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While social media is still primarily used for personal connections, in recent years the technology has been co-opted by organizations for advertising and consumer feedback purposes. Since the floodgates opened, businesses have flocked to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and similar platforms to create buzz, target potential customers, and better understand the people who purchase their products or services.

Communications

And they've embraced their social presence at just the right time: current research shows that social networking is the number one activity people engage in online. In order to reach this vast population of potential customers, companies are now hiring professionals to handle their social media outreach and marketing. According to data from LinkedIn, there has been an incredible 1,357 percent rise in the number of social media positions posted on the site since 2010. For a better look at this growing field, here's a rundown of some popular career options:

  • Social Media Marketing Associate: These professionals are responsible for planning and implementing social media marketing campaigns, making connections with customers and bloggers to create word-of-mouth buzz, and attracting followers to a company's social media pages.
  • Social Media Manager: Social media managers oversee all aspects of an organization's social media campaign. Duties typically associated with this position include creating and maintaining social media accounts, researching the behavior of potential customers and crafting campaigns that will appeal to them, and managing the design and content of all social media outreach.
  • Social Media Marketing Analyst: Social media marketing analysts are charged with analyzing the effectiveness of different social media strategies, as well as researching new tactics and trends. In addition, these professionals troubleshoot and work to solve any technical problems with a social media campaign.
  • Social Media Marketing Copywriter: Social media marketing copywriters are responsible for crafting the messages in social media campaigns and releasing them on different social media outlets. These professionals must understand the fundamentals of writing website copy, newsletters, press releases, and other communications used in advertising and marketing.

Training the Next Generation of Social Media Marketers

According to AOL Jobs, social media marketing positions typically require strong analytical and communication skills, making them a good fit for candidates with degrees in marketing, business, communications, or even English. However, in order to better prepare students for this fast-changing industry, some schools have developed degree programs specifically focused on social media marketing. Examples include:

Rutgers University: Rutgers offers a certificate program, or "Mini-MBA", in social media marketing for professionals interested in exploring how social media can be used to achieve business goals. Topics covered in this program include how to employ new social media technologies; how to optimize social networks; the psychology behind social media; how to analyze social media opportunities; and determining the return on investment of a social media campaign.

San Francisco State University: San Francisco State University offers a professional certificate in social media marketing that requires students to take nine courses surrounding the fundamentals of social media marketing and the anatomy of a successful social media campaign. Course topics for this program include using metrics to determine the success of a social media campaign, how to gain visibility online, the role that community relations plays in social media, the tools used for social media campaigns, and how to effectively utilize mobile technology.

Lewis University: Lewis University offers a bachelor's degree program in social media marketing designed for students who wish to pursue positions such as social media manager, digital marketing strategist, or Facebook community manager. Students enrolled in this program take courses in web analytics, social media marketing strategies, search engine optimization, and project management. The curriculum also includes basic business courses such as business law, economics, accounting, and business statistics. For those pursuing other majors, Lewis University offers a minor in social media marketing as well.

University of Denver: In order to help professionals with marketing and public relations experience apply their expertise to new media platforms, the University of Denver offers a master's degree program in new media and Internet marketing. Students in this program can expect to learn about ways to enhance their communication skills in social networking settings; how to craft and optimize a social media campaign; trends in social media and Internet marketing; strategies for effective e-mail marketing campaigns; and how social media can be used for branding or reputation management.

Excelsior College: Excelsior College in New York offers a concentration in social media management as part of its MBA program designed to prepare students to take a leadership role in large social media campaigns. Students in this program are taught about engaging online communities, understanding audience behavior, creating social media marketing campaigns, using social media tools, and targeting specific audiences with social media messages.

Sources:
"Rise of Social Media as a Career," Entrepreneur, October 1, 2013, Kathleen Davis, http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/228651#
"Riding the Hashtag in Social Media Marketing," The New York Times, November 2, 2013, David Segal, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/technology/riding-the-hashtag-in-social-media-marketing.html?_r=0
"Demystifying social media," Insights & Publications, April 2012, Roxane Divol, David Edelman, and Hugo Sarrazin, http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/marketing_sales/demystifying_social_media
"10 Surprising Social Media Statistics That Will Make You Rethink Your Social Strategy," Fast Company, January 12, 2013, Belle Beth Cooper, http://www.fastcompany.com/3021749/work-smart/10-surprising-social-media-statistics-that-will-make-you-rethink-your-social-stra
"6 Social Media Jobs That Will Be Big IN 2014," AOL Jobs, January 13, 2014, Brazen Life, http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2014/01/13/6-social-media-jobs-that-will-be-big-in-2014/
Social Media Marketing jobs, LinkedIn, http://www.linkedin.com/job/q-social-media-marketing-jobs, Accessed January 12, 2014
Mini-MBA: Social Media Marketing, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, http://cmd.rutgers.edu/programs/mini-mba-social-media-marketing#tab-Overview, Accessed January 12, 2014
Social Media Marketing, San Francisco State University, http://www.cel.sfsu.edu/socialmedia/, Accessed January 12, 2014
Social Media Marketing, B.S., Lewis University, http://www.lewisu.edu/academics/socialmedia/, Accessed January 12, 2014
New Media and Internet Marketing (Master's), University of Denver, http://universitycollege.du.edu/comm/degree/masters/new-media-and-internet-marketing-online/degreeid/456, Accessed January 12, 2014
Social Media Management, Excelsior College, http://www.excelsior.edu/programs/business/mba-social-media-management-master-degree, Accessed January 12, 2014