Some Students Should Avoid Social Media MBAs: A response to U.S. News & World Report

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I am a graduate student at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) finishing up the second semester toward my MBA in Social Media Marketing. I am very happy with the program thus far. The curriculum is just what I was hoping for—the core of a traditional Master’s in Business Administration with an emphasis on marketing and, more specifically, social media. I didn’t choose this program simply because the term “social media” was in its title, nor did I assume that a social media marketing concentration negated the kind of work that an MBA typically carries with it. I chose to pursue an MBA because I wanted to learn about the operations of business and build a foundation for leadership down the road, as well as understand more about the science behind marketing. I chose to pursue this MBA, one that focuses on social media marketing, because I am very interested in learning more about how the two (business and social media) work together. It’s right there on the SNHU website: “A social media MBA provides business leaders a platform to learn the best ways to leverage this medium for business success.”

A recent article from U.S. News & World Report titled “Avoid Social Media M.B.A.s, Some Students Say” struck a few nerves with me. Of course I’m going to be defensive when an article warns me against something I’m already doing. But then this article mentioned my school, Southern New Hampshire University. Then a quote from a social media professional the article referenced confused me. And then the SNHU student quoted in the article puzzled me. I read the article and then stewed about it for an entire weekend. Boiled down, my issues are as follows.

First, this statement about graduate programs with social media concentrations from someone who manages social media for a university: “…most students already know how to use social media. ‘The spin would be how to use it in a business setting. I don’t think you would have three classes worth of material for that,’ she says.”

I understand the skepticism. My own skepticism pushed me to do my research before I chose my program. What I don’t understand is this reasoning behind the skepticism. “Students already know how to use social media?” Surely someone who “handles social media” professionally understands that students and businesses might—and most definitely should—use social media in different ways. I do think that students understand the mechanics of using Facebook and Twitter, but those students (I’m including myself here) might have much to learn about strategy, measurement, and marketing campaigns. I’d like to think that if anyone is convinced of the wealth there is to learn about social media, it’s the person engaging in social media professionally.

Second, and most vexing, was the perspective of the SNHU student that was quoted in the article.

[The student] says she was required to take 14 classes before she could take a social media course. She was also disappointed to learn there were only three courses in social media in the program. “A year ago, social media—Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter—was more exciting than it is today. I have started to feel like it is a fad and that next year there will be something else new and exciting to help people communicate. I really wish that I had gotten a global M.B.A. and then just shadowed or interned with someone in the [social media] field,” she says. “I would not recommend [the social media M.B.A.]—at least at SNHU.”

Okay. Does this not lead us to believe that the student didn’t know how the SNHU program was structured until she was in the midst of it? Having just gone through the process of enrolling in this very program, I just don’t understand how that’s possible. Before signing up for my first class, I was well aware of the program requirements and class offerings. In fact, the courses are outlined very neatly on the SNHU website. Meanwhile, this MBA in Social Media Marketing program is still an MBA. Isn’t that the point? Why would someone seek out an MBA program without an interest in, say, business or administration?

And this? “A year ago, social media—Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter—was more exciting than it is today. I have started to feel like it is a fad and that next year there will be something else new and exciting to help people communicate. I really wish that I had gotten a global M.B.A….” A program concentration or even an entire degree in social media is never going to be about keeping Facebook or Twitter exciting, or about whichever specific social network will be next. Social media are tools that can help us build communities, engage audiences, and strengthen the brands of our businesses. Social media work with all of the other tools available to us. We need to know how to use them all. Together. At least that’s how this MBA student sees it.

All in all, some of the points in the U.S. News & World Report article are fair. Social media as a field is relatively new, and I agree that we should be wary of “experts.” That said, the denouncers of social media MBAs in this article were less than convincing. Perhaps the title of the article should be updated to read, “Some Students Should Avoid Social Media M.B.A.s.” Perhaps a social media MBA isn’t for everyone.

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17 thoughts on “Some Students Should Avoid Social Media MBAs: A response to U.S. News & World Report

  1. Great points here. I would also add that students DO NOT know how to use social media. I am not saying all students but I am saying a majority of them do not understand appropriate personal content and certainly not content appropriate for business.
    As someone who manages social media on a daily basis, I think it is great to have an advanced degree specializing in Social Media Marketing. Like Marketing Research or Advertising, this is just carving out another niche under the Marketing umbrella.

