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What is Digital Communication & Why Are Skilled Professionals in Such High Demand?

By Leslie Doyle
January 25, 2019

Have you ever wondered who’s responsible for the targeted social media ads you see as you scroll through your feeds or the emails that let you know about events and promotions you’re actually interested in?

The professionals behind these marketing tactics work in digital communications—a field that is indispensable to most organizations today.

If you’re interested in breaking into the digital communications industry, now is a great time to explore the field; there’s a rapidly increasing demand in the job market for people with digital media skills. In fact, according to McKinley Marketing Partners, digital marketing professionals were the most hired roles among all marketing professionals in 2018, and 59 percent of marketing leaders plan to hire for these roles in 2019.

What is Digital Communication, Exactly?

Simply said, digital communication involves an organization’s online communication efforts. Most organizations today use a wide range of online channels—from their website to mobile chat to blogs—to connect with current and prospective customers, employees, and other stakeholders. They need digital marketing professionals who have a keen understanding of how to leverage this convergence of technology and messaging to their advantage. Digital communications professionals are responsible for everything from creating online brand assets to building an engaged social media audience.

“Today, the options for getting a message out are much broader and quicker than they were just a few decades ago,” explains Dr. Edward Powers, professor in Northeastern’s Master of Science in Corporate and Organizational Communication and Bachelor of Science in Digital Communication and Media programs. “Digital communication professionals have to be mindful about how to put forward these new tools in the right way.”

Dr. Powers shares a salient example. The Danish branch of the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) developed a campaign leveraging the short-lived nature of Snapchat posts to help protect endangered species. Snapchat users were accustomed to their selfies disappearing within seconds of posting. To convey their message, the organization alerted Snapchat users to how quickly endangered species could also disappear. They shared dramatic, close-up photos of animals on the verge of extinction with the message: “Don’t let this be my last selfie.”

Digital Communication Campaign

The WWF asked users to take two simple actions: Make a donation and share the post. The campaign was so simple, but it was a tremendous success. Within hours of the Snapchat posts, 5,000 people had shared the posts on Twitter. By the end of the week, more than 120 million Twitter users had seen WWF’s message. In just three days, the charity reached its fundraising goal for the entire month.

The WWF didn’t simply choose to post to Snapchat because of the medium’s popularity. They took a highly strategic approach that brought the message and the medium together in a compelling manner. Employers in many industries are seeking professionals who can navigate digital communication in this same way.

“If you can marry together the classic training that people in the marketing communications field have relied on for decades with emerging digital technology, you will have highly marketable skills,” says Dr. Powers. “The demand for digital marketing professionals is exploding across corporations, nonprofits, government agencies, and academia, and there is no letup in sight. Some of the mechanisms for communication will come and go but digital communication is pretty much ingrained in our world now.”

Top Skills for Success in Digital Communication

Employers across industries are looking for digital communication professionals with a variety of specific skill sets. The chart below highlights the top skills hiring managers were looking for in 2017.

Digital-Marketing-Skills

Along with the above areas of expertise, there are also many “soft skills” that will serve you well in a digital communication career, including:

  • Flexibility—Those who thrive in digital communication tend to be people who are highly adaptable, as priorities in this discipline often shift quickly. “Flexibility is highly valued in these roles,” explains Dr. Powers. “Hiring managers want employees who can easily acclimate to changes.”
  • A commitment to lifelong learning—Ongoing education is important for staying marketable and at the forefront of the field, Dr. Powers says. “It’s impossible to predict future changes but the most successful digital communication professionals are committed to lifelong learning to stay ahead of the rapid pace of change.”
  • A passion for storytelling—Digital communications are often rooted in the art of persuasion, and one of the best ways to persuade your audience is by crafting a strong narrative.
  • Empathy—Being a strong communicator involves gaining a strong appreciation for your audience and what drives them. Once you’re able to put yourself in the shoes of other people you’re trying to influence, you can establish more meaningful—and more effective —connections with them. 
  • Curiosity—“Being inquisitive will carry you a long way,” says Dr. Powers. “The best digital communication practitioners are those who crave a deeper understanding of the people, processes, and channels of communication.”

