The explosive growth of digital media – explicitly social media – during the past fifteen years has dramatically and forever altered the landscape of how people communicate and interact. In turn, social media has disrupted every industry. In today’s socially connected world, it is critical businesses, start-ups, and entrepreneurs alike understand how social media can both impact and shape their consumer relationships, brand messaging, website traffic, bottom-line revenue, sales opportunities and overall company perception.

From Facebook to Twitter, Reddit to Instagram, social media has become a critical marketing tool. Companies now compete for customer’s attention on social media, and need trained professionals to coordinate messaging across various social platforms. Master’s in social media programs provide students with foundational knowledge of audience-based communication with real-world skills in managing social media platforms, coordinating digital campaigns, measuring social media effectiveness, handling crisis communication situations, and growing relationships with consumers and other social media influencers.

Classification of Master’s in Social Media Programs

Because of social media’s relatively young age when compared to other communication channels and practices, many universities have not developed independent social media educational programs. Instead, social media largely remains a specialization in communication, marketing, journalism, and business degree programs. Examples include a Master of Arts in Mass Communication (Social Media Specialization) from the University of Florida or a Master of Science in Marketing (Concentration in Social Media Marketing) from Southern New Hampshire University.

However, standalone graduate programs have emerged during the past five years that offer unique master’s degrees in social media marketing. These programs vary by institution and typically fall into either a Master of Science (M.S.) or named degree category, such as Master of Digital Media or Master of Social Media Marketing. They can be found in different schools, ranging from schools of communication and journalism, to schools of business and/or marketing. Example programs include the University of Southern California’s (USC) Master of Digital Social Media and Pace University’s Master of Social Media and Mobile Marketing.

Online Master’s in Social Media Marketing Programs

Individuals who want to hone their social media skills and apply them towards marketing, public relations, business development, and other industries have an increasing number of options for online master’s programs in social media. Online graduate programs in social media can be particularly advantageous for professionals who want to continue working while earning their degree, as they allow students to arrange their class schedules around their professional and family obligations. In addition, with the advent of advanced technologies and learning management systems, online graduate programs have more interactive capabilities that enhance student learning outcomes.

Students interested in earning their master’s in social media online can choose between programs that employ primarily asynchronous instruction, synchronous instruction, or a combination of both. Asynchronous instruction is delivered through lectures and materials that have been previously recorded, and which students can access on their own schedule, as long as they meet assignment deadlines. Programs that use mainly asynchronous instruction are ideal for students who need maximum scheduling flexibility, and who are adept at managing their own time to complete the course material and not fall behind.

Online master’s in social media programs that employ primarily synchronous instruction require students to meet at set times each week to participate in real-time online lectures and virtual class discussions; these programs have the benefit of offering more of a traditional classroom setting. On the other hand, they also are somewhat less flexible, in that students must commit to meeting each week at the same time. Online classes may involve students watching live campus-based lectures and submitting questions through the learning management system or they may involve only online students and use webcams so that students can see their instructor and classmates at the same time on one screen. While live classes are typically held at night, students who are considering a program that utilizes synchronous instruction should ask when live lectures are held and factor in the time zone in which they live to make sure they will be able to regularly attend the sessions. Students should note that programs that use synchronous instruction still have some asynchronous elements, such as course readings and assignments that students complete on their own time.

Curriculum Details for Master’s Programs in Social Media

Just as social media has revolutionized communication, it is slowly doing the same to media, journalism and business programs on college campuses. As mentioned previously, social media coursework has historically remained on the periphery, offered as a specialization in other major subjects. However, some universities have begun to recognize it is a viable and important professional field, one that deserves its own curriculum and degree tracks.

Through focused courses in topics ranging from online marketing channels to strategic social marketing communication, students can study the history, theory and technology of social media. Classes that focus on social media communications can teach students how to segment consumer populations according to their social media activities and preferences, conduct marketing research, establish return-on-investment benchmarks, develop social marketing strategies, and communicate effectively across varied social media platforms.

Master’s in Social Media programs generally require students to complete between 30 and 36 credit hours of study to earn their degree. During the first year of study, students are typically introduced to fundamental concepts in social media, technology, marketing, and communication. After completing approximately 12 credit hours of study in core coursework, students transition into 15 to 18 credit hours of specialized or elective classes. These classes range from deep dives into business and customer intelligence to interactive marketing campaigns, and organizational behavior to crisis communication in social media.

Below is a list of example courses students in a master’s in social media may encounter in their program:

  • Social Media Marketing Strategy: Introduces students to the strategic fundamentals of building social media marketing campaigns and how to evaluate their success, emphasizing how to engage multiple audiences through tailored messaging to various customer segments.
  • Social Community Management: Explores the idea of social community on the internet, teaching students about the social community manager’s responsibility and role to develop, foster, maintain and enhance these communities by building relationships with its members.
  • Digital Media and Analytics: An overview of mobile and social communication, studying specifically how to gather, analyze and interpret data analytics on a variety of digital platforms for integrated marketing, mobile, and social marketing campaigns.
  • Strategic Communication Management: Reviews the core concepts and theories of strategic communication, including skill building in designing, launching, and measuring social communication initiatives for both internal and external audiences.
  • Introduction to Social Media: A high-level overview of the social media industry and its various online communities, emphasizing major platforms (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat), their content forms, advertising strategies, and current business models.
  • Social Media Marketing and Branding: A study of the social media landscape, concentrating on effective strategies to communicate brand messaging across social platforms and influence consumers, influencers and social community members.

