A lot has been written and said in the past year about the explosive growth in the social media job market. A mid-year report on the state of Social Media jobs in 2010 prepared by Social Media Influence in collaboration with online recruitment portal Indeed.com pointed to the increase in the number of social media job postings over a 5 year period by more than 600 percent - from just over 3,000 social media job postings in 2005 to 21,323 job postings as of May 31, 2010.

While some skepticism remains about whether this is just another transient bubble or a long term revolutionary employment trend, it seems safe to predict that for as long as companies feel and appreciate the need for real time engagement with communities and stakeholders and as long as technology continues to make it easy for them, the role of social media in business will only continue to grow and hence, so will the demand for experts in the field.

For all those who wish to capitalize on the above trend and grow long term careers, here are five crucial facts that they should be cognizant of before taking the plunge:

1. It is not just enough to be social

Being a Facebook pro or having thousands of followers on Twitter is definitely necessary (or at least a big plus) when you are scouting for a social media job, but it may not be enough. Being a social media expert is something like being a jack of quite a few trades - technology, communication, customer service and marketing - apart from being a master of social media, of course (which also means going beyond the traditional and popular platforms such as Twitter, Facebook etc.). Most companies when they hire social media experts look for basic marketing acumen in addition to your ability to leverage social media to apply that. The SMI report identifies 'flexibility' as the most desired attribute in social media aspirants and observes that companies are hiring individuals who can perform a variety of tasks that span across traditional sector disciplines.

2. It is important to be passionate in order to be effective

To be a good social media manager or strategist, you must be genuinely committed to your organization and have a passion for the product or service as well as a level of empathy with its users, says Vadim Lavrusik, social media strategist and co-founder of Mashable.com. This, of course, involves very meticulous research on the company and product, its social media presence as well as the competitive landscape starting right from the day that you decide to go for that interview.

3. There is no standard salary for a purely social media position

According to the report, on average, social media salaries come in $5,000-10,000 lower than their traditional counterparts in marketing and PR. While this gap may be bridged to a considerable extent in the years to come, it is difficult to pinpoint a narrow salary range for a regular position.

Most headhunters identify it as a function of the value of your role to the core business of the company and your experience and skills in related fields such as marketing, web publishing, technology etc. In the context of business value, Jim Durbin - social media headhunter and writer of an immensely popular blog by that name - makes an interesting observation. He writes, Social Media lends itself to fluff... engagement is an intangible benefit of social media, but companies pay for tangible benefits. If your job is leaving comments and interacting with people on Facebook, your job just isn't that important. Make sure you're actively engaged in solving business problems if you want to avoid this trap. Find out how your efforts make or save money, and you'll be in good spirits.

4. There is no substitute for the two Es - Ethics and Etiquette

Enthusiasm is good, but don't let it eclipse your basic sense of morals and 'netiquette' when it comes to social media marketing. Anyone familiar with the social media world would recall the disaster of British furniture retailer Habitat, which used Twitter hashtags related to Iran during a period of political turmoil in the country so that it could have its promotional Tweets appear in newsfeeds about the political developments. Also, as blogger Kay Hebbourn points out in Jobs in Social Media, a good social media employee will know when to talk and when to listen. After all, it is your share of the voice, your social mention and brand reputation, she says.

5. The skill is even bigger than the profession

According to the SMI report, even though some big names with global operations such as PepsiCo, Best Buy, Intel, IBM, Starbucks and Dell are leading the way in social media, and implementing social media thinking in an innovative and authoritative manner, many large corporations are still unsure of its usefulness. Without board-level buy-in at a company, social media will remain a junior position, the report says. However, given the digital revolution in business and marketing across borders and spheres, the skills associated with social media use will only continue to grow in importance in every position and role.

In this context, Durbin writes, Social media as a business phenomenon is petering out (seriously - how many of you are landing large dollar accounts with social media projects? Not many - the growth is all in applications), but social media as a magnifying force inside existing divisions is set to explode.

He views it as a skill that can be taken by its horns and applied to achieve phenomenal productivity and savings in core functions and this advises aspirants: If you want to get ahead of the curve, start thinking about how social media can be applied to your job, right now. Don't seek out a position - seek out a way to use social media to do your job better, and the results will be what you wanted all along.