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Marketers Turn to Social Networks

There's a big demand for marketers who understand social media. But it's not just professional marketers who need to know how to work with these tools. Entrepreneurs, managers and company employees also need to understand social media. Those who do will find themselves at a big advantage over those who don't.

"What we're seeing is that people are really hungry to learn about social media," says social media consultant Laura Fitton. "They're getting budgets and they're getting responsibility as well, and that sounds great, but it's actually kind of scary for brands in such an emergent space because there's a lot of uncertainty of what to do, how to do it, which tools are worth spending on, which experts are worth trusting."

Twitter Connecting All Kinds of People

Fitton's credentials certainly involve a lot more than just blogging for a couple of years. She's the founder of oneforty, a popular online community that informs people about the best social media monitoring tools. She's also the co-author of Twitter for Dummies and founder of a Twitter for Business consulting firm. Twitter, obviously, is Fitton's specialty.

"I'm just really entranced and enchanted by Twitter and what it makes possible," says Fitton. "This will sound a bit cornball, but I really think the whole thing is running on love -- it's running on its ability to connect people to each other.

"And that gets especially interesting when you start talking about people who previously felt isolated... Somebody who's in the middle of a mob in political unrest and feels like nobody in the world is hearing their voice can suddenly get a voice," Fitton explains.

"But then there's also examples like... parents of children who have a very unusual condition or disease state, who used to be on their own... can stay connected in a very lightweight, mobile way and check in with each other and compare notes on what they're experiencing and learning, and that's true of all social media."

Fitton sees particular possibility in Twitter for this ability to connect people because it's so easy to use on mobile devices. But other social networking tools are increasingly easy to use on mobile devices.

"I think long-term business success on social media, charity success on social media, [and] just normal human hobby use of social media -- the thing that drives all of it -- is the ability to connect people to each other who were otherwise isolated," says Fitton.

Companies Trying to Find Good Social Media Experts

Fitton's website also helps people find social media experts for their business or organization. She says finding an effective social media expert isn't always straightforward.

"You don't necessarily just want to grab a social media 'rock star' because they personally have a big Twitter following," says Fitton. "You want to know if they've been able to help other people understand the medium and get something out of it.

"You want to ask them questions like, 'How are you going to measure our success?' 'What is your plan for that?' Don't ask dumb questions like, 'Can you get me lots of Twitter followers?' or 'What's the ROI (return on investment)?' Those are very simplistic and will show you haven't really done your research from a hiring standpoint."

Mark Evans, principal with ME Consulting, a digital marketing and social media strategic agency, says there are currently four main social media tools that businesses are using to promote themselves.

"Right now, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and YouTube are the big four, and I think for the time being they'll continue to be the main services that companies are using," says Evans.

Evans writes several blogs and is a columnist for a national newspaper. Before becoming a social media strategist, he was a technology reporter for 15 years.

Evans focuses on social media strategy and tactics. He helps companies understand how they can leverage social media to achieve some of their strategic goals, such as more business, more leads, stronger brand or better customer service.

"Every company has different objectives, and part of what I try to do is align their business objectives with their social media activities," says Evans.

Evans says social media specialists tend to have two kinds of backgrounds. Some are marketers or PR people who have embraced social media.

"Then you've got people who are social media enthusiasts -- they could have been bloggers or doing other things... and are selling themselves as social media consultants because they have knowledge of the tools," says Evans. "Not that they understand how to align those tools with business objectives, but they're enthusiastic about the tools themselves."

Becoming a Social Media Specialist

Evans believes a degree in marketing is valuable for those wanting to work in social media marketing. It will help you understand how businesses communicate, and how they should communicate.

"It hopefully teaches you the value of creating stories or creating different targeted audiences," says Evans. "And I think those are sort of core fundamentals when it comes to leveraging social media properly."

Besides marketing training, Evans has other recommendations:

"As a starting point they really have to understand not only how to use the social media tools but how to apply them in terms of building relationships, driving more business or doing customer service.

"...[T]he fact they can post a tweet doesn't mean they can do social media. They also have to have really strong communication skills. They have to write well, they have to communicate well.

"They have to be able to tell stories, some of it short form, and some of it longer form for blog posts," Evans adds. "I think it helps to have an understanding of how businesses operate, so what they're doing with social media is actually helping a business grow, because that's the bottom line."

Social media consultant Chris Brogan favors skills and experience over formal education.

"Most social media marketers fall into two camps: self-taught, or degree that doesn't make sense any more," says Brogan. "I never hire based on degree. I hire based on executions that someone's accomplished. You could be a high school grad and win my heart if you've actually done something."

Brogan consults with major corporations such as PepsiCo, General Motors and Microsoft on business communications and social software technologies. His blog is one of the most widely read on the topic of social media.

"I love helping my clients make money," says Brogan. "Social media marketing is interesting if it moves a needle. If not? Then I'm just shining the chrome."

Social Media Just One Part of Marketing Mix

Brogan says some companies are doing a good job of using social media. Others? Not so much.

"I think lots of companies are thinking about it, some have done it well, and several have done it by pretending to be mainstream marketers in new clothes," says Brogan. "For every Zappos (an online shoe and clothing retailer) that works well, there are several companies who think Twitter is a coupon service."

As Brogan says, many companies are not yet using the potential of social media. And yet he thinks the number of independent social media specialists will actually decline.

"I think that it'll go down," says Brogan. "I think that social media types are being absorbed by traditional marketers. I think that agencies are absorbing the people they need to run these kinds of efforts, and that the solo shops will get swallowed up in short order."

Evans agrees that social media is starting to become a part of mainstream marketing.

"I think that the hype will start to dissipate because social media will become less new and less cool, but I don't think it should take away from the fact that social media will become an integral part of how many companies operate," says Evans. "Much like a company that uses direct mail or advertising or direct sales, social media will just be part of the mix. It will be a valuable part, but... I think it will just be part of what they do."

This means there's a good chance you'll end up working as a social media specialist within a traditional marketing firm. What else can you do now to prepare for this career?

Building Your Network

"There's a ton of material out there, and so you should be reading blogs, e-books, commenting on blogs, following people on Twitter who are advanced as social media marketers," says Fitton. "There's not a lot of formal training yet... There's a lot of great conferences where you can go and start to learn these skills, but a lot of it is just shifting your attitude and being open-minded to it."

Fitton recommends taking advantage of internships while you're still in school. She also suggests getting a degree in something that will train you to write well, such as journalism, communications or marketing. And growing your network is essential.

"Get to know those who are already in the field doing it," says Fitton. "The top experts on social media right now are all very, very generous types, probably because... being helpful is a key to success, so take advantage of what they're offering.

"And 'build a network' doesn't mean call them and demand their time," Fitton adds. "The Chris Brogans and Gary Vaynerchuks and Brian Solises of the world have put tons of content out there, and you'd be surprised how many times somebody shows up for help and mentoring and hasn't even taken the time to read what the person has already produced.

"They produced all of that. Nobody was paying them to do all that, so it's important to keep that in mind. The art of networking is more like being helpful than it is asking for stuff."

The good news is that you can get started today on the path toward becoming a social media marketer. Just start reading what's out there, and look for ways to be helpful.

"I think the thing to recognize right now is it's still the early days for social media," says Evans. "People are still trying to figure out if they should use it and how they should use it and why they should use it.

"Some companies are further ahead than others, but in the scheme of things, we've only been at it probably for three or four years at most, so there's lots of sort of runway left before it becomes a mainstream tool."


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