To My Digital Marketing Self: Advice I Wish I Knew Before My First Job

I must admit that when I was asked to do this post, I was dealing with some major imposter syndrome. I had just been laid off and now giving digital marketing advice to students trying to land a job. But in hindsight, my employment status (or lack thereof) might just make me the best person for the job.

I don’t want to make this one of those internet recipes telling their life story first. If you’re interested in what I’ve done, connect with me on LinkedIn.

To me, being laid off felt like I was in a moving car that came to a sudden stop. That sudden stop has given me time to reflect on my career and what is ultimately important. Through that introspection, I developed a list of things I wish I knew. I hope you can learn from my ups and downs!

1. The Most Important Digital Marketing Advice: You Are Not the Brand

Most of my experience has been in social media management. Over the past few months, social media managers around the world have been experiencing unprecedented and rapid changes.

As soon as COVID-19 hit, we put on our crisis communications hat and haven’t been able to take it off. Over the span of a career, most wouldn’t have to do this very often, but 2020 had other plans. Since March, we dealt with:

  • How to respond to a global pandemic
  • Varying global governmental regulations resulting in questions and criticism of how our brands handled the pandemic and kept people safe
  • Were our brands doing anything to contribute to the greater good?
  • The utterly tragic and unjust killing of George Floyd, reigniting the Black Lives Matter movement. This sparked companies taking a hard look at their diversity, and consumers taking a second look at companies they support.
  • Some of our companies needed to pivot to survive the “new normal” leading to the development of different messaging and strategy
  • The emergence of Facebook ad protests and trying to convince our employers this was a good thing to be a part of

Rightfully so, our audiences were asking how we were responding to all of these things. That’s where separating your personal identity and brand identity can get a little messy.

When developing these very public statements and stances on issues like these, it’s hard not to wrap up your identity in the brand. Although this will sound insanely cheesy, social media management is kind of like art in some ways. The graphics and copy we create are an expression of ourselves. When addressing these issues, it can be mentally exhausting. You are juggling your feelings, intuition, knowledge of competitor work, what executives and legal wants you to say, and more.

This tweet shows a lot of social media managers were feeling the same way, looking for digital marketing advice.

After jumping through all of the hoops and coming out on the other side, I realized what fantastic experience I gained in the trenches with my fellow social media managers. One thing we are all realizing is that it’s vital to understand YOU ARE NOT THE BRAND.  Ultimately, if your personal feelings, moral compass, etc. are conflicting with the strategy that is being communicated from the c-suite, it might be time to do some introspection and figure out if the company is a good fit for you.

2. Be Willing to Hold Out for the Right Job, Not the First Offer

Taking the first job offer on the table can be tantalizing. In reality, it’s likely the most money you’ve seen and the start to your career dangling like a carrot in front of you. My advice? Sleep on it and ask yourself the hard questions.

Team and company compatibility is something that I greatly underestimated. Although you can’t predict the future, you spend the majority of your time working with your fellow employees and for the company you choose. The team atmosphere and the company culture can either make you excited to come to work the next day or have you counting down the seconds to 5:00 p.m.

Digital marketing advice: don't just settle for the job with the ping pong table
Just because a business has ping pong doesn’t mean the culture is perfect (Photo: PxHere)

Follow your gut feeling. Your interviews should feel more like a conversation rather than an interrogation. If you didn’t come out of the interview excited for the job and wanting to start the very same day, it might not be the best fit.

Although it might not feel like it at the time, you are in the driver’s seat of your job search. Having the restraint to wait for something you feel is right can be difficult, but I promise it will be worth it.

3. Work for a Company You Believe In and Values Their Employees

Gone are the days where you pick a company and stay there until you retire. This may be the millennial in me talking, but company culture is higher on my “perfect company” wish list than compensation.

When I say company culture, I’m not talking about sticking a ping pong table in the middle of the office or installing some nap pods and calling it good. I’m talking about the overall feeling you get from the company by how it treats employees, the company mission, goals, sustainability, etc.

You can have the best team in the world, but if your company is not supporting your morals, valuing or treating the employees with respect or utilizing the talents of the organization they’ve created, it can quickly deflate team productivity and morale.

