October 19, 2015

Centenary feels program in social media marketing will produce big returns for students, businesses

By Andrew Sheldon, October 19, 2015 at 3:00 AM
Joseph Littlejohn was all set to graduate from Centenary College this winter. Over the summer, however, the marketing major noticed a problem that persisted through his search for an internship.

He didn’t have the social media know-how that companies were looking for.

“I was having trouble securing internships because I lacked the experience with social media marketing,” Littlejohn said. “Several of these internships actually require you to have experience in social media marketing and analytics.”

It’s exactly that type of experience Centenary is hoping to provide with its new 16-credit program surrounding social media. And it was experience Littlejohn deemed so valuable that he was willing to stay on an extra semester to gain it.

Even when he took the cost of higher education into consideration.

“I sat with my mom and we made the decisions to make this possible, and I don’t regret it at all,” he said. “Looking at the curriculum at the program, I hear we’re going to have assignments from people who are working directly in the field, so I’m very excited to be a part of it.”

Kathleen Naasz, the dean of the program, said this new need for social media expertise is exactly what led her to suggest the college establish the Social Media Center of Expertise, also known as #theVibe, which requires 16 credits on the subject alongside the school’s business degree.

The four courses also can be applied to any degree as a minor as well.

“I was teaching traditional marketing and looking at the job postings on

LinkedIn and saw there was a 1,357 percent increase in job postings on LinkedIn saying that social media marketing skills were required,” Naasz said.

And it’s not just a place for students to gain experience with social media, but also local businesses that might not have the resources themselves.

“The function is a degree program, but with the center coming together, I really view this as a place where businesses can come and collaborate with students,” she said. “We’re a place where students come to gain social media expertise and a place where businesses come to leverage those experts.”

This includes, Naasz said, homework assignments given to students from companies themselves. And the applications for social media expertise go beyond reaching a target audience on Twitter or Facebook, Naasz said: Since the proliferation of smartphones, data has been collected at a faster and more staggering pace every day.

This presents companies with a series of problems: What, exactly, does a company do with all that information? More pointedly, how can it make sure its social media engagement understands the tone of the conversation it’s entering?

“There’s some really great solutions out there and we’ll be able to search sentiment analysis, which understands and interprets the post (and indicates) whether it’s good or bad toward your brand,” she said. “The data analytics side is really unbelievable.”

Tim Tomaino, social media manager of #theVibe, said larger companies already are using this technology to inform their decisions.

“A part of marketing is you see what comes back as feedback and then you change the product and adjust,” he said. “Now you get really honest feedback about how people really feel about your product.”

A recent example of this, Tomaino said, was Clorox, which launched a “natural” brand after studying consumer feedback on its products.

“They had this sentiment analysis where they learned that people really don’t like that their chemicals are toxic and they came out with a whole new natural brand,” he said. “They saw there (were) people who wanted to buy their products and believed they could produce products that cleaned well, but they didn’t like that they weren’t natural or good for the environment.”

Naasz thinks making these social media tools available to local companies could give a boost to the college — and maybe even the local economy.

That’s because such a program is unique. And, in fact, unprecedented for the tri-state area.

“We looked at 502 colleges and universities — and not just a Google search — we actually went to their websites, searched their course catalogs, and looked if they were offering a business degree at the bachelor’s level in social media marketing,” she said. “They’re not.”

E-mail to: andrews@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @sheldonandrewj