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The rise of the digital generalist
Digital marketing is one of the fastest-growing business capabilities, and shows no signs of slowing down. For the intermediate digital professional, there is a common pattern that creates a fork in their career path and a decision has to be made. Whether they recognise it or not, the choice is to either specialise or diversify. The answer is there are benefits to both.
Those who chose to specialise, have focused on a digital vertical such as search, content, UX or social media and are on a journey to master their chosen profession. Most become highly strategic marketers within their speciality and are valued by managers for the wealth of experience they bring to the business.
But what good is it to have the best specialists if they don’t speak multiple languages?
This is how the ‘jack of all trades’ becomes the master: those who are digital generalists possess a thirst for learning and recognise that the 80/20 principle applies to skills. For example, learning 20% of a language vocabulary allows us to communicate and understand 80% of the entire language.
By not pursuing the endless path of perfection like their specialist colleagues, generalists stay exposed to new and diverse digital practices. This makes them a perfect conduit in larger teams to develop highly complex marketing strategies, while ensuring specialists in more niche digital jobs are working cohesively to generate innovative solutions.
So you want to be a generalist? Learn these ‘digital’ skills
As we’ve touched on, digital generalists don’t specialise in a particular technical area but rather have a broad range of skills that apply to multiple roles and business units. As such, the best digital all-rounders possess a good working knowledge of common digital technologies, as well as strong soft skills.
If you’re considering becoming a digital generalist, these are some of the most important skills to learn:
There is a tendency for us to overemphasise the quantitative in the digital space due to its abundance and ease of access. However, you may spare yourself a great deal of time and analysis by actually listening first. Nor will stakeholders and users be persuaded entirely by figures and statistics. There is a certain level of insight in the intuition of users that is too valuable to ignore. Active listening, where you attempt to draw out those hidden insights, will prove to be invaluable in any digital role.
The bulk of the internet and digital is predominantly a visual medium with auditory aspects still a distant second. And with the introduction of smartphones, there are now really no limitations on the visual experience that today firms can provide to their users. Despite the newfound freedom the overall visual experience of websites is still not as good as it should be. The notorious 'hamburger' icon (where three horizontal lines, somewhat reminiscent of a hamburger patty between two buns, are used to represent a menu) you will find on most mobile websites is a perfect example.
Considering all websites are global by default, ensuring that users with limited English-language capability can easily navigate them is essential. Despite knowing that all our sites and content are only skimmed we continue to write and present information as if our users had nothing to do but visit our sites. Digital teams need to ask, if there was no explanatory text just buttons, icons and header images would users understand what to do, or would they be helplessly lost.
Teamwork is essential in the digital space. Very few individuals could single handedly put together a business plan, design a website, write copy, purchase and configure a server, and then launch public relations strategies to get an online business up and running themselves.
The challenge of teamwork in digital is coordinating between conflicting priorities. A change that might improve the SEO rank of a site could reduce the quality of the user experience. A strategy to increase presence on social media might not work without a clear content or PR plan in place. Demonstrating an ability to collaborate and coordinate disparate priorities and get teams working effectively is essential.
How to transition from digital generalist to digital specialist
Many digital professionals start off in the generalist space before finding their niche and deciding to focus on a specific area. It makes sense: the longer you’re in the industry, the easier it is to understand where your professional passions lie.
Fortunately, transitioning from generalist to specialist achievable – but you’ll need to know how to market yourself for new job prospects. Try these tips to get started.
Do your research
This might seem like a no-brainer, but as you’re considering a specialism, keep your own job satisfaction top of mind. One study found that “beyond household income of $75,000 a year, money does nothing for happiness, enjoyment, sadness or stress”. Far more important is having a job that you enjoy at a company you like. LinkedIn is a great source of knowledge about the digital landscape. It’s the best way to keep up to date with what employers are searching for, and also what your peers in the industry are up to – providing inspiration and information about where you could take your career next.
Also, take note of how other specialists position themselves and their expertise – the best LinkedIn profiles are succinctly worded to reflect the person’s achievements and value proposition for a potential employer. They also show rather than just telling, by linking to work and demonstrating knowledge.
Reshape your CV
If there’s no room for you to expand your specialist skills in your current generalist role, it may be time to start reviewing your CV and applying for jobs. Here’s where your research into specialist roles will become useful: you’ll be able to tailor your CV to reflect the jobs on offer. In addition, you should tweak your LinkedIn profile to look more like the job you want, rather than the job you have.
Make sure you avoid buzzwords – Marketing Week lists ‘creative’, ‘strategic’ and ‘motivated’ among the most overused buzzwords in marketing professionals’ LinkedIn profiles. Instead of using common adjectives to describe yourself, use LinkedIn’s content-rich tools to showcase your prowess.
Be specific. The Digital Marketing Institute recommends being specific and using names, numbers and verbs to convey your top achievements. For example, instead of listing something like “fluent in social media marketing,” list out the specific platforms you know how to use (like Hootsuite, WordPress or Buffer).
If you lack direct experience in a digital specialism, make sure you highlight transferable skills on your CV.
Boost your online presence
You should also take the opportunity to highlight your abilities whenever you can. LinkedIn (and other similar sites) allow you to build a basic portfolio to showcase your previous work.
Keep asking for testimonials from people you have worked with and make sure you publish them on your LinkedIn profile. Endorsements from other experts are a great way to prove your expertise. Push them towards the top of your online profiles so that people see them first. And don’t forget to optimise your LinkedIn profile to boost visibility during your job search.
Looking to take the next step in your digital career? Search our current digital jobs and roles around Australia.