You're getting a social media degree? Good luck

OPINION

(Handout )
December 13, 2012|By Matt Lindner @mattlindner | For RedEye

Great news for high school students who can't seem to tear themselves away from their social media accounts--you can now go to college and spend four years earning a degree in social media.

No, seriously.

Newberry College in rural Newberry, S.C., recently announced it'd be the first accredited university to offer a major and minor in social media, incorporating courses in graphic design, business administration, psychology and statistics into a curriculum with specific social media courses. At current rates, it's a degree that will cost you--or your parents--nearly $100,000 over a four-year period to earn.

If that sounds ridiculous to you, you're not alone. The idea of spending an entire semester learning how to craft a tweet that will resonate or build a company Facebook page has me wanting to go back to college just for that reason alone because it's not something you need to spend four years studying to figure out how to do.

Don't mention that to anyone who does social media for a living because they'll be quick to point out that their jobs aren't easy. And to an extent, they're right.

Social media has become one of the most underutilized and misunderstood marketing tools in the business world. It seems like everyone who has a Facebook or a Twitter account these days classifies themselves as a "social media expert," which is funny because everyone has a butt but Chicago isn't exactly teeming with people who call themselves proctologists.

And therein lies the problem. Social media is one of the most rapidly evolving forms of emerging media in existence. Skills that are relevant today didn't exist 18 months ago and will likely be outdated by the time those aspiring social media wizards finish their degree. If we've learned anything from the rise and fall in various social mediums over the years, it's that nothing is forever when it comes to our desire to overshare.

As Chicago Tribune social media editor Scott Kleinberg told me, "the problem with a degree in something as fast-changing as social media is it's always changing. There are basic rules that you can learn and that's helpful. I'm just not sure a degree solely in that makes sense when you can major in multimedia journalism and learn social media from that."

Kleinberg, for the record, holds two degrees in journalism and I have degrees in psychology and journalism. And he's right.

In an increasingly competitive work environment, putting all your eggs in one basket hampers your ability to get a job. There's no doubt that colleges should be offering courses in social media as part of a business or marketing curriculum to augment traditional course loads. Students do need to be taught how social media impacts a brand's image in the marketplace and how, if used correctly, it can be used to drive sales. That's something that can be taught in a semester, though, as part of a more balanced curriculum, not something that needs to be spread out over four years.

Social media, while a valuable part of any company's marketing strategy, is at the end of the day still a minor player in the big picture. The fact remains that the demand for social media jobs exponentially exceeds the supply. Students who approach college with that sort of tunnel vision that they only want to be a social media manager someday are ultimately setting themselves up for failure in the workplace.

There are plenty of ways for people to become adept social media professionals without limiting themselves academically. While offering a degree in social media might be good for Newberry College's admissions numbers, in the long run, it's not necessarily the smartest choice for students looking to get the most out of their four years of college.

Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.


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