With social media use among adults growing more common every year, it seems like a natural solution to harness those online activities into a potential career. However, being a social media expert requires more than just growing up in a slow transition from a Myspace to a Facebook profile—turning into the so-called social natives.
In order to ensure the social natives’ skills are used to their full potential, there is a need for a structured social media education program. It’s challenging for educators to find the best ways to teach in a field that is in such a constant state of flux as social media.
In the past, we have reached out to Karen Freberg, the Assistant Professor of Strategic Communications at the University of Louisville, to find out ways she uses social media in her classroom. This time, we asked Dr. Freberg about ways educators can teach digital natives to route their online affinity into marketable skills.
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Hootsuite: In your experience, is there a social media skill or a skill set digital natives often lack? How can educators address this issue?
Dr. Karen Freberg: I would have to say that the biggest area I see digital natives lacking on social media is how to bridge personal and professional personas together. They have a clear understanding of how to engage with their friends, send Snapchats, and tweet and post on Twitter and Instagram. However, when it comes to the strategy and professionalism of the channels, this is still an area where digital natives are struggling. They are getting better, as the messages and presence of social media is getting to them at an earlier age.
As educators, we can help by setting the example and showing them how they can use it strategically and professionally. We have to be partners with them in learning the best practices and tools to engage on social media.
What can educators do to equip students with the skills needed to succeed in increasingly digital fields, such as marketing or communications?
KF: I often tell my fellow colleagues that my role in teaching a social media class is always a constant prep—educators are expected to be up on the latest trends and tools impacting the field. In addition, we have to have a clear line of communication and dialogue with the practitioners in the field to make sure we are aware of what they are expecting to see from young professionals. So, professors need to have a strong relationship with practitioners to make sure they are on the same page.
What I’ve done for my social media class is share my syllabus with professionals and ask them – if they had a student who took this class, would they be hired? I try to bring in as many leading professionals into my class to share their expectations and what they want to see from the students based on their experiences and roles. This has been extremely beneficial for my students.
What digital skill do you think students lack most upon entering the workforce?
KF: I wouldn’t say they are missing any skills, but I’d say that there needs to be more of a focus on developing the professional and digital strategy mindset. It’s one thing to send out a Tweet and do some of the more tactical forms of social media—but how do students manage various relationships and personas proactively? How can they be effective in establishing themselves as thought leaders and bridge their professional role with their personality? You see many students out there that are almost the same—there appears to be a “cookie cutter shape” form of a young social media student nowadays. However, I think digital natives need to embrace their unique characteristics, share their point of views, and show the social media community what makes them unique through experiences, stories, internships, etc. I’d say that this is the one area digital natives could really embrace more, and professors should encourage this more in their classes as well.
What are some of the practices you use in your classes to teach social media strategies to socially savvy students?
KF: I use a few different practices. First, I do a lot of applied exercise and assignments. I have been a huge supporter of Hootsuite’s Higher Education program for my students and they are to write a reflection paper and a couple of blog posts about their experiences. I also have them work with real clients for their social media campaign proposal assignment, where they have to do primary research, brainstorm strategies and ideas for social media activities for their client, and then do a formal presentation where I bring in local professionals in the area to add their own perspective on the work by the students. Lastly, for every assignment I ask my students to do, I do it along with them. I blog when they blog, and I do my own social media research along with them.
What are the benefits of learning about social media within post-secondary, before entering the workforce?
KF: There are a lot of benefits for studying social media at a post-secondary institution – social media is becoming not only integrated into classes at various classes, but across the university as well. There are a lot of opportunities to take classes that use or cover social media across various disciplines. Plus, the rise of internships and experiences that can be available for students in social media are increasing by the day. However, along with the applied experiences you get from internships and jobs, you also get the opportunity to work on research to explore some of the challenges, benefits, and trends happening in the field to gain this hybrid perspective from the field. Plus, being in an environment that not only expects critical thinking and creativity, but insists on it on a pretty regular basis, teaches students that they are always going to be a lifelong learner and can learn from anyone when it comes to social media.
Hootsuite’s Higher Education Program has helped Dr. Freberg teach the right social media skills to turn her students into social media professionals. This program is free for educators and provides access to courseware, lecture videos, webinars, and tools—everything needed to teach social media effectively.
Interested to find out more strategies for teaching social media? Sign up for the #TeachSocial: Lessons from Top Social Media Professors webinar on August 21, 2014. Register for the webinar today!
Have you had success teaching social media and want to share your tips and tricks? Tweet how you #TeachSocial for your chance to win a #HootKit or even be featured on the Hootsuite blog!