In January I had the opportunity to do a guest lecture about content marketing at Texas Tech University.
It was a great experience and one of the highlights of my marketing career so far, but it also got me thinking about something.
What should universities be teaching kids to prepare them for a career in digital marketing?
Back when I was in school from 2001 to 2005, this wasn’t something professors were even thinking about. We learned about the basics of marketing, how to conduct market research, and the importance of customer-experience marketing, but we didn’t talk about anything digital because it hadn’t yet burst onto the scene (keep in mind that during this time, Facebook still required .edu email addresses to get access to their network).
So what should universities be teaching students and what skills do students need in order to prepare themselves for a career in digital marketing? The list below is my take on some of the top skills students should be learning while in school so they can be ready to contribute right away when joining a digital marketing team.
#1: Writing and Copywriting
The first thing students should be learning is how to write clearly and persuasively.
Clear communication is important for being able to explain your ideas and concepts to developers, designers, and other team members. If you have trouble writing clearly, then you’re going to have trouble communicating your ideas and getting things done.
Writing skills are also important for writing blog posts and website content, something more and more marketers are being asked to do. And since writing website content is something any digital marketer may get asked to write at some point, it’s also important to pick up basic copywriting skills so you know how to write persuasively and how to get people to take the action you want them to take.
Some resources I recommend for improving one’s writing skills include but are not limited to:
- Writing with Style by John R. Trimble
- Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy
- The Adweek Copywriting Handbook by Joseph Sugarman
- Marketing Bullets by Gary Bencivenga
- The Copyblogger Blog
In addition to these resources, I recommend reading voraciously, as reading is known to improve writing as well or more than reading about writing or even practicing to write.
Have you noticed that people still list Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint as skills on their resume? That drives me a bit crazy.
At this point, you’re expected to know how to use Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint if you grew up at any point after the 1970s. It’s not something that makes you stand out and really should be standard at this point.
If you don’t know how to use Microsoft Office, then that’s when we have a problem.
Yes, I understand that not everyone who graduates college will know how to use WordPress, but at this point, it’s much more impressive to be able to say you know how to use WordPress than it is to say you know how to use Word.
#3: Photo Editing
In addition to being able to write well and being able to upload your writing to WordPress, it’s also important to have some basic photo editing skills. I’m not saying that everyone needs to become a full-fledged designer, but even understanding the basics of Photoshop can go a long way.
Let’s say, for example, that you upload a blog post to your company blog and need to include an image. Do you know how to use image editing sites like Picmonkey to take a screenshot and resize it for the post? Do you know how to use Photoshop to edit the photo slightly so that it will look better and make your post stand out more? Can you add captions to an image to draw readers’ attention to key parts of the screenshot or photo?
All of these are super basic photo editing skills that every digital marketer needs to master, which means Photoshop is not just a tool for designers—it’s something every marketing student should be taught and learn to become proficient at.
I’m not expecting that digital marketers will learn to design websites and ads themselves. I’m simply stating that a little Photoshop experience can go a long way for today’s marketing professionals.
HTML is another skill that digital marketers should pick up because you need to know HTML well enough to format a blog post correctly or to fix a formatting issue on an email you’re sending out.
Again, it’s not expected that digital marketers will code an entire website, but they do need to know the basics of HTML so they can change a link color when needed or to resize a photo or video to fit within a blog frame. HTML is also something that marketers can pick up on the job, but it would be even better for marketers to learn HTML in school so they’re ready to hit the ground running once they get hired.
MailChimp (or other email management tools like Constant Contact and GetResponse) is another important skill for digital marketers.
The reason is that most businesses use an email management software of some sort. Whether it’s MailChimp, InfusionSoft, or Aweber, everyone in marketing is building and managing email lists through a thrid-party software platform of some sort.
This means that the more students know about services like MailChimp, the more they more prepared they’ll be.
Like I mentioned above, Microsoft Word is a skill that’s absolutely necessary, but platforms like MailChimp are the new Microsoft Word when it comes to standing out and showing an organization you have the skills it takes to succeed as a digital marketer.
#6: Google AdWords Advertising
Another important tool for digital marketers is Google AdWords.
AdWords makes it easy to reach customers and to drive targeted traffic. It can get expensive pretty quickly, but it’s also one of the most reliable ways to drive traffic, get leads, and generate sales.
AdWords is also incredibly complicated which means nobody expects a new college graduate to be an expert the minute they walk in the door. But the more you know about AdWords, the better prepared you’ll be to manage a campaign if needed or to direct someone who is managing your campaign.
Honestly, I’d go so far as to say that schools would be smart to get all of their students AdWords certified before they graduate. This would help their students to stand out.
#7: Facebook Advertising
The next important skill is learning how to run Facebook ads and how to effectively leverage social media marketing.
Facebook ads are important because they’re a great way to drive target traffic, much like Google AdWords. The targeting options are super powerful, and the creative provides an even better branding exposure as compared to AdWords.
But it takes a while to learn the basics of Facebook advertising. You have to learn how to target your ads, how to test your copy and creative, etc. Any and all lessons students can learn about Facebook ads will help them on their road to success.
#8: Social Media Marketing
Another very important skill is social media marketing, which is different from running a Facebook ad campaign.
Instead of paying to show an ad, you use social media marketing to engage with customers and prospective customers, to share content, and to interact with people in your target market before they’re ready to become a customer.
This means that learning how to manage a Facebook page and how to run a Twitter account are valuable skills as a starting point for learning what you need to do to run a full-scale social media marketing campaign.
Because social media marketing requires a platform fluency more than any other type of platform. If you don’t understand how Facebook or Twitter work, then you won’t know how to interact with people and how to share your content in a way that fits into the network versus spamming and annoying people. Thus, picking up a fluency on relevant social networks is a very valid skill to pick up before joining a marketing team.
#9: Search Engine Optimization
Learning the basics of search engine optimization (SEO) is yet another important skill for digital marketers.
Not every marketer is expected to become an SEO expert, but it is important to understand how SEO works so you can leverage its benefit for your organization.
This means you need to know about things like title tags, meta descriptions, keyword density, and link anchor text and how they affect your organic search rankings.
#10: Conversion Rate Optimization
Last, but certainly not least, is understanding the basics of conversion rate optimization (CRO).
CRO, in case you don’t already know, is the art and science of testing different versions of a page or pages to see which version convinces the most people to take the action you want them to take. Essentially, you create two versions for a single page, and then run a scientific A/B test to see which version is the most effective.
This means you need to understand both your customers and basic principles of web design, user experience, and copywriting. In addition, you also need to know how to learn more about your actual customers by conducting surveys, using on-site surveys, and utilizing user tests and customer interviews.
CRO might actually be one of the most important skills for digital marketers to understand and may also be the least studied at this point in time.
Wrapping It Up
In the end, it isn’t about becoming an expert in all of these topics. Yes, some digital marketers will become experts in one area or another, but most need a general understanding of all these skills to boost their value.
The good news is an interest in digital marketing and a desire to learn is the most important characteristic for someone who wants to become a successful digital marketer. Even if you don’t learn these skills in school, you can learn them on the job and become proficient in a short amount of time.
If you are looking to stand out in the interview process, don’t expect Microsoft Word or Powerpoint to do the trick. Today’s marketers need to pick up as many skills as possible.
Featured Image: Bloomua via Shutterstock
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our daily newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!