When it Comes to Teaching Social Media, Colleges Fall Short

Dr. William Ward of Syracuse University has a dire warning to share with colleges and universities in the U.S. and around the world. Even as they themselves stand on the cutting edge of technological research and development, higher education institutions are failing to teach their students what they need to know to navigate the new digital and social challenges inherent in a world more connected to and more dependent on social media.

Ward, who is affiliated with Syracuse's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication, says that the university offers one of the only credit-granting courses on social media available anywhere in the country. Other schools should follow Syracuse's lead and offer courses similar to the ones taught by Ward: COM 400, Social Media U Need 2 Know, and COM 600, Social Media Theory.

It isn't just a matter of survival and preparedness. According to Ward, students who have social media backgrounds are in a better position to compete in the job market. As the companies are expanding their social networking presence, they are looking for bright, knowledgeable individuals both to lead the way and help them avoid missteps.

Unemployment in the U.S. is still around 8%, yet the number of jobs requiring social media expertise has nearly doubled. More than 65% of companies on the annual Fortune 500 list have extensive internet presence, including active accounts on sites like Twitter and Facebook. These tools are vital not only to establish relationship with customers, but to make the work of a typical multi-national easier to coordinate between office locations around the world.

But while businesses are hungry to tap social media, they lack the expertise to do so. Among 2,100 companies surveyed by Harvard Business Review, a meager 12% of those using social media feel they use it effectively. The result is an exceptional demand for social media professionals who can boost the bottom line. "Social communication done well increases productivity, saves money and time, and improves engagement and satisfaction," Ward says. "[It's] a part of a larger culture shift changing how work gets done."

The need is obviously there, so the question is: Why aren't more colleges and universities stepping up to fill it? Almost all top institutions of higher learning maintain a social media presence themselves, using Twitter and Facebook to communicate and recruit perspective students, and to maintain a continuing relationship with alumni. Yet few have made the leap to teach skills necessary to developing a robust social media footprint in their own classrooms. Even schools that do seem to treat it halfheartedly by offering a one-time seminar or a stand-alone elective and not fully integrated into other areas of study in any meaningful way.

 "I was at a huge advantage in a job interview bc i was @HootSuite_U certified! #NewhouseSM4 @DR4WARD," tweeted Emily Maher last spring, whose social media skills helped earn a TV reporting internship with NBC News affiliate WETM-TV in New York and a paid position as social media director of a retail jewelry outlet. "Learning how to use social media smartly gives employers a reason to hire," Ward says. "Helping individuals and organizations harness digital and social communication to their advantage will become one of the fastest growth segments."

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