Over the years I’ve had dozens of phone calls, coffee meetings, and email conversations from lots of professionals from varying backgrounds. Some are interns or entry-level professionals considering a pivot from one field to another. Others are communications professionals who want to transition from, say, media relations, to social media strategist. The very first question I often get asked is, “So how did you get started as a social media strategist?
I’ve written before about the skills you need to become a social media strategist, and I was very clear that a couple of snappy tweets about your favorite show does not a social media strategist makes.
Unfortunately, I can’t have coffee dates with every aspiring social media maven. So here are some tips I give to folks whenever I am asked about how to break into the field:
Do your homework.
Get acquainted with the digital tools and platforms as well as how to write good, compelling copy. Consider taking a class through Coursera, General Assembly, or Udemy to learn the basics. It also doesn’t hurt to keep yourself current on digital trends - especially when platforms like Facebook are constantly adding and taking away features and tools.
Consider volunteering to manage social media for a community organization.
Now, hear me out. I would normally tell people not to work for free, but if you are totally new to social media, practice makes perfect. If you are a member of a place of worship, sorority/fraternity, or any other community organization, volunteering as a social media manager is a great way to get your feet wet and find out if it is really for you. It also gives you more experience to put on your resume when you are ready to start looking for digital media jobs or consulting opportunities.
Get to know people who are already in the field across industries.
I started out running social media for the NAACP, so naturally, the first digital media professionals in my network were in social justice and advocacy groups. But I also made the effort to network with digital communicators in who worked in the government and corporate sector. No matter what industry you start your social media career in, networking is key. Join professional organizations and meetups in your city, and don’t sleep on online communities! The Social Media Managers Facebook Group is a great place to start. If you are a woman of color wanting to widen your network and meet other social media and digital communications professionals, consider joining ColorComm. They have chapters in DC, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.
Familiarize yourself with the most widely-used social media platforms, and stay up to date on emerging ones.
If you start with Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, you will be in a good position to apply what you know when managing social media for a company, campaign, or organization. This includes things like Instagram Live and Facebook Live in addition to creating and managing written content.
Don't forget about email.
While my specialty is social media strategy, I have also had the opportunity to hone my skills as an email writer for advocacy and electoral campaigns. Even if you are sure you want to focus on social media management, getting accustomed to writing and staging emails -- even if it is a simply email newsletter--will make you a more well-rounded professional and will help build your resume.
I hope these tips help those of you who are aspiring digital strategists. I would be remiss if I didn’t leave with one more thing: My book Win The Internet: Best Practices for Twitter and Facebook is available on Amazon. It is geared towards beginners but has some good tips for folks who are new to social media management.