How do I get a job in social media marketing?

In my role as an educator and an advocate for social media marketing, this is a question I get asked at least once a week.  Here are some ideas on how to prepare yourself for a marketing career in the social economy:

If you’re just starting out

Most important requirement: Become a beefy marketer.  An ability to navigate Facebook or YouTube might be enough to get you an entry level job at some places but to really build a career you should become proficient at the fundamentals of marketing.  Star performers will be able to apply their love of the social web to marketing research, consumer behavior, product development, personal selling, and brand-building.   Get a degree if you can. If that’s not possible, join the American Marketing Association and immerse yourself in their journals and webinars.

If I am considering two candidates for a job and one has experience as a social community manager but no formal marketing training, and another candidate who has less social web experience but has a degree, I would prefer the person with a degree.  It would be easier to train a marketer in the fundamentals of the social web than the other way around.

If you are pursuing a career change

HR folks would tell you there are two ways to effectively switch direction on your career: 1) Within your discipline but outside of your company, or 2) Moving into a new discipline within your present company. The idea is that you know your company and product well enough to work in marketing, even if you don’t have a formal background in that discipline.

It will be very difficult for you to make a move that is both outside your discipline and also outside your company, especially in a poor economy flooded with other job candidates. So be realistic.  If you’re not currently in a marketing role, it is going to be damn difficult to leave your current job and convince another company you can fill a new role.  Even if you hate your company, your best bet for starting fresh in a new discipline is to stay put.

If you don’t have experience

One way or another, you need to get meaningful marketing experience to be attractive to a new employer.   The most powerful addition to a resume is demonstrating quantifiable achievement through your personal efforts. One strategy would be to try to get that experience by becoming involved in marketing activities at your current company. Is there a niche you could fill? Extra work you could volunteer to do? Could you set up a SM monitoring program through your own initiative?  Blog? Tweet? Train others?

Another idea is to volunteer to do social media marketing for a non-profit or charity. This work would be un-paid but provide valuable experience attractive to employers.  There is nothing that can replace on-the-job learning.  And of course, start a blog if you haven’t done so already. Writing and establishing a community is an essential and rewarding experience.

If you’re wondering if you have what it takes

I believe the most successful social media marketing candidates will have three key qualifications. I’ve already mentioned the first one because it’s most important: Demonstrable understanding of marketing fundamentals. Number two is an ability to identify, assess and deploy new technologies. Number three is great writing and communication skills.

If you’re interviewing — but not winning a job

Do you have a combo plan?  In a competitive job market, how are you going to stand out? One way is to emphasize secondary skills … even if it’s just a hobby .. to provide an extra bonus to employers. If it’s a tight call between two applicants, you might have an edge if you can offer an employer a “combo deal” based on your passion for photography, editing a newsletter for a charity, doing the books for your spouse’s business. This is especially key if you applying for a job at a start-up where everybody has to wear a lot of hats. Find every possible way to differentiate yourself!

What are your ideas?  What advice would you give to people trying to break into a social media marketing position?

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  • Just wanted to say thank you for this article. I especially liked your example of using SMM for a non-profit as a way to gain experience. I did this once to raise money for a cause that was personal to me – and although it wasn’t paid, it was fulfilling in more ways than one. I got to put it on my resume, but more importantly, I used an awesome new method to help out a cause I really believed in. I’d definitely recommend this route for anyone who wants to gain more experience.

  • Nice post. There are some ways to grow your business and at the same time to connect with your customers. I have discussed it in detail.

  • Mark

    @Aubrey The personal aspects of volunteering is a really key point. I do more work for free than i do for pay … not because I have to, but because I CAN : ) It’s awesome to be able to use business experience in a way that really helps people! Good for you!

    @smmfox Thanks for taking the time to comment today!

  • The only word is Experience. Get out their if your crazy about the social web and make a name for yourself with your passion. Just like most influencers have done it you have to be willing to work for free. Take an intern position and you will be educated by someone with Experience. If your going to have a meaning full job in social media you need to know who & how to engage, how analytics work , traffic patterns, some understanding of SEO, building content..etc. Not sure i have heard of someone showing up with a degree that can fit that role right away. A social media resume will be seen online not sending a piece of paper anywhere.

  • Mark – Great insights. I especially like the “combo plan” tip. I’m a marketer/writer with a background in Web dev project management. My “old” skill set often proves invaluable to me (and my clients) in my new role – helping me land gigs and manage them successfully. I’ve also often able to leverage a connection from an old project management gig and turn it into a copywriting gig. 🙂

    I have one other tip to add – collaboration. If you’re a SM whiz without any solid marketing experience, seek out marketers who are established in other areas, but maybe not quite up-to-speed on the new technology. By collaborating, each of you learns from the other – broadening your individual skill sets while making the customer happy. It’s a win-win-win.

    PS – Hope you guys had a lovely Valentine’s Day!

  • Mark

    @ Nick. Agree. that’s what it boils down to. Even if you’re in college — you have to get experience.

    @Jamie — Collaboration — OUTSTANDING advice! Should have had it in the original post. P.S. We did!

  • For the people that are already contributing and think they have what it takes to be a social media pro, I suggest approaching a number of businesses to work with their social media in a non-employment situation: contractor, intern, etc. Offer to work on their program for a short term basis, say 90 days, and set goals for that period. If you can work with a company as a contractor, both parties can “try before they buy.”

