Digital marketing is not easily managed. It’s got a lot of moving parts, and there are not as many hard and fast rules as we would like (or as digital marketing consultants tend to imply). In this piece, I’m going to reveal three strategies that, if you put them to use, will put you head and shoulders above your competitors.

Digital marketing management strategy #1: Hire the best people

I can’t stress this enough, which is why it’s the first item on the list. There are a number of agencies and marketing departments out there managed by generalists and staffed with interns. This is a mistake.

One of the ironclad truths about digital marketing right now is that the tools and channels change constantly. Only someone who is specialized in an area will be able to keep up with that area sufficiently. Someone who specializes in Google Ads (which, until recently, was called Google AdWords) will know when Google changes its navigational interface (which, again, it did recently).

And, not only will that person be up to date on what Google is doing, but on what customers are doing in reaction to the ads being placed. There is no substitute for experience in digital marketing, because the basic nature of digital marketing is interactive.

Google has to rank you based on your ability to select the right keywords to be ranked for, and on your quality score, which includes a number of factors such as associated landing pages, how your ads have performed in the past, and how many people are actually clicking on your ads. What you do with your campaign, and how people react to your campaign, are affecting Google’s algorithms.

Customers click on your ad—or not. They then go to your site or landing page, stay a while, look at other things on your site, and/or make a purchase—or not. Based on this behavior, Google then decides when and how to place you, relative to your competitors, going forward. Which then determines the new decisions you need to make and the actions you need to take. It’s an iterative process requiring constant attention.

Someone who creates and places ads all the time, and then observes how Google behaves and how the customer behaves, is able to make better and better decisions about how to optimize a campaign.

People without this experience will make poor decisions. It’s that simple.

Digital marketing management strategy #2: Hire for skills, then character

Before you do anything else, look at the person’s portfolio. This is more important than ever. We are finding now that many people are good at talking about themselves; presenting themselves nicely in an interview (even video interviews!); maybe even writing decent messages back and forth; but, upon investigation (or after being given a test of their talents), their work is definitely sub-par.

After you have determined that they have the skills, you need to determine if their character will work in your organization. In the freelance world, you can start by reading reviews from their previous projects; in the full-time world, you will (of course) call references.

A caveat about calling references, and even about reading reviews. People in business are mostly polite; if they were not, they would not succeed in business. So, they tend to hold back on negative comments.

While these businesspeople may have stopped working with someone for perfectly good reasons (the person was a diva; the person kept making promises and didn’t deliver; the person was negative about others; etc.), they may not want to say that in the person’s review or even in a reference phone call. You have to be a detective, and read between the lines.

For example, if you are hiring a freelancer and they have several so-so numerical rankings (say, 3.5 out of 5), with no comments, or even a number of 5 rankings with no comments, that’s a red flag. Especially if the projects were short-lived. There are no comments because they didn’t want to commit.

Or if you are calling for references and the person keeps giving you very non-committal answers, the best thing to do is to help them tell you what they really think without asking straight on. “Can you give me any advice about the best way to manage this person?” That question usually uncovers the negatives without the person you’re talking to feeling like they are saying something negative.

“Well, she works better on her own than in a group,” he will say about the diva.

“You will want to break projects into smaller portions and give specific deadlines for each portion,” is what she will say about the person who has trouble meeting deadlines.

“She will need to be reminded about her opinions from time to time,” he will say, about the negative person.  

You will want to hire people who lift others up, not drag them down. Ask them how they feel about the work they do, including their successes and frustrations. Listen to how they describe others. Were they frustrated by something they could or should have fixed? Did they tend to blame others, and for what? Were their successes “all about me?”

As with the reference calls, people tell you more “between the lines” than they do by what they actually say.

Digital marketing management strategy #3: Learn digital marketing tools and techniques—not to master them, but to manage the people using them

There are so many businesses out there right now, founded and still being run by people in their 50’s and 60’s, who are still vital and accomplished businesspeople. But technology has left them behind.

Frankly, in the digital marketing world, technology is even leaving younger folks behind. There are just so many aspects to it now; it’s become deep and wide, and very specialized. Keeping up with just one area, such as social marketing, ads, SEO, account-based marketing, influencer marketing, content marketing, email marketing, CRMs, competitive and customer research, and more—are full-time jobs all by themselves.

Google changes its algorithm regularly, usually without warning or a definitive explanation of the change. Rules about the length of meta descriptions and tweets can change in a blink. New requirements can emerge and become standard almost overnight (think GDPR).

Your job, as a manager, is not to try to master these tools and techniques. We see a lot of entrepreneurs trying to make up for their tech-behindedness by trying to DIY. Big mistake. You can’t run a business and be as good or better than all the specialists in a given area.

You can, however, hire excellent specialists—people who don’t hold their cards close to their chests but who are secure enough in their own profession to be able to answer your questions and educate you.

This is important because when it comes to graphics, copy, best practices, standard operating procedures, website creation, and more, it’s obvious to any outsider (including potential customers, partners, and industry analysts), when a professional did the work and when an amateur did the work. Face it: If you are not a specialist who spends all your time on that specialty, you are an amateur.

If you are willing to learn—and it is impossible to succeed now if you are not—you can learn enough to manage digital marketing specialists. And, by managing the specialists effectively, hiring good ones and helping them do their best work, you will be able to spend more time on the trajectory of your business.

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