Enrollment increasing in Madison College social media courses

March 30, 2012

From braintrack.com: “Employers Increasingly “Like” Social Media Skills” — Geoffrey Colon rattles off the areas he specializes in: “community management,” “listening,” “social care.” Just five years ago, you might have guessed that he is a social worker or community organizer.

But Colon serves as vice president of Social@Ogilvy, a social media division of worldwide marketing giant Ogilvy & Mather. As such, he is well-versed in the field’s latest buzz words: “community management” means leading an online community on platforms such as facebook, “listening” is monitoring online mentions and “social care” is providing customer care and support via social media.

As social media becomes more integrated into our daily lives, more professionals like Colon are focusing their careers on this modern communication mode. The demand for social media skills has surged in the past year, according to research firm Wanted Analytics. There were about 13,000 job ads online specifying social media skills during January–an 87 percent increase from one year earlier.

A Must-Have in Marketing

Marketing managers and public relations specialists are the two most common jobs specifying social media skills, according to Wanted Analytics. Marketing managers accounted for 2,600 of the job ads, a 58 percent jump from a year ago. PR managers and specialists represented about 1,500 of the postings, a 57 percent increase.

“In marketing, we’re finding that social media is becoming a ‘must-have’ skill rather than just a ‘nice-to-have’ skill,” say Loan Vo, assistant director of marketing for the University of California (UC), Irvine Extension. Vo uses social media to market the school’s offerings, including a certificate program in social media. The school has several facebook and LinkedIn pages as well as Twitter accounts and a YouTube channel.

As for Colon, he creates and executes the social media strategies for a variety of business divisions within IBM. The work includes handling community management on facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, overseeing blog forums, and using “listening software” to monitor online chatter about the company. He points to the launch of Social@Ogily in February as evidence of the increasing role of social media in marketing. The 500-person division integrates social media efforts throughout marketing, communications, customer relationship management, shopper marketing and more, handling the social media needs of corporate giants like Nestlé, Unilever, UPS and Ford.

Mirna Bard, director of social media at fashion designer Guess?, views PR and social media as a perfect fit. “Social media is all about branding, reputation building and relationship building with the customer.” This spring, she will be teaching a course on “Social Media and Public Relations” for UC Irvine Extension. The class emphasizes how to use social media to build relationships with reporters and bloggers and how to push down negative comments online, so they appear at the bottom of online searches.

Wanted: Math Majors, Witty Writers and More

Other jobs specifying social media skills, according to Wanted Analytics, include Web developers, sales representatives, market research analysts, recruiters, software engineers, advertising sales agents and executive secretaries or administrative assistants. The demand for sales managers with social media skills increased more than 500 percent–the most of any occupation. Recruiters experienced the second highest growth, up 131 percent.

Industry insiders predict that the demand for analysts will surge, due to recent emphasis on measuring the effectiveness of social media. “At first, social media was all about how do we push our messages out,” says Bard. “But now, it’s time to think about whether we are getting the true value out of our social media efforts. Over the next couple years, companies will be focusing more on how we measure the return on investment.”

Colon agrees, noting “there’s always been math involved in marketing, but with social media there’s more number-crunching than ever. Almost every social media platform has a back-end that generates insights: how many people are in the community, how many are engaging per post, how many are sharing our content, how many are liking the content.”

On the flip side, Colon who has a bachelor’s in journalism and communications, also sees a demand for strong writers. “Social is a world of wit and words. I’ve hired English majors who have excelled being community managers for some of the bigger brands in the world,” says Colon, who previously worked as supervisor of digital communities at digital marketing agency 360i, serving corporate giants like Coca-Cola, Lysol and Kraft.

With the rise of smart phones and tablets, Colon also sees the need for innovative professionals who can optimize social media for mobile platforms. He notes that facebook, YouTube and Twitter have all launched recent changes to adapt to the mobile world. “There is still a lot of work that needs to be done to reshape social media for a mobile format,” says Colon. In particular, he cites a demand for engineers who can create user interfaces for hand-held devices.

Back to School

In response to the need for social media professionals, some schools are bringing facebook, YouTube and Pinterest into the classroom. Enrollment has skyrocketed in the social media certificate program at Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wisconsin, since it was introduced in fall 2010. “We have gone from offering one section of our “Social Media Campaign” course to five sections,” says Marketing Professor Steve Noll.

About two-thirds of the students are working professionals, many from small and mid-sized companies. “I’m amazed at the amount of people in their 30s and 40s coming in and saying, ‘I have to know this for my job, and I don’t know where to start,'” says Noll. “Today, every business, no matter what size, needs to be doing something with social media.” To keep up with industry demand, this semester the school introduced a second, more advanced campaign course in which students develop the social media campaigns for two local companies.

Course Critics

In online forums, some skeptics have denounced academic programs in social media–saying that the skills can be self-learned, but graduates like Nora Caldwell say that schooling makes a difference. “It’s not about just learning how to put the information online; it’s about understanding the strategy behind social media,” says Caldwell, who recently earned her social media certificate from UC Irvine.

As a fund-development manager for Human Options, a local nonprofit in Orange County, California, that seeks to break the cycle of domestic violence, Caldwell enrolled to learn how to use social media for donor cultivation. “I now know how to think of social media as another marketing tool,” including how to select the appropriate platforms, how to drive traffic to the nonprofit’s Web site and how to make the Web site more engaging. “Social media is how 20-somethings and 30-somethings are communicating,” says Caldwell. “If I’m not talking to that generation now, then five years from now when they are ready to be major donors, they’re going to be talking to someone else.”


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