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.

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