The Birmingham City University has announced that it is offering a masters in Social Media. You can read more about it on Mashable and also in the Telegraph for example. Mashable have a conversation going on with a number of different opinions.
There are a fair few people who read this blog who are seasoned online marketing professionals and also computer scientists who have a geeky hobby analysing the data Twitter produces and other social media channels. Both of these categories of people are actively involved with researching social media in all of its various dimensions. They are indeed experts, seeing as they devote so much of their daily time, dedication, and years to the thing. Many have been following this since the beginning and have matured their research as the technology matured.
There are also a growing number of people who come from and I stress online marketing backgrounds which include tasks like SEO, advertising, and online business strategy amongst others. There is a need to understand these tasks in depth in order to make sense of using social media at all. This understanding does not come from reading about the business but actually learning on the job. Barclay Simpson has a nice round-up of competencies needed for a junior SEO role for example.
There was also some discussion about whether some kind of University qualification for a job in SEO would be beneficial. SEO Chick Jane Copland wrote a post about this. She lists a nice spread of pros and cons which makes good sense, but after reading it, for me it feels like having a University regulated course for such a well…fast paced and ever changing profession is limiting.
Also who is going to teach these courses? I would pick people like Danny Sullivan, Rand Fishkin, David Harry, Donna Fontenote, Jill Whalen…We are lucky in this industry to have a treasure trove of highly skilled professionals who continuously share and educate the community. This is who you should learn from, and also how I learnt.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these people have a good University education too in subjects ranging from English to computing, economics…all sorts. Their knowledge is applied to the profession of online marketing and this makes for a rich mix of people and discussions. This is something I hope continues to develop. Yes, I agree there is also a whole lot of rubbish available to you too, but I think that once you can cut that from the good stuff, you can consider yourself to be making good progress.
Social media in particular:
It surprises me that the Birmingham City University is offering this masters degree. It costs £4,400 (USD 6,239) and runs over the course of a year. Mr Jon Hickman in charge of the course says ”During the course we will consider what people can do on Facebook and Twitter, and how they can be used for communication and marketing purposes.” He also says “It’s very relevant and very scholarly. It’s a new course, but its importance is unquestionable.”
Now I, as you know, am a great defender of Universities and think that the work at research level is very important for society. I also believe that undergraduates benefit extrodinarily because they learn important skills like working alone, doing research, learning presentation skills, how to draft documents and a whole host of practical things. I believe that the course content is also valuable but the profession is generally learnt on the job.
Samir Balwani said “I can understand a class on “new media” but not a degree in social media”
You also all know that I have a rather scientific approach to SEO and social media on this blog (not always on the job!) and that I am also quite “scholarly”. I have to admit that the only reason I can do that is because I spent a lot of time learning all about the job right from discovering what meta-tags were. Now I’m in a position to play with what I know. Being scholarly about it in my experience doesn’t get you very far, because that’s not how the profession works.
In fact reading computer science papers or statistics about business will not help you learn about SEO. What will is asking questions to the best people in the business, reading, doing, doing, doing. Once that’s done, the playground is all yours! The scientific papers and articles I write about are my way of opening up the conversation on new things, and also because I think they’re relevant. It’s fair to say that it’s confusing if you don’t know the basics.
So…”scholarly” isn’t a good thing to read in a Social Media course description.
The course is aimed at media and social science graduates. The University is said to have a “thriving social media scene”. I can tell you that they do have a twitter account which is very active and powered by James Robertson. There is also a Facebook group, and no doubt more social media presence. I am really pleased to see a University getting involved like that, it’s commendable and I wish more Universities would do it.
There is also on the MA the chance to go out on placement which is really useful, and I agree when they say that:
“It will aid your engagement as a researcher (from the inside) as well as finding ways in which your postgraduate skills and learning can be applied outside of academia as well as in the pursuit of further research (for those who wish to develop down those avenues).”
I do however think that the list of jobs that they suggest that you can go into as a result of doing the course is a little off. You’ll find a list on the course description. Some of the roles like “Become a social media consultant” feel a bit ambitious seeing as in the industry we haven’t even agreed if it’s a separate role to seo or an extension and there are other arguments too.
I think that Social Media does not belong in isolation to the rest of online marketing. Treating it in isolation does not help either the social media expert, the businesses involved or the profession. I doubt that having a masters in social media would help your career prospects much in the job market either. Experience is gold. Someone who has successfully launched social media campaigns for a handful of interesting clients is far more impressive in my book than any degree holder.
There are also organisations like SEMPO who provide specialist training and I promise that all of the material you need is available online:
There are many many many more good resources…