Do Marketers Need a Degree in Social Media?

Last week, the University of Florida announced that it’s now offering an 18-month Master’s Degree Program in social media. This announcement is just the latest in the trend of colleges adding degree programs related to social media.

I can see why colleges are adding social media to their curriculum, but do marketers really need an entire degree devoted to social media?

Personally, I think the answer is no.

To be successful in social media (or more importantly, digital marketing), marketers must learn how to incorporate social media into overall business and marketing strategies. Learning how to use the tools is far less important than determining the “why” behind using social media for your company.

Additionally, social media moves at a breakneck pace. The tools are constantly changing. Today’s social media landscape will likely look dramatically different even a year from now. For social media degree programs to be relevant to marketers, they must be agnostic to the tools and teach practices that can be applied to the ever-changing digital marketplace.

If I work at a company or agency looking to hire someone in digital marketing, I would rather have someone with strong communications and strategy skills, not someone who knows how to use Twitter properly.

Good Social Media Degree Programs

Don’t get me wrong – there are some good digital marketing degree programs out there and I have friends who teach at them.

For instance, Mark Schaefer, teaches digital marketing as part of the Rutgers mini MBA program and Kerry Gorgone teaches new media marketing as part of the Marketing Master of Science at Full Sail University.

These programs are great because they focus more on overall digital marketing strategy and how it can be applied in the digital landscape. They also take a comprehensive approach that looks at everything from search engine marketing, mobile marketing, website analytics and yes, social media.

This type of curriculum is far more relevant to today’s marketer than one that narrowly looks at social media.

Traits of Successful Digital Marketers

Look at the many social media thought leaders of today. Social media degree programs didn’t exist until recently and few, if any, of today’s leading digital marketing have degrees in those areas.

What do today’s digital marketing experts have instead? Here are some of the traits of successful digital marketers:

  • Creativity
  • Writing
  • Storytelling
  • Communication
  • Analytics
  • Research
  • Strategic thinking
  • Critical analysis
  • Media relations
  • Public speaking
  • Business acumen
  • Curiosity
  • Vision
  • Tech-savvy
  • Sales-focused
  • Project management

Most of these traits can be learned through other degree programs. For instance, my journalism degree has equipped me with much of the marketing skills I need to be successful on the social web.

And, journalism isn’t the only degree that can be valuable in today’s digital marketing world. Business, marketing, advertising, statistics, sociology and many other degree programs can help you with many of these concepts and traits listed above.

For everything else you need, the web is ripe with blogs, podcasts, eBooks and online courses that can help you learn the concepts around social media marketing.

The bottom line is that a degree is certainly not the only path to obtaining the knowledge you need.

Hiring a Digital Marketer or Digital Marketing Firm

If you’re looking to hire a social media marketer or even a digital marketing agency, very few people will be boasting a social media degree or certificate that shows their qualifications.

Instead, you need to do some digging to find out the people and firms that have the expertise you need.

Here are some things to consider as you’re looking to hire digital marketing help:

  • Experience – How are they using social media personally? How have they used it for others (clients, their company, etc.)?
  • Content  - Are they publishing their own content online? Are they a good writer? Do they practice what they preach?
  • Results & case studies  - Can they point to successes they’ve achieved (both for themselves and others) thanks to their social media efforts? 
  • Measurement – How do they measure results? What metrics matter to them? 

The Bottom Line

If you’re a marketer looking to expand your social media knowledge, you don’t need a degree program to get it.

But, if you decide that getting a degree is the right path for you, make sure you find one that focuses on comprehensive digital marketing strategy. That will make you far more marketable in the long run.

What do you think? Do social media degree programs hold water? Do you think marketers with social media degrees are more credible?

