Universities have been around in one form or another since the days of Aristotle. Social media? Not so much. So how are modern academic institutions, not typically known for their ability to quickly pivot, adapting to the societal changes in communication and commerce heralded by the advance of social media?
We contacted several universities to ask if and how their curricula are evolving to offer relevant academic instruction in the field of social media marketing. Some have added social media courses to existing programs while others have created entire degree-granting programs around the discipline of social media.
Here’s how three universities are offering relevant, dynamic programs — taught by instructors with both academic and industry qualifications — to prepare today’s students to become tomorrow’s social media marketing pros.
Sidneyeve Matrix is an Associate Professor at Queen’s University Department of Media in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. She teaches courses in mass communications, marketing, digital and social media both in the undergraduate degree programs and at the university’s School of Business Executive Development Centre. Social media is heavily integrated into her programs, not only as the content of instruction but also as the means by which the courses are delivered.
For example, Ms. Matrix developed a mobile app of her own as one of many innovative methods to effectively interact with her students. “These days, everyone is using their phones in the classroom anyway, so I figured I’d offer my students an option to engage with the curriculum on a platform they’re very comfortable with,” she says. Ms. Matrix has found that the students’ engagement with the content has “doubled or tripled” since introducing the mobile app, as far as completion of assignments, commenting on the classwork, and so on. “What’s also interesting is the increased demand from my students of tablet-ready content,” says Matrix.
She also offers a variety of content and instruction over Facebook and acknowledges that this provides some unique “opportunities and challenges” such as addressing privacy issues from both an instructional and practical standpoint. “The tools themselves are opening up all kinds of opportunities for discussion about how social media is used in our everyday lives, and how that impacts not only the students but the people and businesses they’ll be marketing to once they graduate,” Matrix says.
“In the Mass Communications course, we often use examples of how social media is disrupting a given industry, whether it’s healthcare, heavy industry, or anything in between,” she says. “We also spend a lot of time exploring the concepts of personal branding, and regulatory issues around the use of social media, such as social media policy, legal ramifications of PR snafus caused by social media, and so on.”
The Mass Communications course is one of the most popular offerings at the university right now. “We have 1,400 people enrolled in the current course, 700 of which take it exclusively in an online format,” Matrix says. But demand for social media courses and programs is not limited to marketing students or people who want to get into the communications field.
“We have engineers taking social media courses because many of them are also entrepreneurs who may one day want to sell their ideas and creations. We also have nurses and health care practitioners taking the course because mobile and social media is revolutionizing health care provider and patient interactions,” says Matrix. When asked how courses like hers are preparing students for work in their respective fields, she says “formal academic training prepares students to leverage social media communication strategies — no matter what type of career they’re looking to get into.”
Like Robert Bergman, Dr. Carl Zangerl of Northeastern University in Boston, MA also has over 20 years experience in the business world and is responsible for curriculum development at his institution. As Academic Director of the Master’s in Corporate and Organizational Communication degree at the College of Professional Studies, part of Dr. Zangerl’s responsibilities at the College “is to monitor trends in the business world and to make recommendations for courses and course material to address those trends,” he explains. “Clearly, social media is a ubiquitous trend that’s revolutionizing communications — not only in the business world but in society as a whole,” he says.
As a result, Northeastern now offers a social media concentration in both its Digital Media and Organizational Communication Master’s programs. Zangerl says “students in the post-graduate programs can select from eight courses, ranging in topics like legal, policy, and ethical issues in the digital era, to planning and design of social media channels and online communities.” Echoing a trend in the other universities we spoke with (and likely all over North America), these courses have proven to be immensely popular and highly in-demand. “Enrollment in the social media concentration within the organizational communication master’s program has quadrupled since it was introduced in 2011.”
Pointing out something that mirrors the trend in the post-secondary sector, Zangerl says that between 40 – 50 percent of students opt for exclusively online delivery of the social media courses. “We’re all online — businesses, consumers, prospects — so it makes sense to deliver courses in a way that people are naturally interacting anyway,” says Dr. Zangerl. Students in his programs are also ensured to get the best and most relevant instruction “because all of our instructors are practicing social media professionals in the business world as well,” with experience with leading companies like IBM and other well-known brands. “We also make sure our courses are dynamic,” says Zangerl. “Our students are all old enough to know what textbooks are,” he adds, “but you’ll rarely find one in our social media courses.”
Know of any other universities offering degrees or specializations in social media? Let us know in the comments below.