By Kevin Anselmo
According to FutureLearn, digital skills are those needed to use digital devices, communication applications and networks to access and manage information. Digital marketing is one of several key digital skills. Anyone participating in the knowledge economy is a digital marketer to some extent. Whether you are an administrative assistant, lawyer, doctor or public relations professional, you need to be able to craft compelling communication across various formats to influence audiences, whether it is one individual or many.
In this area, I believe there is a gap. Many would believe the younger generation is tech savvy and therefore sufficiently trained to take on digital marketing activities. From my experiences, many young people enter the workforce without the necessary digital marketing skills. I have seen a number of different examples of young people who lack the ability to communicate clearly and concisely, fail to apply empathy in understanding what would resonate with targeted audiences and are clueless on how to use data in crafting a message. There are probably numerous reasons for this.
For the sake of this piece, I wanted to hone in one five somewhat related activities that students, young professionals and educators should consider to close this gap.
1. Blog regularly.
Many spend the majority of their educational years writing for academic audiences: papers, essays, book reports, etc. This is an important activity. But business communication is far different. Academic writing is often lengthy. It doesn't require hooking in an audience. With business communications, usually you need to do the opposite by capturing your reader(s) attention immediately and providing short messages that are intended to drive action around a particular topic.
I encourage young people to practice this latter way of communicating by finding opportunities to blog about their professional interests. Writing short 800 - 1,200 word articles about your career interests can go a long way. It not only helps you be a better digital marketer, but also helps to crystallize your thinking about career paths. It doesn’t have to be the most scintillating prose known to mankind. Nor is it necessary to attract a large number of people reading your content.
2. Offer to ghostwrite.
Ghostwriting involves creating content on behalf of someone else. As part of my consulting business, I am frequently brought on to write an article, report or strategic communications asset on behalf of a leader. I will generally interview the person or receive some sort of asset and then use this information to create the content in the voice of the leader.
I encourage young people to seek out opportunities to ghostwrite based on their interests. I also propose that educators give students the opportunity to ghostwrite. It might involve helping a parent with their professional communication or looking for opportunities to create content for the school, among other possibilities.
It is a really interesting way to not only hone digital marketing skills, but also put into practice the skill of empathy. You put yourself not only in the eyes of readers consuming the content, but also imagine being the brain of the person who is sharing the communication.
3. Use social media strategically.
Most everyone knows how to use social media at the personal level. Unfortunately, this is fraught with danger. There are too many stories of individuals who have faced consequences from their younger years for posting inappropriate images from a social gathering or using poor language in a pointless political debate on social media.
Let’s use social media strategically from a career development perspective. There are many ways to approach this. Let’s start by posting content that aligns to your career interests. Share your thoughts about a talk you heard or an interesting article you read. Ask a thoughtful question that could lead to quality discussion. Shine the spotlight on others. Use hashtags.
4. Study content as you consume it.
I advise all the students I work with to not only practice creating content, but to also study content creators. I always loved the way New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman communicated with his readers. His ability to simplify complicated foreign affairs matters always resonated with me. Ditto, I appreciate the ways individuals like Tom Vander Ark interview educational leaders on the Getting Smart Podcast. I love how Gini Dietrich interjects personality into the content she creates for public relations professionals via Spin Sucks. When I consume these individuals’ content, I often take note of the different ways they communicate. So next time you are reading your favorite blogger or listening to your favorite podcast, consider what caught your attention about the way the person communicated. Then imagine how you might replicate some of the best practices bringing your own unique tone and style to the process.
5. Use online learning resources.
If you have access to the internet, you can consume a vast amount of educational content via Khan Academy, YouTube and Linkedin Learning to name just a few. There are different sources that align to different styles of learning.
This video highlights the inspiring story of Litha Soyizwapi, who taught himself to code. He began this journey by downloading free online courses from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon. These courses included machine learning, iPhone programming and an introduction to computer science. These online resources gave Litha the knowledge he needed to create one of the most successful apps in Africa, GauRider. If Lithia can use online educational content to code, I know that you can use online educational content to become a more prolific digital marketer.
I can vouch for the course content on LinkedIn Learning created by communications experts Deirdre Breakenridge and Dorie Clark. If you are an educator, then there are several notable courses that can be licensed and rolled out to students (one such possibility could be the Global Innovators Academy’s Interview an Innovator program).
I thought these five ways are a useful starting point. None of these activities are overly burdensome to do and will be extremely helpful in your future career. You will stand out, make more meaningful connections and I think have fun in the process. Seems like a valuable return on time investment, no?
Kevin Anselmo is the founder of Global Innovators Academy and creator of the Interview an Innovator program. As part of this experience, students / young professionals interview different leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators and then write articles that are rigorously edited and published online. In the process, they are inspired about careers to explore, gain valuable communications and networking skills, and build a digital footprint that makes them more marketable. Contact Kevin to roll out this program at your high school, university or organization as part of a workforce development initiative.