How to Become the Best Digital Strategist

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A digital marketing strategy is a must-have for virtually any modern organization, as managing social media campaigns, handling search engine optimization (SEO) and overseeing overall online presence are all essential to connecting with key audiences.

A digital strategist thinking about social media.

According to the Pew Research Center, more than 70% of American adults now regularly use social networks like Facebook and YouTube, and these services have gradually displaced newspapers, TV and radio as the primary sources of news for millions. In this context, a digital strategist plays a pivotal role in shaping public relations and communication outreach, across multiple channels in a 24/7/365 news and entertainment environment.

Digital strategists typically blend skills from multiple domains, including strategic public relations, advertising, SEO and fundraising. While there is no universal job description for the role, professionals who hold it are generally expected to have hands-on experience in directing company communications and managing other personnel. Senior strategists may earn compensation significantly above the U.S. national median pay, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on similar occupations.

What are the common responsibilities of a digital strategist?

A digital strategist’s responsibilities are somewhat analogous to those of careers such as PR professional, social media specialist and advertising, promotions and marketing manager. Some of their key tasks include:

  • Planning most or all aspects of a brand’s online presence and outreach efforts, e.g. a marketing campaign or a series of promotions.
  • Overseeing digital products such as company blogs, newsletters, video series, and advertising and PR copy.
  • Ensuring the proper look and feel of digital assets, especially websites.
  • Conducting market research on the latest technologies, tools and trends across the industry, as well as on how products and services should be priced.
  • Analyzing website traffic for actionable insights and then applying SEO principles to optimize the site for search engines and visitors.
  • Performing SEO analysis and reviewing analytics such as social media shares to gauge the effectiveness of current approaches to multi-channel digital media and communications.
  • Organizing and leading meetings with stakeholders like designers, web developers and editorial teams.
  • Devising a set of consistent style and branding guidelines for any content posted to official social media accounts.
  • Writing, editing and proofreading content that appears on digital channels including company sites, email, and even podcast feeds and distribution.
  • Leading digital fundraising campaigns.
  • Managing PR crises and rapid response efforts on digital platforms.
  • Determining the best outlet for particular pieces of content, whether that’s a paid, earned, shared or owned channel.
  • Building relationships with clients and media contacts as part of a PR/communications strategy.
  • Recruiting and hiring personnel in PR, marketing, advertising and communications roles.

Overall, digital strategists are expected to be team members with a strong combination of creative, communication and managerial skills. They often work directly on the production of assets such as website copy and advertising or PR campaigns, in addition to working as a liaison between both internal stakeholders and external clients and contacts.

In an interview with Marketing magazine, one digital strategist described the role as a “connection strategist,” since someone with a digital strategist title is at the center of numerous working relationships between consumers, brands, social media specialists and others. Managing all of these connections and the digital content that emerges from them requires a distinctive approach, one that diverges from traditional media management roles.

More specifically, digital strategists can’t just “set it and forget it” once a campaign is ready to go live, as might have been the case with a billboard-based or print promotional initiative. Instead, they will have to examine feedback, track performance and handle optimizations as needed. For example, a blog post that failed to gain traction might be retooled with additional keywords and links to improve its search engine rankings and generate more backlinks.

How much can a digital strategist expect to earn?

Pay for digital strategists varies depending on experience, seniority and location. PayScale estimates the salary range from $40,000 to $99,000. With bonuses, profit sharing and commissions, earnings can be as high as $106,000. Average compensation is more than $59,000.

The BLS does not maintain an individual listing for digital strategists, although it has occupational entries for several similar roles. The closest may be advertising, promotions and marketing managers. In 2018, these professionals had median pay of $132,620. They also had a strong employment outlook, with expected growth of 8% in positions from 2018 to 2028. That’s faster than the average for all professions.

A digital strategist consults with a team.

Other comparable BLS-listed roles include PR specialists, PR and fundraising managers, and market research analysts. For PR specialists, median 2018 pay was $60,000 and expected 2018 to 2028 growth was an average 6%. PR and fundraising managers had better numbers on both fronts. Their 2018 median earnings were more than $114,000, while expected employment growth was 8%. The median market research analyst earned slightly more than $63,000 in 2018. However, they had by far the best near-term outlook, as employment was expected to surge 20% between 2018 and 2028 due to increased demand for data analysis.

How can I become a digital strategist?

Regardless of which of the above roles an aspiring digital strategist selects, they will need at least a bachelor’s degree to get started. Attaining an advanced credential like the online Master’s in Strategic Public Relations (SPR) from the George Washington University (GW) can also provide additional expertise and experience that can be useful for pursuing more senior-level and managerial roles.

The GW SPR is a completely online degree track with a curriculum covering all of the latest practices and tools in modern public relations. Core courses include classes in strategic marketing communications, digital media relations, public opinion formation, PR business and finance, and crisis communications, all of which cover vital skills for digital strategists. Through a capstone research project, students also have the opportunity to apply what they have learned in a practical context, in tandem with an employer or other organization of interest.

After completing the SPR, graduates are well-equipped to pursue employment as a digital strategist. To learn more about the degree track’s courses and outcomes, visit its main overview page, where you can also download a free copy of the program brochure.

Recommended Readings:
4 Successful Digital Strategies
What public relations students can learn about digital strategy

Market research analysts
Public relations and fundraising managersAdvertising, promotions, and marketing managers
Average digital strategist salary