Thursday, October 16, 2008

Colleges Fail on Social Media

Are the journalism and communications programs at US colleges preparing students for a business environment shaped by social media and Web 2.0 technologies?

That is the question I pondered as I walked across American University’s campus last week. On the invitation of former Forbes senior writer Matt Swibel, I had just spoken to a class of about 40 sophomore and junior communications majors. The experience had me worried.

The source of my concern was not the quality of students in the class. Far from it. By and large they were an outstanding group. Smart, energetic, inquisitive and focused on how to best prepare to competitively enter the workforce.

Rather, it was the students shocking lack of knowledge of social media. Perhaps I had unrealistic expectations as I was under the impression that the generation now making their way through higher education were raised on IM, blogs, virtual worlds and online communities.

With the exception of an intimate knowledge of the features and functionality of Facebook, this group came up short on even the basic tools of social media.

-Who in the class writes a blog? No one raised their hand.
-Who in the group reads blogs on a regular basis? All quiet.
-OK…how about social networks other than Facebook? Does anyone in this group have a LinkedIn profile? Blank stares.
-Has anyone heard of Twitter or Plurk or Pownce? Those are Disney characters, right?

I spent the better part of the next 90 minutes walking the class through blog publishing platforms like WordPress and Blogger. We explored LinkedIn and its group functionality. We looked at Twitter and talked about the business applications of micro-blogging.

Woven into the discussion were examples of social media programs Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) currently has in place and their related writing requirements.

All in all, my guest slot at American University was fulfilling. I have a passion for social media and enjoy speaking on the topic. The students were engage and (I hope) came away with a better understanding of the skills they need to develop prior to entering the work force.

However, my unease about their lack of social media engagement lingers. Are college journalism and communications programs building this into their curriculum? If not, we sure are doing this generation a disservice.


VandelayIndustries said...

Hi Marc, I am in an online M.A. program with Gonzaga University, and we are required to take a class entitled: The Social Dynamics of Communication Technology, in which we discussed social media at great length... It was one of the best classes I have ever taken, and perhaps held even more significance because of the fact that we are virtual students living all over the country, meeting on the discussion boards... We were also strongly encouraged to maintain blogs, join social networking sites, online communities, as well as LinkedIn. Interesting post about your visit to the undergrads. I also believe that social media is crucial, and should have a strong presence in undergraduate communications curriculum.

Anonymous said...

Interesting question. I read the blog post, and really wasn't very surprised. A recent Universal Mc Cann survey arrived at findings very similar to what "Strategic Guy" posted. Per the survey, pages 18 - 20, seems that U.S. Gen Y don't interact online much past the commercial social networks, like Facebook. So even though "common wisdom" might be that U.S. Gen Y is "constantly connected" via soc med, the reality is quite different.

So, yes. My answer would be that colleges are missing the boat re educating as to the practical uses of soc med.

Dahna Chandler said...

My original belief about Gen Y and social media was, like you, that they had that all locked down. After all, this is the generation of Myspace, Friendster and Facebook, right? Well, like you learned, not so much. And, that's precisely why I've written two articles on my blog, Getting Social Media Savvy" ( addressing college students directly. I tell them, essential, to evolve from Facebook, Myspace, Friendster and other personal social media sites to LinkedIn, Plaxo and Twitter or professional social media sites. I tell them how and why they must do this, espcially in a halting economy. You're right. If they don't start to get this, we're ALL in trouble.

Andrea said...

Hi Marc,

I came across this post via a friend's tweet. Yes, it is true colleges need to step it up and incorporate social media into their core curriculum, however, I think that some schools are already doing a wonderful job and it is not fair for you to judge all PR programs based on one class visit. I am a recent PR graduate (2007) and have made a career out of what I learned about Digital media in class. Check out this post by my former professor and take a few minutes to read some of her student blogs; I think you will be pleasantly surprised:


Katalyn said...

Like Andrea, I came across your blog through a tweet. However, I have to disagree with your post. I am a senior PR student who is currently enrolled in a social media class. Unlike the American University students, my class is well aware of Blogger, Twitter, LinkedIn,, Digg, and many other social networking sites. We have our own profiles on each of these sites and have created our own podcasts.

We have moved beyond using just Facebook, MySpace and AIM. My peers at ONU are very involved in social media and I am saddened that your one experience with one class has given you a negative view about all college students. Come to different sessions at the PRSSA National Conference and you will see that the millennials do know what they are talking about. Give college students another chance before you judge us all.

