If the Super Bowl is marketing's biggest stage, social media is its newest one. Companies are increasingly using social media to market and sell products and to engage with customers.
According to figures from eMarketer, 80% of Fortune 100 companies use social media for marketing purposes, up from 73% last year and 42% in 2008. By August 2010, 85% had Twitter accounts. Two thirds have Facebook fan pages, and another quarter plan to have one in the next year.
Social media job postings seem to be growing just as quickly. Getting paid to work on Facebook and Twitter might sound like a dream job, but securing the offer is not as easy as knowing the difference between @s and hashtags.
Experts say that getting a job in social media involves an understanding of business, marketing and, of course, social media tools.
"Companies are hiring recent graduates because they're already familiar with the largest social networks," says Dan Schawbel, a social media branding expert and author of Me 2.0, but those landing -- and keeping -- the jobs are those proving their expertise in using social media for business functions.
"While the tools themselves are often straightforward to use, the environment in which companies employ them means it's much harder to achieve success than it might otherwise appear," says Dave Fleet, vice president of digital at global PR firm Edelman, and author of DaveFleet.com, a blog about the intersection of business and social media.
Proving to employers that you understand how social media can impact their business is crucial to getting a social media job.
"Many personal users of social media are just content providers, but that doesn't really have an impact on a company," says Jim Durbin, president of Brandstorming.com, a social media staffing agency. "You need to ask yourself what social media can do better and cheaper for a company," rather than using it for purposes better suited to an individual.
Public relations, marketing, sales, recruitment and customer service are all areas of business in which effective social media has been shown to have an impact, says Schawbel.
Here are some additional tips about how to get a job in social media:
Get Your Social Media Presence in Order
For new media jobs, your online presence is an interview before you interview. Keep it clean, up-to-date and professional. And it's not just about scrubbing your Facebook page of any embarrassing photos.
The online presence of a candidate for a social media position will be scoured from top to bottom. What are they looking to find?
"In many cases, the company doesn't know exactly what they're looking for," says Durbin.
Prove your online proficiency in ways that will be clear to recruiters, advises Durbin.
Tweet relevant industry news, discuss industry events and show that you know how social media can impact a business.
Coordinate Your Presence
In addition to having an active profile on each of the major social networks, it's important to keep them aligned so your brand is consistent. It's not just about having the same photo -- updating each of them regularly with consistent information is key.
"You should have a website that is 'yourname dot com'," says Schawbel, "and on it, you should have links to each of your networking outlets."
Putting your own Web address at the top of your resume, instead of individual links to each social networking page, is a standout way to show you're a pro.
Get Some Experience
"If you're looking to get in the social media field and you don't have any experience, find a charity that needs volunteer help with its activities," says Fleet.
Sites like Sparked.com connect non-profits looking for help with their social media presence with volunteers looking to share their wisdom; it's probably good Karma too.
Be Armed With Ideas
In an interview, you'll probably be asked for some ideas on how you'll use social media to improve the business.
Illustrating how you can help them with a specific problem will help you stand out. Reading a company's annual report might give you some insight into its weak spots.
"If you pitch a manager an easier way to solve a problem [than] they already have, they'll hire you," says Durbin.
What you post online is a direct reflection of your interests and skills, so be sure you're reflecting an accurate image of your specific areas of expertise.
"Your Twitter stream is your resume and your brand," says Mike Ramer, president of Ramer Search Consultants.
Instead of using your Twitter feed to promote yourself as a generic "social media expert," focus your feed on customer retention, or on the usage of social media by companies in a certain industry.
Engage With Your Audience
"Your ability to engage leads to your ability to influence," says Ramer. "When you offer new information or subject matter, and someone comments on it, respond."
Providing interesting, relevant content is important, but take it to the next level by inviting others to share their thoughts with you -- and respond to their work.
Inject Some Personality
"Recruiters are going to see how well you'll fit in with a company based on your social media outlets," says Ramer.
Make sure the language you use is positive, and that you keep any far-reaching opinions under wraps.
If you're looking to have a career in social media, you need to keep your personal social media outlets professional -- anything "not safe for work" is also not safe for Facebook, Twitter, or Foursquare.
Write to Kelly Eggers