Social Media Online Courses – Where are They?

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Businesses everywhere need social media expertise, but if social marketing is not being taught in our universities, who’s picking up the slack?

A survey released just a week ago from the folks at Bazaarvoice made it absolutely clear that CMOs and companies in general are investing big in social media:

…social media had become an essential component of executive marketing strategies by the end of 2010, with 90% of CMOs participating in three or more social activities. CMOs still focus on measurability and ROI but are recognizing there’s even more business impact to uncover. Nearly all (96%) are beginning to look beyond sales goals and web metrics to focus on how social can deliver strong insights that fuel improvements across the business. This is consistent with Forrester Research’s recent finding that more than 45% of all companies now use social media assets for product development in addition to customer engagement (83%), and indicates a sea change in the strategic value that CMOs place on social today.

With almost every business looking to embrace social, there should clearly be demand for education on it.  Certainly there are enough case studies on social media, both good (Blendtec) and bad (Kenneth Cole), that can fill college textbooks with examples of best practices and spark discussion, internal project creation, and debate.  And now we have academic books slowly being published on the subject, like the one recently published by my friend Beverly Macy “The Power of Real-Time Social Media Marketing,” that are beginning to put social in both an academic and corporate perspective.  Where can professionals go, then, to take online courses in social media?

Unfortunately, further research on the subject proved that there are very few options out there for professionals who want a degree or certification in social media marketing through online courses.  While I wouldn’t expect more traditional institutions to move quickly on new trends, I believed that online universities might be more aggressive in picking up the slack.  Thanks to a definitive ranking list of best online colleges, I was able to skim the 64 top online schools in America for 2011 and see which of the bigger or more famous schools might have a program in social media.  What I found wasn’t much, and while my search was by no means exhaustive, here is what looks like to be your only option if you’re looking to choose an online study program for an education truly specialized in social media marketing:

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

I am highlighting them because they actually have created a unique program which may become a model of how other online and offline programs can start to teach social marketing in an academic setting.  SNHU actually offers an Online MBA in Social Media Marketing, and while the curriculum also consists of 10 core MBA classes, 3 specific classes are offered in the discipline of “social media”: (course descriptions taken directly from the corresponding links for your convenience)

Social Media – This course provides students with a broad approach to the history, theory, technology, impact, and strategic uses of social media. Social media (such as Twitter, Facebook, blogging, podcasting, and so on) are relatively inexpensive and accessible technologies that enable individuals, almost instantaneously, to create, publish, edit, and/or access messages intended for audiences ranging from a single recipient to millions of readers or viewers. Students will learn how to explore the possibilities and limitations of various social media and will learn how to apply and adapt basic and advanced marketing strategies to construct and critically evaluate social texts, their impact, and their practical use in marketing contexts. Students will also examine the general strategic uses of social for advertising, marketing, public relations, journalism, and civic and political participation. Finally, students will gain basic hands-on experience with several forms of the most current social technology.

Social Media Marketing Strategy – This course will develop the students’ ability to effectively and successfully create, and implement a social  marketing campaign and evaluate as well as measure its success. Intensive skill building will be placed on creating, applying and integrating the appropriate social tool that will enable marketers to build high-value relationships with their constituencies. The course will focus on key elements such as determining and matching social tactics with the appropriate target market and developing strategies to engage those markets using relevant social channels.

Social Media Marketing Campaigns – This course will develop the students’ ability to effectively and successfully create and implement a social marketing campaign and evaluate as well as measure its success. Intensive skill building will be placed on creating, applying and integrating the appropriate social tools to meet the marketing objectives of the organization. The course will focus on key elements such as a)audience, b)campaign objectives, c)strategic plan, d)tactics, e)tools, and f)metrics to measure the campaign.

While I appreciate that the SM course goes beyond marketing to talk about other parts of the corporate organization and how they can also utilize it (although I was surprised that social recruiting wasn’t mentioned), I find it interesting that the SM Marketing Strategy class is all about a campaign and tactics.  Surely strategy should be about strategy, no?  A class on SM Marketing Campaigns, thought, sounds like a killer one to me.

So what about the likes of University of Phoenix, Walden, Kaplan, and the rest of them?  Surprisingly nada.  The only one that came close was a Devry University Emerging Media Communication Specialization course as part of their Liberal Studies undergraduate program.

With the growing demand for social professionals and lack of education available, one wonders where SNHU can find experienced and qualified professors willing to teach the course.  No doubt that the role of Social Media Marketing Professor will be in hot demand for some time to come!

Do you know of any other online courses from accredited universities in social media?  Where should you go to study?  What should Corporate America do about this?  #pleasecomment 😉

2/8/2011 Revision: Note that after publishing this blog post I was introduced to a great online course in social media from a “traditional” university.  The program is being offered by Rutgers University and is called the ONLINE Mini-MBA™: Social Media Marketing.  It is a 12-week online course that provides education on the following topics:

  • Intro to Social Media Marketing Strategy
  • Video & YouTube
  • Blogging for Business
  • Social Media Applications
  • Microblogging
  • Images & Social Media Marketing
  • Social News Networks
  • Viral Marketing
  • Online Reputation Management
  • Measuring Social Media ROI

What especially excites me about this online course in social media marketing are the key takeaways that it promises, including:

* Analyzing social media marketing opportunities

* Exploring the behavioral and psychological factors that drive social media

* Understanding how to form and optimize social networks

* Designing effective communication strategies of social networks

* Implementing measurement strategies to track and measure the ROI of social media

* Discovering new social media technologies and learning how and when to employ them

If you have been a student at any of these online courses in social media marketing or know of any others, please let me know in the comments or by contacting me and I will add them to this blog post!  Thanks!

