We live our lives — and do business — through social media. Over 2 billion social media users worldwide spend an average of two and a half hours per day on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. And they’re doing more than sharing vacation photos or following their favorite celebrities.
Research has found 74 percent of consumers rely on social media to make purchasing decisions. In turn, social media has become a powerful tool used by businesses to build brands, sell products and deliver services to customers.
As social media becomes woven into our lives, businesses are spending more resources than ever to reach consumers and customers in these digital spaces. According to a recent report by Statistia, social media advertising budgets have doubled worldwide between 2014 and 2016 —going from $16 billion to $31 billion. Social media spending in the U.S. alone is expected to reach $17.3 billion by 2019.
Employers are looking for people at all career levels – from entry-level positions to the C-suite, who understand how social media works and how to leverage this technology to build the bottom line. Recruiting site Indeed.com currently lists over 700 social media manager jobs in New Jersey, for Fortune 500 companies like Johnson & Johnson and Verizon as well as small businesses, advertising agencies and not-for-profit organizations. Social media specialists can earn from $46,000 to $71,000 annually, and social media marketing managers command salaries in the range of $115,000.
Social media skills are an important part of the manager’s tool kit. Older professionals in particular may feel the need to bolster their expertise and knowledge in this area. They may be familiar with Facebook and LinkedIn from personal use, but less conversant with platforms more popular with 20-somethings like WhatsApp and Snapchat. Understanding the ever expanding array of social media channels, the potential opportunities (and threats) they create for organizations, and knowing how to use social media to further business objectives are common concerns for managers across a range of industries and disciplines.
Building Social Media Expertise
How do older professionals build their fluency with how social media works as a business tool? “Reverse mentoring” is one option, particularly for senior executives, who can be partnered with a younger social media expert for one-to-one tutorials.
For most managers, the most expedient course is to explore adult learning programs that provide an overview of current and emerging technologies as well, as practical experience using social media in business applications.
While the chosen program depends on the student’s personal interests and career goals, a robust social media adult learning program should offer the following components:
- A thorough grounding in the principles of strategic marketing, advertising and data analytics. It is important to understand how social media tools fit with the overall marketing strategy of a company, and how to use these tools to build relationships with consumers and customers and gain insights into their wants and needs.
- A framework for evaluating new digital marketing tools. An academic program should provide students with a methodology and criteria or assessing the value a social media tool brings to an organization, for example, the level of customer engagement it allows.
- Hands on experience working with social media in a business environment. For example, Centenary University’s School for Professional Studies (SPS) in Parsippany offers a social media lab called #theVIBE modeled on modern, urban start-up work environments. In this interactive, digital workspace, students learn how to use “listening software” to monitor the voice of the world on social media, and how to collaborate to develop social media marketing solutions. Students also work with small businesses to audit their existing social media programs and tools and recommend improvements.
- Opportunities for students to learn from each other as well as from the instructors. Adult learning programs bring together diverse student bodies, including recent graduates, older professionals and senior executives. A director of marketing from a Fortune 500 company who works on big brands can be sitting next to a 25-year old marketing trainee who is just beginning her career. The marketing executive shares insights on how to build brands and manage advertising programs with the young professional, while she can relate her personal experience as a social media user.
- Professional certifications that bolster the student’s resume. Adult learners should seek courses that provide industry recognition such as Facebook certification in digital advertising or Google certification in analytics, as well a certificate from the university attesting to their completion of the full course of study in social media marketing.
The uses of social media as a business tool are rapidly evolving as new technologies and applications emerge and new players enter the scene. Staying current on developments in social media, and thinking about the impact of these changes on your organization and your career, will be key to your personal and professional success in a digital world.
Dr. Deirdre Christofalo is Centenary University’s Vice President for Adult, Corporate & Online Education. Tim Guella is the Director of Social Media for Centenary University’s Social Media Center of Expertise | #theVIBE.