It's uncommon to find people in the modern world who don't have social media accounts, yet organizations still struggle with how to effectively use social media for business. Many look to hire millennials to build and run a new social media program. Most millennials do possess an innate understanding of social media through personal use, but there's a major difference between tweeting for yourself and effectively using Twitter for marketing strategy.
Despite this, there's still debate over the value of a degree in social media - even among digital marketers, CMOs and college grads. While I agree with certain points made by those who deny the benefits of a degree, I firmly believe social media has its place in academics. Just as you wouldn't hire a new graduate to your accounting department based only his use of Mint.com, an emphasis on social media as part of a larger degree in marketing or communications is a necessary foundation for social media strategy.
Here are some rebuttals to common arguments against the value of degree in social media:
Real world experience is more valuable. Nothing can trump proficiencies that come from rolling up your sleeves and diving in - regardless of the industry. However, social media skills can be taught at the university level.
The University of Michigan, for example, offers an impressive curriculum that moves beyond foundational social media skills by teaching students how to master a marketing campaign strategy with analytics, paid content, earned media, social measurement, even social content writing (think blog writing vs. Facebook vs. Twitter and understanding the nuances). Similarly, Brigham Young University has a social media classes in both its MBA program and in the undergraduate School of Communications. In both, the focus is how social media can be an effective tool used for social listening and engaging customers.
The value in these courses is that the coursework emulates real-world experience to give students a strategic foundation they can apply in a professional setting.
Social media changes on a daily basis. Like most industries, technology is rapidly changing the way business is done. 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. Most recently in the social media space, Periscope and third-party Twitter app Meerkat redefined how real-time live streaming can and should be used.
The key is for curriculums to stay abreast of change, and focus on educating students on the strategic and key learnings. How something is done will continue to evolve, but there's evergreen value in explaining why.
Social media will eventually not be a siloed job, but will become part of the entire organization. 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.
In addition to the programs at BYU and University of Michigan mentioned earlier in the article, there are a few other prominent schools that offer coursework or a degree in social media:
Rutgers University has a "Mini-MBA" in social media marketing ($4,995 for nine classes)
Austin Community College in Texas offers a two-year degree or a certificate in social media communication.
Online students at the University of Florida can earn a master's degree in mass communication with a specialization in social media or pursue a four-course graduate certificate program in social media.
Formal teaching and coursework designed around social media skills such as tracking, measurement and content creation can give tomorrow's professionals the opportunity to learn skills that won't become dated - and that's competitive advantage hiring managers can take to the bank.