Common Digital Communication Career Paths

The Association of Data-Driven Marketing and Advertising recently identified key growth opportunities for digital communications professionals in areas such as:

Content Marketing

These roles involve the planning, creating, and sharing of compelling content to engage key audiences. Unlike traditional marketing, content marketing isn’t about promoting a product or service but about being a credible source of information that matters to potential customers.

Digital Advertising

Digital advertising professionals develop and execute strategies to reach highly targeted audiences through an array of online channels, from Google AdWords to Instagram.

Data-driven Marketing

These roles involve testing various marketing approaches, analyzing and interpreting data, and measuring the results of marketing campaigns.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Professionals in these roles implement, analyze, and continuously update website content and technical features to increase an organization’s search engine ranking.

Social Media

Social media professionals are responsible for developing and executing social media marketing campaigns to influence a target audience, which includes the creation and curation of visual and written content. They also may act as community managers, listening and responding to social media users in a way that is in line with the organization’s brand identity.

Why Earn a Degree in Digital Communication?

Securing a lucrative career in digital communication requires specialized knowledge, a mastery of digital skills, and experience in applying those skills in the real world.

One way to gain this knowledge and experience is by earning a specialized degree, such as Northeastern’s Bachelor of Science in Digital Communication and Media program, which offers a novel way for students to gain both the theoretical knowledge and the hands-on experience they need to advance in the field.

In this program, students and a professor collaborate with an employer on a short-term project that addresses a particular real-world problem their company has, enabling students to build their knowledge and skills through direct experiences outside the classroom.

In Northeastern’s BS in Digital Communication and Media program, you’ll also have the opportunity to:

  • Understand and apply the principles of marketing
  • Hone your writing skills to persuade and inform
  • Discover how to use design as a communication tool
  • Apply the fundamentals of visual communication
  • Examine consumer behavior
  • Analyze and interpret data
  • Explore the practice of public relations
  • Learn about the many facets of social media communications
  • Become well versed in web and mobile development and database management

Throughout the degree program, students develop a wide range of digital competencies, including learning to apply marketing principles, conduct research, develop content, and analyze data. They then have an opportunity to put those skills to work directly as they design, implement, and manage a major communication campaign for a virtual PR firm.

Dr. Powers describes how these projects are successfully executed, even when students are scattered geographically when enrolled in an online program:

“We offer a virtual firm in which the students are the employees working on an actual digital media project for an actual client. Instead of a weekly class, we have a weekly staff meeting to plan, develop, review, and execute the campaign for the client.

In this setting, students can apply theory and put it into motion. They are part of the entire process—from discovery to strategy to execution and measurement of a communication plan. As a communications professional, you need to understand that these parts of the process are necessary for success—and need to be able to explain this to your clients you work with in the future.”

Choosing a Digital Communication Career

One of the many benefits of a digital communications degree is that it gives you the freedom to try your hand at many different aspects of the field.

“Take the opportunity to experiment with various realms within digital communication while you’re a student,” advises Dr. Powers. “You may just discover that you have an affinity for an area you hadn’t considered before.”

Digital communication is a broad area, and most professionals in the field ultimately do focus on a specific area instead of acting as a generalist. Visually-oriented students might gravitate toward a career in video, for example, while those who are good at storytelling might prefer a career working with the press.

“Part of choosing a career in digital communication is understanding your interests, but it’s also about understanding why you’re doing the work,” explains Dr. Powers. “A good video producer can come up with creative ideas but a strong practitioner will also keep in mind the context of who their audience is and what’s in it for their target audience to watch it. That aspect of online engagement is essential.”


To learn more about Northeastern’s Digital Communication and Media program, explore our program page or speak with our team to have your questions answered.

About Leslie Doyle
Leslie Doyle is a content contributor for Northeastern's Lifelong Learning Network.