10 Key Players on the Digital Team

April 18, 2013

As many political organizations pass the initial point of having a digital director and look at expanding the scope of their digital efforts, what are the key functions that need to be considered?

There are some basic duties that should be a part of any growing digital team. In a small organization, most will be consolidated around a single employee with support from outside vendors. Larger operations will require specialists and additional support staff.

Here are 10 functions on the digital team, starting with the most important.

1. Digital Director

The digital director is the head honcho. Managing a team, making sure work gets completed, and evangelizing emerging technologies are just all in a day’s work for an effective digital director. Top digital directors both use technology actively and can communicate its value to people who don’t know analytics from apps.

The digital director can come from a variety of backgrounds, but typically will have some agency experience as well as having worked in the industry before. He or she will also have prior management experience, and experience leading a team to work effectively under pressure. A great leader can build a team of tech-savvy specialists to get the job done, but a tech-savvy specialist isn’t always the right fit to manage a team and fight for organizational resources.

2. Social Media Specialist / Community Manager

As social media has exploded in use over the past few years, brands have struggled to find the best way to leverage the new medium to communicate with consumers. Many have found the best approach is to directly interact with target audiences and provide content of value.

The Social Media Specialist, or Community Manager, is responsible for being the organization’s lead advocate on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and YouTube. They will respond to comments, post new content, and resolve questions or complaints. They will work closely with content creators and designers to develop new and interesting content for fans. They are very much a community liaison, it’s just that the community happens to be online. Many campaigns consider this role part of the Political team as essentially an online field director.

In small teams, they will also be responsible for SEO and content creation.

3. Designer

There are lots of different types of designers, but for a basic digital team, you will want someone who has a background designing web graphics and user interfaces. The two most important tools you have in your digital efforts are your website and your email program, so you want to make sure these look clean, friendly, and inviting when users receive them.

Portfolio really matters when hiring a designer, because while a designer can learn specific design skills, many designers carry a certain aesthetic with them. They will lean towards simple or detailed design, or muted or colorful palettes. Reviewing their portfolio to look for an aesthetic that matches the organization’s, or the flexibility to mold their design talents to the project’s brand, will guide you towards the right candidates.

In small digital teams, the designer will also be responsible for basic website management, such as changes to HTML and CSS, and video production.

Additional Key Roles

While a basic digital team needs to produce content and creative, larger teams will need more resources to effectively serve their audiences. Here are more specialized roles for a growing digital team. Each doesn’t necessarily have to be a full-time employee, but leaders should be sure that these bases are filled either through an integrated position or outside contractors to build a robust digital program.

4. Content Specialist

The foundation of a great digital effort is great content. If there is no compelling reason to open that email or visit that website, people won’t. A good content specialist will create interesting articles, stories, emails, and other long-form (longer than 140 characters) content to post to the website, send via email, or post on social media sites like Tumblr.

The ideal candidate to be a content specialist will have a strong writing background. They must be able to present writing samples beyond just press releases. Organizations need someone who can craft stories, and candidates who have at least dabbled in writing fiction will be able to write outside the press release box. The right candidate will also be comfortable writing under pressure.

5. Web Developer

As the digital team becomes more robust, it will be important at some point to bring on a web developer. The web developer is the person who writes the code and wrangles the technology to get everything to work together. If the web designer is the architect, then the web developer is the contractor, making sure that all of the pieces work together.

The ideal web developer may or may not have a degree in computer science. Often the best developers learned to code on their own. They should have extensive experience working with the technologies that your organization uses or wants to use. Many people know how to blog in WordPress. A second level of developer knows how to write plugins for WordPress. And a third level of developer hates WordPress and builds their own content management systems. Most organizations are looking for someone in the second category — comfortable working with existing technologies but creative and experienced enough to make creative use of those tools.

In smaller teams, the web developer typically takes on the data management responsibilities.

