Hanson Hosein is the Director of the Master of Communication in Digital Media at the University of Washington. He’s written Storyteller Uprising: Trust & Persuasion in the Digital Age, and the host of Four Peaks on UWTV and has advised Microsoft, CVS Caremark and MasterCard on digital media storytelling strategies.

As 2011 comes to a close, the economic situation remains bleak. Usually, graduate school applications rise during a depressed job market, but the ongoing uncertainty has discouraged some potential students from pursuing a graduate degree — MBA applications are down 10%, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Yet with the rise of social media and the rapid advance of technology — particularly mobile — there’s increased interest in more specialized graduate programs that give priority to certain skills and strategies. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2018, more than 1.2 million new science, technology, engineering and math-related jobs will open up. This will have far reaching effects on the digital media industry. Professionals must keep up with the latest developments to stay relevant. So as you reevaluate your career path, here are five key predictions for how you should focus your career strategy in 2012.

1. Get To Know Your Devices To Know the Trends

It’s all about the consumerization of tech. We’re moving “beyond the PC” as The Economist recently put it, and this will have a far-reaching impact. The enterprise (Blackberry, Windows) once drove tech usage and innovation. Now, how we use our mobile devices begins outside the office. This puts pressure on business to catch up by implementing social platforms for interpersonal communication, along with modified tablets and app stores for the workplace. So you’ve got to get digitally literate quickly. Ask yourself: What device does your family use? How are you communicating with your friends? This is especially crucial in 2012, as we’ll see digital connectivity penetrate into the deepest reaches of our personal lives, from our workout routines to our cars. As you see how these devices hit critical mass, you can think strategically and begin to predict which platforms and technologies will dominate. Picking the winner will allow you to jump ahead of your competition.

2. Go Deep Into Content

The digital age is a great democratizing opportunity: Anyone can broadcast his or her creations to the world. But this has also led to great chaos as professionals struggle to cut through the amateur din. So you will need to use the emotive link of storytelling to grab attention and build a trusted relationship. Learn to tell a powerful story — emphasizing narrative tension through a beginning, middle and end — and translate it into a digital asset through multimedia skills in video, photography, audio and animation. It’s a popular belief that every organization is a now a media organization, meaning that every employee — or potential new hire — needs to master the creation of these media, cheaply and often in-house. In 2012, it’ll be all about immersion — a way to capture the imagination of distracted individuals who need to be convinced that your ideas are worthwhile. The “Any Screen” era is upon us. Consider apps, games, 3D, and transmedia (a cohesive storyline that is segmented and distributed on a multiplicity of platforms) as you try to transport your audiences into a deeper media experience.

3. Recognize that Social Networks Transcend Facebook and Twitter

Airlines, health organizations, museums and entertainment companies are hiring many people in the digital media space — Social Media Marketer, Digital Media Manager, Mobile Manager, Learning Technologies Specialist and Social Games Strategist are a few sample job titles. The names of these positions acknowledge that the people who hold them need expertise in creating, curating and mastering media as way to engage customers, patients and users.

Those who hold these positions possess a literacy in social media platforms and strategies. Rather than getting caught up in the arms race of the latest attention-grabbing technique on Facebook, you need to instead develop a deeper understanding of how these social networks are formed, and how they work. Technology is just the enabler. Fundamentally, social media is all about human interaction. So in 2012, even as you keep experimenting with those online platforms, you’ll develop skills in network analysis (how do you determine the true influencers in a group?), and maybe even revisit Psychology 101 (what motivates human beings?). Ultimately, successful engagement is less about the “what” people are doing on social networks, and more about why they’re there, and how they’re interacting with each other.

4. Go Deep into Data and Learn How to Ask the Right Questions

If there’s one truth about the pervasiveness of digital media in our lives, it’s that our online behavior is producing increasingly massive amounts of data. But few of us know how to glean the right insights from it. The New York Times recently lamented this “digital talent gap” and concluded that “new hires are needed for a variety of tasks, including writing code, creating digital advertisements, website development and statistical analysis.”

In that case, you’ll have to get comfortable with numbers and critical analysis. The smart use of massive date is massively important. Sure, there are tons of plug-and-play analytics tools out there, but you’ve got to get comfortable with research yourself. Learn to ask the right questions and draw informed conclusions from the data at hand. In the comical science fiction book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the supercomputer Deep Thought spent 7.5 million years pondering “The Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything?” It responded with a nonsensical “42.” In short, you won’t get the right answer if you don’t know how to ask the right question.

5. Behave Like a Media Entrepreneur, Innovator, Connector and Creator

Digital and social media are turning the professional world upside down. Fortune 100 companies, such as Ford, have merged their advertising and public relations divisions into a single entity. Professionals need to wear multiple hats to remain relevant and employable. So as you survey the media landscape, appreciate how to manage risk like an entrepreneur as you continue to experiment with innovative technologies and platforms. Your primary objective will be to take advantage of these emerging channels smartly with influencers and users, through the creation and syndication of compelling stories. By doing so, you’ll give these individuals all the motivation they need to engage with you.

Social Media Job Listings

Every week we post a list of social media and web job opportunities. While we publish a huge range of job listings, we’ve selected some of the top social media job opportunities from the past two weeks to get you started. Happy hunting!

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, enot-poloskun

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