Chances are there are some people in the digital marketing space that you respect and appreciate. Whether it's their innovative ideas, past successes, or great-quality content, you have benefited from their insights and improved your skills because of them.
But what you see on their Instagram feed or their blog doesn't tell the whole story. Here's a behind-the-scenes look at some of these digital marketing leaders.
1. They have an area of specialty.
Go ahead and think of a "digital marketing leader" -- the first one that comes to mind.
What are they best known for? What is their primary skill?
Most digital marketing leaders specialize in one area or another. For example, there are those who are experts at social or SEO. Even in these broad arenas of specialization, the leaders have smaller niches.
Kim Garst, for example, is an expert in social media. She narrows this focus to social selling, and her primary area of expertise is Facebook.
Of course, most digital marketing leaders excel in several areas. In this way, they embody what Rand Fishkin described as the "t-shaped web marketer."
2. They are very vocal about things.
One of the guaranteed paths to leadership is being vocal in your arena. How did these digital marketing experts become recognized for their leadership? They talked, blogged, chattered, published, and kept advancing their online voice.
Here are some areas in which they are vocal.
- Trends - Breaking news, new technology, major changes
- Opinions - How they feel about the condition of the industry
- Depth - Detailed and comprehensive information in their given area of expertise
- Social - Actively engaged with their social communities on those topics
Specifically, though, how does this play out? Most digital marketing leaders whom I have observed grew their leadership by following this process:
- Personal blog: Publish high-quality content for a small niche
- Guest blog: Expand to reach other audiences with this message
- Grow a social media following: Along with the consistent publication of articles, they are amassing followers
- Interviews: The leader becomes recognized for his or her expertise, and is sought out for interviews
- Public Recognition: The leader gets nods on Who to Watch blogs, or Top Ten lists of personalities and marketers.
- Speaking engagements: The leader's growing reputation elicits invitations to speak at industry conferences
At the same time, the leader is growing a successful business and using that success to fuel his or her leadership.
3. They don't know everything.
Just because someone is a "digital marketing leader," doesn't mean that they know everything there is to know about digital marketing.
- An SEO leader might not be deeply familiar with YouTube engagement
- A social media expert may have very little awareness of conversion rate optimization
- A paid searchguru might not be at ease discussing content marketing best practices
4. They outsource a lot of their work.
Leadership requires a lot of time. There are Twitter discussions to be a part of, blogs to write, a business to run, speaking engagements to travel to, multiple social media accounts to manage, visuals to design, outreach to participate in, email marketing messages to create, and a host of other tasks.
How do these people do it all?
They don't. Most likely, they have a skilled team of digital marketing specialists who carry out much of the work. Some of the leaders whom I know also own digital marketing businesses. The same employees who carry out client work also have a role in helping the leader grow his or her personal brand.
This makes a lot of sense, especially since the leader's personal brand is a source of leads for the business.
5. They know how to communicate effectively.
Digital marketing leadership is about effective communication. How else can you gain a following (and hold it) unless you are communicating with purpose and professionalism.
Obviously, most of this communication consists of content. What forms of content? Here are the modes of communication that many digital marketing leaders prefer.
- Personal blog
Effective digital marketing leaders are also embracing Google+, Periscope, YouTube, and Snapchat, of course; but these platforms have fewer engaged followers than the ones mentioned above.
6. They taught themselves.
How do you learn "digital marketing?" Although there are plenty of great certifications and online training courses, these leaders did it the good old-fashioned way -- personal effort, lots of endurance, and experience.
The best way to learn is by doing. These digital marketing leaders put their knowledge into practice and built businesses based on what they learned. Together -- their knowledge in practice and the growing business -- gave them a larger platform and more leadership.
7. They're still learning.
Leadership is not a place of repose. It's a place of continual evolution, active learning, and intentional growth. The leaders I respect the most are those who still grapple with the big questions, try to answer them, and share their knowledge publicly.
For the most part, digital marketing leaders are simply more vocal about their industry, and have been consistent about publishing content in their niche.
If you aspire to leadership in your niche, I applaud you. Sure, you'll have some haters. (Every leader does.) But there is something profoundly rewarding about being able to help a larger audience learn, succeed, and grow their businesses.
What do you think? Is digital marketing leadership in your future?