As You Head Out Into The World As A Digital Marketer…

It was cold and it rained most of the day Saturday in Chicago, and my family and I spent most of it outside. Yet I’m still warm from my nephew’s graduation as a Phi Beta Kappa scholar from the University of Chicago. Smart, good, kind and cute, Andrew is the total package. If he weren’t heading right back to school, any employer would be lucky to snag him. Take it from me, his aunt.

After the somber convocation ceremony, UChicago blasted Katy Perry’s Firework, which has to be the quintessential graduation song. What's more apropos than:

"Cause baby you're a firework

Come on show 'em what you're worth

Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh!"

As you shoot across the sky-y-y"

It's my favorite song, I love it. All graduating college seniors should feel a sense of achievement. On graduation day they should feel like they’re on top of the world.

But, eventually graduates find their way to the workplace...where work is already in progress.

I wrote the following post as my May 31, 2011, contribution to the Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG) Blend site. The MENG Blend is a blogging initiative featuring bloggers from multiple marketing disciplines and industries. I blog on online marketing and social media.

This year, as in previous years, I have not been invited to address a class of graduating digital marketers. Unlike other years, however, I have prepared some remarks and I appreciate MENG giving me a platform to deliver them.

Hello and congratulations for all that you’ve achieved in your academic career. Awesome and I mean that, sincerely.

In anticipating what might help you as you enter the workplace as a digital marketing professional, I have three pieces of advice.

1. With Your Colleagues: Be The Future

Your first employer is demonstrating its belief, not so much in you (I mean, apart from checking out your Facebook page, how thoroughly does the firm know you?) but in a next generation of marketers. You embody your company’s acknowledgement that marketing needs to be different—faster, sharper, more metrics-based—than what its senior management learned about marketing in school. Your marketing colleagues, all older and more experienced, will be looking to you to lead the way.

In order for you to deliver on the promise your employer sees in you, you need to meet your co-workers more than halfway. It will be up to you to speak the language they know. It will be tempting and, let’s face it, a little entertaining to dazzle them with technologies and terms that reveal them as clueless.

I’ve met the guys in this video a few times (I may have been them once or twice) and they’re the ones who ending up looking clueless. If your goal is to contribute digital marketing thinking to advance your company’s business, making what you do seem complicated is counterproductive. Make what you do seem easy to understand and adopt.

2. With Your Work: Care And Act Like You Care

If you’re like 99% of all job applicants, you mentioned your passion in your cover letter, your resume and/or your interviews. Good move—passion is nearly impossible to resist. But your task now is to transfer your passion from what you’ve done and what you know to how you work.

Sometimes digital marketers can be their own worst enemy. Invited to a meeting to “support a project,” digital marketers make the mistake of not trying to understand the whole picture. If we’re being honest here, some projects—or the piece of the work that falls to digital marketers—can be deadly boring and tedious. Motivate yourself to rise above the task at hand and see how it fits in the big picture.

Day one on the job, look around at your digital counterparts. Who’s grousing about the siloed nature of the job and who’s being included in the planning as well as the support of projects? You’ll know who to have lunch with.

3. With Yourself: Know Your Limitations

You can do anything, I bet you can. But you can’t do everything right now. You may be joining the company as a rockstar. You probably have a firmer grasp on how to actually do the new stuff than your colleagues. Yay for you but be on your guard about efforts to cede too much to you before you’re ready for it.

Here’s a for-instance. Beware of the new employer that says, “Hey, new kid. You’re young, you’re on Facebook and Twitter, why don’t you do our social media and let us know how it goes?”

Well, you could... If you have the newest calculator at the company, you might also try balancing its books.

It’s not just the tools you need, you need the context and experience to know how to optimize what can be done with social media. Handing social media off to junior employees (sorry, but I say that with respect) can be counterproductive to what’s most effective. Sustained executive-level interest is what’s needed to truly transform the business when social media tactics are introduced.

Are senior people attached to your firm's social media exploration? Don't wish for them to find something else to do. The longer you can keep them engaged, the more significant and far-reaching your work is likely to be.

Embrace opportunities, yes, but don’t go there alone unless you’re certain you’re prepared. You need help, we all do. Your asking for it will make a positive impression—and distinguish you as a mature, professional collaborator. That should serve you when the best and brightest of the class of 2012 show up at your company’s door.

Congratulations—and now go show 'em!