Required Skills to Enter the Digital World Today

Alan Belniakbusiness, General, Marketing, passion, Social Media7 Comments

@dmscott and @dtippetts comment threadOver on Web Ink Now (David Meerman Scott’s blog), he has a great recent post about what a radical CMO might do nowadays: hire a bond trader into the marketing organization.  Jump over (see link below) and read why – it’s a good read and alludes to another topic David wrote about in the past, about hiring a journalist.


I agreed with David as I read the post.  I dropped down to the comments to see what others had to say, and there was an exchange that caught my eye (and thus the subject of my post here today).  Initially, Dalin Tippetts (dtippetts in the comments) asks if his communication degree is going to be worthless/undervalued in today’s age of media and digital interactions (paraphrase).


Dalin and David replied back and forth and it got me thinking about the ways I interact with some of the people I teach and coach in my job as someone who heads up and champions social media.  One comment of Dalin’s in particular (“The thing for me is that the industry changes literally lightning-fast so it’s hard to stay on top of everything especially when those who are in a position to teach are still touting around the Old Rules.”) instantly made me think of one of the leading quotes in David’s current book: “Social media are tools.  Real time is a mindset.”  David and I have talked about this in the past, too – about  being able to see beyond the tools in front of you, and focus on the larger context.


Think about that for a moment.  People ask me about effective practices for LinkedIn and Twitter and such.  And truth be told, I’ve delivered a Twitter 101 class several times at my employer.  But I end with (and stress) that the crux of what I’m teaching is independent of the tool itself.  Reaching out, (digitally) meeting people, asking questions, interacting as a human and not a brand – this is all applicable to any digital platform.  Twitter is still private and VC-backed.  What happens if they disappear tomorrow?  If you have (specifically) a Twitter strategy and were a Twitter expert, you’d be out of a job.  Instead, if you focused on seeking and making connections, listening with two ears and speaking with one mouth, ask more ‘you’ questions and use fewer ‘we’ statements, and the like – you can port that skill set to any digital social network and win.


So to Dalin’s salient point: “It’s hard to stay on top of everything” – I think focusing on the meta – the higher level stuff – is a way to stay relevant and useful, amid the rapid change in this space.  Look at ways to connect concepts and ideas (as they relate to communications and digital media, which is Dalin’s field), and look at them through a real-time lens.  Honing that skill set is future-proof.  Here is an old, old post I wrote about something similar – about the ability to link seemingly disparate pieces of data together to make or see a story.


Saying, “I know how to Tweet” is one thing.  Saying “I know how to find people on Twitter with at least two things in common, asses their influence, and begin a dialogue with them around topic x, and shifting them to a blog or a video channel for longer-form content” is much different – and more powerful.


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  • Hey Alan — I love how you took that back-and-forth and turned it into this very thoughtful post. You’re right of course. Most people worry about how to use the tools. Few people adopt a mindset of real-time communication. That’s why you see so many orphaned Twitter feeds. Millions learn how to use the tool, but less than half develop the right mindset to actually use it.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, David. It’s kind of like we were all standing in a circle having a conversation, and at the end of it, I said “well, when Dallin said…” – and that there is an example of how some people can get hung up on how to comment on a blog, what to say, when, what’s the protocol. Instead, focus on the goal – creating that conversation.  I appreciate you dropping in.

  • I also see this post well in the context of repositioning oneself. As one who has a diverse background myself, what is my uniquely valued skill set in a certain function? in an industry? and otherwise, globally? Focus on that, to convey your value effectively, not the “tools of the trade.”

  • Anonymous

    Well-stated, Deanna.

  • Dallin Tippetts

    Sorry it took me so long to get over here and jump into the conversation. Alan, I appreciate the mentions and the post in general. My main takeaway here was this statement: 

    “Look at ways to connect concepts and ideas (as they relate to communications and digital media, which is Dalin’s field), and look at them through a real-time lens.  Honing that skill set is future-proof.”

    Just to clarify, you’re basically saying that connecting concepts and ideas (the New Rules, in effect) are applicable no matter the new media application?

  • Anonymous


    The ability to (demonstrably) connect concepts and ideas is too scarce a trait. For example, a company could go hire the best CRM expert or the best Excel data analysis guru. They could whip through charts and such and make your head spin. But if they can’t tell you what it means, what to do with it, or make a recommendation from it, then they are of limited value. This isn’t to say that they aren’t valuable. Perhaps they share that data with a manager who _can_ make those inferences. You as a person become more valuable if you can (in your case) understand the core underpinnings of the digital communications world, and then make connections, inferences, suggestions, recommendations, and derive business value from what you learned. My alma mater is WPI (engineering), and the motto is “Lehr Und Kunst” – German for “Theory and Practice”. It’s good to know what you do and how you do it; it’s _great_ to know _what to do_ with that.

  • Dallin Tippetts

    Makes perfect sense and I like the motto. In fact, here at BYU-Idaho I’m the manager of a student ad/PR agency called I~Comm. We don’t do case studies; we do real work for real clients and charge them for it. The program basically says to students, “Go learn the theory and principles in your core classes and, when you’re ready, come here and we’ll give you a place to put all of that into practice.” Thanks for the reply!