Are You a Social Media Rock Star?

When I started my senior year at the University of Washington in 2007 I still had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I fell into political communication as my major because I was interested in Barack Obama's use of social media in the 2008 presidential campaign. Like many students, I worked weekends at a low-paying job and was hoping to someday pay my dues putting in long hours and working my way up to a quality position in a great company.

At the time, Twitter was a new novel tool, Facebook was still growing in popularity, and the true value of blogging was the topic of hot debate in the journalism department. "Social Media Marketing" was a term that elicited mostly blank stares.

Fast forward four years. Whole Foods has 1.8 million Twitter followers, Facebook is the subject of a major movie, people carry PCs in purses and I'm working for Microsoft on the Windows social media team and blogging for the Huffington Post. Nobody is more surprised than me.

Managing how the Windows team uses technologies that were once dismissed as "interesting but useless" (Twitter) or "the realm of teenagers" (Facebook) is now my full-time job at Microsoft. As the Social Media Marketing Manager for Windows Digital and Interactive Marketing, my job is to help our marketing and PR teams think about new ways of engaging customers. We do that by integrating elements of social media into nearly every campaign we develop.

As students, we're told that it could be years before we have real responsibility at work. My social media work provided me a shortcut to the table. Microsoft takes social media engagement seriously, and I have a real voice in developing multi-million dollar campaigns. Here are three tips I've learned (sometimes the hard way) that can help give you a leg up:

1. Speak Up: You Have Skills to Pay the Bills
At first, I assumed no executive would take social media seriously. That assumption was wrong. Today, top consumer companies like Microsoft, Pepsi and Whole Foods understand that social media is the way to connect directly with customers and get their feedback. Microsoft uses social media to have conversations with customers about everything from news announcements to insider tips to customer service. But what is most empowering is coming to the realization that on any given day, I reach well over one million members of the community with messages informing them how to improve their Windows experiences. At that rate, and to put this in perspective, I will reach a population the size of the U.S. within the year. Not bad for a few years out of college, right?

As someone fresh from college, you are on the front lines in understanding how customers are using social media to make purchase decisions. Companies are eager for those insights. Your challenge is to be smart and creative, help companies determine their social media needs (e.g., customer feedback, customer service, brand marketing) and then develop clever strategies that offer a solution.

2. Be an Authentic Voice
Social media purists would say that the best way to use digital media is to "engage with your audience." Across the globe, companies are recruiting students and young people to help them have an authentic conversation with their audience using social media applications like Twitter, Facebook and blogs. At times, some companies think social media means putting the marketing-speak on Twitter and hitting send. Companies that understand social media know that it's about having a conversation with customers.

Being able to speak the same language as your customers is a valuable skill that you already possess. Use it.

3. Build Your Online and Offline Networks
Your online and offline networks are both essential to finding a job these days. In my search for employment, I spent months talking to professionals of all types and looking for opportunities that fit my skillset. I also reached out through LinkedIn and other social networking sites.

Eventually, I sat down for coffee with the manager of an online network for Microsoft called the CIO Network. After learning my interests, he pointed me towards the blog of my soon-to-be manager. A position was posted; I applied, and was brought in for an interview.

Be smart about how you manage your networks. What you decide to post on your Facebook profile is just as important as how you present yourself in person. Recruiters are constantly surfing the web for new applicants and you need to make sure that some of your most embarrassing moments aren't visible for everyone to see. What you post today never goes away. Also, keep your email address simple and sensible. raised a few laughs in college; it's not appealing to future employers. I guarantee they will not chuckle.