Business Schools Respond to Demand for Use of Social Media
As companies increasingly use social media for marketing campaigns, they are having to learn from some very public online blunders. In Habitat’s case, it blamed an “overenthusiastic intern” for the spam-like promotional messages. The lesson: social media are not marketing toys to be handled by interns but a professional communications channels that require understanding of the technology and the community that uses it.
Brands might be alert to the power of social media to engage consumers on a personal level, but there is still a strong demand at the hiring end for candidates possessing the skills to turn these online channels into effective marketing platforms.
Mark Begley, who is head of creative and design recruitment at Major Players, a London-based recruitment company, is one of the recruiters under pressure to supply this demand.
“Most of the job specs we are receiving have a requirement for social media knowledge,” Mr. Begley said. “However, a limited number of candidates actually have that experience.”
To meet this demand for education in social media strategy, several top business schools are incorporating courses on social networks into their M.B.A. curriculums. These include Harvard Business School; London Business School; Insead, the international business school based in Fontainebleau, France; and the École des Hautes Études Commerciales, known as H.E.C., in Paris.
M.B.A. curriculums are geared toward students with business intelligence, knowledge of communication trends and a flair for innovation. Social network courses aim to build on their existing skills to teach an understanding of social media, of how to build marketing strategies within social networks and of how to track their effectiveness.
Industry experience is important: knowing how to upload a video to YouTube, or contribute to a Wikipedia page, is not enough. “When it comes to interviewing younger graduates for social media-focused roles,” said Mr. Begley, “they might live and breathe this way of communicating in their personal lives, but the problem is that they can’t transfer this experience into the commercial world.”
Professor Andrew Stephen, an assistant professor of marketing at Insead, offers an “advertising and social media strategy” M.B.A. elective. He is now teaching the course at Insead’s Fontainebleau campus, following a first run of the elective at the university’s Singapore site. Student enthusiasm is such that the course is offered three times in the academic year.
“Social media is the ‘Wild West’ of advertising and marketing communications channels,” Professor Stephen has written in his course outline for students. “It is a fast-growing, ever-evolving, innovative, and entrepreneurial space that, despite its increasing ubiquity, is not well understood from a strategic marketing perspective.”
Because of the relative newness of social media and their rapid evolution, there is no assigned textbook for the course. Students are expected to follow industry-specific blogs like Mashable and Groundswell to keep up with developments.
Professor Stephen has developed the course content largely through speaking to people involved in the social media industry, and listening to the issues they deal with on a strategic level. The classes are a combination of original lectures, guest lectures and case discussions of recent social media marketing campaigns. Students are also required to participate in a team project in which they develop and implement social media marketing strategies for real-world clients.
As part of the most recent course at Fontainebleau, students will work on a project for the luxury brand Hermès, generating detailed social media marketing strategy ideas for the brand. The idea for the project came last year when Professor Stephen heard Robert Chavez, the chief executive of Hermès U.S.A., talking at Columbia Business School about how brands like Hermès should be using social media as part of their marketing and public relations efforts.
Like Professor Stephen’s course, classes in “Internet Marketing” at London Business School revolve around real, hands-on projects with actual clients.
“This is a learn-by-doing class,” Professor Daniel Goldstein, assistant professor of marketing at L.B.S., wrote on the syllabus outline for the M.B.A. elective he taught last year. The course required that students participate in the 2009 Google Online Marketing Challenge, in which teams were given $200 worth of free online advertising with Google AdWords to work with businesses to devise effective online marketing campaigns.
Professor Goldstein, who is on leave from L.B.S. while working as a research scientist for Yahoo in New York, asked that students, in the spirit of the course, reduce paper use to the minimum by substituting online tools for storing and exchanging information.
Students had to create and keep individual blogs, comment on the blog posts of their peers and contribute regularly to the class collaborative wiki. Through engagement with online media platforms — from being able to modify the software that runs them, to participating in online conversations — the aim was to teach students technical skills, as well as an understanding of the psychology behind interactions online.
There is little known for sure about what works, in terms of marketing strategies, on the Internet. For this reason the class at L.B.S. also emphasized the importance of empiricism in online marketing strategy.
“It’s about testing things, and not about ‘Mad Men’-style intuition,” Professor Goldstein said, referring to the popular U.S. television series about whiskey-soaked advertising executives in 1960s New York.
At Harvard Business School, Professor Mikolaj Jan Piskorski, associate professor of business administration, is offering a second-year elective course on “competing with social networks,” as part of that school’s M.B.A. program.
Professor Piskorski also teaches students to look past their own “Facebook bias” to understand the complexities of different social media platforms, and the people that use them.
“Very often our perception of social media, and what we can and can’t do using social media, is very much tinted by what we think our favorite person is doing — and our favorite person is usually ourselves,” he said in a telephone interview from Boston. “So, it is about getting students to understand that the empirical skills are absolutely necessary, because whatever they think is intuitively correct, is probably correct about themselves, but nobody else.”
Offered since 2008, the course is taught predominantly via case studies of online social networking and content-sharing Web sites like MySpace, YouTube, Friendster, LinkedIn, and Wikipedia. It also studies niche social networks like Meetup, which organizes offline meetings between people.
Professor Piskorski said company executives were usually invited to contribute to lectures.
As at Insead and London Business School, guest lecturers are crucial to the course. “I tell the students, the class is called ‘competing with social networks,’ so it better be the case that I practice what I preach: I help the students form networks as well,” he said. At least 12 visiting lecturers participated in the course last year, including the chief executive of the dating network eHarmony and executives from LinkedIn and MySpace, he added.
The high level of engagement of top digital media professionals with these courses has reciprocal benefits: The students get to learn from the skills and experience of the executives, while the companies get to make contact with potential future hires with the skills needed to exploit social media channels for commercial gain.
It is not only in digital media that social media know-how is valued. These are skills that are increasingly valued in many areas of business, including public relations and marketing, technology and software development and management consultancy — to say nothing of entrepreneurs’ using social media channels to promote their start-ups.
Bringing students and professionals together in this way is also closing the gap that exists between education and the commercial world.
“In general, higher education is becoming work-force-readiness-aware and much more skills-based with regards to students’ experience and exposure inside of the curriculum,” Anthony Salcito, vice president of worldwide education at Microsoft, said during a telephone interview from Seattle last month. “We are seeing institutions embrace much more competency-based skills development for students, and this includes understanding how to embrace social media technologies.”
Students entering university studies today have grown up with access to computers and the Internet and have years of experience in using online social networks to make connections and share information. Now that businesses are realizing the commercial potential of these social media networks, the universities need to teach their students how to turn their knowledge of these new media channels to profitable use, Mr. Salcito said.
“Just as we saw with digital — with things like creating Web sites or Web-based business — there is a need for immediate transformation in the educational environment,” to keep pace with these fast-emerging developments in the business world, he said.
Microsoft Education has multiple initiatives focused on making the best use of new technologies to transform education in ways that match the innovations in the commercial world.
Business is driving the innovative process for now, with education chasing to catch up. But Mr. Salcito says that pretty soon those roles will be reversed by a generation of students whose vocabulary has always included words like blog, wiki and widget.
“Soon, students who have grown up with these technologies will come to be the ones providing answers to new industries as they leave university,” he said.
About time Indian B-Schools introduced Social Marketing and Social Business Strategies into their courses too
Am willing to take up these courses for B Schools interested… 🙂