Image credit: mkhmarketing

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  • Jennifer Nash

    I don’t think a degree is necessary for the very reasons you stated and agree that the listed skills and attributes are more important. Last year I took a graduate level social media class at Belmont’s Massey School. I was quite curious how such a course could be taught. Bob Hutchins, the adjunct professor, chose to stick with the laws he discusses in his book The Recommendation Age along with reading current articles. Social media changed a lot in those few weeks. I’m glad I had other skills and experience, like writing, strategic thinking and research, to go along with social media so I could do my class project, which was also a real client project.

    • http://www.flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Jen. I think any class or program really needs to focus on what makes good MARKETING. From there, it becomes a heck of a lot easier to figure out how to use the tools to make it happen. After going through the class, were you glad you took it? Did you gain anything valuable? Just wondering…

      • Jennifer Nash

        I already knew about 95% of the information presented. I had hoped to learn more about data analysis so I could improve my efforts. Bob’s insistence on sticking with universal laws, as he called them, instead of focusing on the tools confirmed what I already thought about how to approach social media. I think it would have been a better class if SEO, mobile marketing, etc. had been integrated so social media wasn’t treated as a separate topic. I’m glad he made everyone prepare a social media plan for a company because it brought in the practical aspect. Everyone chose a real company whether it was their employer or a friend or family member’s business, and many plans were actually executed. I found myself really focusing on how to make sure what I proposed integrated with other efforts throughout my client’s business.

        • http://www.flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

          Thanks for sharing. I think that your point about integration is important. Social media doesn’t work in a vacuum. To make it work well, you have to understand content marketing, SEO, website optimization, etc. as well. Hopefully, more programs and classes recognize that.

  • http://www.businessesgrow.com Mark W. Schaefer

    The Rutgers Program offers a one-week “mini MBA” in either digital or social media marketing. The big difference between what is happening there and any other university is that they are bringing in non-faculty experts in mobile marketing, analytics, strategy, SEO, social media etc. This is really a brilliant move and an un-matched opportunity. Every university is trying to figure out “who is going to teach this stuff?” … and I’m skeptical there are enough faculty members at most places who can make a transition. By the way, this program is open to anybody.

    I can’t see a full degree program in this discipline, for the reasons you state here and the fact that most places are unlikely to be able to filed a team to pull it off.

    • http://www.flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts here, Mark. I think your point is exactly why the Rutgers program works – it’s taught by people like you who PRACTICE in the field. Honestly, I think that’s the only way any social media marketing program makes sense. Otherwise, it’s a lot of theory and fluff without some practical lessons on whether the ideas actually work.

      I definitely think an entire 18-month degree is overkill. I hate that Florida’s program website shows so little about the curriculum. It makes me even more skeptical of what they’re offering.

    • ANNA SEACAT

      Mr. Schaefer,

      I’m in the process of reading your book (The Tao of Twitter), which is a required text for a graduate degree certificate program in SMM and a MS in Marketing at Southern New Hampshire University. Aren’t you kind of biting the hand that feeds you by suggesting you “can’t see a full degree program in this discipline?” I am not trying to be disrespectful. I am finding your book to be a very powerful resource, and I follow you on Twitter. If it weren’t for your book, I would not have a Twitter account.

      Anna Seacat
      @annaseacat

      • http://www.businessesgrow.com Mark W. Schaefer

        First, thanks for responding and for reading my book. I’m glad it has had an impact on you!

        I don’t people enjoying my book is counter to a position of not thinking a full degree in social media is necessary. My book is used as a text at more than 50 universities and I think it is a very good way to get students up and running on social media. Plus, it’s short, easy to read and cheap!! Perfect for students. : )

        Of course many students can benefit from classes in social media marketing, but if I had to pick the perfect curriculum to prepare for a future marketing career it would be 25% writing/journalism; 25% marketing fundamentals; 15% statistics/analytics; 20% other business (like economics) and 15% digital/social media classes.

        Good luck with your studies Anna!

      • http://www.flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

        Anna – Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. I’m glad to hear you’re reading Mark’s book! It’s an excellent primer on Twitter.

