Why Hiring Digital Staff Can Be A Challenge

(and how to overcome it)

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Taking the first steps into really investing in digital strategy for your business or nonprofit usually means that it is time to hire someone to take the reigns and drive this forward.

However, doing so can be fraught with challenges for senior executives, when essentially you need to hire someone to carry out a role that you don’t fully understand yourself.  In fact, we have found this to be one of the biggest challenges faced by leaders who are considering taking the next step in moving their business forward.

It’s understood that hiring the wrong person has negative consequences for your organization.  In one report, data cites that the cost of replacing a poor hire is upwards of 30% of their annual salary, and that cost increases the more experienced and senior the role is. Staff morale, financial loss, time loss when you have to start again are real concerns, there are many ways that getting it wrong sends ripples through your organization.  We want to set you on the right path so that you can be more confident in your decisions.

What pitfalls should you look out for?

1 – The difference between strategy and tactics

It’s important to understand the difference between strategy and tactics when it comes to digital, and more importantly, you need to understand if your organization needs one, the other, or a combination of both.

What’s the difference?

A strategist is concerned with the big picture, firstly.  Secondly, they will be more expensive to recruit.  A strategist will devise ways for your organization to use digital tools and opportunities to further your goals – increase revenue, bring in new customers, increase your brand awareness, improve your conversion rates etc.  A strategist has a more broad knowledge across different areas of digital marketing and communications, and should be able to identify tactics and tools to move you forward.  They may not be an expert in every channel, but they understand how e-mail, web, content marketing, social media, SEO and SEM work, and are able to build plans and strategies that choose the right mix for you.

So what about the ‘tactics’, the practical execution needed?  Your organization needs someone at this level if you have plans in place already, but lack the staff capacity or the staff expertise to deliver properly.  At this level, there are two things to consider.  One, do you need an in-depth expert?  In social media for example, or in email marketing.  Or do you need a generalist who can cover the gambit of e-mail, web, social etc.  Know that if you hire a generalist, it is unrealistic to expect that the have the same depth of knowledge as a specialist in each individual area would.

What you give up in terms of experience, you gain in the ability to manage more channels and tactics.  There isn’t a right or wrong in this sense, it is about you as the leader knowing this so that you can choose the best course of action for your organization with your budget and needs in mind.

2 – Assumptions

We all know the old saying about what assuming makes us…. but sometimes our assumptions are unconscious, or out-dated.  There are two common assumptions, or misconceptions that may trip you up in your hiring process.


The first is assuming that you should hire a “young person” for this work.  Yes, the use of digital communications is more widespread among the millennial generation, but it’s certainly not exclusively their domain.  But more importantly, the key thing you must keep in mind is that you are hiring the person who will hold the keys to your most public facing communications.
It’s important also to note that being a user or consumer of digital content and tools in no way qualifies you to manage and think strategically about these tools in a business setting.   In fact, especially at the strategic level, but also at the tactical level you still need to assess each candidate’s knowledge of your business sector and audience.  After all, they will be devising campaigns and strategies on your behalf, and talking with your customers and audience on a regular basis.

If you wouldn’t be comfortable with a candidate presenting at a conference on your behalf, writing a press release for your organization, or talking to the media about your business, then you should not give them the keys to your digital marketing and communications channels.


This is a damaging assumption.  If you still believe this you will find it difficult to really invest in hiring the talent you need.  After all, why would you spend upwards of $60,000 on hiring someone to take the reigns of something that is supposed to be free?  Chances are your bias will cause you to advertise at a lower salary than market average and not hire the best person you can afford.

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This same assumption will also cause you to not consider adding social media to your budget line, meaning you won’t be able to take advantage of the great ROI delivered by paid social media (in the hands of the right person of course!)


Another assumption that can often lead to incorrect hiring decisions is the assumption that all things digital are equal and/or interchangeable.  Here is a quick overview of some of the different skills and areas of expertise that exist, to help you frame, or reframe your thinking when you are getting ready to write that critical job description.

Website skills

Yes, your website and your marketing and communications are linked, in fact, they should be so closely linked that the lines blur between them.  However, with that said, you should not expect your marketing/comms hire to be a website developer (coder).  These skills are distinct, the person you want to hire is a user of the functionality offered by your website – blogging, lead capture, A/B testing, conversion optimization – but they are not the builder of these things.  If someone can do both, great!  But asking your digital marketing strategist to be skilled in web development languages will cut the size of your talent pool dramatically.


