In my recovery journey – from both IBS and mental illness – I’ve witnessed the transformational power of social media firsthand. These days, the world is full of critics bashing social media, claiming it’s robbing us of genuine connection or manipulating us with targeted advertising. But I believe social media can be a powerful force for good.
We live in a digital world where Kickstarter campaigns can fund a child’s chemotherapy treatments; where one hashtag can launch a movement for mental health (as evidenced by #ProjectSemicolon). The moment I realized the power of social media, I knew I wanted to be a part of controlling the narrative.
Still, I started college with the goal of becoming a political journalist or speechwriter. So, how did I turn social media from a hobby into a full-time career – with no agency experience and no marketing internships? My answers might surprise you….
I started a blog.
My first “real” blog launched back in 2016. Before, I’d had two different blogs that I simply considered a “hobby.” Now, for the first time, I dreamed of eventually monetizing my work – and perhaps even turning it into a full-time career.
As a top college blogger, I learned how to grow social media platforms from scratch. I became familiar with analytics, and how social media numbers could be used to pitch clients. Most importantly, I began working with brands on sponsored partnership deals, which gave me experience liaising with clients and delivering on measurable objectives. In interviews with potential employers, I drew upon this experience to share how I could provide a unique insight into influencer marketing — and therefore supply an advantage to my future employer.
I took ownership of my work.
In college, I received Work Study as part of my financial aid package — and accepting it was one of the best decisions I ever made for my career. (If you’re not based in the U.S., Work Study is a form of financial aid that’s earned through working at a nonprofit or college-based job.)
My work study position began as an Office Assistant role at the Boston University Dance Program. At first, social media was just one of my responsibilities; we valued social media, but it took lower priority than many of my other tasks. Eventually, however, I took ownership of it. I offered to create a content calendar, design a style guide and compile monthly analytics reports, on top of scheduling posts.
Thanks to my passion, I became really, really good at this part of my job — and my boss started to notice. By the time I left the Dance Program after three years, social media had become my sole responsibility, and an experience I could be proud of.
I started freelancing.
Companies looking to hire freelancers tend to have limited budgets and to feel crunched for time. As a result, you don’t need much experience in social media to start freelancing. You simply need a resume and a profile that explains your passion for and success with social media — even sharing your personal account’s following and handle is often enough!
The Internet makes it simple to launch a side hustle in freelance social media management. I started on Fiverr (which used to be a more beginner-friendly platform — I no longer recommend it due to some of the changes that took place), then moved to platforms like Freelancer and Upwork. You can also Google listings for freelance work local to your area — Indeed and Blogging Pro both include legitimate listings.
I built a portfolio.
The most important thing you can have as a social media professional is a digital portfolio of your previous work. (View mine at http://www.haleycommunicates.com!) I learned this in my senior year of college, when I took an Intro to Public Relations course that stressed the importance of having a digital portfolio in the world of communications.
Your portfolio should include your resume, professional bio and a gallery of your previous work. As a communications professional, I include both graphic design work and writing, as well as a digital download of my Public Relations portfolio from that senior-year class. For building a website, I recommend Wix — it’s a drag-and-drop editor that makes it easy for even the least tech-savvy person to build a beautiful portfolio.
I framed my experiences.
Alternatively, the worst mistake you can make as an entry-level social media professional is believing you don’t have experience. These days, we all have experience in social media! It’s simply a matter of framing your experiences in a way that makes sense to employers.
When I entered the workforce, I worried because I spent the first two years of college believing I’d pursue a career in politics. As a result, I had multiple campaign and political office internships, but no agency experience. However, on my resume, I learned to frame my poli-sci experiences as relevant to my work. I described my work in a way that utilized skills applicable to social media, such as time management and an eye for detail.
In fact, one of the reasons I landed my current job was that my boss liked my experience on a political campaign — working at a magazine, she said it was important to be able to thrive in a fast-paced environment, and my campaign experience gave her confidence that I could succeed there.