Gaining a Formal Social Media Education in a DIY World

By: Guest | July 19, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is written by Martin Waxman.

Social media education started off DIY.

That’s what differentiates it from many other forms of marketing communications.

In social media, anyone can try the platforms, learn enough to be dangerous and, with a few clicks, become a video producer, community manager, content curator, published writer, or any combination of the above.

That said, understanding the craft and mastery all take time. Which brings us back to the DIY nature of social media; requiring reading, clicking, testing, participating, measuring, repeating…

But as social media moves into the mainstream, a more formalized type of social media education is beginning to emerge; one that provides instruction in a classroom setting and grants accreditation, certificates, or degrees.

Spin Sucks reader Dana Wilson, asked about social media education and if there’s anywhere she could go for a degree.  She found one program, an MBA with a specialty in social media from Southern New Hampshire University.

Many academic institutions have yet to establish distinct social media programs, though they’re heading in that direction. Right now, if you’re looking to be educated in social media beyond self-learning, there are a number of options.

First – and this isn’t a paid commercial announcement because I’m a guest blogger – check out Spin Sucks Pro, which offers a strategic approach via a range of online resources for all levels.

Before you make a decision, here are a few tips for choosing the right course of action for you:

  • Figure out what you want – work upgrade, certificate, or degree.
  • Research the instructors. Are they credible practitioners, thought-leaders, or academics? Do they speak, write?  Are they good teachers?
  • Crowdsource – ask friends/colleagues in social channels if they’ve taken any courses and could provide recommendations.
  • Adapt and recalibrate if the course or certificate is not giving you what you need.

In a world that’s changing as rapidly as ours, we need to become lifelong learners. Social media has reinforced that. And that’s a good thing. However, formal courses simply complement the DIY nature of online communications and it’s just as important to continue to participate.

We’re interested to hear about any courses you’ve found – the good and the bad.

Martin Waxman is a senior counselor for our Canadian partner firm, Thornley Fallis. He is a social media and communications strategist, founder of three PR agencies, blogger at myPALETTEInside PR co-host, @martinwaxman on Twitter, social media instructor, and former fiction writercomedy MC, and Winnipegger.

  • I don’t know all the details, but Full Sail in Florida offers both an undergrad and Masters program in Internet Marketing, and I believe you can take it on campus as well as online. My one nephew is in the undergrad program, while a friend is about to start the graduate level program.  And I’m just putting that out there with little knowledge of the quality of the program. I do know that they have had some pretty big names as guest speakers, and they do a good job of placement once you graduate.

    •  @KenMueller Thanks Ken. Interested to hear more about what they think.

  • dcabfab

    @ginidietrich TY-Great piece! So tired of non-experts who seem to have the most to say. Stop w/the chats & start learning! 🙂 @martinwaxman

  • sduda702

    @HealthIsSocial Exactly! Read my essay& RT #ALS/social media importance

  • We could actually do so many follow-ups to this post – conferences, books, accredited programs, etc. 
    Nothing beats actually putting it into practice. I think some of the best in the business are those who have used it on their own businesses and then expanded it to help others. 
    As well, those of us on the agency side – we experiment with our own agencies and then put it into practice for our clients. It’s still so young but eventually all this stuff (if it isn’t already) will be baked into the university curricula. For now, everyone realizes it’s a matter of experimentation. The sooner you can see something is not working, the better, so you can modify. We have one client in particular who says, “I’m not afraid to fail.” all the time. THere are several jokes there, but in all seriousness, that’s the beauty of all this digital stuff; you can find out quickly what isn’t working and fix it right away!

    • Great point @Lisa Gerber ! Soon social media will part of the educational establishment. But until then, we need to put on our lab coats, experiment and adapt. Participation is so important.   

  • martinwaxman

    Thx! RT @mdbarber Need some formal classes in soc media? @martinwaxman has some ideas on how to do that on SpinSucks

    • brookscappadoci

      @martinwaxman @mdbarber great advice

  • jfuncannon

    I definitely appreciated this post. As a recent college PR graduate, I definitely felt that I had to teach myself social media. Granted, I had LOTS of help and I sought out as much information as I could, but as I grew up in central Illinois- it was hard to have full frontal access to what I wanted. It will be nice to see social media being more integrated into the college curriculum. I really believe that it’s important to learn. I mean look at me- it’s now my profession! 🙂 Thanks for the post, great read! 

  •  @martinwaxman Thanks for this post. I found this piece really useful and I guess it is only a matter of time before it will be part of the establishment. I really do feel that it is really important to be clear why you want to study social media and be really clear about what you are looking for. Its such a wide subject, it is easy to get lost.

    • Thanks @John_Murphy  – it sure is easy to get lost – or to be in a constant head-swimming state. The formal educational part needs to include some communications and network theory, so people have a better understanding of how to approach a situation strategically and then implement tools that help you reach your goals.

  • martinwaxman

    @AlisonGJ Thanks Alison!