There are two sides to Search Engine Optimization that you need to be aware of.  The first is the technical stuff around your site, you’ll hear things about meta-tags and headers, and iframes for example.  This kind of SEO ensures that the structure of your site is optimized for search engines to find and index easily.

The other area of SEO that is just as important is optimizing your content.  Each and every blog post and page on your website should be optimized to make sure that your headlines and topics use the keywords that people are searching for.  The more relevant your content is, and the better you are at using the right keywords, the more ‘love’ you will get from Google and other search engines.

Social media and paid social advertising

Almost all social media channels have opened up the ability to pay to reach more, or more targeted users with your messages.  Understanding each platform’s requirements, and advertising platforms is a job in itself – quite literally! There are people out there who are specialists only in Facebook advertising for example.  Facebook is smart in that it offers a “Boost”, a one-click method for the uninitiated to pay and feel like they are doing Facebook marketing.  BEWARE.  The Facebook ad platform is both complex and highly rewarding with an obscenely high ROI if used effectively, and boosting posts is the worst way to get an good ROI.

Facebook allows for some of the best targeting capability available to the general public of any social network.  You should ensure that if you want to consider a paid social media strategy – and you should be, with vigour!- that you hire someone who understand this in detail, and who also has a good grasp of this similar functionality on any other platforms you have interest in.

The danger spot for hiring managers  is making that assumption that because a candidate says they have been using social media in their last job, that they have the depth of understanding to optimize your ad budgets and deliver ROI.  Ask the right questions to know more.

E-mail marketing

Once considered boring and un-sexy in comparison to social media, e-mail is making a bold resurgence in digital strategies.  Why? Because it consistently delivers the highest BY FAR return on investment.  Also, when you have an email address, you have direct permission to contact someone.  Twitter followers are great, but if Twitter suddenly closes doors one day, you have lost that audience and have no way to get back in touch with them.

E-mail marketing skills rely on two things.  The first, writing ability.  The ability to connect with your particular audience.  This is the most important skill.  Don’t make the mistake of focussing on the platform you use.  “Must have working knowledge of XYZ Marketing.” for example.  Most people can learn an email marketing tool quickly, and frankly, you probably need to change or update the platform you use to really take advantage of email marketing!

Secondly, e-mail marketing requires a solid understanding of how e-mail fits into your overall marketing funnels.  Managing your email program requires the ability to map out journeys, touch-points and triggers to ensure you are sending the right messages, to the right people, at the right time.

Biggest waste of time, money and effort?  Sending a blanket newsletter, once a month, to your whole audience, with the same content in it.  In fact, this is a great scenario to discuss in your interviews.  Ask your candidates what they think of this as a strategy.

3 – People who talk-the-talk but can’t do the work

The last pitfall you need to be aware of is the opportunity for someone to pull the wool over your eyes because they recognize during the interviewing process that you don’t know how to assess their practical skills.  It’s unlikely that candidates are trying to trick you, but they may focus more on their softer skills in the interview, demonstrating other aspects that make them a good candidate, and focus attention away from their practical abilities.
Now, of course you want to hire someone that ‘fits’ your organizational culture, we all do.  But when you are unsure of the technical side of the interview, the chances are you will gravitate towards the person who you feel would fit best culturally.

On the other hand, there are some people in the world who have the ‘gift-of-the-gab‘ and can talk their way into just about anything, knowing full well that they don’t have the skills to match your requirements, but do have the determination to learn.  The more educated you are, the easier it will be to spot the smoke-and-mirrors for the gems!  Someone that throws a lot of buzzwords around, but isn’t able to give you concrete examples of work they have done, or talk you through the processes and tools they use to do the work is one to watch out for!

So, what can you do to overcome this?

Challenge your assumptions
Learn as much as you can 

Take the plunge and hire a recruiter
Working with a recruiter who specializes in this kind of work, and having them assist during the interview process is the best way to overcome this particular issues.  The trick is not to go to your usual recruiter for your sector or niche, but to seek out a recruiter who specializes in this skillset.

Recognize your gap in knowledge
And ask for help from people in your network with more experience in hiring for this kind of role.   LinkedIn Groups are a great place to connect with peers.  Join our Digital Literacy for Leaders group here: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8484260

Prepare your interview questions carefully
And make sure you have someone with knowledge of this type of work give you information about what you should look out for in both good answers and bad.  Make sure that if you are hiring a strategist, that you ask them questions about strategy and don’t focus on specifics of platforms, for example.

What other challenges have you had?  Leave a comment below and we will try to help!