The debate over whether or not to pursue a specialized degree in social media is far from over. Digital marketers, CMOs, even college grads have an opinion on the advantages or disadvantages of pursuing certification in social media and whether or not it can add value to a career path. Is it a waste of time, resources, and money? Although I agree with several of the points made by those who deny the benefits of a degree, I firmly believe social media has its place in academics.
In fact, I’m convinced, that at a minimum, it should be offered as an emphasis option with various college degrees. Imagine a communications degree or a marketing degree with an emphasis in social media, for example. In this post, I refute some of the most common arguments against pursuing a degree in social media. Am I hoping to put an end to the debate? Not really. But I do hope to raise awareness and start a conversation that I think many of us will be having soon.
The Arguments against Pursuing a Degree in Social Media
Real-world experience is more valuable. One of the main arguments made against pursuing a degree in social media is that “real-world experience” is more valuable than any amount of coursework. To be clear, nothing can trump proficiencies that come from actually rolling up your sleeves and diving in—regardless of the topic. Particularly with the pace of change in social media, having hands-on expertise is an invaluable asset.
However, social media skills can be taught at the university level. Perhaps not in the traditional textbook-based sense or by attending one or two social media courses, but through a dynamic curriculum, filled with real-world examples. The key is to emulate this real-world experience in a classroom setting. Frankly, I think an argument can and should be made for more university degrees in general to incorporate real-world, real-time examples.
Social media changes on a daily basis. Again, this is true for most any industry. Technological and research-based advancements are rapidly changing more than the world of social media. For example, 3D printing is redefining how retailers design and produce goods—offering a more cost-effective approach for local manufacturing and real-time changes. The key is to stay abreast of change, follow trends, and incorporate these ideas into curriculum in a relevant, meaningful way. The case study method, for example, allows key principles from past examples to provide insights that are applicable in the future.
Social media will eventually not be a siloed job, but will become part of the entire organization. Of all the arguments presented against a degree in social media, this one is an argument I can understand. Social media at the organizational level has drastically changed from where it was just a few short years ago and is now more than a mere bolt-on task for marketing or PR teams.
In fact, for many businesses, doing social well means becoming a social by design business, where the entire company—from the CEO down is involved. Converting the workforce into brand ambassadors can drive sales and positively influence conversations. Nevertheless, this doesn’t detract from the need to have a specialized person who can measure, analyze, and execute campaigns on behalf of the brand itself, or the need for functions that focus on the operations or enablement of social media.
Inherent to any argument in favor of a degree is the case for a whole new way of teaching at the university level that moves away from textbooks and static lectures. I’m of the opinion that to truly have an impact, social media courses at the university level would need to be taught in connection with adjunct professors who are working in this space. Today, several schools are doing this well through a combination of relevant coursework and professional expertise. In my next blog, I will highlight some of these institutions and hopefully shed light on how formal social media education is having a positive impact on business today.