B-Schools All A-Twitter Over Social Media

Harvard Business School (Harvard Full-Time MBA Profile) and Columbia Business School (Columbia Full-Time MBA Profile) have joined a growing list of business schools that are adding courses on social media to their MBA curricula, addressing the corporate demand for social-network-savvy employees. The two schools are among at least six that have added courses in the past year that allow students to learn about Internet marketing and social media strategy, according to course syllabi and faculty associated with the classes.

With Twitter's social networking site claiming 190 million users tweeting 65 million times a day and Facebook reporting 500 million active members, companies including Sears Holdings (SHLD), Panasonic (PC), Citigroup (C), and AT&T (T) have begun hiring social media directors to develop and manage marketing strategies that address the nuances of the online world. Business schools in the last three years have seen a drop in graduate placement rates—to an average of 84 percent in 2009 among Bloomberg Businessweek's top 30 full-time MBA programs, from 96 percent in 2007. Social media classes are one way of preparing students for careers in a promising field, says John Gallaugher, associate professor of information systems at Boston College's Carroll School of Management (Carroll Full-Time MBA Profile), where "Social Media & Web 2.0 for Managers" is being offered in the fall.

"In the realm of technology it's possible for us to teach our students a tool that their bosses don't have, and they can provide that added value from day one," Gallaugher says. "Social media skills are the ones that can set them apart. Those are the skills that employers are looking for."

Course Offerings

Columbia, in New York, offers four Internet marketing courses. Two of them, "Social Media," taught by Rachel Sterne, chief executive officer of GroundReport.com, a global citizen news platform, and "Media and Technology," taught by New York Times technology columnist David Pogue, will be offered for the first time next spring, according to professor Rajeev Kohli, chair of the Columbia marketing division. At Harvard, in Boston, professor Mikolaj Jan Piskorski last fall introduced a second-year elective course, "Competing with Social Networks," and 172 students enrolled—three for every available seat. "Students know these tools are too hard to ignore," Piskorski says.

Other MBA programs that have added courses that explore social media include London Business School (LBS Full-Time MBA Profile), INSEAD (INSEAD Full-Time MBA Profile), the international business school based in Fontainebleau, France, and the École des Hautes Études Commerciales, known as HEC Paris (HEC Full-Time MBA Profile), according to faculty at the respective schools.

One of the earliest pioneers of Internet marketing courses, Elaine Young, an associate professor of marketing at Champlain College, where social media has been part of the MBA curriculum since 2000, says understanding digital tools is critical for business students. Students who master such tools can add to a company's bottom line, and improve their chances of getting a job.

"Companies want students to know this stuff," Young says. "But it's not just about having a Facebook page. Students have to ask themselves: 'Do I know how to set up an official Facebook page and run it and engage people on it?' "

Learning from Customers

Companies want to recruit MBAs with social media skills because tapping into online networks can be a powerful way to learn brand sentiment, identify new opportunities, and improve customer service, according to Dorian Benkoil, founder of New York-based consulting firm Teeming Media. "It offers business an opportunity to converse with customers and learn from them."

At INSEAD, professor Andrew Stephen says he created the course "Advertising and Social Media Strategy" shortly after joining the faculty in June 2009 to address what he saw as a need to train MBAs in nontraditional marketing techniques. The two-month course made its debut in January of this year. "My feeling was that all the B-schools were lagging behind in preparing MBA students for dealing with the new media landscape," he says.

The INSEAD class lectures focus on thinking broadly about social media, not just Facebook and Twitter, Stephen says. Topics include the underlying psychological and sociological foundations of social media and the metrics and measurement tools for gauging the effectiveness of social media campaigns. Students are required to participate in social media marketing projects for big brands including Coca-Cola (KO), Nokia (NOK), Hermès (RMS:FP), and BMW (BMW:GR). According to Stephen, a typical project involves developing a detailed social media marketing strategy for the client.

"One of the key lessons from the whole course is that what we're dealing with is social interactions between people and approaches companies can take to get involved in their conversations," Stephen says. In less than six months, he says, attendance in the course more than tripled, from 27 students in January to 45 in March and 93 in May.

At London Business School, the "Internet Marketing" course also stresses hands-on learning, according to the course's online syllabus. Students participate in the Google (GOOG) Online Marketing Challenge, running an online advertising campaign that will benefit a real business, the syllabus says. Student teams taking part in the challenge develop a strategy, assess the results of the campaign, and make recommendations for the company, according to the Google website.

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