Five Steps to Go From College Senior to Senior Director of Social Media

My girlfriend’s little cousin is a Junior at UNC Chapel Hill, aspiring for a career in “marketing or PR, or something like that.” That relatively open outlook is much more targeted than my own was at her age, which went something like, “I don’t want to work a lot and I want to make a lot of money.” I’m sure I’m not alone in that desired career path (ironic that I ended up in agency-side business development, and fitting that I’m writing this on Sunday night after a holiday weekend).

That got me thinking about what a WONDERFUL career path social media is for recent graduates (bias alert, level orange). Social media touches everything – advertising, marketing communications, PR, and more – and it’s new enough that no one has a decade of experience in it. Consider how many community managers for relatively large brands are only a few months away from keg stands and Advil/Gatorade breakfasts. These young hopefuls are the voice of their respective employers to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of followers. Writing content calendars and overseeing day-to-day engagement is a big responsibility for a new kid on the block; one that can easily segue into a career in several other fields. Twitter may one day wage a nuclear war on Facebook over the right to buy Pinterest, and the whole industry could shut down (illustrative, albeit ridiculous example of an unpredictable future), but if that happens the people who trained in social will be just fine.

So, how do you do it? I’m talking to you now, kid who still prioritizes college sports over family and friends (and you, too, seasoned social media exec who’s itching to disagree with the stance I’m about to take). You can take the easy route and apply for some positions while crossing your fingers. Truth be told, you’ve got a good shot at landing a great gig, because so many positions are opening up. But if you’re really serious about becoming the next Scott Monty or Adam Kmiec, or perhaps next up-and-coming social visionary, I have a few tips:

1) Learn who the real thought leaders are. Seemingly everyone with a Twitter account calls him or herself a social media guru, ninja or Power Ranger these days. Find out who is really blazing the trail for the future of social. If you scratched your head when I mentioned Scott Monty and Adam Kmiec, start there. While you’re at it, find out who runs social for your five favorite brands. Discover what they’re good at and how they got where they are, so you can start envisioning your own path.

2) Start putting social to work for you. Every college student is an expert in social media; you tweet, post, like, maybe even pin if you’re hardcore (and by hardcore I mean you really like flowers and cookie recipes). It’s a fair bet that you’re also involved in some campus activity – a club, charity, fraternity/sorority, etc. I strongly advise that you use social to increase awareness of your cause in some shape of form. Some of you will knock it out of the park, others will just get a couple shares and posts, but each of you will start to pick up on the value of social at scale. Perhaps even more importantly, you’ll all have a little resume booster or interview story that will impress your soon-to-be bosses.

3) Get to know the business of social. How does Facebook make money? How does Twitter? What about Pinterest? Understanding how social media platforms monetize, or how they could potentially monetize is critical to viewing social as a business rather than a hobby. Instagram may not yet be equipped to pay Zuckerberg back for his last hurrah as a private company owner, but a 21-year-old who can intelligibly explain how it could will likely find him/herself in a great position with a company who values that kind of intellectual maturity.

4) Understand the agency landscape. Knowing who WPP, Omnicom, Publicis and Interpublic are will help you navigate through job postings and interviews. They own most of the big players in the ad agency world. Knowing who Havas and Aegis are will serve you as well, but is not completely necessary (#JustBeingHonest). If you want to REALLY get ahead of the curve, learn how to pronounce Carat.

***Quick side track here because this kinda bugs me. It’s Ca-Rah. Not Carrot, not Ca-Rot, Ca-Rah. It’s a huge agency (especially as of recent), and 90% of people in the industry don’t know what to call it.

Ok, back to your future. All of the holding companies have social media services; some are stand alone, while others exist through larger digital offerings. It’s invaluable to have a sense of the big players, their clients, and their competitors. You may stumble upon a great entry level opportunity at Digitas or The Martin Agency, but if you know all their friends and foes (who are likely also hiring), you won’t have enough time to send in all the job applications and take all the interviews. More interviews mean more options, and more options put the power of the job search in your hands.

