by Courtney Stinson
While Facebooking and tweeting in class are still taboo, The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s new graduate certificate program in social networking will begin teaching students to use social media tools for more than sharing their spring break pictures, starting this fall.
Students of the social networking program will learn to use a variety of social media, create social media campaigns, and use analytics and performance indicators to measure outcomes. Molly Wasko, UAB associate professor and MISQ chair, said learning to use these tools is particularly important for interacting with customers.
“So much of how our consumers are expecting us to interact with an organization is through social media.” Wasko said. “Given how much effort it takes to maintain a social media presence, companies really have to be thoughtful of the way they use these tools because it’s a direct line into their consumers.”
There is currently not a wide availability of educational programming focused solely on social media, but with its prevalence in the business world, the social networking certificate allows students to hone social networking skills as a professional body of knowledge.
The social networking program consists of four courses – two per semester – including web analytics, social media and virtual communities in business, intro to business intelligence and a social media course approved by an advisor. Students can expect a workload of 10 hours per week for each class, a typical workload for a graduate program.
“This is something that we can offer in lieu of some type of professional certification,” Wasko said. “What [the program] does is develop the skills around how to leverage social media as part of your business strategy.”
The social media certificate may be especially useful for professionals who have not grown up with social media tools or used them in academic settings because they simply did not exist. However, there is plenty for more recent graduates to gain from the program even if they are familiar with social media, Wasko said.
“For older professionals who may not have social media skills because the technology just wasn’t available, [the program] is essential because so much of our contact with our consumers will be through social media going forward,” Wasko said. “For newly minted grads, while they are great consumers of social media, understanding how to use those skills to develop a career around social media is important as well.”
Social networking is a critical part of the job for Birmingham public relations professional Ashlan Yielding. Yielding said the social networking certificate could be a valuable tool for marketing and business professionals looking to expand their professional toolbox.
“Over the past three or four years, social media has evolved into something the business world never anticipated. Effective marketing on social media is a necessary tool for a vast majority of industries out there,” Yielding said. “Whether you’re on social media for personal or professional purposes, everyone can benefit from knowing the ins and outs of these platforms and what we should be doing with them.”
In the public relations industry, Yielding deals with constant change. Adapting to that change and how it relates to their work and clients is a major task for her and her co-workers.
“Social media is always changing. It’s our job to stay on top of the latest with each social media platform, inform our clients of those changes and implement new strategies on how we need to move forward in managing a presence on these platforms. Our department is constantly sending emails to each other with the latest updates on what’s going on so we’re on top of these things,” she said.
Much of the social networking program deals with learning to use available social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, but with the world of social media in a constant state of evolution, the program teaches students to adapt foundational knowledge to these tools.
“The foundational knowledge of business is strategy and developing evaluation systems, those things don’t change,” Wasko said.