That was one of the questions a friend of mine asked me on Twitter a few weeks ago. But I couldn't answer on Twitter and have my answer make any sense in a 140 characters. It wouldn't work, not even with anecdotes, because the short answer isn't one most people would want to hear: You don't.
Keep in mind that I didn't say: You can't. You can. People do it all the time, and they come from a variety of backgrounds that range from accountant to zookeeper. Even in communication, a field that sometimes likes to claim ownership of the space, pros don't generally pursue social media as a career.
Even if they think they do, they don't. Not really. Most of them write about something other than social media. Relatively few set their sights on social media, and most of those that do are snake oil salespeople who peddle tips, tricks, and gimmicks. (There are very, very few exceptions.)
There is no path to social media; there are only paths to other places.
Seth Godin writes about guerrilla marketing. Lee Odden writes about SEO. Brian Clark writes about copywriting, mostly from a direct mail viewpoint. Valeria Maltoni really writes about strategic communication. Any one of them could be called a social media pro, of sorts.
Even those that made up last year's list of social media blogs tend to have a bigger arch that far exceeds the social media sphere. One of the best examples of a bigger arch on that list is Danny Brown, who writes more about human business than social media. In fact, of all those listed, Jason Falls is probably the most hardcore about social media. (And he also happens to be one kind of exception, as I noted.)
They know, as do many people, a few things about social media. In fact, some of the best social media pros are so far removed from communication, you would never even think of them as social pros.
Jennifer Lawson is a great example. She writes about parenting, anecdotes, and sex, but usually not together. Serious Eats focuses on food. Perez Hilton centers on celebrity gossip (if you like that sort of thing). And even the people at Orabrush, covered earlier this week, prove that they have the mettle to get the job done.
They all understand social, even though AdAge wouldn't put them on a best marketing blogs list. Maybe they should. Almost all of them have better best practices than some of the people on the list. And the reason isn't always because they know social media as much as they have a passion for something.
The real challenge for public relations and social media pros.
Managing a social media program, beyond the short term, requires a passion that is deeper than advertising, communication, or public relations. I even suspect this is the reason that most companies are not convinced social media deserves a significant portion of the marketing budget.
Most companies try to hire people who know how social media works, but never match those skill sets against a real passion for the company or product or topic. (Other companies, of course, hire interns.) But regardless of who they hire, they forget to put the emphasis on what matters most — passion.
I suspect there is another exception, but these people are increasingly rare. There are some communicators — writers, public relations pros, copywriters, etc. — who can find a passion for anything. Seriously. You could give them a stone off the street and they'll be inspired to write a sonnet.
I used to be one of them, before I started screening clients (especially those looking for social media help). Sure, in some cases, I can oversee a social media program and assign the work to a team member who has more long-term passion for a particular subject. But if no one can do it, then we have to pass.
You can even see it among people who used to write about social media or marketing daily. Many of them have dropped off or dropped back over the last year. There is no mystery. They didn't have the long-term passion for their own field. At least not the kind I'm talking about.
If they did have it, then it wouldn't matter how many people read their content on a daily basis. And ironically, if they didn't care how many people read their content, they might have had a following.
So to sum up this long answer, let's revisit the opening question. How do you transition into social media as a profession? You don't. You find things that you are passionate about and then build your social media experience around that subject, product, or company.