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Beyond Twitter and Facebook: Programs in Social Media

How short courses can help provide managers with a more strategic understanding of the social web
Jun 8, 2012 — M. Filtz

Over a  billion Tweets are sent out every day, and there are more than 900 million active Facebook users. But is this really something that executives and managers need to care about?

Beyond being efficient two-way systems for communicating with customers, social media can also help businesses with a huge range of services, including hiring, collaboration, and advertising.

But if a business does not have a social media strategy, then these potential markets and benefits can be out of reach. Or, worse yet, if you don't know how to use the tools, then your social media strategy may come across as disconnected and confused. For instance, Eric Saine, the director of business development at McGill Executive Institute, says that many people don't “realize how long it takes to build an audience through social media.”

“So they'll make the mistake of pulling a campaign before it's had time to build traction,” says Saine.

According to Livia Grujich, who teaches the three-day “Social Media Planning” at Schulich School of Business' Executive Education Centre, the importance of social media really goes beyond just Twitter, Facebook, and the rest of the current platforms.

“A lot of people come to the class thinking that it's a how-to,” says Grujich, “but what we try to say is, yes, the tools are great, but don't get caught up in the technology, because technology comes and goes.”

And even for businesses who are eagerly embracing social media as a marketing or communication platform, there can be huge gaps in their knowledge of how to effectively utilize the tools.

“It's not a scenario where you just put a “Like” button on your website, and expect that to be a social media campaign,” says Mario Bottone, who teaches the two-day “Optimal Marketing and Online Strategies” at McGill Executive Institute.

Indeed, an executive education course in this area can help provide a conceptual framework for understanding the implications of social media. Grujich says that when she teaches the Schulich course, she begins with a broad perspective, and then drills down into social media specifics through a series of case studies that look at both successful and unsuccessful approaches to social media planning. Then, through hands-on activities, she has participants analyze their own companies' individual approaches to social media.

“By the end of the course,” Grujich says, “they walk away with what should be the beginnings of a social media plan.”

Courses like this that have hands-on activities help executives practically apply the theories into their own businesses, effectively allowing them to examine and understand their own social media problems. This approach is especially effective for those who've tried to come at social media through a trial-and-error approach.

“People come armed with questions when they come to this kind of course,” says McGill's Eric Saine, who adds that “this is such a fast-moving management principle, and many people end up going about it on their own, for the most part.”

A wider perspective

McGill's “Optimal Marketing and Online Strategies” is a new incarnation of another program that focused more specifically on online media and social marketing. Saine says that participants tended to come into the older course without a clear sense of marketing goals. The updated course allows participants to “just take a step back,” he says, and ask, “what is your clear plan and process to optimize your marketing and commercial activities?”

Likewise, Babson College's three-day “Social Media Management: Strategies and Practices for the New Social World” course provides breadth beyond the basics of social media. The program is taught by three instructors: Patricia Guinan, whose background is in organizational behavior and strategy; a marketing professor; and a technologist. This allows the course to cover a broad range of perspectives, and through this broadness it aims to help participants fundamentally rethink business.

“The backdrop is certainly Twitter, Facebook,” Guinan says.“But it's also taught with the idea that the marketing department will change radically; the human resources department will have to change radically because of the social business, because the millennials are perceiving the world in a different way.”

“So how do we shake up our businesses and shake up the world to get excited about best practices in social media management?”

With social media's impact on business widening, so is its appeal. Livia Grujich says that when she first started teaching Schulich's course in social media, the focus was generally marketing managers who were put in a position where they had to deal with social media, and they wouldn't know how to.

Now she sees everybody from human resources managers, who need to use these new tools to attract potential candidates; to people in very senior positions, for whom “it's not so much about how they can use the tools, but how social media affects their organizations overall;” and business owners who see social media as a more cost-effective tool  than traditional advertising.

In any case, what participants may come away with is a better comprehension of a business area that is rapidly maturing. “It's changing so fast,” says McGill's Eric Saine, “but they walk away with a greater comfort level, saying 'ok, now I understand a little bit more.'”

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