Content is king. It’s a mantra familiar to anyone with the slightest awareness of social media. As the hunger for good stories and smart ways to tell them appears insatiable, UBC is preparing its students with the skills to feed the beast.
When it came to devising Sauder’s new course, Decoding Social Media, marketing instructor Paul Cubbon knew that his students needed to learn how to engage consumers with a brand through social media by telling compelling stories. It’s a skill as basic now to marketing as understanding supply and demand.
“I was looking for collaboration and it very quickly became clear that UBC’s Graduate School of Journalism would be a natural choice,” says Cubbon. He began to brainstorm with Associate Professor Alfred Hermida, an instructor with extensive online experience as a scholar of social media and a founding editor of BBC News’ award-winning website.
Hermida was immediately taken with the idea. Bringing together business and journalism under one roof makes for an interesting dynamic, he says. “Both worlds are being transformed by social media technologies and shifting patterns of human communication and interaction.”
The instructors recognized parallels in the way social media is propelling businesses and journalists to share control of their brands and content with their online followers.
Hermida recalls the hugely successful social media campaign that heralded the launch of the movie The Hunger Games where fans were encouraged to use logos, music, and mottos to share the brand. Similarly, he says journalists now work with their audiences to crowdsource stories, handing over a degree of control.
Together, Cubbon and Hermida intend to equip students with the critical skills to best connect with and serve their audiences. This includes being able to think strategically and use measurable objectives and best practices when using social media.
Cubbon and Hermida say this course is unique. “Our approach isn’t about leveraging journalism to create a business, as with other business-journalism crossover programs,” says Hermida. “Instead, we are preparing business and journalism students for a social media world where they are expected to share and collaborate with their consumers.”
Skills needed for careers in content creation and curation are different to those needed historically by traditional journalists or marketing managers, says Cubbon. “They need to be able to deal with the ambiguity and opportunities provided by the increasing transparency, speed, authorship and user interaction facilitated by digital storytelling.”
The course, which combines communications and business theory with an immersion in social media, was supported by a UBC Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund (TLEF) grant. Creating a think-tank environment, the class pairs fourth-year BCom and MA journalism students to work with an array of social media platforms and examine their burgeoning impact on business, culture and society as a whole.
“Journalism students will learn about monitoring, measuring and evaluating social media initiatives,” explains Hermida. “Business students will learn about journalistic practices such as content creation and collaborative storytelling.”
As Cubbon notes from recent industry trends, brands are creating content in the social media environment in an increasingly strategic and agile manner for consumers who live in an “always on” culture. He says the course will encourage students to stay ahead of the curve and be part of the change taking place in marketing, where the lines between storytelling and advertising are being increasingly blurred.
The students are putting new-found skills into practice from the start, collaborating on social media projects for non-profit organizations and media clients, such as the Vancouver Sun and CBC Radio 3.
After the first day of class, Ceilidh MacLeod, a fourth-year Sauder student, is a firm believer that the course will give her a boost in the job market.
“Many people who work in a social media position often got there through experiential learning, not necessarily provided through their education,” she says. “This course allows me and my peers to fast track that trial-by-error phase, and become prepared for job opportunities that require familiarity with content creation, branding and experience with relevant tools.”