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In Defense of Studying Social Media

Much is being said lately about the impact that social media is having on how business is done both in this country and worldwide.

As social media has become more integrated into how businesses promote themselves, buy advertise, market at various levels, it has caused a seismic shift in what platforms get priority over others.

This seismic shift has created a ripple effect in the way that marketing, public relations, communications and journalism is taught by colleges in the U.S.

Many universities are faced with two options: integrate social media into their current curriculum, or teach it separately as a specialism, with a certificate or even a separate major.

The idea that receives the most push-back or scepticism is when it is separated off into its own major, degree program or certificate.

The general themes when people question are whether social media will be around long enough to justify it; and whether social media can be “taught”, suggesting it can be learned on the job.

I was able to get a window into the thoughts and opinions of current students on this topic when I spent a few days at my alma mater Central Michigan University, speaking to communications, PR and journalism classes about various applications of social media to their careers.

Central Michigan recently launched a social media certificate program as part of the Department of Journalism. It has four classes and touches on various aspects of social media in a professional environment. (Disclosure: I have been approached about teaching a class)

In most of the classes I spoke to, there was a level of scepticism about whether a certificate is necessary, and if it’s even something that employers will be looking for when they make hiring decisions.

When social media, online community management and blogging became commercially viable, the “early adopters” – the people who were using those platforms before it had the Social Media name – were the first people hired by agencies and companies.

But there was a limited supply of those people. They were the first to get jobs in this field, but since then the demand has significantly outstripped supply.

However the demand is for people who have an understanding of how social media works in a business environment, not for people who are active Facebook and Twitter users. There’s a difference that sometimes people fail to pick up on.

Offering a certificate program, major or even degree program ensures that the people who are active users on an individual basis, will be exposed to concepts, issues and processes that are relevnt to how businesses utilize these tools.

It’s not the perfect solution, but it’s the right solution for the situation that we’re in right now.

A certificate, major or degree offers prospective employers some level of reassurance that the person they’re considering for a social media-related position has been given guidance and background on these issues, and is more than an active user.

By completing the degree or certificate, they have a background understanding of analytics and insights; they understand privacy issues; and they have been exposed to policies that govern each platform.

Ultimately they can offer advice and guidance on best practice in ways that they wouldn’t be able to as someone who is only a user of the services.

As the industry continues to mature, and has the joining of corporate America and commerce gets closer aligned with social media, the education process will evolve with it.

But for those interested in working professionally in social media, but lack a long history of using the platforms and have experience building communities, a certificate program or degree would be a step in the right direction.

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