I found the Fortune Tech article that Ryan Holmes (CEO of Hootsuite) interesting and I have to say while he makes some points to consider for universities when it comes to social media.  Yes, there are professors at universities that either 1) do not value social media; 2) do not know what social media is (I actually had a professor tell me that email was social media – really.) or 3) trying to say that it is just a “fad.”

This is not the first time I have seen articles or others comment about where social media is at in higher education.  I have heard several versions of each of these, and they do still exist presently at several universities across disciplines around the US. Professors are battling several elements with new technology sometimes internally – whether these are gatekeepers that want to keep things “traditional” or other obstacles, we have to address these while making sure we are actively engaged in both the academic and practitioner communities.

However, there are points where I do disagree with Ryan in his article in Fortune Tech.  As a consultant in PR, I do understand the growing need for having the latest tools and perspectives when it comes to social media to make sure we prepare our students for the workplace.  Yet, labeling all universities to be behind the curve is not entirely fair to state. There are many researchers I know not only in PR, but also in systems engineering, psychology, and other disciplines, who are really changing the game when it comes to their research on the subject.  In addition, these same professors are engaged in the classroom as well to make sure we pass along latest issues, trends, and skills expected from the workplace with our students.

With this in mind, here are some things I would like to point out:

  • Universities are engaged in cutting edge research when it comes to the classroom as well as practice:  Many schools like University of Colorado are leading certain disciplines like crisis informatics and crisis communications when it comes to social media practices with their research. MIT, USC, Michigan State, and Stanford are all universities looking at the growing changes in technology as well as what skills and issues need to be addressed in the classroom – but these universities were not mentioned in the Fortune article.
  • Professors are continuing to be cutting edge with incorporating technology in their classroom across disciplines:  Several professors in the public relations and communication field are leading the way when it comes to not only discussing social media, but incorporating the tools as part of the overall social experience that is strategically managed and engaged across communities with the students. Professors like Robert French (Auburn University), Serena Carpenter (Michigan State), and Marcus Messner (VCU) are just a few that are transforming social media strategically for public relations in particular.
  • Universities have established research centers dedicated to monitoring and engaging in social media for faculty and students: University of Colorado, Clemson, and University of Washington have established social media command centers that have been incorporated into the various curriculum at these universities.  Faculty and staff of these centers are training students with the latest technologies and trends not only from a research focused perspective, but also from an applied perspective.
  • Professors presently have to have a hybrid mentality when it comes to their role as a scholar:  More than ever, professors not only have to be aware of the theories associated of course with the academic literature and science of their field, but they have to be actively engaged in the professional community and understand how to apply and strategically use their findings and tools to help businesses, agencies, and other organizations.  Several professors consult on the side in their specialized areas besides their research and teaching obligations.
  • Social media is not only about certain tools, but a focus on the overall social experience:  Brian Solis recently had an interview with Sephora that discussed how the company was using social media not only for the specific platforms, but for the overall social experience.  This is one of the perspectives professors are now taking with their classes – they are focusing on the strategies and integration of these various platforms together to complete the overall social experience of the audience. We are teaching our students it is not only about the various tools out there, but using each platform for a strategic purpose as well as the growing need to encourage inspiration, creativity, and telling our stories through these experiences in various multimedia formats.
  • Social media classes focusing more on strategies instead of tools:  There are classes in social media dedicated to focusing on just what tools are out there and we do know that college students are digital natives with the various platforms, but what we can offer for students as professors as guidance on how to use these platforms for a professional setting as well as for managing their personal reputation.
As a professor who will be teaching and designing a social media class this upcoming spring semester at the University of Louisville, I do welcome an open discussion with Ryan on how we can bridge these gaps that are identified when it comes to social media in the classroom.
We need to have an open dialogue between practitioners in the workplace as well as businesses and the academic community. So, Ryan –  I am just a tweet/update/email away – let’s get the conversation started so we can work together to help students studying social media be the best they can be for their future employers.
Hope you all are having a great day.
Best Wishes,