The number of job listings asking for social media skills keeps going up over time. Requests for skills with Instagram have gone up an incredible 644% since 2012. Yes, you read that right: six-hundred-and-forty-four percent.
And as we never tire of saying, social media is about two things: strategy, and rigorous execution. So perhaps it’s not crazy that the University of Florida is now offering a Masters in Mass Communication–Social Media. Okay–it’s a little crazy.
But Florida isn’t alone. Quinnipiac is offering the Master of Science in Interactive Media, which has a dedicated social media track. New England College is offering an MBA in Digital and Social Media. And Southern New Hampshire University is offering a Master’s in Communication/New Media & Marketing. (I’d like to point out that calling it “New Media” is charmingly 90’s, like hearing about a Pearl Jam cover band. It really brings back the glory days of CD-ROMs and hypercards.)
Clearly, though, New England is catching on to this trend.
So, is it worth it?
Well, 15 years ago, there was a vogue for universities to offer degrees in e-commerce. If you can remember what e-commerce was like in 1999, you might ask what exactly would have remained relevant from that degree 15 years later. The world has changed in ways that we couldn’t have imagined 15 years ago. So if you believe that the technical knowledge quickly became outdated, you wouldn’t be wrong to ask what people learned in those programs that’s still relevant today.
By following the higher education bubble, we can see that the upside of such a degree is ambiguous: while the downside is fixed, you get a lot of debt that handcuffs you for the next ten years.
I have a dog in this fight, as I paid for a luxury-brand MBA 17 years ago. How much of that is outdated now? Plenty. Any technical knowledge we learned in 1996 is no longer relevant.
But one reason that my degree was valuable was that we learned a lot of things that don’t go out of date—accounting, strategy, entrepreneurship, et al. What’s more, the degree was a means of getting hired by McKinsey, who wasn’t hiring many non-MBA’s back then. And that was a big win—getting into a selective management consulting firm made a huge difference in my future opportunity set.
The value of my degree (from a strictly job-finding perspective) falls in line with a conclusion from Erika Andersen in Forbes. She says that you should get an MBA if you have the money and are interested, or if you need the credential to get hired by your dream firm. But don’t go into debt because you think an MBA will guarantee success. With a degree like an MBA (or now, in social media), the debt is guaranteed–but the success isn’t.
The degree in social media: fading value?
To turn back to the social media degree, whether or not you should get one really depends on what you want.
If you want to be hired by the kind of organization that requires advanced degrees, then a degree in social media is probably a good idea–although you’ll certainly want to ask if such firms will be doing the best and most interesting work.
But with the pace of change in this industry approaching an actual blur, it hardly seems reasonable to assume that your technical knowledge will be relevant a few years down the road. Five years ago, they would have spent a lot of time on MySpace, or maybe even Geocities, both of which are practically irrelevant now.
So you have to ask: what else will you learn? What kinds of things are taught in the course that will last throughout your whole career?
The answer is that it’s very hard to tell. And when the price is as high as it is, you’d better be very certain of what you’ll learn before you spend the money on something like a degree in social media.
No disrespect to the universities and students going down this path, but as of yet, we haven’t seen a clear correlation between a specific course of education and social media success—the best people we’ve seen are all over the map, from no college, to a Latin Poetry degree from Harvard, to a Home Economics degree from Wyoming, or a British Literature degree from Creighton.
You don’t need a degree in social media to write a blog. Or to Tweet, use LinkedIn, or post on Facebook. And increasingly, people expect you to be creating content on all of them.
So when it comes to going into debt for a professional degree in a new industry, caveat emptor.
Adrian Blake majored in Latin because of the lucrative future it offered. He is CEO of SMC—Outsource to Omaha.
Adrian began his career in the television industry, leading the international growth of Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central. Adrian has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and an A.B. from Harvard.