“Embrace social media or you’ll be out of business in five years.”
That opening statement from my stump speech gets the attention of business men and women, many of whom would prefer to avoid engagement in digital communication (despite knowing it’s not going away). The same declaration can be modified to apply to higher education and anyone in college today.
Just eight years ago when I joined Ketchum, not a single employee was dedicated to social media. Now every office has a team of digital specialists and, like many agencies, everyone is being trained to both understand social media and incorporate appropriate elements into client assignments.
Many agencies have developed their own social media training programs because the talent pool from which they are hiring often lacks those necessary skills. Colleges are rushing to catch up with the growing demand for social media talent, and wisely so. Unfortunately, simply offering a couple of social media and online courses won’t do the trick.
Students need to be comfortable with everything digital and be able to work well with both in-person and virtual teams. This is best achieved through fully integrating social media into every public relations course in the college catalog. Many creative instructors are already including social media in their courses. From George Washington University to the University of Southern California, faculty members are incorporating Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms into their coursework. To underscore the importance of digital education, Louisiana State University launched a “Digital Media Initiative” that encourages faculty and students to embrace the future of communication.
But just because it’s digital doesn’t mean it can be taught virtually through online platforms. A recent survey of 1,500 high school and college graduates made it clear that a complete educational experience requires more than completing a series of online courses.
“Results indicate that online efforts will continue to grow, especially in some sectors, but won’t replace the on-campus experience,” said Jeff Hunt, a partner at strategic communication consultancy PulsePoint Group.
At DePaul University, I have increased the social media components in my courses, thanks to inspiration from my fellow “pracademic” colleague, Don Ingle, who, like me, began his teaching career after a long and varied corporate and agency career. Ingle began using a Facebook Group in all his classes about a year ago.
“We have assignments posted to our group page and conduct one class per quarter on Facebook instead of in the classroom. The goal is to take students’ personal involvement with social media and turn it into professional involvement,” he explained.
There are numerous benefits to incorporating social media into the curriculum.
“Students see how companies and organizations are engaging their customers and best prospects in various social media spaces, including newer ones like Vine,” he said. “There is tremendous participation in our live class. Students love learning from one another through their commentary on their posts, and they use what they’ve learned by applying it into a social media tactical public relations plan, which is part of their final projects.”
Student response is overwhelming, he reported. One student commented, “It was eye-opening to understand the world of social media and how much it has grown in the last few years. It is crucial that we understand social media because many jobs that young public relations practitioners start off with are primarily centered upon monitoring social media.”
Another of Don’s students has put social media learning into immediate action. “I just started my internship this week, and guess what? I’m in charge of social media including Facebook, Twitter and blog posts. If it wasn’t for your class, I wouldn’t be nearly as prepared as I am. Thank you!”
There’s almost nothing more rewarding for an academic to hear than that a former student has taken knowledge and experience from the classroom and directly translated it into his or her professional life. To those who fully embrace social media and all of its potential, you’ll be thriving — not out of business — in five years.