Taken from the bowels of my Formspring page, where you really can ask me anything. [tweetmeme source=”jolieodell” only_single=false]
Question: Do you have any advice for recent college graduates who want to pursue a career in social media (ambiguous question, I know — sorry, just thought I’d ask!)
Answer: Yes, I do.
1. Learn to code or don’t go into social media. Seriously, a couple CompSci classes will make you a much, much better social media professional and will give you practical knowledge as well as credibility. The people you’ll have to work with will respect you more, and you’ll understand more about your job and the Internet.
Take classes online, go to a community college, whatever, but definitely get that out of the way before too long.
2. Decide what parts of “social media” you want to emphasize in your career. What do you really care about? Web standards? Open source software? Identity? Mobile technologies? Privacy/security? Make your career about something; the web already has too many marketing/PR-focused generalists.
3. If you’re going to get into the marketing side of social media, learn how to deliver real results. Not just metrics — yes, you have to deliver those, too — but also dollars. It doesn’t have to be sexy all the time; not every client needs a Foursquare campaign. But if you’re going to do social media marketing, your results have to speak for themselves. In other words, you have to start working on real campaigns (and failing) now!
4. Learn the startup market inside out. The people in this ecosystem will be your collaborators, your competitors, your employers, your employees, your friends, your “friends,” your mentors, your angel investors… Some of ’em might be around to bury you, you never know. And if you’re in PR, journalism, advertising, or a similar field, startups are also part of your bread and butter.
5. Start blogging (and tweeting/vlogging/wtfever comes naturally to you), and be really, really good at it. Say what you mean, tell the truth, be interesting, don’t try to lead, but always try to help. Create valuable content that shows you care about what you do and you know what you’re talking about.
6. Create something. Have an idea, talk to people about it, listen when people tell you it sucks. Then fix it. When your idea is good enough, build it into a product. This is crucial, because a social media professional should have some understanding of how development, business, marketing, and all that jazz really work. The best, most thorough way of finding out is doing it yourself. Also, this calls to mind Point #1: People will respect you more and you’ll understand your job better if you can actually build something. Otherwise, you’re just a football commentator who can’t throw a spiral: In a word, you’re a phony and a tourist.
7. Have a Plan B. The Internet won’t be the way it is now forever; also, your interest in it will eventually wane. Don’t make your whole life and every waking hour all about social media.
There will be a day when the very phrase “social media” will turn to ashes in your mouth and you’ll hate the sight of every fake guru’s avatar on whatever new app we’re all using then. At that point, you’ll be glad you have something else to do with yourself — writing, investing, painting, teaching, something.
Off the top of my head, that’s the advice I’d offer to a new grad contemplating a career on the Internet.
8. Don’t do it.
photo by Chris Brogan