  2. Alaina,

    Great post. Just because some students can write doesn’t mean that they don’t need to focus on their writing in a serious & disciplined way. Just because students can create a video doesn’t mean that they won’t benefit from immersion in video production if they want to use their skills professionally. And there’s a hell of a lot more to doing social media professionally than tweeting from your iPhone.

    Michael

  3. I couldn’t have said that better myself. The advising staff at SNHU goes above and beyond to educate the students on the prospective program and as an educated adult it is your responsibility to research the program you are applying for. The point is to receive a MBA and have the diverse background of the social media element.

    Well said and thank you!

  4. I had heard about this program, read the article you’re referencing, read your response, and to an extent I still side with USNWP.

    For me the question is about market demand. Are companies willing to pay MBA-level salaries to people who run social media? The market hasn’t shown that. If anything, it feels like companies place less value on social media-centric marketers than traditional marketers. The availability of social media jobs is very low compared to other digital marketing jobs.

    I’m also curious–which classes do you have to give up to incorporate social media classes/curriculum? The opportunity cost needs to be factored in.

    On the flip side, if you can become a social media marketer that can prove direct ROI through your activities and expertise (especially when it comes to content creation, promotion, SEO-support, cross-promotion, etc), then you can demand whatever salary you want. And that’s often easier to do in social media than traditional marketing that relies largely on ad budgets.

    • Scott,

      By the time I have completed my MBA at SNHU I will have taken 15 classes. Only three are on social media. The thing that I feel people are missing that do not feel that social media is a legitimate course of study is that we are not studying social media, we are studying marketing that has a focus on social media. I did not skip any courses to build up on social media, I took all the same classes as a regular MBA student plus three extra marketing classes. The MBA degree program at UMASS is only 37 credits, I will have 45 when I graduate.

      I guess why should a media outlet such as USNWR take the time to put doubt in peoples minds about their degree. There are people that have philosophy degrees, what is the ROI on philosophy? Video games is a degree, creative writing. I am trying to get an understanding of a skill set that is a part of marketing. As far as demand and a company having to pay an MBA salary to their social media person, may be they will not, but they will pay that persons boss that much and the boss does need some understanding of strategy and how to leverage social media marketing.

    • In addition to the response below from “smgatcomb,” I’d add that, for me, pursuing an MBA wasn’t so much about what a company might pay me down the road, but about how I might hone my skills. I don’t want to be a purely social media-centric marketer, but a well-rounded marketer with advanced research in the area of social media. In fact, your point about digital media is well taken and is something I’m also interested in.

    • Lance Umansky

      Scott, people going to this school, particularly online, aren’t getting standard “mba salaries,” anyway. This is a boost to someone already in a job, or a door for someone desperate to switch careers by any means. It’s a way to a $60k job, not a $120k job.

  5. Alaina,
    Excellent points. I’m almost finished with the MS Marketing with a SM Graduate Certificate at SNHU. I was surprised that the SNHU student had to take 14 classes before they could take any SM classes. That’s a lot of hours for that program…..seems to me she didn’t understand the concept of elective courses to fill out her MBA. To my knowledge, I don’t remember there being a requirement for the classes except for MKT 500, which she had to take early on.

    As for the other comments, I think you have covered all the points I would have raised really well.

  6. Alaina,

    Nicely done! I think people often lose sight of the fact that advanced degrees are intended to teach students how to learn and how to stay connected with the world around them. They are not boot camps designed to get people up-to-speed with a particular tool or program.

    Good luck with your degree.

    Ryan

  7. Thanks so much to all of you for your thoughtful comments. I’m really surprised my rant reached so many people! It’s been especially nice to connect with some SNHU faculty and classmates.

    • I’m currently in my third semester at SNHU, and my anticipated graduation date is June 2013. I’m almost halfway through! Phew. I haven’t yet taken any of the social media classes, but I’d be more than happy to answer any questions you have about SNHU or the program thus far.

  8. Ahmed

    Hi Alaina,
    First of all thank you :) second of all would you please tell me how do u find it so far especially the SM course? Actually I’m from Egypt and i’m looking for an MBA with a focus on Social Media

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