Beware the risks of staff absorbing digital media tasks

It may seem harmless or even enterprising, but ‘making do’ by giving digital tasks to offline media people is risky business.

You may have heard about the skills gap the digital industry is experiencing; essentially where technology evolves, causing a step change in the kinds of roles available on the market.

We’ve gone from valuing individuals who can type quickly, to valuing individuals who can code quickly. I’m sure you can appreciate that the latter are fewer and further between.

But, as Mediatel News editor Omar Oakes wrote last week, businesses such as media agencies are struggling to hire for new digital roles. This could due to challenges in getting budget signed off, or struggling to attract applicants.

This means we are seeing a significant uptick in employees absorbing varying degrees of ‘digital’ into their traditionally offline roles. This could mean becoming responsible for the on-site content, or being expected to liaise with agencies and ensure they’re delivering to the required standard.

In isolation, these new ‘digital responsibilities’ might not sound like a big deal… on-site content just means words right?

Ah, but have you considered the SEO impact of the new content? Whether it has appropriate schema markup or has been written in the correct tone of voice? And that’s before we dare ask if website changes need to be signed off globally for larger businesses.

While it may seem harmless and even enterprising to find an alternative solution to hiring new digital talent, there are numerous risks which it’s worth considering.

Need for a digital agenda

Firstly, if ‘digital’ remains an add-on to existing roles, the business will struggle to gain any traction for digital projects.

As much as it feels like most things today are already completely digitised, many businesses are still testing the value of the digital marketplace, and stakeholders often remain unconvinced.

Digital teams should work closely with others, but should also have the time and space to really champion the digital initiatives so they have skin in the game, and remain fully invested in encouraging the digital agenda for the business.

Disrespect nuance at your peril

Secondly, there is so much nuance between different platforms, approaches, and tactics that generalists aren’t always best placed to make decisions.

For example, I have seen suppliers invent new metrics (not even kidding) by merging view through rate and click through rate in an attempt to achieve consistent reporting. I have seen testing frameworks which make zero sense and would result in a huge waste of a lot of people’s time because the hygiene factors weren’t fully considered.

This lack of respect for nuance can of course cause operational mistakes but can also send whole teams down rabbit holes trying to follow inconsistent or incorrect guidance. This is frustrating for all involved, and it’s not uncommon to suffer resignations if team members feel they lack clarity or direction.

Watch out for ‘doing digital’

Thirdly, whilst I’m referring to ‘digital’, we’re all well aware that this encompasses many different elements.

A very senior employee of a very large global business once told me that following his boss asking him to ‘handle digital’ on top of his existing job, ‘we realised that digital is quite big actually’.

There are huge differences between managing the website or managing a paid search account; between running social media accounts, and measuring the impact of them.

If you would consider any member of your team as the one who ‘does digital’, they probably need help as they may well be lumbered with lots of conflicting, disparate responsibilities.

Training and support is essential

Last, but by no means least, consider the individual who will be taking this on. Have they received appropriate training to tackle this new challenge?

If they’re struggling, who should they consider as their support network if the wider business is lacking in digital expertise?

It’s not enough to assign digital initiatives to individuals; project leaders need to be empowered with the information and support needed to complete the tasks at hand, let alone troubleshooting on the way.

Don’t just ‘make do’

If you really must include some kind of digital remit within an existing role, please consider:

  • What that individual’s perspective is likely to be given their background (an ex-TV buyer might undervalue digital for example) and whether this perspective is appropriate for the business
  • Whom you are expecting the individual to work with (internally or externally), and forming clear roles and responsibilities to avoid stress and assist with troubleshooting
  • Is there an existing passion for digital, or will training need to be arranged in order to better grasp opportunities?
  • Has this individual worked with agencies or external teams before? This may sound like a tenuous factor, but once a business falls into an ‘us and them’ dynamic with suppliers or colleagues, it’s incredibly difficult to overcome.

As the saying goes; “pay peanuts, get monkeys”. If you require a tiny bit of input on writing some Facebook posts sometimes then your copywriter, strategist, and many others may well be able to help.

If, however, you are aiming to drag your business kicking and screaming into the digital age to take advantage of the plethora of opportunities around, you will need to hire according to the desired skillset.

I know this can be tricky for brands when competing with agencies to secure the best talent, but I’ll let you in on a secret: great people don’t care about yoga at lunch, table tennis in the office, or all the shiny but largely pointless ‘perks’ many agencies offer.

Great people care about autonomy, honesty, a space to grow, the colleagues they’ll spend the most time with.

Now is not the time to make do and mend. Clearly scope out your business need, build it into a job spec (or multiple if the responsibilities are broader ranging), and be prepared to prove to the talent pool that you can offer a progressive, supportive culture.

By Director of Search, Niki Grant as featured in Mediatel