Are Social Media Majors Poised to Lead our Futures?

Can you write a Textbook on Twitter? How about Facebook or Pinterest?

You probably wouldn’t want to because by the time the book even gets to the publisher it might be obsolete, in need of a drastic update or just completely irrelevant because the platform is no longer platform or just altogether kaput.

Nevertheless, if the new social-media major that South Carolina’s Newberry College will be launching in Aug. 2013 takes hold, these could be questions that will be given serious consideration and weight. While I’m not so sure about the viability of Newberry’s new major, it is a good excuse to pause and consider how much we take social-media training for granted.

“It’s one of the first interdisciplinarian majors in social media,” said Newberry College Professor Tania Sosiak. “It’s a blended major of graphic design, communications, business, and marketing, psychology, and statistics.”

And yet, in many of the other stories I’ve seen reporting on this major the language discussing the major is awful dismissive. “It looks like people are trying to get paid money to play around on the Internet,” said one anchor at a channel I won’t do the honor of hyperlinking here. Fast Company astutely points out the wrong-headedness of Newberry boasting it will teach students how to design QR codes — something both that publication and I have spoken out against repeatedly.

I’m still mulling what a college offering a degree in social media really means for our future. In a handful of years, I’ve gone from a social-media curmudgeon to a Twitter evangelist — actively pushing it on my students at Second City. A lot can happen in a few years, especially in the social-media realm. On the other hand, though, Twitter, Facebook, etc. as they exist today barely resemble what they were five years ago. Facebook wasn’t even a viable marketing platform them. Today, of course, it is.

There was a time when we thought the Internet was a punchline: Remember in sitcoms in the late ‘90s when the laugh track would bray obnoxiously whenever someone would add “.com” to the end of any line of dialog for a quick laugh? Now, governments and major companies can be brought to their knees with people knowing how to use or abuse the Internet.

So, I think we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss this major. After all, it’s a segment of the marketing industry that does require some specific skills, just like PR or advertising. What worked in the Mad Men days doesn’t work now, and what worked five years ago doesn’t work now. (And a quick scan of job-searching sites shows there are nearly 10,000 positions to fill in Chicago with "social media" in their titles.)

It’s too soon to tell, and fortunately we have the time to watch and see what comes of it. So, well played, South Carolina.

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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