Oh, what’s this? A soapbox? For moi? Don’t mind if I do.

If there’s one thing I learned while serving as the social media manager for Ooligan Press, it’s that digital marketing is severely misunderstood—and often criminally undervalued—when it takes the form of a tweet, an Instagram photo, or a Facebook post. Despite the fact that more and more jobs in online community management are being posted every day, commercial social media platforms are still in the process of being fully recognized as their own legitimate, strategy-based method of business marketing—you know, that thing people get degrees in. Of course, that’s not to say anything depreciative about the professionals who manage those platforms… It just seems so darn easy, right?

Think about it. Social media has become one of the most ubiquitous pastimes of our generation. Everyone and their mother has a Facebook account—come to think of it, that idiom has never been more true. The vast majority of us stay up to date on who’s arguing with whom via our Twitter accounts. Everyone checked out LinkedIn when it was purported to be a career-building necessity and went a little endorsement crazy. And we all at least took a gander at Google+ at one point before laughing and clicking over to something worth our time. But does the casual, noncommercial utilization of social media platforms qualify the user for a position at, say, a digital marketing agency? Well, that’s a bit like asking if being a pro at making Kraft Mac & Cheese will earn you the title of head chef at a five-star restaurant.

The internet is a fluid and fickle thing; its platforms change shape about as often as its users change their socks. Trends come and go, upgrades occur, payment models shift, terms and conditions are modified, and most of the time, the typical internet user is none the wiser to any of it. As a web strategist, I believe one thing holds true throughout all this chaos: It’s easy to build and maintain your online identity poorly; it takes skill to do it impressively. In order for any commercial endeavor to be effective in such a dynamic digital landscape, it’s crucial to have someone managing your web presence who is ready, willing, and able to build and sustain your online brand with expert understanding and responsiveness. Hence the emerging field of social media professionals.

Granted, mastering social media is just one piece of what it means to be a true digital guru; the number of areas one can specialize in when it comes to digital marketing continues to grow. If you’re an aspiring web strategist, the most important thing you can do is find a place where you can cut your teeth on the type of work that’s common in a B2B or B2C environment, the kind of work that requires taking your knowledge of social media to the next level. Lucky for you, digital marketing is one of the fastest growing and most valuable industries in the country—projected to be worth $62 billion back in 2012—so there’s never been a better time to get involved.

My advice? Get to tweeting. Create a website. Get to posting. Build your platform; show them you can do it and do it well. Explore, experiment, and stay informed. Live on the cutting edge. If you need a little schooling, there’s a degree for that. I guarantee you that, in a few year’s time, the number of young professionals with extensive and impressive digital marketing training will skyrocket, so get in while you can and secure yourself a very fun and lucrative future. The internet is here to stay; it’s just about getting the right people to help run it now. Godspeed.

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