Universities Teaching Social Media

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.

Queen’s University

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.”

Lewis University

Lewis University
Lewis University in Romeoville, IL is close enough to Chicago to have been impacted by the city’s insatiable demand for employable graduates with social media training. “Businesses were coming to us in such significant numbers looking for interns with social media experience, that we decided to create some official programs to meet that demand,” says Robert Bergman, Director of Social Media Marketing for the College of Business.

“Like most universities and colleges, we already offered degree programs in Marketing, with specializations in communications, advertising, and so on,” he says. “But when we took a look around and realized that no one was offering a program with a specialization in social media, we decided to change that,” he says. Mr. Bergman, serving as director of the academic body overseeing curriculum changes coupled with a 20 year career in sales management, was in a perfect position to draft an appropriate curriculum for both students and the organizations that would hire them upon graduation.

“We created an undergraduate degree — a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Social Media Marketing, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in social media marketing,” says Bergman. He says that with these programs, the university is applying the stringent tenets of academia to the discipline of social media. “This is a field that still wrestles with the perception — at least from some factions in the business community — that it doesn’t produce a positive Return on Investment (ROI),” he says. “What we do in our programs is we really put social media under the microscope, as the university establishment has done with other fields of study for hundreds of years.”

Specifically, Lewis’s two social media programs take a detailed look at the measurable metrics of social media. “We study a variety of web analytics and tie-in how social media interaction impacts things like website traffic, brand sentiment, and sales conversions.” Fundamentally, “all marketing is looking at the world from the perspective of your customers,” says Bergman. “We’ve just applied the discipline of academia to make sure that our students know how to quantify and justify these types of interactions and communications. And since communication is virtually synonymous with social media today, one cannot exist without the other in the world of business,” he adds.

Northeastern University

Northeastern University

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.

[Image credits: hackNY, Queen’s University (FB), Lewis University, Northeastern University (FB)]