Neal Schaffer
The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, Neal Schaffer is a leader in helping businesses and professionals strategically maximize their use of social media. Neal is the author of three social media books, including the recently published definitive social media strategy book Maximize Your Social. Forbes lists him as a Top 35 Social Media Power Influencer and AdAge lists his blog, Maximize Social Business (formerly known as Windmill Networking), as a top 100 global marketing blog. Neal provides social media strategy consulting and coaching, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and a Grammy-award winning musician. He has presented worldwide on social media at more than 150 events and also teaches social media marketing at Rutgers University. +Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer


Author, @MaxYourSocial | Founder @msocialbusiness & @socialtoolssmmt | Trilingual Social Media Strategy Consultant, Coach, and Speaker
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  1. says

    Interesting timing. I just (less than an hour ago!) submitted a draft curriculum for a Social Media Specialization for a Master’s Degree in Communication. I benchmarked a number of programs/courses from both academic institutions, non-academic entities, and individuals, including SNHU.

    I don’t want to hijack your post, but my research revealed a fair number of training/certificate programs, but almost no degree programs in social media – and almost all of them were focused on external applications like marketing. Business schools in particular were lacking any evidence of a degree-oriented commitment to social media, in spite of oft-cited articles in Businessweek and the New York Times.

    The academic programs I found that included a strong social media focus – all three of them! – were quite impressive with respect to both the depth and the breadth of their coverage.

    Maybe I should write up a summary of my findings…

    Courtney Hunt
    Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community

    • says

      Hi Courtney,

      Thanks for your comment. This post was by no means an exhaustive research topic but a general statement on the state of the union. Yes, there are some “traditional” colleges and universities that have limited programs as you mention, but I was assuming (= hoping) that the online universities would have a more aggressive approach here, similar to how Full Sail University is becoming famous for their Internet Marketing program (at least in my eyes).

      Since you did the research, you absolutely should blog about it! I, and a lot of other people, would love to hear what you found! As the Social Media Club says, if you get it, share it 😉

      Thanks again for your comment, Courtney, and keeping my fingers crossed that your draft curriculum is accepted!

      • says

        Thanks, Neal. Well, the good news is my client loved the draft curriculum. It will get tweaked, of course, but I’m glad it met/exceeded their initial expectations. Several people have expressed interest in my research, so I’ll add that to my “blog posts to be written” queue. Stay tuned…

          • says

            Re: the avatar… that’s a Disqus thing, I think, related to how I set up the account (connected to a Twitter account). I haven’t changed it because I’m almost always commenting in my role as Founder of SMinOrgs. But my mug can be found, believe me – I feel like my picture is ALL OVER cyberspace…

  2. Jriggins01 says

    Please take a few minutes to review the information regarding Drury’s program here:

    Drury University has created a program that incorporates the technical & strategic skills necessary to master social media. Drury offers a Graduate Certificate in Social Media including 3 hours of transferable graduate credit. The program is offered as a seated course as well as an online course (4 week and 8 week sessions) 5 times each year.

    The cost of the program is much less than comparable professional certiciates.

    However, the most attractive aspect of Dury’s program is the incredible faculty. They are accomplished, well respected, and innovative.

    Dr Curt Gilstrap Ph.D. directs the program and invites anyone interested to contact him directly with questions regarding its content and delivery: [email protected]

  3. says

    I just published a post that cites this discussion and
    shares my expanded perspective on the issue, including the details promised in a previous comment. It’s entitled “Social Media
    Education and Training: Where We Are. Where We’re Going.” It can be accessed


    I invite folks to check it out and share their feedback,
    additional resources, etc.




  4. Anonymous says

    Distance learning is also cheaper. Online courses cost much less than the traditional programs because of the reduced amount charged for tuition. Text book fees are low or nonexistent because most material can be downloaded at no cost. mba courses

  5. says

    Its been about a year since this post, and it is still very relevant, Neal. Thanks for sharing! I agree with the relevance of this field in the all businesses and around the globe. Unfortunately the Rutgers University link does not work – could you recommend an online school to take the MBA? Thanks in advance

  6. mohamed says

    hi neal 
    this artical is very helpful 
    i am really looking forward to taking social media marketing course and rutgers uni is the right place i think but the problem is 3500$ cost of the course !!! 
    do you have any other university with certified course like this one but with low cost !! 

    thanx man 

    • says

      Unfortunately not – however if you look online for Internet Marketing or Digital Marketing, you might find more courses which are cheaper but do not have a sole focus on social media. It all comes down to supply and demand: There just aren’t that many social media university courses out there…

  7. says

    A great piece and absolutely insightful ‘responses’. I do believe in hands on knowledge and on the job training which i have benefited from over the years, but i see the need for an academic push in this field. I’d be most appreciative to learn about available opportunities (online) to learn more about digital marketing. Will definitely check out and

    • says

      Thanks for the comment! To be honest with you, I haven’t found out that many more programs that are out there, but I do believe that in addition to those mentioned in the blog post, Full Sail University and University of San Francisco have programs that you might be interested in.

  8. Marlene Petro says

    These posts have been very interesting, as I too have been searching for a masters degree program in social media. I am comforted somewhat in knowing that I am certainly not alone in the frustration of not finding much out there. University of Florida has an online Master Arts in Mass Communication (Specialization in Social Media) program I found. A requirement is submission of a GRE which I just do not have the time to study for. Please post any additional findings! Thanks! Marlene

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