A Degree in Social Media? Psh.

A Degree in Social Media? Psh.

November 29, 2010 5:51 pm 1 comment

Although social media undoubtedly has some interesting connotations for fields like sociology – and as a sub-set in marketing, PR, media or business – it is difficult to see how an academic qualification will add value in a field which (a) changes so quickly (b) is still very much based on trial and error and (c) is as much about interpersonal relationships as anything. Of course, that’s not to say that you can’t learn to use social media as a business tool – quite the opposite in fact. But it does beg the question, what is the best way to learn to do just that. Click here for Full Article

The quote above hits on a topic that has been discussed in social media circles over the past couple years. Organizations are capitalizing on the trendiness of social networking by offering certificates for large amounts of money to those who attend their workshops. Marketing professionals have emerged from relative obscurity to publish lengthy how-to books for successfully marketing on new social media platforms and now make large amounts of money on the speaking circuit.

The social media revolution (as it is often called) may or may not be a revolution, but those who stand to profit off of it will surely convince you of its ability to transform business and culture. It only makes sense then that schools (which are experiencing dramatic budget cuts in the recession) would also get into this profitable market by offering degrees that will undoubtedly draw both the experienced marketing professional and the 18-year-old who thinks he’ll get a degree in playing on Facebook.

Now, let me add a disclaimer here in case you’ve not read any of my other blog posts. I am a big supporter of, and contributor to, new social communication technology. In fact, I am getting a master’s degree in American Studies with a concentration in social media (taking a sociological approach to understanding how and why people connect, with special interest in online privacy discourse). Ok, let’s continue being critical:

By using the term “field” in the article above to describe social media, the author assumes that it is a discipline already. That seems contradictory to his point. I don’t think social media is a field at all. It is, however, a tool or a platform that offers fields new opportunities for development. It is like saying that email is a field in marketing or marriage is a field in sociology. For example, marketing firms might use social media to reach consumers in a new way, but studies show that it enhances traditional marketing strategies rather than replaces them. And sociologists may study social media in the same way that they would study marriage, but neither could be labeled a “field.”

Teaching social media in an academic setting is crucial and to not do so is a disservice to students. However, offering a degree in it is also a disservice to students. A university could justify a track or specialty in social media that is housed in various other programs, but even that is dependent on where it is housed. For example, it makes no sense to offer a track in social media marketing for several reasons: you will graduate students who are not prepared for marketing firms that still largely combine all strategies of reaching target markets, and there is really no proven method (yet) to teach. Digital marketing on social media platforms is purely anecdotal. A 14-year-old boy who falls off his bike might have a wider reach than your carefully implemented million dollar marketing campaign. It would be more important to teach the ways a marketing professional understands the demographics of a market to make decisions on which tools to use to reach them.

I’ll end here with a couple words about what social media is because I think it’s relevant to this discussion. It is a collection of platforms that allow for an ever-evolving database of user-created content published for some sort of public, yet personal, use. The content produced, because it exists in public, is social by nature. Even “private” posts are still being deposited into a public space – a walled garden, if you will. The relationship between the corporations providing the space (the garden) and the consumer who is using it for various purposes, is often tense. Throw into that garden other people attempting to profit from this activity without adding any real benefit and it starts to get a bit awkward. Marketers are party-crashers; sociologists are peeping-toms. Unfortunately, this profiteering is the only way to keep the space alive – an inevitable trade-off to any cultural benefit in a hyper-capitalist society.

If you’re interested in this topic, click here to check out a post written by Clay Duda that features his thoughts on this same topic.

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