    Work with only one or two clients so that you can give your best efforts. If you provide profits through your efforts then you are in a better position to negotiate pay.

  • Mark

    @Jeremy Truly excellent advice from a GREAT marketing professional! Thank you!

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  • Excellent suggestions Mark. How many of these tips were from personal experience as you set up your business and became such a focal point for some many interested readers / students?

  • Mark

    @ Steve — Basically this is 100 percent from personal experience. I interact with hundreds and hundreds of professionals through social platforms, classes I teach and my business. You begin to pick out some themes over time. I frequently get asked by young people what they can do to get a job in this field so i thought this post would create an answer I can share in the future.

  • Hey Mark:

    Your prolificity in churning out topical blog posts is impressive. I am myself, looking to get a job, even an entry level job in Social Media. No luck yet, but I am keeping my fingers crossed 🙂

    You have given me some food for thought.


  • All great advice here Mark. Experience is key so I like that you advise to volunteer if you can.

  • Mark

    @Prince You’re doing a great job on your blog — that’s a good start toward demonstrating proficiency and gaining experience. Keep up the good work!

    @Natasha Always a pleasure to hear from you!

  • Great article and answered a lot of questions for me. I think I intrinsically knew some of the answers. I’m a little different as I’m not a young person just out of college; I’ve spent 30 years in old media. Definetely a lot of experience to get to make the transition, but I believe it will be worth it.

  • Mark

    @Brad Really glad this helped! Good luck with everything!!

  • Reza Malayeri

    Mark you make some great points and give great advice for people looking to join the growing world of Social media marketing and public relations. I finished my BA in finance and have worked in many different fields. I found that business school was a great place to become well rounded in many of the area’s that are needed for any aspiring social media rep. I consulted as a business development rep with a social media startup here in Seattle for several months, and learned quite a bit during that time. I was tasked with crowd sourcing, engagement on Twitter, and management of Facebook fan pages for our clients. There are many skills that are necessary for PR and marketing reps to be effective and the ones that are gained through college are definitely very valuable to job seekers and employers.

  • Wow Mark, another great post. It’s hard to keep up and this one is especially relevant to me as I am currently looking for a place in the social media world. I’ve already saved this article and plan to look it over and over as I continue my search.

    Right now, I’m sitting with a Master’s in Marketing and PR and I write my blog and interact to build my community and it has given me great contacts. A couple of whom I’m currently working on some projects to gain experience and hopefully a name around Nashville.

    Thanks for the advice and I hope to comment on this issue later saying how much of a success it has all been for me. Experience is key and I’m gaining it as I go.

  • Mark

    You certainly have the right background to make a go of it Joey! Best wishes to you and let me know if I can help (I live right down the road!)

  • Mark, I’m really glad to see you recommend “become a beefy marketer” as your most important requirement. If you don’t know the first thing about marketing, then no amount of social media wizardry is going to help you. Show me you know how to build campaigns that fulfill a strategic purpose (like getting more leads, improving brand positioning, etc.) and it doesn’t really matter if you can accomplish it through social media or through more traditional means. The point is to meet a business need, irregardless of the toolset (and social media is just that).

    I’d also argue that degrees are nice but nonessential. I have a history degree and working toward a business anthropology Master’s degree. To someone without a degree or formal training, I’d recommend a two-pronged approach:
    1) Read a diverse set of marketing books and blogs. Look for best practices on how to execute the basics as well as gathering new ideas.
    2) Think about how you would put this reading into practice. If given an assignment to create a new inbound marketing strategy, how would you do it? If asked to build a social media effort around a product launch, how would you do it? Create a one-page document and have an experienced marketer help you fill in the gaps. Then package this as part of your portfolio and take it to an interview. As a hiring manager, if I can see how you think, how you solve critical problems, I’ll be more likely to consider you for a general marketing or a social media marketing position.

  • Mark

    Chris, Always an honor to have you stop by. Particularly interested in hearing more about your new degree. Sounds fascinating. Philosophically I agree that a degree may be unnecessary but practically speaking wonder if a self-guided education would work for many people. Certainly a possibility though.

  • Renee DeCoskey

    Great post, Mark. It really hits home for me. As a displaced English teacher, I realize that, with education the way it is in the US right now, I can’t just sit around hoping a new teaching job falls into my lap. It just doesn’t seem likely. I’ve spent two years trying to figure out where I could take my writing skills, and ultimately this is where it led me. Another degree isn’t in my budget right now, but I’ve been trying to get all the experience I can — building myself a brand online, freelance blogging, learning as much as possible, and trying to participate in the conversation as much as I can. I know it’s an uphill battle, but I’d be happy just to start in entry level if it means I get to learn as I work. I just keep sending out letters and hoping, hoping, hoping someone takes a chance on me. 

    Thanks for a great post 🙂 

  • Rhonda Chapman

    That is exactly what I’m doing. Putting myself out there and learning as much as possible. I view myself as my own client and selling strong and hard. It is not easy taking into consideration that there are so many graduates and experienced marketers competing with me. I found myself three mentors who are owners and directors/managers at marketing companies and that helps me quite a lot with choosing subjects in my diploma, blog, networking. I find mentors a key to success.

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