A Break Down of Social Media Degrees & Certificates

Photo courtesy of Fora do Eixo via flickr

Photo courtesy of Fora do Eixo via flickr



This is a guest post by Gina Joseph, social media community manager at Cision.

Social media: we all use it. Heck, most children now are born thinking we’ve been communicating through social networks since the beginning of time. But the truth is, while many of us post to Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis, the use of social media as a business function and the need for social media community managers hasn’t been around that long. While most social media managers have backgrounds in communications, public relations or marketing, it’s safe to assume that a formal education in social media was never a requirement for a job, or even an option. But is that changing?

Well, maybe and maybe not. I recently obtained a certification in social media from Central Michigan University’s Global Campus. These online classes covered topics including social media history, legal and ethical issues, and understanding how to analyze and strategically incorporate social media into a business plan. It was the university’s first program of its kind, but others such as Cleveland State University, Ball State University, State University of New York at Purchase, University of California, Irvine, and, more recently, South Carolina’s Newberry College have developed social media programs, and that number is growing.

“As social networks continue to evolve, organizations will also continue to explore new ways to utilize those networks to achieve business goals and objectives,” said Merodie A. Hancock, vice president of CMU’s Global Campus. “The need for trained professionals in social media communications, marketing, and management at these organizations may dictate the need for formalized degrees of study surrounding the varying challenges of social media.”

I found the program to be extremely helpful for my career goals but there are also those who believe a social media-specific education is not necessary.

So, let’s break it down, shall we?

It allows you to meet and network with good sources

One advantage of formal education, in any subject, is the connections you can make. During my social media program, we regularly listened to presentations from influential guest speakers in the industry. We were able to ask them questions, connect with them on Twitter and LinkedIn, and gain valuable insights.

It covers both the technical and the strategic aspects of social media

A social media program shouldn’t exist only to teach you how to use Facebook or Twitter; It should teach you the best ways to approach using social media for a business by incorporating the latest and most-used platforms into the teaching of best social media practice.

“The key to developing and delivering an entire degree program in an area of study that is constantly changing is by teaching an understanding of how to successfully operate in that space,” said Mary Pat Lichtman, professor of journalism at CMU. “Not by teaching the clicks of a mouse needed to interact within each platform.”

You gain real-life experience in a safe space

“It is a mixture of theory and practice, and you learn to apply what you are doing to real situations as you go along,” Lichtman said. “Employers are demanding that social media positions be filled by people who know much more than how to set up a Facebook or Twitter account and post.”

From the beginning, students were asked to seek out an organization to work with in setting up a social media policy. This allowed us to see what a similar situation could look like down the road. The organizations could then choose to implement aspects of the policy (or the whole policy itself) when the program ended. It was real-life work, but allowed for mistakes. Small mishaps can become huge in social media (KitchenAide, anyone?) and it’s nice to experiment with little risk.

Social media touches many fields of study

At CMU, the global campus social media program falls under the School of Journalism. However, other programs file it under public relations, marketing or business, since social media itself touches aspects of each of those areas.  Therefore, if you majored in journalism, a social media degree or certificate can be valuable in learning the marketing side of the business. Or if you were a business major, it can teach you how to create content and write for the web.

It gives you an edge

Before starting CMU’s program, I was already dabbling in social media at Cision. Since then, I was named to our social media team, and was able add my new knowledge and insights to our social media policy. For those just starting out, a social media certificate like mine could help an employer see that you already worked with a company and created a strategic plan before landing a job. That can be very helpful. For those already working in a professional social media role, it may prove useful to keep on top of trends, brush up on the latest laws and regulations, and network with others in your field.

“When you apply for jobs today, you are competing with new graduates and seasoned veterans,” Lichtman said. “Social media certification gives you an edge and helps level the playing field.”

But, it’s not for everyone

Not everyone will find a social media certification or degree useful—there are many who find professional experience to serve as a more valuable tool. In addition, formal education is never cheap. Many companies and organizations will reimburse employees who want to pursue continued education, but for those that don’t, or for college students, cost is always a factor.

The business world is evolving, and education is changing with it. There are many things to consider when contemplating formal education in social media but I think it’s one worth considering. What are your thoughts? Discuss below!

  • Angie

    Amazing Gina! It's really impressive that you obtained your certification and are keeping up (or maybe getting ahead) of the ever-changing social media space.

  • Sandy

    Congrats on being the first graduate of the CMU Social Media undergrad certificate! I just started the program and will be finishing my BS at CMU this fall! Currently, I'm not very seasoned with social media. I started a blog over a year ago and just recently created a Facebook fan page. I just signed-up for a Twitter account and started Jrn 105 and signed up for the required platforms for the class. It's a bit overwhelming at first but I'm ready to dive in because technology doesn't scare me! Once I drive around the block a few times I'll get used to using each platform. I think this certificate will be very useful. I can tell and this is just the first week of class!

  • I think a certificate makes sense for social media. Chances are, you're already doing it at work, so this is just continuing education that you can apply immediately on the job – something workers have to do more and more of these days on their own as companies seem to invest less in training employees or show a willingness to train new hires (we've all seen those job listings with "skills required" that including everything and the kitchen sink) – or it will help you land your next job all the more easily.

    I'd be hesitant to go the accredited degree route, largely because of cost and how quickly things change. In social media or anything digital, it seems wise to continue to take classes, even after you've earned the certificate. Classes offered through a school of continuing and professional education will be accessible without being admitted for a degree, and probably won't break the bank.

  • Great article, thanks Gina. It will be interesting to see if these programs become as commonplace as MBAs or other advanced degrees. As an agency social media director, I got here from doing the work, learning as social media grew and keeping abreast of trends and new technologies. The school of life, I suppose!

  • Thanks all! @Sandy, it can definitely be overwhelming at first. There are so many platforms out there, and you won't use all of them. But it's nice to get introduced to some you may never have tried out before. And, it's great that you aren't intimidated by technology! @MickiVail, I think it's true that most of us in social media at this point learned through doing, and as a natural progression through other career channels, which is great. I think going the education route can further that knowledge, and is a good way for someone who hasn't had much contact with social to begin in that area. Thanks for the comments!

  • V Monstrdrop Garcia

    Ive become very skilled at marketing, advertising and creating “buzz via social networking websites. Im now contemplating pursuing a career doing this for other businesses. What degree if any can I pursue? If you have any advice, please email me at monstrdrop90@gmail. Com

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