5) Use social IN your job search. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are powerful tools to help (or inhibit) you in getting a job. The first thing any job candidate should do (this goes both recent grads and established veterans) is make your Facebook PRIVATE. I’ve seen people try and class it up – deleting pictures of themselves getting frisky with a bottle of wine, changing their interests to classical music and contemporary art – but realistically, your Facebook is not going to help you get a job. When a prospective employer views your Facebook (and they more than likely will if it’s public) they will either find a well rounded individual, and think no differently of you than they did before they logged on, or they’ll find something incriminating and you’ll lose out on the job. It’s lose or tie; you’re not going to win HR over with the laughing baby video you posted. That’s not to say you need to leave it private once you get the job; I’m Facebook friends with most of my coworkers. Consider that hiring managers are juggling dozens if not hundreds of applications, resumes and interviews. Simplifying their search is critical to their end goal of finding the right fit for a given position. If your resume has a typo, it’s likely to get tossed. As will your candidacy if your Facebook timeline lets everyone know when you first discovered (and contributed to) Texts From Last Night.
Twitter is a different story. You can Tweet intelligent, insightful things, including industry-relevant or passion-related articles you enjoyed (unless your “passion” is illegal). Most of the biggest names in the advertising agency world have Twitter accounts that they use for constructive purposes, and any college student can do the same. That’s not to say you can only Tweet things you think will get you a job, but avoiding crude or immature Tweets and sprinkling in some content that shows you’re serious about marketing/advertising can make a big impression on a future employer. Not to mention you’ll get established agency execs following you, giving you a chance to engage with a potential boss before a position becomes available. For examples of some young guns doing a great job marketing their potential professional services through Twitter, check out @DaveBos and @LoebBen.
Last, but most certainly not least is LinkedIn; my favorite, and by far the most under-utilized social media site. LinkedIn’s advanced search feature allows you to search by location, company, industry and college affiliation, and that’s all in the free version. That means that right out of college, you can find everyone in the advertising industry in the city you want to be in, who went to your alma mater, and who include the term “social media” in their profile. That’s a powerful list of potential contacts, many of whom are willing and eager to help out a fellow Eagle, or Tiger, or (enter college mascot here). No matter how busy I may be I’ll always take a moment to stop and assist a fellow Wolverine. If you want to go a step further, you can join a bunch of social media or advertising groups on LinkedIn, which allows you to message many of the group members for free. The decision makers for open and highly in-demand positions have no space on their voicemail, and an overloaded in-box. LinkedIn is growing, but you’re still quite likely to stand out with a sincere direct message explaining that you found that person based on their experience in the field you’re interested in, or the success they’ve seen from the same degree you have, or your common connections, etc.

I know it seems a bit detailed, but I genuinely believe those five steps will critically impact the job search for anyone who just took down their (supposedly) last beer bong and wants to tweet (or facilitate tweeting) for a living. The big things don’t change – you need a degree, you have to work hard, and you have to learn fast – but as usual, it’s the little things that can set you apart. Take some time to understand the business and landscape behind social, put it to work for you, and make sure your social media presence is a shiny badge that represents you well. Do that, and you’ll find yourself in a great position to be at the front line of the future of social media. When you get there, I expect 12% of your annual income as a coaching fee. You can find me on LinkedIn.

And if that doesn’t work, Big Fuel is hiring 😉

To see what I tweet about, follow me @mikemikho (prepare to be underwhelmed)

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  2. Megan Bos
    10/24 2012

    Hey, I’m @davebos’ little sister- I’m working on increasing my social media presence to gear up for internships next summer. Any ideas on online/twitter interaction with companies with out getting annoying?

    thx!

  3. Mike Mikho
    10/24 2012

    For one, follow your brother’s lead – he’s a bright guy. Second, just be mindful of everything while being yourself. If you make an over-exherted effort to sound like a social media expert, you’ll overpost, annoy people and sound disingenuous. Use twitter for what it’s intended for – to talk about your interests. Just keep in mind that everything you say stays there and assume everyone sees everything. That means avoiding unnecessary criticism, foul language, etc.

    Also, I think people get too caught up in posting articles they read to twitter. It’s great to share interesting readings, but the value you gain is from reading the article itself, not necessarily sharing it with everyone. Stay well read on the industry (adage, adweek, sometimes mashable), and you’ll be compelled to share a thing or two.

    thanks for the comment!

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Hello! Big Fuel is a full-service marketing and communications company based in New York that takes brands from Content To Commerce. A unique approach that bridges "people stories" to "product stories" through social media and branded content.

Big Fuel is one part marketing agency, building brands through consumer insight; one part entertainment company, creating content that people love; and one part distribution company, driving guaranteed results by delivering content to targeted audiences. We work with major brands, leading agencies, publishers and platforms to help marketers achieve true consumer engagement.

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