Committing resources to a social media strategy is a no-brainer for businesses. However, increased dependency on social media interaction demands companies find people who are equipped with the knowledge, perspectives, and practical skills to leverage opportunities.
Savvy businesses realize they need expertise if they want to put forth an online presence and strong voice for their brand. Yet as more companies look to hire full-time social media experts, the question is whether universities are teaching the skills necessary to ensure talent is ready to fill the need.
Closing the Skills Gap: Building Social Media Expertise
From a business perspective, training the average employee on social media is a necessary and positive externality, yet building the skills and expertise of a social media strategist shouldn’t necessarily be. It’s true, social has in many ways, become “everyone’s job.” But while employees are empowered to contribute, the real work of social should be part of a larger strategic plan.
The skills gap is real, and creating interaction with followers and building engagement with customers requires more than simply creating a profile and waiting. Communications, marketing, and even journalism degrees can provide the basic foundation for understanding the approach to the social landscape, but designing and implementing an effective campaign requires a skill set beyond strong written communications. High-level planning, coordination, content marketing, and technical skills for mastering analytics and metrics are a significant part of social media “expertise.”
Prominent Universities Are Taking the Lead
As the need for more social media classes and curriculum becomes clear, it seems universities are the last to get on board. Interestingly, most, if not all, engage in aggressive social media strategies to recruit students and promote their institutions, but few have brought it into the classroom—perhaps in some cases because of a lack of experience on the part of professors in using these tools professionally.
Despite the slow response, some prominent universities are taking the lead—I hope more will follow. Georgetown University offers a certificate in social media management with courses on measuring ROI and building engagement strategies. Syracuse University has a social media professional and social media strategist certificate. Harvard and Columbia Business Schools each offer courses as part of their doctoral programs in marketing, and New England College has an MBA program in digital and social media. Other schools are offering one- or two-day continuing education programs where professionals can come back to campus or learn online through a series of seminars.
The issue is not whether social media courses are couched within PR studies, marketing, or business but if universities offer them at all. Many schools are beginning to integrate social components for their existing courses, but few are solidifying full semester-long courses that focus entirely on social. Unfortunately, most social media positions today (particularly for small businesses) have simple “college graduate” job requirements and little social media experience needed. The typical employer looking to hire a social media manager often says they’re looking for “a good college graduate who has been using Facebook to talk to their friends.”
Brigham Young University, where I teach as an adjunct professor, is just beginning to create opportunities for undergraduate students to get educated with a social media marketing elective course in the PR program, although the neighboring university Utah Valley University has offered a social media course for several years now. A finalist in the 2014 Education PR Program of the Year, BYU is part of a personal side interest in which I hope to help universities like BYU create a more standardized curriculum for teaching social media. In fact, one of my colleagues here at Adobe is now teaching BYU’s social media marketing course. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to think through and plan out a semester long curriculum with him.
Social Skills Are in High Demand
Although as many as 87 percent of small businesses say they’re using social media as a marketing tool, a study from Harvard Business Review found that only 12 percent of companies actually feel they use it effectively. There’s no question, the need for university-educated social media practitioners is greater than ever, and these skills are in high demand. As businesses begin to recognize the need for expertise to maximize their social media strategies, careers in the social arena will jump.
Is enough being done to build the next wave of social media experts? Universities need to do more to include social media classes as part of core curriculum. I am happy to work with schools to help create some standard curriculum and look forward to the day when a student can actually major or minor in social marketing or social media communications. With the right approach, we all stand to benefit from the unique blend of analytic and creative talent that only a new generation of students eager to learn can provide.