Next fall, Newberry College in Newberry, South Carolina, is planning to offer both a major and minor in social media. AP file photo.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest — it’s no secret that college students are very familiar with these social media platforms, but starting in the fall of 2013, students at Newberry College in South Carolina will have the option to make them a part of their coursework.
Recognizing the growing professional use of these sites, the school is offering a new major and minor in social media.
According to the McKinsey Global Institute, 72 percent of companies use social technologies in some way, and these technologies could potentially contribute $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in annual value to the economy.
Social media is not going anywhere, and that is one of the reasons Tania Sosiak, an associate professor of graphic design at Newberry College, decided a social media curriculum was necessary.
“More and more businesses are using it,” she said. “I think even small businesses are starting to see how social media can benefit their daily business. You’re going to see more and more small businesses utilize social media in a way that maybe they weren’t able to do before.”
Along with four new social media courses, students will study graphic design, communications, business administration, psychology and statistics.
“With social media, it’s not just learning how to use Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn,” Sosiak said. “You have to know how to look at data and research and analyze it. You have to also be a creative person and be able to design and develop. That’s why I felt like it really needed to be cross-disciplined. You have to be able to do a little bit of everything.”
Ellie Moen, a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, agrees that a major in social media needs to be taught to students in an interdisciplinary fashion.
“There’s more to social media than just logging onto Facebook,” she said. “If they want to learn the ins and outs of it, there’s advertising, marketing, communications.”
Joe Oliva, a senior at Illinois, interned at a Fortune 500 company and saw how it employed a lot of people whose job titles specifically related to social media.
“It’s important for universities to adapt to the current technological climate,” Oliva said. “Right now companies are looking especially for young people who are experts in social media.”
However, Oliva is unsure if it is necessary to create a new major for a field that borrows so much from other areas.
“I think if it was made a major in itself, it would overlap too much with other majors,” he said. “There’s too much overlap between that major and communications.”
Being able to borrow from other fields and work with faculty in other disciplines is what Sosiak believes makes the major strong.
Assignments could include developing a brand and using social media and statistical tools to market products and analyze their popularity. Newberry has a strong service-learning component, and students in the social media curriculum might fulfill that by developing social media campaigns that address community needs.
“Besides helping to develop skills for their professional career later on, they get to see that they can make a huge difference on a much larger scale than just using it to stay in touch with their friends,” Sosiak said.
Although it might seem that students of the digital age know more about social media than the professors teaching them, Sosiak said students will be taught how to use the applications as tools.
Sosiak hopes to teach students how to become critical thinkers as well as innovators in business, non-profit work, news, community service and other careers.
“They may know more about Facebook and Twitter than I do,” she said. “But it’s like saying just because you know a lot about Photoshop doesn’t mean you know everything about design. You may know a lot about the applications, but there’s a lot more to social media and all of the perimeters of it.”
Sosiak said that although some do not understand how a curriculum can be created around social media, the key is to be flexible and adjust coursework as the technology changes.
“That’s why I don’t think you can write textbooks on something like this,” she said. “The technology changes so much and you have to be willing to be flexible and be broadminded and be able to constantly be willing to address the changes.”
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