.
Looking to make the shift into a more senior role in the digital space? Check out my recommended list of skillsets for senior leaders in this post: ‘Critical Skills for Senior Digital Marketing Leaders’