        I agree with Mark’s thoughts on this – social media training and classes are valuable, but a dedicated degree in social media would be overkill and would leave students ill-prepared for the shifting media landscape. Learning more about comprehensive marketing (or a similar mix to what Mark described) would be more ideal.

        Best of luck with your classes and welcome to Twitter! :)

        • ANNA SEACAT

          Ms. Click and Mr. Schaefer,

          I would like to start by
          telling you both how impressed I am that even though you are celebrities in
          your field, you took the time to reply to a “nobody.” Please accept my sincerest gratitude for your
          time.

          Ms. Click’s article naturally
          caught my attention since I am pursuing the very degree which she proposed as
          unnecessary. I have composed a response,
          but it contains 568 words (approx. 1 1/2 pages long). So, I wanted to ask if this type of response
          would be considered rude and unwelcome within the comments field of her blog? By the same token, I do think other readers might
          be able to relate to my perspective.
          Please let me know how you would prefer that I send my comment.

          Thank you,

          Anna Seacat @annaseacat:disqus

          • http://www.flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

            Hi Anna,

            First, let me just say that you are most definitely not a “nobody”. We’re all people on this beautiful earth and everyone has value to offer. :)

            Second, I think it’s awesome that you took the time to write a thoughtful response. I would definitely be interested in reading your perspective – especially since you are currently in a similar degree program to the one I mentioned. You are more than welcome to post your response here. But, given the length of your response, you’ve practically written a blog post! If you’d like to email it to me, we can see if it would make sense for it to be a guest post. I certainly welcome dissenting opinions and would love to showcase and alternate view. Let me know what you think!

          • ANNA SEACAT

            Ms. Click,

            Thank you, once again, for taking the time out of your busy day to engage in conversation. I emailed my response to info@flybluekite.com. Please let me know if there is another email address that you prefer. seacatanna@gmail.com – @annaseacat

          • http://www.flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

            Hi Anna – Thanks for following up. I did get your message and I’ll get back to you shortly!

  • http://uncommonlysocial.com/ Sarah Mason

    Laura, I cringed when I read about UF Journalism School’s new program. My personal opinion is that much of the academic world is threatened by the access people have to learn whatever they want on any subject they choose on the Internet for free or close to free. Rutgers is getting it right (I’d sign up for a program like that in a heartbeat). So are the universities offering courses for free (MIT, Harvard, Yale, etc.). But an 18-month long online degree on social media? I think the key lies in this quote from the article “it would be the first degree of its kind”. It’s the rush to be the first, not the most helpful or valuable for prospective students.

    You’re right — social media is just another tool in an overall marketing strategy. I’ll stick to reading books and blog posts for my continued education on social media and marketing, thank you very much. :)

    • http://www.flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

      You could be right about universities feeling threatened, Sarah. Though, with the price tag that @jeffrey_kaplan:disqus mentioned, it sounds more like an attempt to cash in on a trend.

      Either way, I think social media training is useful, but comprehensive marketing education is even better. Perhaps I’m biased, but I think solely focusing on social media is very short-sighted and will leave students ill-equipped once the landscape changes. We shall see what happens. Thanks for weighing in with your thoughts, Sarah!

      • http://uncommonlysocial.com/ Sarah Mason

        That price tag isn’t surprising (unfortunately) but you and Jeffrey are right I think about it being a cash grab.

        I should clarify what I said as well that I’m not against all social media training (they’re even offering classes on Skillshare taught by consultants and coaches that look great) — but the quality of books and blogs on the subject is so high that I think people can advance their learning that way (and save themselves a lot of money). As far as college programs go, I agree with you — a comprehensive marketing education is much, much better. I still use a lot of what my marketing professors taught me and that was 15 years ago (gasp). Great post, Laura.

  • Jeffrey Kaplan

    I would just add two details, the UF program is all online and it’ll cost about $28k. It is more of a cash-cow for the school than anything else… :/

    • http://www.flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

      Jeffrey – I saw that it was an online program, but didn’t get wind of the cost. Yikes! I can’t imagine paying that much for an online degree program – especially in social media.