How do you check for these things ahead of accepting the job offer? Here’s what you can do:

Check out their social media accounts

Are they giving kudos to their employees for a job well done?

Are employees highlighted doing volunteering events?

Does the company discuss or link to policies or initiatives that encourage these events?

Are they getting an overflow of negative comments or replies about their products, services, customer service or company culture?

Check out the company’s Glassdoor profile

Keep an open mind looking at the comments on Glassdoor, understanding that usually people are more likely to write reviews if they’ve had either an extremely positive or extremely negative experience.

If there is a negative trending theme among the reviews that doesn’t sit well with you, consider it when deciding to take the job.

4. You Will Learn More By Doing

I’ll be honest, school was never my thing. The western way of teaching doesn’t exactly cater to those of us who are more creative or right-brained. I’ll preface this next statement by saying getting your education is very important and is one of the requirements to land yourself a job in this field. However, I feel like I gained FAR more knowledge by doing.

I have a Bachelor of Science in Business with a focus in Marketing. I’m thrilled that my degree had a variety of business classes so I can better understand the business I’m working for as a whole. Yet, my marketing classes were very fundamental and theory-based. Those classes were necessary for my fundamental knowledge, but working with real numbers and in real-world scenarios is where I felt like I learned practically all of my skills.

My digital marketing advice is to take advantage of the knowledge of those around you. Each person will have a specialty, even if they aren’t aware of what that specialty is. Soak in all you can and keep learning on the job to sharpen your skills. Marketing is ever-changing, so never stop learning!

5. My Final Piece of Advice: Marketing Is Not a Formula, but a Recipe

This was hard to get through to the engineers I often worked with who don’t like any grey area. Just because X + Y = Z for some companies, doesn’t mean that’s the same variables that lead to success for another company.

I like to think of marketing more like a recipe. There are a million ways to make chocolate chip cookies. Yes, chocolate chip cookies have the same basic ingredients, but what are you adjusting to make them stand out and be the best you’ve ever had? Are you adding more chocolate chips? More sugar? Less sugar? Throw in some peanut butter for fun?

This is especially evident in social media management. Yes, there are some fundamentals you should follow in every plan, but what are you changing up to set yourself apart from your competitors? Is your audience not engaging with your good ole’ chocolate chip recipe? Maybe you need to switch it up and bake a cake to gain their interest again.

Alright, I’ll stop with the baking metaphors and give you a real example I’ve come across.

Two companies I worked for struggled with reigning in the number of social media accounts that were popping up using the company’s name and whatever location/region who felt they needed to open an account to communicate to employees. In both situations, corporate didn’t know who was running each account, and the admins were using it as a form of internal communication (which in a worst-case scenario could be a security issue).

Company A felt it was best that they only have one official social media account so they could control the messaging and move internal communications to other avenues.

Company B, on the other hand, needed these regional accounts to recruit potential employees. Each location had different needs and ways they needed to communicate the company’s message, so it resonated with the local culture.

For Company B, we created a global social media council so we could get everyone on the same page messaging wise, reduce workload by sharing assets and determine which locations had a real need for a separate account.

Two companies, same problem, different recipes for success. Don’t get set in your ways of what you know has worked before but use it as a building block for new ideas.

Hopefully, you can utilize this digital marketing advice from my lessons learned and apply them to your next gig.

Sam Roberts has five years of experience as a marketing professional focusing on social media management, marketing strategy, search engine optimization (SEO), and digital communications.

In those five years she was fortunate to help her team win two awards from PR Daily in Ragan’s Content Marketing Awards through the execution of Yazaki North America’s #InternYazaki campaign. In her most recent role, she was Head of Global Social Media and a Digital Communications Specialist for Visteon Corporation where she drove the social media strategy leading to a 247% increase in impressions, 513% increase in engagements, 85% increase in link clicks, and a 2,082% increase in the total audience during her tenure. She also revamped their global social media policy and procedures, helped launch a new website and developed an SEO strategy from scratch.

Sam is currently freelancing, providing digital marketing advice to entry level professionals, and helping small businesses develop and execute marketing strategies that lead to their growth, even amidst a pandemic.

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