How to Get Into Social Media Marketing: The Beginner's Guide
You’ve explored the world of digital marketing and set your sights on social media marketing. The allure of staying on top of fast-changing trends, online culture and all of the delightfully weird, and at times brilliant, ways people choose to interact online is hard to shake. You’re a digital native in your everyday life—so why not make it a professional pursuit?
While having a goal of working in a social media role is a great start, you’re not sure how to get into social media marketing. Is there a typical education path for social media marketers? What skills and knowledge should you focus on developing?
Even though social media marketing is a relatively new niche, it has already firmly established itself within the marketing world. And despite its newness, if you’re a beginner looking to get your foot in the door, there are certainly some solidly defined steps you can take toward getting started in a professional social media marketing role.
Keep reading to see what your next steps should be in the world of social media marketing.
What do social media marketers need to know to be effective?
First and foremost, social media marketing specialists need an in-depth understanding of social media platforms. While social media platforms are fundamentally a way for users to share and interact with content, there are some big differences to understand and take into consideration. For instance:
- What does the average user look like?
- How do they use this platform?
- What types of content and messages tend to do well and garner attention?
- What (if any) are the unique features and capabilities of this platform?
The good news is that these questions can largely be answered just by spending some time using the platforms and doing a little bit of intentional research—so you likely have a good start.
Beyond knowing the ins and outs of social media platforms, you’re probably wondering what you’ll need to know to get hired as a social media marketer.
Written and visual communication abilities are key for social media roles. For all the posts you’ll be making, you’ll need to know how to avoid any embarrassing grammar mistakes and write in a tone that connects with customers and adheres to brand standards.
With social media often focused on images and videos, you’ll also need an understanding of design. Whether you’re responsible for producing visual content from start to finish or just play more of a consultative role, you’ll need an eye for creating aesthetically pleasing imagery and videos.
Traits of an effective social media marketer
Along with these skills, thriving social media marketers often have similar traits. Certain temperaments or personalities can gravitate toward the fast-paced world of social media, and knowing what social media marketers are like can tell you more about what to expect in this job.
With the constantly changing social media landscape, anybody working in this field needs to be adaptable. Whether it’s learning the newest platform or tracking fickle trends, social media marketers are constantly reorienting and adapting.
“One thing I wish I had known [starting out] was how important it is to ensure that I never stop learning, both in marketing and social media and in mindset work, business knowledge and personal development,” says Laura Rike, a social media consultant at Simply Pintastic. “Social media changes so rapidly with algorithm changes, different trends, etc., that if you aren’t always changing with it, you won’t be successful.”
Another key trait for successful social media marketers is being analytical. Using data to track the success of your social campaigns will inform future marketing efforts and shows the company what parts of the marketing strategy are appealing to customers.
Quick wit, good judgment and an ability to deal with failure can also be important assets for social media marketers. Many organizations’ social media strategies allow for playful online banter that won’t always have time for layers upon layers of approvals to weed out bad ideas.
This messaging freedom means you’ll need to be able to evaluate risks and make smart judgment calls, including knowing when it’s better to say nothing at all. Of course, even seemingly well-thought-out and clever content will fall flat at times. The best social media marketers can take it in stride and ideally learn from the effort.
What can I do to get started in social media marketing?
Like with many jobs, there’s no universal step-by-step path to getting started as a social media marketing specialist. However, there are several things you can do to help position yourself for a breakthrough. Here are a few key suggestions for doing just that.
Start social media accounts
“My number one piece of advice is to just start,” says Jonathan Simon, professor of digital marketing at the University of Ottawa. “Anyone can create a social media account from scratch, build a brand and learn.”
He recommends experimenting with what you post until you find something that works. Along with this, he says, “[Posting] consistently is the key. You don’t need to have great content on your channel, you just need to be consistently posting.”
The great part about social media marketing is that you can publicly see what others in the industry are doing. You can easily follow the social media accounts of your favorite brands to see how the pros market.
Another easy way to level up your skills is by following industry experts, according to Sarah Jameson, marketing director at Green Building Elements. “Social media marketing is not only for winning customers but earning the trust of other business leaders in the field. Meeting competitors helps you determine what your niche is and you’re able to personalize content better when you know what’s already being put out by the rest of your competitors.”
Indeed, Danielle Bedford, head of marketing at Coople®, says, “One of the best things you can do on social media is to connect with other professionals in your field. Doing so will help you stay up-to-date on industry news, learn about new trends and get insights from some of the top people in your field.”
She explains that connecting on social media can be a great way to start a conversation with these professionals by commenting or engaging with their posts.
Create a portfolio
Some companies may ask to see a portfolio or ask about prior projects when they are hiring a social media marketer. The company is trying to see how your skills stack up and wants a few examples of your prior experience.
For those just starting in the field, this can feel like a catch-22. You need a portfolio for the entry-level job that would help you build a portfolio in the first place.
And even if a company does not explicitly ask for a portfolio, creating one so you have a collection of professional projects to reference in an interview can give you a leg up in entering the field.
You can start building your portfolio today by creating your own social media account and experimenting. Alternatively, you can offer some free social media services to a local business to practice building a portfolio for a brand. Similarly, internships are another way to get experience for your portfolio.
Have a solid foundation of education
There are no two ways around it. When you’re just starting out, a college education is one of the most straightforward ways for employers to quickly verify if a candidate is capable of the role.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social media specialists will typically need to earn a bachelor’s degree.1 A public relations, communications or marketing degree are all common options for social media specialists. In a Rasmussen University marketing program, you’ll have the opportunity to take courses in social media, analytics, design, general marketing and much more.
The coursework you complete in a degree program can also provide great opportunities to build your portfolio with relevant projects that demonstrate your skills and potential.
Where will social media marketing take you?
As you’re getting your start in social media marketing, one of the huge benefits of the field is the ability to gain hands-on experience all from the comfort of your couch on your phone. Even though taking these first steps toward your new career can be overwhelming, starting by connecting with industry experts or experimenting on social media is a simple way to break into the industry.
Starting as a social media marketer is full of skills to learn—whether it be marketing strategies or keeping up with the latest trends—and a potential portfolio to create. As you’re figuring out how to get into social media marketing, a marketing degree can teach you the critical skills and give you the experience you need to succeed as a social media marketer. To learn more about marketing degrees, check out the marketing degree programs at Rasmussen University.
1Elka Torpey, “You’re a What? Social Media Specialist,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, November 2016, [accessed August 2022], https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2016/youre-a-what/social-media-specialist.htm.
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