  • ANNA SEACAT

    Hi Laura, I know you are very busy, but I just wanted to make sure you received my email. Sorry for the bother. Also, if you would prefer, I can condense the response I emailed to you and just leave it in the comments here. I’m still working on getting others from academe to weigh in on this issue.

    Thank you for your time.
    @AnnaSeacat

  • http://www.ltc-associates.com/ LTCA INC

    Hi Laura, I wanted to take a slightly different approach with my comment. I keyed in on this line from your piece, “Few, if any, of today’s leading digital marketing have degrees in [Social Media]. What do today’s digital marketing experts have instead? Here are some of the traits of successful digital marketers…”

    You then go on to list a great many criteria which could be acquired through a journalism, advertising, statistics, sociology, or business degree. SO TRUE! When I looked down that list, I couldn’t believe how many seemed to fit with the Film & Television degree I received 20-years ago from UCLA. Let’s take a look:

    Creativity [screenwriting, animation, directing, acting, art direction]

    Writing [screenwriting]

    Storytelling [screenwriting]

    Communication [screenwriting, sound editing, acting]

    Analytics [producing]

    Research [documentary film]

    Strategic thinking [film criticism]

    Critical analysis [film criticism]

    Media relations [press, production, promotion]

    Public speaking [acting, directing]

    Business acumen [producing]

    Curiosity [documentary firm, directing]

    Vision [cinematography, editing]

    Tech-savvy [sound editing, sound fx, video editing, cinematography]

    Sales-focused [producing, distribution]

    Project management [producing, representation]

    I’m not saying I became an expert in all facets of Film, nor that I am an expert Digital Marketer > only to support your basic assertion that one can pick up many associated skills from the most surprising places (!) What I didn’t learn from my undergrad degree, I most certainly picked-up in the last 20years as an entrepreneur and business owner.

    If you keep your eyes & ears open, it’s amazing how much “wisdom” is universal…

    • http://www.flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

      You’re right, Stephen. So many of those skills can be applied to the social media world. I think storytelling skills are critical in today’s social media landscape. You can learn the tools all day long, but if you don’t know how to uncover and tell a compelling story, you’ll have a much harder time gaining traction.

      Thanks for weighing in!

  • ANNA SEACAT

    Ms. Click,

    As a precursor, it is not my intent to be disrespectful. I love your work and do not wish to offend you. My purpose is to supply a counterview that might enable a meaningful discussion between academe and the marketing industry.

    ——-

    Your argument in this post was weakened by the fact that you only offered one piece of supportive evidence; and that evidence is your own personal experience and that of your
    peers (Schaefer and Gorgone). While it is probably not necessary for an opinion-based blog post to include scholarly resources as evidence, since your main claim is questioning the necessity of advanced degrees, you should be prepared for folks in the academic world to poke holes in your argument on this basis.
    Offering conclusions from official studies or content from professional
    journals to back up your claim would have made it harder for a person like me
    to say that your professional experience does not compare to mine, thus it
    cannot support an informed argument. Below I will show how my professional experience
    can weaken your argument, merely because it differs.

    I have an undergraduate degree in Communication and Culture, which supplied a curriculum almost exactly to the mix that Mr. Schaefer suggested in his comments. Moreover, I am earning a MS in Marketing,which also more than covers these areas. However, neither of these degrees allow for a specified area of study in social media, which is why I have also entered a full certificate graduate program in social media from
    SNHU. I should note that my reasoning for searching out formal education, rather than learning from “blogs, podcasts, etc.,” as you suggested, is because I chose to career sequence for the past seven years and felt that my knowledge of how to effectively incorporate social media to business strategy was lacking.

    Moreover, when I graduate, I will have a masters degree and a graduate
    certificate, which although are not universally accepted by all marketing
    professionals as valuable, do hold some merit in the HR world.

