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Do Social Media Managers Need a College Degree? [News]

Universities are bastions of academic excellence. It is not a surprise that many key professional positions require undergraduate or advanced degrees. In the last few years, we’ve seen an increase in academic fraud by people who land higher education jobs with false information on their resumes.  It can not only ruin a person’s reputation but also result in legal troubles as well. What is a university to do?

Recently, the University of Michigan’s social media manager resigned after it was revealed that the person did not have the degree they claimed on their application. Chalk up another investigative citizen journalist victory for Reddit, an unfiltered gossip site. In this particular situation, it is unfortunate because it appears the person was doing their job well. I got a message from a colleague asking if I was going to write a blog piece on the news item, and I agreed it is a topic of importance. Not just in higher education circles, but in business as well.

There is a temptation to roll our eyes over the matter. Social media manager? Who needs one of those anyway? Isn’t social media free? Why do you need someone with a degree to run your Facebook page? Can’t we get some intern to do that?

Hiring an under qualified person to fill any role in your organization is a risk.  At the higher education level, requiring a degree for a job is a safety net. It’s a way for us to recognize that what we stand for is important. It’s a way to weed out people that don’t honor the value of academic achievement. But we have to admit it is not a qualifier of experience or ability to perform a job.

In my job as a crisis manager, I can tell you that more online crises are initiated by a lack of experience. But does a degree indicate experience or theoretical knowledge?  Would you hire a marketing director without a degree? What if they were a former marketing director at a major company and worked their way up through the ranks over the years? What if they were heads and shoulders above all the rest of the candidates? In that case, doesn’t experience trump the degree? But does a degree ever trump experience? Probably not.

On the flip side, what concerns me more is the fact that the social media manager is a throwaway position at many universities. This is the frontline person responsible for your real-time brand messages. Wouldn’t you want someone with more experience than a few short gigs writing freelance web articles? Kathleen Hessert, CEO of Sports Media Challenge, made an interesting statement when asked to identify the alarming trends in how brands used social media in 2012: “Enabling a very young person/professional to be community manager for their social media accounts without understanding that it’s the same as putting an intern behind a microphone to defend your brand.”

Social media managers need experience. Universities (and many brands) are under the false assumption that a social media manager needs to be a kid.  But they need more experience than setting up Facebook ad campaigns. They need to know how to set up measurable goals and how to measure if they’ve hit them, how to wed the social media initiatives to the greater marketing strategy, how to make good mid-course corrections, how to write policy, how to train, how to manage, and most of all, how to monitor social media for potential issues and how to triage those responses.  This is not a job for the inexperienced.

I wish the young person fired at the University of Michigan all the luck in the world. With her experience and energy, I’m sure she’ll have no problem landing the same job at another brand. But the age old question will still nag us. Which is better? Experience or knowledge?

  • Rudy

    I think it is obvious that experience gives one knowledge not gained in the classroom. The priceless experience one gains by doing instead of studying should not be missed. But lying to get the job is the real issue here.

  • Steve Kaiser

    Lying is never acceptable.

  • cksyme

    I agree with you both. Lying is unacceptable.

    • Ken

      Chris, the real issue is creating false barriers to entry for a job, that in their own way force people who are qualified for that job to have to lie in order to get it. The proof is in the pudding – the person didn’t have a degree but was good at the job. That’s tell you right there how necessary having a degree was. That’s the real issue. Organizations who employ this philosophy. It’s lazy. It’s perfunctory. It adds no value. But because everyone else does it… well then they do it too.

      • cksyme

        I agree, Ken. Unfortunately, I don’t think her resume was very strong either. But, they took a chance on her and she did well until the issue surfaced. I do think academia is enamored with degrees. I can see both sides, but I think you put it well–the proof is in the pudding.