6. Video Producer

It’s no secret that video is increasingly important as a tool to communicate with target audiences online, so adding a video producer to the digital team makes perfect sense. A solid video producer will be comfortable with industry-standard video editing software like Apple’s Final Cut Pro. They will also have a background working in production at a production house or TV station. There are many capable self-taught video producers out there, but the best ones have had the benefit of working around others in a large production setting.

Since they will be a video jack-of-all-trades on most teams, the ideal video producer will have a portfolio of engaging work that demonstrates proficiency in shooting quality video, sound engineering , graphic design, animation, and post-production (the process of editing raw video into the finished video product).

7. Data Specialist

If great content is the foundation of a great digital effort, then data is the framework that allows you to build the effort. Managing data so that it is actionable and integrated is no small effort, so you need someone dedicated to the job. This is not the job for a political operative who happens to be handy with Excel.

The ideal candidate will be able to access your organizations’ various contact databases, merge them, clean them, maintain them, and produce reports that provide insights into your data. The goal of good data management is to get to a point where you have reasonable certainty that if you take a particular action, then you will achieve a particular result. They should have a background in computer science or management information systems (MIS) and experience working with large data sets.

Checking references is important to hiring a good data specialist. Often the best candidate won’t be great at selling themselves, but their references and background will speak for itself.

8. Online Finance Director

Fundraising is critical for even the smallest campaigns and advocacy organizations. With a small digital team, online fundraising duties typically fall across the team. The digital director will create online fundraising plans. The content specialist will write fundraising emails. The data specialist will analyze and pull lists. The designer will create online ads and social media graphics to encourage potential donors to give, which the community manager will post online. But as the effort grows, it will become necessary to add a role specifically for these duties.

The online finance director will typically have background in fundraising, but not direct mail. Direct mail fundraising is very, very different from online fundraising and the two should be managed separately. Someone who has worked in direct mail fundraising exclusively could have a difficult time transitioning to being an effective online fundraiser. Event fundraisers tend to have a better feel for the multi-channel approach to effective online fundraising. Other experience that is valuable to an online fundraiser is a background in writing, analytics, event fundraising, as well as advertising.

The online finance director will be responsible for building an email house file, creating fundraising promotions and schedules, analyzing results, reporting results, and optimizing campaigns. Many organizations include a commission on funds raised as part of this person’s compensation package.

9. Technology Director / CTO

A robust digital team will need to invest in someone who can have a seat at the senior table as well as direct the efforts of multiple web developers. In a smaller team, the digital director serves both roles, but as the unit becomes bigger, hiring an experienced technology director, or Chief Technology Officer (CTO), will become essential to manage and focus the team to achieve new objectives.

The ideal CTO will have experience leading technology projects in your industry. They need to understand both the user’s needs as well as the technology available in order to make informed decisions about technology investments. They will know how to create budgets and will understand the value of creating reports to communicate successes and progress throughout the organization.

10. SEO Specialist

Search engines can be a major driver of traffic to your website, so as the team grows, it makes sense to bring on someone who can take on this capacity specifically. Most SEO specialists have a background that includes both online ad buying and content creation. These are the two major pillars of a successful SEO strategy, so your specialist must be able to leverage both. Having the mindset that data should drive decisions is also key to a successful SEO practitioner, as they will need to closely track numbers and adjust accordingly.

Who do we need?

Not every organization will need a full-time employee in each of these roles, so building the right team will be different for every organization.

In a think tank, the digital team is likely more content focused and might consist of writers, social media community managers, and email content specialists.

On a campaign, the digital team is probably a mix of content, technology and data. In fact, the Obama campaign, famous for having the most robust digital team of any campaign in history, divided its efforts into exactly these three teams: Digital, Technology and Data and Analytics.

Regardless of what type of organization you work for, the digital team should be built to suit your stakeholders’ needs. Before building a digital team, your organization’s leadership needs to answer three questions:

  1. Who is our target audience?
  2. What is the desired action you want that audience to take?
  3. What are the best media channels to engage them?

Answering these three questions will help paint the picture of what roles will be most important on your digital team.

What do you think?

What are other critical roles on a digital team?

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