    With all of this being said, I really do respect your marketing ability and achievements. I realize I have a lot to learn and am grateful for professionals, like you, who enrich graduate students’ education by sharing their technical experience.

    Thank you for your time.

    @AnnaSeacat

    • http://www.flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

      Hi Anna,

      Thank you for continuing to further the debate and offer your perspective. I appreciate your candid comments and willingness to show another side to this.

      You’re right – the path I’ve outlined isn’t for everyone. I can only speak to my experience because that’s why I know best. As for studies and research, this area is still too new to offer much evidence about whether a social media degree program is necessary or useful. People just have to determine what makes sense for them.

      I certainly don’t think my way is the only or best way. The goal of my post was to simply raise the question about dedicating an entire degree program to social media.

      It may absolutely hold weight and value, but I would hope that it is incorporated with digital marketing and other practices. It sounds like you are getting that through your Master’s program, which is great.

      I think the fact that you want to further your education is admirable and it will be very valuable to your career. I commend you for finding a program that fits your needs. Essentially, that’s what anyone should do who wants to further their education in this area.

      Again, best of luck with your studies! I hope the program is beneficial to you!

      Laura

      • ANNA SEACAT

        Ms. Click,

        Your professionalism is apparent in all of your responses — thank you.

        I agree with your point that there has not been specific research or studies done on the benefits or necessity of a graduate level program in social media. However, there has been many recent articles written about the influx of and perceived need for “newly specific and utilitarian” (Pappano, 2011) graduate degrees. For instance, according to a
        2011 article by Laura Pappano, which was published in The New York Times, “these are not your general master’s in policy or administration.” Pappano quoted one business school dean as explaining “Even
        the M.B.A is kind of too broad in the current environment. Now, you have the M.S. in supply chain management, and in managing mission-driven organizations. There’s an M.S. in skeletal and dental bioarchaeology, and an M.A. in learning and thinking.”

        The main theme in The New York Times’ article was that the perceived need for these new, very specific degrees is due to the fact that the majority of young employees have bachelor’s degrees and work experience. Therefore, a graduate degree is often used by Human Resource departments as a point of distinction. The aforementioned article quoted John McGloon of Welch Allyn who explained that, after posting an opening for a technical writer, he received “‘dozens and dozens’ of resumes. Those in charge of hiring wondered where to start. ‘I said, half of our applicants have Master’s. That’s our first cut.’”

        To be fair, the article did present an alternative view from Richard K. Vedder of Ohio University, who noted (as someone else also commented in this discussion board) that specialized graduate degrees are a “cash cow” for universities. He satirically said “in 2o years, you’ll need a Ph.D. to be a janitor” (Pappano, 2011).

        Nevertheless, there are many additional reliable sources pointing to the perceived need (among young people and HR departments alike) to go beyond a Bachelor’s degree. Two of these sources that may be of interest to you can be found in a 2012 Bloomberg Businessweek article titled, “The Booming Market for Specialized Master’s Degrees” and in the U.S. Census Bureau’s article, “Census Bureau Reports Fast Growth in Ph.D.s and Master’s Degree Holders.”

        Ms. Click, I have enjoyed our discussion. I am located about 3 ½ hours NE of your location (in horse country). Maybe we can meet up for lunch someday. I promise, my personality is not as dry as my writing style. :)

        References

        Bernstein, R. (2013). Census Bureau Reports Fast Growth in Ph.D.s and Master’s Degree Holders. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/education/cb13-13.html

        Darnast, A. (2012). The Booming Market for Specialized Master’s Degrees. Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-11-21/the-booming-market-for-specialized-masters-degrees

        • http://www.flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

          Thanks again for your thoughts and research, Anna. You make some valid points and I don’t disagree that advanced learning is valuable. I think the bottom line here is that each person has has to determine which path makes sense for him or her. For you, it sounds like a degree program is the way to go. For someone else, that might be online self-education. It just depends on background, experience and goals. Again, best of luck to you!