Social Media Degrees Provide Advancement Opportunities in Associations and Nonprofit Organizations

This is a guest post by Brian Jenkins, who writes about Careers in Computer Science. He has been writing about this and other career-related topics for BrainTrack since 2008.

Due to a large number of associations and other organizations using social media such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter for marketing campaigns and public relations, employers are increasingly seeking those who have social media knowledge and skills. Many associations and non-profits realize they need experts to effectively use social media for marketing campaigns and public relations.

If you get a degree in social media, especially an MBA with a concentration in the field, you’ll become a more valuable employee and you’ll likely have a competitive edge over the competition for many management-level positions. Such specialized degrees always look impressive on a resume.

Even if you have social media experience, a degree in the subject will probably give you an advantage over other candidates who are self-taught in the subject. Degree programs teach students how to see all the capabilities of social media platforms; that is, beyond how it pertains only to them. Professor Mikolaj Jan Piskorski, associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, states, “Very often our perception of social media, and what we can and can’t do using social media, is very much tinted by what we think our favorite person is doing – and our favorite person is usually ourselves. So it is about getting students to understand that the empirical skills are absolutely necessary, because whatever they think is intuitively correct, is probably about themselves, but nobody else.” A degree in social media will teach you the complexities of the different social media arenas that you might not be able to teach yourself.

Regarding social media, Mark Begley, head of creative and design recruitment at Major Players, stated “[People] might live and breathe this way of communicating in their personal lives, but the problem is that they can’t transfer this experience into the commercial world.” High-quality social media degree programs can provide the necessary knowledge and skills to make this jump.
Huntington University: Zurcher Auditoriumphoto © 2007 Chris Metcalf | more info (via: Wylio)

MBA programs, including MBA programs at top business schools, are integrating social media into their curriculums. Harvard Business School offers a program called “Competing with Social Networks.” Similarly, the London Business School has integrated social media into its MBA curriculum. For another example, check out Southern New Hampshire University’s MBA in Social Media Marketing. (It should be noted the author has no connection with any of these universities.)

The objective of social media education programs is to provide an understanding about fast-growing, evolving social media from a marketing and public relations perspective. Social media bachelor’s degree programs provide an in-depth understanding of social media, including building marketing strategies and tracking their effectiveness.

Social media bachelor’s degree programs typically use case studies of online social networking and content-sharing websites such as YouTube, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Friendster. Students are typically required to participate in a team project to create and implement social media marketing strategies for real world clients.

Due to the increasing number of associations and nonprofit organizations which use social media, managers holding a social media degree may have a leg-up on other candidates for higher management positions.

From me:  In Open Community, one of the things we talk about is skill sets for social media and community managers.  Have you started seeing resumes with social media degrees listed?  Would that change internal perceptions in your organization of what skills might be required for social media hires?


Maggie McGary November 14, 2010 at 5:25 pm

I have to say I kind of disagree with this for several reasons. The first one being that almost no associations are hiring for social media positions, and even as they do start hiring more, I have a feeling most of those jobs will be at a pretty low level. So to invest money in an advanced degree to go work for low pay at a nonprofit or association doesn’t make much sense to me. You’d be better off getting your foot in the door at an association or nonprofit you want to work at, then angling for a social media position once you’re in.

Also, social media for associations is different than social media marketing. Associations have the advantage of having a baked-in community so using social media to market to people is secondary to using social media to add value to membership. Associations are not “the commercial world” and most lessons on social media marketing miss the mark, IMHO.

And going back to my first point, I could definitely be wrong, but I doubt many associations will be creating higher management social media positions anytime soon. Most higher management at associations don’t use social media for either personal or professional reasons, so the idea that having a social media degree giving you a leg up on getting one of those jobs seems kind of off the mark, to me. Getting your CAE, definitely; getting an MBA or other business-related advanced degree, probably; but an advanced degree in social media? Probably won’t do much for in the association world.

Who knows–maybe I’m totally wrong?

Brian Jenkins November 17, 2010 at 11:16 am

Hi Maggie,

Thank you very much for your thoughtful comments. You raise some very good points. I believe that having a degree in this field, however, definitely looks good to associations and nonprofits that are interested in marketing themselves through social media. Also, it’s possible that as the use of social media continues to spread, larger associations and nonprofits will create positions for social media experts. Smaller organizations may also contract experts if they don’t have the staff to keep up with their social media platforms everyday. The use of social media is expanding in every sector of business, and people with college degrees in the field will undoubtedly be in demand.

An MBA with a concentration in social media might be the best path to take for people interested in getting into this field. With this approach, one would still get his or her MBA, but he or she would take a couple of classes along the way in social media. This type of degree could open many doors for people looking for upper management positions with associations.

So Maggie, no, I don’t think your comments are completely wrong. You bring up some good points, and certainly this type of degree isn’t for everyone. It’s important that individuals put careful thought into investing in any degree, including a social media degree. If the long-term benefits don’t trump the short-term costs, pursuing a degree might not be the best option.


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