Kutztown’s Social Media Degree Studies Uses In Business Field
Twitter isn’t rocket science. You type a message using no more than 280 characters, add an emoji for effect, press tweet and wait for reactions.
But if you want that tweet to gain traction — as businesses and corporations do — it helps to understand the social science behind the platform.
That’s what students in Kutztown University’s new bachelor’s degree program, social media theory and strategy (SMS), are learning: the analytics to make social media more useful in the business world.
Though millions of people use such platforms as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, few use them effectively, said Keith Massie, a Kutztown professor who co-founded the program.
“The problem is employers need people with these skills, and nobody has these skills,” Massie said. “What usually happens is older people don’t have social media skills, and younger people use social media in the wrong way. No one is taking and developing it as skill set.”
Massie and others at Kutztown believe the next frontier for jobs will be in social media, and that’s why they want to train students to strategically use the platforms. The idea for the program, which is in its second year, started about five years ago as professors were hearing from businesses that they were looking for people with keen social media skills.
At first, Massie’s class — 18-to-20-year-olds who grew up with social media — may have seen the course as an easy A, the 21st century equivalent of Basket Weaving 101. But they were in for a surprise.
“I felt for a while that social media was pretty self-explanatory,” junior Corinne Calderbank said. “But then taking classes on it, you realize there’s so much more than just posting pictures.”
Besides training students for jobs, Kutztown sees the program as a recruitment tool. Part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Kutztown has experienced a drop in enrollment for almost a decade. The Berks County college enrolls about 8,000 students — 2,000 fewer than it did in 2010.
Nearly all 14 PASSHE schools have seen enrollment plummet since its peak in 2010. Higher education officials point to a dip in birth rates in the Northeast, which means fewer 18-year-olds are graduating high school. As a result, Kutztown, which draws students mostly from southeast Pennsylvania, is competing with other area colleges for fewer students.
“You have to do something to say you’re different than other places,” Massie said. “And this program gives Kutztown an advantage.”
Calderbank, a communications major minoring in social media, was surprised to learn in Massie’s analytics class that emotions and feelings can be tracked in posts.
On a recent Friday, a group of students looked through tweets as Massie explained to them the eight basic emotions: joy and sadness, anger and fear, trust and distrust, surprise and anticipation.
Using a software program called Twitter Capturing and Analysis Toolkit that Massie says only four other colleges in the country have, each student searched for a topic on Twitter over a specific time period. The students were tasked with scraping tweets, looking at the tone and then pairing them with certain emotions.
“So if the tweet says, ‘I love pancakes,’ what will it be coded as?” Massie asked. “What emotion will it be?”
“Joy and trust,” a male student correctly answered, because love identifies with joy and trust.
Students found anger and anticipation associated with tweets about the TV show “Game of Thrones,” and that animal tweets mostly show joy. Calderbank discovered that those using the hashtag #flyeagesfly between 2016 and 2019 for the Philadelphia Eagles felt anticipation.
Applied to the business world, the lesson could show how customers feel about a product or service.
Other courses in the curriculum are digital marketing, social media surveillance, digital writing, ethics in business, and user experience design. Classes are taught by faculty in the business, communications and English departments. Students are required to have an internship before graduating.
The degree program includes 54 students majoring in SMS and six earning minors, which is typical of other degree programs. The SMS track is unusual because few colleges offer four-year degrees in social media, though some have certificate programs that are geared to people in the workforce who are looking to add the skill.
Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., for example, offers a social media management certificate but has not considered expanding it into a full major, said Meg Cohen, an assistant dean. The university, she said, sees social media as a complement to other skills. For students who want more, Cohen said, Georgetown integrates social media strategy as a component in several communications master’s programs.
Kutztown’s program veers from communications into other disciplines. SMS students are studying the coding skills that computer science majors use, while incorporating the human preferences and behaviors that marketing majors understand.
“It’s a rare combination of traits but they’re the traits that are necessary going forward in all industries,” Massie said.
Kutztown officials believe it won’t be difficult for social media students to find a job after graduation. On a computer monitor outside Massie’s office, more than 300 jobs requiring social media skills scroll on the screen, all within a 100-mile-radius of Kutztown.
It’s hard to track how many are specific to social media because social media jobs typically don’t have their own classification code, said Nancy Dischinat, executive director of Workforce Board Lehigh Valley, which connects people with jobs and careers.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, groups social media specialists with public relations specialists. The 2017 median salary for public relations specialists was almost $60,000.
The 3,000 social media openings in Pennsylvania that come up on the employment website Indeed include social media managers for a car dealership, marketing firm and hospital.
Social media jobs are being filled by people who have degrees in such things as marketing, said Brian Hutchinson, treasurer of the National Career Development Association, an organization of career counselors. While he finds the Kutztown program interesting, Hutchinson isn’t convinced that it’s necessary. A portfolio usually goes further than a degree in snagging a social media job, he said. And while all companies need a social media presence, he noted it’s unknown what the future will look like for social media.
“We don’t know where social media will grow and develop right now,” he said. “It could turn into something or it could just be a business fad.”
‘It seemed cutting-edge’
Kutztown’s social media degree program comes as fewer students are enrolling in traditional majors. History and English have experienced a 40 percent decrease since 2014 at Kutztown. And even though Kutztown started as a teachers college, elementary education majors are down 20 percent from 2014.
Kutztown sophomore Morgan Santee started as a history major because the subject always fascinated her, specifically medieval Europe and the lineage of kings and queens. “But I didn’t know what I wanted to pursue with that degree, and I didn’t feel passionate about it,” she said.
In her freshman year, she switched her major to SMS after talking with some professors. She has since taken classes in social media analytics, digital marketing, social media surveillance and user experience design.
“I thought it seemed cutting-edge and really valuable in our current job landscape,” Santee, 20, said.
The user experience design class teaches students different research methods to test how to make a social media platform or website more user friendly. Students learn that sometimes changing the color of a button or making a search bar more accessible satisfies users.
Because of the class, Santee, who always had an interest in design, has decided to pursue user experience research for a company.
As students go through the program and Kutztown hears more of what businesses are looking for, the school will make tweaks, Massie said.
But at a time when colleges are trying to keep up with changing job demands and demographics, Kutztown thinks the SMS program is a way to stay ahead of the curve.
At a recent presentation of the college’s future, Kutztown President Kenneth Hawkinson touted the SMS program for being creative and innovative.
“Institutions that survive will be those that are nimble and are able to adjust their size and mission to the demographic challenges that exist,” he said.