With the massive growth of the internet and social media in recent years, there is a growing need among businesses for tech-savvy professionals who know the intricacies of using social media and engaging with customers through mobile technology.

The first prerequisite for becoming an expert in this or any field is to have a passion for learning and a commitment to excellence in building your knowledge, skills and career. If you want to learn how to become an expert in social media marketing, then you’ve come to the right place. This article will give you some solid tips to get you headed in the right direction.

Below are five keys to becoming a social media marketing professional.

1. Learn from Trusted Sources

The best place to start when learning anything is to learn from the right sources. On the internet, everyone and their mom claims to be an expert on something. Anyone can put up a blog and some social channels and call himself a coach or expert. Anyone can write an ebook — or hire a ghostwriter to do it — and promise to teach you all the secrets of how to become a social media expert in seven days.

So the first place to start is to not waste your time and money learning useless, ineffective or even destructive marketing tactics. Learn from authoritative sources, top industry blogs and real marketing experts who have experience working in the field.

If you’re really serious about having a career in this field, then look into earning a degree in social media marketing from an accredited college or university in your area. A formal education and degree can go a long way in helping you to get a solid education and to open doors to employment with larger companies and advertising agencies upon graduation. It’s not the only way to learn about this field, but it is one of the best ways to start a solid career and get in with large companies.

2. Start Building Your Own Community Online

The internet is filled with self-proclaimed gurus touting their expertise on a variety of subjects — and social media marketing is no exception.

You can call yourself a social media expert all you want, but if you aren’t practicing what you preach and getting good results, then nobody is going to take you seriously. Nobody is going to put their company reputation and their marketing budget on the line and hire a social media manager who doesn’t even have a strong following of her own.

So make sure that you are putting the ideas you learn into practice. Figure it out. Try different tactics and track your own results to see what works and what doesn’t. You can’t sell your clients about the importance of social proof when your own numbers are unimpressive.

3. Use Tools for Managing Client Accounts

You’ll also need to learn how to use a variety of tools to help you do your job. As a social media marketing expert, you’ll likely wear many hats throughout your career.

You’ll need to work on your writing skills, your graphic design skills, photography and videography. Content creation in all its forms will likely be part of your job description when starting out. Eventually, you might have a team working under you who will do some of these tasks, but entry-level social media managers often need to have some ability to do all of these on their own.

Start working with content creation and editing tools like Canva, Photoshop, Illustrator and Premiere Pro. You’ll also need tools for organizing your workflow, measuring the effectiveness of your campaigns and scheduling posts across various social media platforms. If you’ve never used Buffer, Buzzsumo, Trello, Google Analytics, Google Docs, WordPress and Evernote, now is the time to get your feet wet and start learning how to use these tools.

4. Don’t Lose Sight of Your Goals

It’s important to remember your overall purpose as a social media marketer. It’s not enough to use social media and know all the ins and outs of using various platforms. You aren’t just a social media expert. You’re a social media marketing expert — there’s a difference!

As a marketing professional, your goal is to get measurable results for your clients. This involves a lot more than simply growing their follower counts and getting some likes. Your focus should always be on how to grow their social media presence and convert followers into paying customers and rabid fans.

This doesn’t mean that you’re always pushing with hard sales tactics and blasting out spam. No, no, no — don’t do that! But you do need to understand how to push traffic toward the clients’ sites and generate real interest in their products and services. Don’t just get traffic — get conversions!

5. Commit to Ongoing Self-Education

As far as the self-education route goes, you have plenty of options here too. Your local library or major bookstore will have tons of books on social media. Sure, reading blog posts and articles is useful too, and you should be reading the best blogs in the industry every day. But nothing can accelerate your learning as quickly as reading entire books from experts in their fields.

Just be sure to read the most up to date books, as technology and social media change so quickly. Anything that was published more than a year or two ago will likely have some outdated info, so just look for the latest releases.

One reason why print books are a great source is that publishing and distributing them is really expensive. Major book publishers won’t waste their time with fake experts, so the quality of the information in those books is often going to be more reliable than many of those free ebooks you’ll come across online.

You should also attend conferences that revolve around social media, blogging, internet marketing and content marketing. These conferences are not only great places to learn about the latest marketing trends and technology, but they also offer some of the best opportunities for growing your personal network. Many digital marketing professionals from around the world will be attending these conferences, so make the effort to meet some of them and connect with them online too.

Becoming an expert in social media marketing is possible for you, even if you don’t go to college to get a degree. As long as you focus on high-quality sources of information, practical application of the ideas you learn, building proficiency in the tools of the trade, getting real results for your clients and commitment to ongoing education, you should do well and get your digital marketing career off to a great start.