Q: With the ever-growing use of digital marketing, should companies hire specialists or generalists in this area?

A: The answer is yes and yes. Conventional wisdom would suggest companies hire specialists in each of the digital marketing channels (website, display advertising, search, e-mail, social and mobile), especially given how quickly these channels evolve in terms of how they can be used in the marketplace. However, while this approach allows specialists to focus the opportunities within a channel, it does little to help companies hoping to take advantage of opportunities that run across digital channels.

The natural tendency is for channel specialists to focus exclusively on how to engage users of their channel on their channel, and miss out on how to engage the users of other channels on their channel. For example, social media managers focus on creating compelling posts that reach their own social media followers (and typically only a small percentage of them). So, what if that same social media manager wants to extend the reach of those same compelling posts to people who have interacted with the brand, but just never officially chose to follow the brand on social media?

That's where thinking cross-channel opens doors. For example, social media platforms allow marketers to push social posts to "custom audiences," which are groups of people who have interacted with your brand, but who are not necessarily social media followers of your brand. Custom audiences can be made up of people who have subscribed to your e-mail marketing program, or people who have been to your website recently, or who have purchased your product online or offline, or have recently downloaded your app. All of this is possible, yet often not taken advantage of, because it requires channels specialists to work more collaboratively, which can be hard to do when focused exclusively on a channel.

To fully take advantage of all that digital marketing has to offer, we need a combination of specialists who can stay current with all the opportunities within a channel, and generalists to help see the opportunities across the channels.

Gino Giovannelli is a marketing professor at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business and is co-host of the podcast series "In the Key of D — using DIGITAL to transform your business."