Does your ideal future career path include social mediating for money? Fabulous! (No? Go away and work on your other marketable skills!) As someone whose current career path includes social mediating for money, I can’t fault you. I can, however, give you some words of advice.

First, realize that social media skills are to 2011 what Microsoft Office Suite skills were 10 years ago. Sure, some dinosaurs will survive for ten years without figuring out that “twitter” isn’t a verb, but for the most part, the entire rest of the job pool against which you are going to be competing either understands the basics of social media or will learn to.

Because here’s the dirty secret of social media: it’s not that hard. Your ability to work HootSuite, though commendable, is not some magical skill. What is much more difficult (and what people tend to overestimate their skill level in) is doing social media well.

So, what’s a college student without other marketable skills to do if they’re interested in social media? Here’s what I’ve found to be the most successful:

Learn your turf: I currently have two gigs where I’m allowed on the company Twitter account–HackCollege, and a volunteer job at a women’s health clinic. College technology and reproductive rights are two very specific areas of the internet which I happen to be reasonably active in anyway. I can’t provide well-done social media services to an art dealer, because I know nothing about art dealing. But when I’m trying to find Twitter accounts for gynecological care providers in the southeast, I’m able to provide much better answers and I’m competing against a much smaller pool of people. Find an area and know it well.

Have decent social skills: It’s not hard to write a press release or to send a tweet. What is hard is engaging with people, coming off as friendly and humble, and being seen as valuable. None of those skills are related to social media, and yet you will have to have them in at least some amount in order to succeed at organizing a social media presence. Go interact with other human beings in meat space.

Listen more than you talk: Learn the norms of your little tiny corner of the internet. The way that I behave when I’m on the @HackCollege account is different than when I’m in the social justice sphere, because what flies in one space makes me look like a tool in the other. The only way you will be able to do this is by following a limited number of representative members of that community, rather than 300 people who may be talking about different things.

Seriously, have marketable skills: I’m kind of kidding here, but seriously–the reason I was able to manage any of the HackCollege social media stuff is because I was on staff. I was on staff to begin with because of a very specific set of skills that I developed long before I started huffing my 140-character paint thinner of choice. My success in getting asked to help manage the reproductive justice organization’s social media presence had to do with my other, proven contributions in that specific field. Social media is fun and all, but no one wants to read tweets from someone who can’t write well, and you can’t do PR for Microsoft if you can’t work a spreadsheet. If you’re going to be doing social media as a marketing tool, you need to really learn the ins and outs of analytics as they apply to any kind of marketing.

Do you have your own social media advice? Let us know in the comments!