  • I can definitely see technical classes in the marketing/advertising, communications or computer science programs of schools becoming important offerings.
    That said my biggest concern with webinars and classes people pay for from the ‘Social Media’ world might include a ton of spin and bias. Like Social Media Week will be biased with a very pro-social media spin on anything they teach is my expectations. I would be much more likely to take someone seriously who took Spin Sucks Pro seminars than something put on by Facebook or Brian Solis.
    But the web rocks for DIY everything from cooking to design to learning languages. If people want to learn they can. I think what kind of content a person seeks to learn and from what source is critical. You gave readers definitely some good guidance @martinwaxman 

    •  Appreciate your perspective @HowieSPM . In any formal educational setting, it’s important to study all sides of a subject and integrate different points of view and critical thinking so that you come away with a deeper understanding. I find that with an open, yet inquisitive mind, you can get a lot out of many sessions – especially if you can separate the nuggets from the cheerleading.

  • The funny thing about marketing that I’ve found is that a bit of DIY and street smarts have always been necessary for real success. You cannot get by on classes alone. Sometimes, you need to go out and make some serious mistakes, so you create real world learning opportunities for yourself.
    That said, I don’t frown on any sort of formal training if it is honest and holistic. I gave a class for SCORE last night to small business owners on Social Media Marketing. I spent the majority of the class talking about buyer personas and crafting a quality user experience. I think many course teach tricks. But, and you figure this out pretty quickly, the ones that are legit teach lessons that transcend all social channels. Oh, and buy Marketing in the Round, it’s badass.

    • Thanks @jonmikelbailey ! Agree about Marketing in the Round – it’s got lots of terrific insights!  You’re right that formal education won’t replace good old experience and curiosity – trying something new!

    •  @jonmikelbailey Ha! I’m going to have to start paying you for comments like this one.

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  • WiattJones

    @JonMikelBailey @spinsucks
    Typical of emerging occupations, it takes a long time for colleges, certifications, and training to catch up.

  • Great guest post Martin.  I agree that social media can be taught. Everything can be taught to an extent.  For example, someone can learn about the different platforms, SEO, etiquette, marketing, writing, digital strategy, content management.  However, more than most disciplines, I don’t think anyone can become an expert and can be qualified to provide counsel on social media without having their own experience building their personal brand using social media, curating their own content, trying (and failing) at different tactics.  In order to really counsel on social media, you need to have a “feel” for it, developed over time through hard work and lots of hours.

    • Thanks @Louise Armstrong .  I completely agree that you need to participate. I think you could say that about the traditional methods of marketing communications too.  You probably couldn’t advise a client to do a press release unless you’d written one and understood what it does and doesn’t do.

  • qui_oui

    @alyssa_lai Right now mostly DIY, but it will become “professionalised”/formalised (already happening)…

    • alyssa_lai

      @qui_oui Agreed. There are more #socialmedia courses now (eg. research, management). I’m interested to see how profs “teach” these courses.

  • qui_oui

    @alyssa_lai however that won’t take away the need to “show” what you can do; no use having credential and 10 Twitter followers.

    • JoVanEvery

      @qui_oui @alyssa_lai which is the same for any credential, really.

      • qui_oui

        @JoVanEvery @alyssa_lai Yes. Good timing if you’re in the thick of it right now. You’ll be teaching others to do it, soon enough-!

        • alyssa_lai

          @qui_oui @JoVanEvery I’d like to see how courses like these teach students to balance personal & academic social media usage.

        • JoVanEvery

          @alyssa_lai @qui_oui interesting that you think of it as something others do; how would YOU teach that balance?

        • alyssa_lai

          @JoVanEvery @qui_oui Map out SM uses fr different standpoints (businesses, academics, personal) Ask students to develop own SM identity.

        • JoVanEvery

          @alyssa_lai YAY. You are half-way to pitching teaching this stuff yourself. PPl will pay for that. Workshop?

        • alyssa_lai

          @JoVanEvery haha. Need more qualifications and experience. That’s why it’s a “half-way” pitch. 😉

        • JoVanEvery

          @alyssa_lai No you don’t. NO ONE has more qualifications in social media right now. It hasn’t been around long enough.

        • JoVanEvery

          @alyssa_lai It’s half a pitch because it is 140 in quick response to my Q

        • JoVanEvery

          @alyssa_lai this is one problem with academics. YOu do not need a PhD in something to teach it. And will teach stuff you didn’t do for PhD

        • qui_oui

          @JoVanEvery @alyssa_lai it’s amazing how if you just start saying stuff about social media, & using it a lot/well…you’re an expert 😀

        • JoVanEvery

          @qui_oui @alyssa_lai it’s not just that; you reflect on your use; try things; have considerable experience …

        • qui_oui

          @JoVanEvery @alyssa_lai I know. That’s what I mean by “using it well”. Then people start to listen to what you have to say

        • qui_oui

          @JoVanEvery @alyssa_lai You just have to recognise you have something to contribute, i.e. there are others who can benefit from your help

  • martinwaxman

    @shonali Thanks for the mention! BTW, I really like your idea of calling quotable tweets tweetbites! @ginidietrich

    • shonali

      @martinwaxman I better copyright it, then. 😉 And you’re welcome!

  • EricSchwartzman

    Thanks for the nod, Martin. 
    In some ways, social media’s like a flame. In undiscerning hands, it can be dangerous.  Many companies are choosing to vest responsibility for social media at the bottom of the org chart. With digitally illiteracy rampant in the C-suite and board room, we’ll no doubt see more foolish smear campaigns, Twitter gag orders and silly black hat SEO attempts. Digital literacy is the answer, and hands-on training is a critical component of that. Digital literacy is the answer.
    For those interested, here’s 10 free passes to my online course on search optimization:
    And a half price offer to take my Social Media Boot Camp online:

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