In Breaking Bad, Chemistry teacher Walter White knows how to cook perfect crystal meth and outsmart the bad guys. In Game of Thrones, Brandon Stark may not be able to walk, but he is naturally charismatic – and can see through the eyes of animals. In 24, Jack Bauer can get out of any tricky situation using his cunning or combat skills, and sometimes both.

Skills are what make us special and keep us ahead of the pack. After recently re-reading Dan Slee’s excellent BOW SKILLS: 37 skills, abilities and platforms for today’s comms person, it got me thinking. What skills and abilities are essential for digital communications professionals heading into 2014? I was inspired to start compiling my own list of skills I have or I will need in the near future.


  1. Have a passion for digital. Live and breathe it. Know its strengths – and its limitations.
  2. Be a champion for digital in your organisation. Have the ability to add value to all aspects of what your organisation does. Encourage others to take up digital – as Dan Slee would say, share the lollies.
  3. Know how to monitor issues online: hashtags, hyperlocals, social media, forums, online newspaper comments. Know how to set up Google Alerts.
  4. Know how and when to measure. Google Analytics can prove the worth of new campaigns or websites. Learning Google Analytics has some excellent tutorials. Also know your way around Facebook Insights, and Tweetreach.
  5. Learn about mapping. Use Google Maps to create, share and embed your own map. Also have a look at Openstreetmap.
  6. Learn about open data. Tim Berners-Lee: The year open data went worldwide is an essential piece of viewing.

Social media

  1. Know how to use social media sites and apps (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, YouTube, Google+ and Pinterest at a minimum) with your eyes closed.
  2. Be able to talk colleagues through using social media sites and apps (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, YouTube, Google+  and Pinterest at a minimum) with your eyes closed.
  3. Horizon-scan for new apps and social networks and their possible uses.
  4. Have compelling arguments at the ready for why all employees should have access to social media. Check out the section on Barrier vaulting on Best by WM.
  5. Be able to create timely, interesting content for social media. Know what content works on different platforms.
  6. Know how to create a social media calendar for your organisation.
  7. Have a flair for creating new social media segments. Here’s one I did earlier: #FlashbackFriday: using historic images in social media.
  8. Know what a social hub is and how to use one. Have a look at Tint.


  1. Know HTML – good enough to mark-up copy with headings and paragraphs, add links and images using only text. If you have no HTML experience, it’s actually very easy to learn. Honestly. Have a butcher’s at W3School’s HTML tutorial.
  2. Understand how content management systems work. Be able to add, edit and tag a post on WordPress or similar content management system. If you have no experience with this, sign up for a free WordPress site and then check out the free WordPress Lessons.
  3. Have an understanding of web usability principles – read Steve Krug’s excellent Don’t make me think and subscribe to Gerry McGovern’s brilliant weekly email.
  4. Have a basic understanding of web accessibility principles. Start by reading How People with Disabilities Use the Web and then browse the excellent Emergency 2.0 Wiki Accessibility Toolkit which features resources about how people with disabilities use social media.
  5. Know about search engine optimisation (SEO). Check out the awesome The Beginners Guide to SEO.
  6. Know about online surveys. Sign up for a free Survey Monkey account and create your own surveys. Check out the SurveyMonkey Help Centre.
  7. Know about e-newsletters. Analyse the e-newsletters you receive – what makes a good one? Learn more at the MailChimp Knowlege Base.


  1. Be able to take a photo using a SLR or smartphone for a variety of different uses. Yes iPhone photography is good enough for many purposes. Read about my own realisation of this in Why your smartphone is the best camera.
  2. Use Photoshop to resize and make basic corrections to images. Understand the difference between print and web. There’s some great help at 35 Basic Tutorials to Get You Started with Photoshop.
  3. Understand how to source photos, including crowdsourcing and creative commons. Check out the Quick Reference Guide to Finding Creative Commons Material.
  4. Know how to record a video, publish it and embed it on a website or blog.
  5. Know how to record an audio clippublish it and embed it on a website or blog. Have a look at Dan Slee’s SOCIAL SOUND: Can We Use Audioboo In Local Government?
  6. Learn about data visualisation and when to use them – infographics, pie charts and other visual stuff. Read 7 data visualisation sites to insprire your creative eye.


  1. Write in a clear, concise manner using Plain English for a variety of channels.The South Australian Government have published an excellent Plain English guide in PDF.
  2. Have the ability to summarise information and pick out key messages.
  3. Understand the political landscape of your organisation. 
  4. Be ready to respond out-of-hours. Communications is not a 9-5 gig.
  5. Know the basics of community engagement. Spend some time with your community engagement team and volunteer for offline engagement activities. It will give you a better insight into things you can try in the digital space.
  6. Know the basics of customer service. Spend some time with your customer service team to see how they respond to customer service requests and questions. Invaluable when replying to a request for service at 9pm on a Friday night.
  7. Know about crisis comms. Be prepared for your organisation to respond in an emergency situation. Have standard responses drafted for different types of events. There’s a ton of great info in the excellent Emergency 2.0 Wiki. Also check out my blog 52 tips for social media disaster management #comms.
  8. Be able to build relationships and work with technical and non-technical people alike. Act as a bridge between the two.
  9. Join communities of practice. Follow like-minded people on Twitter, join local social media or content groups, attend unconferences, reach out to peers for a regular chat, share your knowledge by writing for commsgodigital.

What skills would you add to this list? Comment or tweet your thoughts.

Skills links

All of the links in this post can my Digital comms skills bundle.


Photo credit: “My garden office” by Matt Murray.

Creative Commons Credit: Inspiration for this post (as well as a handful of skills) courtesy of Dan Slee’s excellent BOW SKILLS: 37 skills, abilities and platforms for today’s comms person.


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