Below is a table with an example course plan for students earning a master’s in social media.

 
Fall Term
Spring Term
Year 1
  • Introduction to Social Media
  • Digital Storytelling
  • Introduction to Mobile and Social Strategy
  • Social Media and Digital Analytics
  • Effective Social Media Strategies
  • Digital Organizational Communication
Year 2
  • Trends in Strategic Communication
  • Digital and Mobile Applications
  • Social Media Measurement and Goals
  • Social Media Crisis Communication
  • Digital Media Ethics, Law and Regulation
  • Strategic Digital Campaigns

Master’s in Social Media versus Master’s in Mass Communication with a Specialization in Social Media

As discussed above, the majority of social media coursework resides within degrees for related subject areas, such as journalism or communication. In those programs, social media is part of the communication framework, a product or tool to be used strategically.

In master’s in mass communication programs, students complete only a handful of classes in social media, with the majority of their time spent in broader communication courses. For example, core classes in a master’s in mass communication program explore concepts in communication theory, organizational communication, communication research, and audience persuasion. Although students may select elective courses in social media, they may also branch into digital media, marketing, analytics, and related fields. The skills students build in these programs focuses on preparing them for such tasks as news writing, multimedia storytelling, interactive media and photography, and marketing and advertising communications targeting broad audiences. Students who graduate from these programs are prepared to write news stories and press releases, develop advertising and marketing copy, and design multimedia products (e.g. blogs, video, social media).

Conversely, master’s in social media programs position communication within the larger field of social media. Within these programs, students study social media platforms and the phenomena they instigate and/or impact (e.g. grassroots political advocacy, memes, marketing through consumers’ and influencers’ posts on social media, social media as a news source, etc.). Instead of being a tool, social media is an actual field of study, with its own framework to be explored by students. Core coursework focuses on understanding the underlying concepts of social media, reviewing topics such as emerging social media technologies, social media ethics, social media consumer behavior, crisis communication via social media, and social communication strategies.

Social media master’s programs offer electives that allow students to develop skill sets in related business areas, such as branding, interactive marketing, analytics, and multimedia communication. Armed with knowledge in these areas, graduates of social media master’s programs can delineate audience segments for social media strategies, devise and implement digital campaigns, write engaging content for social networks, and track and measure campaign performance.

Career Paths for Graduates with a Master’s in Social Media

It’s important to note that social media is a nascent industry, one still finding its role in the broader business world. Yet, social media’s growth is historic and its impact is now impossible to deny. Consider this: in Q3 of 2017, Facebook had more than 2 billion actively monthly users. That’s 300% growth (from 500 million) since 2010.

While many are quick to dismiss social media’s legitimacy as a source of information, and think of professionals in the field as those who simply write posts and answer questions on Facebook or Twitter, social media is in fact a broader, more intricate field. As social media’s primary content producers are also its main consumers (i.e. members of the public who share content with friends and followers), it has the ability to spread compelling ideas rapidly across countries and the globe. The power of the “viral” video or meme, and the trust that social media users have in the content their peers share, means that social media can play a major role in the growth of businesses, non-profits, and political organizations. The practical, skills-based curriculum of social media master’s programs equips graduates with an in-depth understanding of how to communicate effectively using today’s social media tools, and where to reach consumers at influential points in their consumer journey.

With their knowledge of trends, communication strategies, audience behavior, and analytics, graduates of these programs can open their own consultancies, or find opportunities in organizations in both the private and public sectors. Whether working for a social media agency, such as Socialfly in New York, or as a social media manager for Home Depot, there are roles available in nearly every professional industry. And, as felt by companies every year, social media blunders hit not only the bottom line, but the company’s reputation as well.

Indeed, a graduate education in social media prepares students for diverse career paths that do not only include creating social media posts. Below is a list of employment paths that graduates with a master’s in social media may want to consider:

  • Marketing Director: Marketing managers study market trends, industry competitors, and target consumers to identify marketing opportunities for their companies and clients. They build strategies for campaigns, as well as product and company promotional content through social media and other marketing channels.
  • Communication Manager: Communication managers handle both internal and external communications for their companies. In this role, they create broad, integrated communication strategies that incorporate social media, public relations, and marketing messaging components.
  • Social Media Manager: Social media managers manage social media accounts for companies or clients, creating unique content for social networks, developing strategies for connecting with consumers, implementing social media campaigns, and devising plans for promoting business interests through social media channels.
  • Brand Manager: Brand managers maintain and oversee the overall brand of a company or product, monitoring marketing trends, and developing and launching brand-focused marketing initiatives across social media, online, print and other channels.

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