ORLANDO, Fla. -- Type "social media" in the keyword box on most job-search websites, and dozens of help-wanted postings appear. That wasn't the case just a few years ago.
A growing number of businesses and organizations of all sizes are searching for ways to tap the power of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, which millions of people now use to stay connected online.
Experts say companies' need for social-media expertise has increased dramatically this year and will continue to grow as more people come to understand and recognize its value. And that means an explosion of job opportunities throughout the country.
"This has been the year where every organization has come to realize the importance of social media, rather than just a handful of organizations," said Augie Ray, a Forrester Research analyst who specializes in social computing.
It's unclear exactly how many social-media-related jobs exist, but companies want their messages to get to where the people are.
Facebook, created in 2004 and now the Internet's most popular social network, has more than 500 million users throughout the world. And it's not just young people who are drawn to it: The number of Internet users ages 55 to 64 on Facebook has grown 88 percent in the past year, according to a study by the Pew Center's Internet and American Life Project.
Some major brands, such as Dell Computers, have helped set the stage for other companies by showing early success with social- media marketing. Last year, for example, Dell said it generated $3 million in sales with links from its various Twitter accounts.
"It wasn't until 2009 came around, and initiatives on Facebook, Twitter and other social channels were producing soft and hard ROI (returns on investment) by major brands, that the hiring really started," said Mark Krupinski, social-media director for MindComet, an Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based interactive-marketing agency.
But the social-media field is still in its early stages. Ray warned that some companies are far more advanced than others about their social media plans.
"Social media is a little all over the map right now," he said. …