Marc Hausman said...

@Andrea and @Katalyn -- Thanks for sharing your thoughts as you both make an excellent point -- it's not fair for me to categorize all PR and communications programs (and students) because of one experience.

Yet, I did come away from my presentation at American University concerned and suspect that many other colleges are falling down when it comes to social media training. As such, I chose to take a combative approach in crafting my blog post.

This is an important issue because of the continued acceleration of social media adoption. As an employer, I am dependent upon our university system to produce high quality professionals with the baseline skills and knowledge.

From your comments, it appears that each of you are well on your way to building a successful career in communications.

Julien said...

I rencently graduated from College in Public Relations and then went on to work in Social Media for a Canadian Political Party.

While I had not learned anything on the subject in College, it did not take me very long to learn most of the basics and I found that what I had learned in College served me well.

Furthermore, most Social Media practices are experimental and one would be hard pressed to do more than 1 course on the matter.

MK said...

Every now and then when I'm on Twitter I go to the "everyone" page and came across your page because I'm just starting my marketing/communications career and am really interested in all this good stuff. Your blog post seems to have pretty great timing: Today I went to a panel discussion @ Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) about the evolution of mass media and the emergence of new media. The panel and moderator, all seasoned media professionals in TV, print or radio comm, posed the question to the audience of largely RIT students: "What can WE do to entice your demographic to read our paper/listen to our talk radio program/watch our 5pm newscast?" There were few answers and the ones presented barely brushed on new media. Funny enough, as I looked around the room there were kids checking their BlackBerrys and looking at their iPod Videos. Answers included, "We like entertainment, have more entertainment stories." I'm barely any older than these kids, but I couldn't believe that they weren't screaming out, "Podcasts! Blogs! Radio receivers on iPods!" I thought it was an obvious and relevant part of my demographic when it comes to engaging us.
I'm glad I'm not the only one that is a bit concerned about the lack of awareness of new media and how these forms are providing an amazing platform for strategic communications.

Nidhi Mathson said...

Excellent post Marc. Interestingly, I was at an Emerson College Internship fair as a recruiter and was very happy to hear the students themselves tell me about the changing landscape of media. Some students are quite well-versed on the issue, however, it seems few schools are making it a mandatory topic in the journalism classes or even PR classes where it should be mandatory.

Jun Loayza said...

Hey Marc, I know exactly how you feel. The only extent of an undergraduates knowledge about social media is Facebook.

I have actually developed my own Social Media Marketing Program based on the fact that universities don't teach it. I interview and select a team of 10 undergraduates across the country and teach them about entrepreneurship, social media, and marketing.

When undergraduates are exposed to the benefits of blogging, they usually don't understand it. They ask, "Where is the money in that?"

I am creating a Vlog that will hopefully teach undergraduates and young professionals about social media in a fun and productive way

- Jun Loayza

Evelyn McCormack said...

Marc: An interesting post! I'm a school PR person with what often seems like the very lonely job of informing school PR folks, public school officials and others about Social Media. My two college-age kids both have Facebook pages, which I also have for business and networking. But when I told them about LinkedIn, blank stares. When I told my son, who has a blog, about Digg, Delicious and Stumbleupon, he asked me to do the coding for his blog. You might also be interested in my blog post about how colleges and universities are way behind on the social media front:
If no one is teaching them this stuff, how will they learn about it? And if the colleges don't use social media, then who will?

Mike McCready said...

I agree with you and I'm still shocked. I help teach a college course in multimedia production. I am very active in social media and wanted to poll the students. No one read a blog, wrote in a blog, heard of Twitter, etc. They did know Facebook though. err.

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JCTech said...

Hi Marc- just found your blog and I will be spending some time reading through, but this post caught my attention as I was searching for colleges and universities that have social media programs. I'm very involved in a tech/media startup, and our business model includes a heavy emphasis on using social media to build brand awareness. We are currently recruiting interns (and employees)nationwide. It has been over a year an a half since this post - are there any schools that you are aware of that now have strong programs in social media?

Marc Hausman said...

@JCTech - thanks for stopping by the blog and for the kind words.

I haven't closely followed social media adoption in university curriculum. However, you may want to check out this social network for college-level PR students:

I suspect if you post this question to one of the discussion forums you'll get plenty of feedback.

Hope this helps!