The digital skills gap costs the UK economy £6.8 billion each year. Yet we’re spending more time than ever in digital environments. During the pandemic, social media usage, in particular, has skyrocketed with people across all generations using platforms for up to 54% longer than before. It begs the question: why are we so engaged when it comes to digital consumption, but digital production continues to suffer?
The digital landscape is constantly changing. With ever evolving algorithms, new platforms and upgraded features on existing platforms, it’s hard to keep up. More crucially, it’s hard for businesses to know what training and technology to invest in and for individuals to choose what skill sets to develop. This is where the role of marketing comes into play.
Marketing changes minds
Dominic McGregor, COO of Social Chain, sums it up perfectly: “In marketing, we are speaking and listening to customers constantly. We know what’s developing in the world. In businesses, this insight has to be shared and actioned.” However, cultivating the right culture is an integral part of developing an agile digital investment strategy. All business functions need to communicate effectively and leadership should champion the need to act on knowledge.
Speaking of his experiences in talking to more traditional companies about the digital evolution, McGregor explains that there’s a clear naivety about the importance digital channels now play in our everyday lives. We have the data to show that society is spending increasing amounts of time on new media, yet most businesses ignore anything that is new and alien to them.
Businesses typically use agencies as a source of external validation, to share insights into what is going on in other companies. They’re eager to hear about digital advancements and rely on agency relationships to inform and challenge them. However McGregor believes that diversity of thought is only the beginning and needs to be nurtured in an internal workforce too: “Digitally savvy people need to break out of the traditional confinements of a designated role and should be encouraged to share this information to develop an organisation.”
The challenge is to convince businesses and individuals to invest in developing cultures and skill sets to become more adaptable and agile. Traits they’ll definitely need to navigate and compete in the digital evolution.
The case for collaboration
The desire to develop a practical skill set is there. Marketers want to play in the digital arena however confidence appears to be one of the main barriers, a problem Olivia Hanlon, founder and managing director of Girls In Marketing, found last year. Since then, Hanlon has built an online community of over 30,000 members, who engage with the advice shared by practicing marketers. One of the key points Hanlon addresses is the “overwhelming amount of information and the struggle to navigate through the noise”. With so many different opinions on everything from marketing techniques to social media tactics, valuable insights run the risk of getting lost.
To make information more accessible, Girls In Marketing creates workshops and courses where marketers teach others how to work digital platforms like Google Ads Manager and MailChimp. The mix of theory, practice and live sessions that allow for questions is invaluable for offering comprehensive support. It aligns with the ethos of the platform explains Hanlon, a focus on “support, empowerment and mentoring.”
The digital environment is changing so fast that formal education can’t keep up. We need to change our approach and start building the practical skills our workforce needs. Employers are increasingly expecting experience and greater digital fluency from recent graduates, but the support and training on offer isn’t adequate in most cases, because internally the digital skillset isn’t up to scratch in most organisations. At best this leads to individuals taking greater control of their own personal development or on the other hand completely disengaging from the opportunities that digital can bring.
Can agencies be the solution?
Agencies need to change the relationships they have with their clients, from being a service provider to a trusted partner that will integrate and collaborate with in house teams. The opportunity to bring in external resources and a fresh perspective is invaluable to organisations however agencies must strive to deliver insights in a transparent way.
We need to get out of the compete over collaborate mind set, stop shrouding our knowledge in secrecy and share expertise. By empowering clients to learn and enabling them to try new digital platforms, we’ll boost their confidence and trust in us. Ultimately, it will lead to better in house and agency relationships where both parties realise results much quicker. Instead of just encouraging clients to outsource to us, we’ll do the right thing by them and the future sustainability of their business.
Chelsea Spencer, marketing manager at SO Marketing.