Why digital is no longer optional (or, why digital shouldn’t exist at all)

A (1)I work in a dedicated digital role. Eight years ago my role was unimagined. Today it probably shouldn’t exist. It shouldn’t exist because nearly 25 years after the World Wide Web was first made available digital is not something we, as communications professionals, can choose to ‘do’. It can’t be avoided, it won’t go away and it’s actually no longer new.

Over the last couple of years my mantra to anyone who cared to listen was:  If you work in communications, marketing, PR or media relations, digital is no longer an option. Strangely I have experienced more resistance than recognition. Typical responses have included:

But I don’t use Facebook or Twitter so I don’t think it’s for me.

Digital is someone else’s job.

I don’t have the time.

I’ve often wondered what would have happened if marketers had said the same when television was commercialised or when the first billboard was erected emblazoned with advertising. Digital is after all just a platform, a channel, a tool to do effectively what we in marketing, PR, advertising and media relations have always done – that is communicate effectively and engage with our audiences.

When librarians stopped handwriting book records on tiny cards stuffed into drawers and started logging their Dewy decimal entries on their personal computers did they stop being librarians? No because managing libraries is what they do.

When plumbers stopped installing clay pipes and moved to copper and PVC did they become ‘Copper Specialists’ or ‘Directors of PVC Experience’. No, they continued to be plumbers who plumbed things – only their tools had changed.

Why then, in contrast, are we so enthusiastic about making our new tool ‘a thing’?  Why aren’t we just marketers or strategists or public relations consultants or advertisers who have adapted to a changed world and have added digital into the mix?

Moreover, why is digital still seen as the domain of specialists and not something all communications professional must and should do?  The 2014 Hays APAC Salary Guide shows that in my city I’ll earn approximately $20,000 more as a Digital Communications Manager compared to a ‘traditional’ Marketing Communications Manager. Most of the jobs I now see advertised in Communications and Marketing plead for digital, social, EDM, UX, digital production, community management and eCommerce experience. There is also a growing number of digital only agencies, consultants and conferences. This points to professionals that are in short supply. These professionals are ‘communicators that get digital’. In 2014. Really?

We’re a profession that prides ourselves on understanding trends, on innovation and creativity yet we’re in danger of missing the boat. If we want to avoid the same fate now being experienced by the traditional media industry we need to pull our collective finger out.

If you don’t use social media you should, as a communications professional, make it your priority. If you think digital is someone else’s job you should be asking them to mentor you and show you how they do it. If you don’t have the time you really really need to make time – and do it now.

My prediction is that if you work as a communications, media relations or marketing professional and you continue to avoid digital you will probably have trouble finding a job within five years. It’s harsh I know but the horse has already bolted. My world is already digital – yours, whether you like it or not, is too.


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