Social Media Masters Programs: They Exist …And It Makes No Sense

As a graduate of the University of Florida, it pains me to share that my University is, in fact, offering a social media masters program. The WSJ was correct to write up this story with a question: Social-Media Schooling Is on the Rise – But Is It Necessary? 

Keep in mind this is the same University that so misunderstood the growth and economic opportunity of technology for young people they previously announced they were planning to significantly cut their (renowned) Computer Science program. Thankfully, common sense prevailed and they eventually announced a plan to save the college.

Back to the social media masters degree. There are so many questions to ask here. Is the University admitting their existing marketing, PR, communications and business classes haven’t kept up with the times? After all, social is just a layer within all of this.

Does the University offer email marketing classes? What about SEM? Those industries have larger direct economic impact to businesses than social (and actually still require more specialized skill sets – everyone should get social by now, it isn’t new). It is strange social gets singled out.

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Masters Programs at UF

Also, why so tactical? Why isn’t this University (and others) actually offering a digital masters degree that encompass everything agencies and brands are thirsting for in talent? It would cover search and social to design / development, user acquisition, analytics, lead nurturing, mobile app ecosystems, email, project management, etc? This would legitimately prepare kids for the future. Anyone in the digital marketing industry who gets pigeon-holed to one tactic or channel is severely limiting their options and future. It is not a 1 or 2 thing world, it’s a 15 or 20 thing world. Leave specialization to the insects. And yes I’m aware this is the communications college, something else sad is I ventured over to the business school at UF and the word “digital” doesn’t appear in the college of marketing’s page a single time. The communications college has a chance to own this and do things right – hopefully we can push them in the right direction.

I’m not  going to go through the story details  i.e. I think it’s sad they are focusing on specific sites in social instead of larger strategic efforts like building viral loops, organic / platform agnostic growth, community building across channels and monetization. We’ll leave that for another day.

What I will say once again: in my experiences building teams both on the agency and brand side, with consumer and B2B products, I’ve consistently found for social media that pedigree and certifications are not very useful and experience and independent learning everything. That people have gone through the process themselves is really what matters. These folk have always been A-list talent on my teams and able to come in and deftly execute / generate results from the start.

college degree is hardly a guarantee. And a social media degree (even masters) is even more limiting. Social media is not new and there are plenty of people skilled in it. That’s not where the magic in social is anyway. It’s about having true depth and breadth of knowledge and experience in a category. Social simply amplifies your natural success, connections and community. The meta blogging or meta Internet skill days are over (or coming to an abrupt end). It’s one part of a much larger mix that is a requisite for being a part of the information economy. Which is all of us.

And, for your moment of zen, I was curious what the course Tutor was up to in social as his name was mentioned in the story. I took a look at his Twitter account and he’s ReTweeting infantile / spam accounts, such as:

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Even if we wanted to take the offering seriously, it’s difficult when the people involved in the course are actually part of the social spam circus. The bottom line is, as we have seen in the real world time and time again: social media needs mature talent. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have fun (you definitely should). But a little tact goes a long way, especially when you realize you are an extension of the brand you work for. You are what you share, and whether you think the above is appropriate, I was left turned off and would personally not bring someone like this on to one of my teams. The risk is far too high.

To date I have not been impressed with the work traditional education institutions have done for the communications industry. I do hope they work to improve things, as they’re bringing the next wave of talent into the workforce who we will be leading in the near future.