Do we really have a social media skills gap?

Hey–it’s not me asking this question. It’s a topic that’s coming up with clients and friends I’ve talked with in town for a little while now.

Is there a social media skills gap among younger folks here in Minneapolis?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Fenced In, Part 3

The bigger issue is this: Why are we even having this discussion?

I thought young people were supposed to be all over social media? They grew up with smartphones. They were born with Facebook profiles. They’re on Snapchat! They have mad social media skillz.

How can it be possible that we have a skills gap with young social media talent in this market?

I’ll tell you how. A few critical factors may be at play:

1: The secondary education system isn’t helping.

How many classes do you think PR and marketing majors have in digital or social media marketing right now? Maybe one? Two at most? Meanwhile, almost every job I see now in PR/marketing has an extensive list of digital and social responsibilities. Those two things aren’t lining up. It’s not close, in fact. Our colleges and universities simply aren’t doing a good enough job in preparing these kids for their jobs when it comes to digital and social media marketing. Now, I know academics will tell you job training isn’t part of the college experience (especially for a liberal arts degree). And, to that, I would say, if I’m forking over $150,000-200,000 for a four-year degree, you better damn well prepare me just a little for a job where I can make some semblance of money. Because I’m going to be paying off those loans for a long, long time.

2: No viable training options.

Go ahead. Look around. Do YOU see any viable social media marketing training opportunities for young people? PRSA doesn’t offer anything here. Locally, orgs like MIMA, AMA and AdFed don’t either (although I still believe MIMA has a big potential role here, if it wants it). So, where is agency or corporate marketing leadership supposed to turn for training on social media marketing? To be honest, I’m not sure. I have no easy answers. But, I’m getting the question more and more from clients, partners and friends.

3: Senior leaders (largely) aren’t helping.

Another problem: Senior PR (and, in many cases, marketing leaders) aren’t in a position to help coach up younger folks either. Why? Because they themselves need coaching up. Certainly, there are exceptions. People like Jen Swanson at Children’s Hospitals & Clinics, Kevin Hunt at General Mills, and Holly Spaeth at Polaris come to mind. But, to a larger extent, the senior-level people managing these junior-level folks don’t have the chops to train them up. The fact is: They may need the training just as much as the junior folks do.

So–what do you think? Is there a skills gap? Are junior to mid-level agency folks up-to-speed with social media skills?

Sure, people are FILLING these roles. But, are they the RIGHT people? Do they have the right skills? Are they staying up-to-speed with the changes in the industry?

I’m not so sure. Not based on what I’m hearing.

Now, again, not saying this is a blanket statement. Surely, there are a number of talented people with big social media chops here in Minneapolis. People like Katie Miller at OLSON, Danny Olson at Weber Shandwick, and Morgan Hay-Chapman at space150,  just to name a few. I’ve been working with Ryan Roddy and Sarah Frield at Broadhead, who are both very smart.

I’d be interested to hear what you think (even if you live outside Minneapolis–sure this might be an issue in other large markets, too).

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2 comments on “Do we really have a social media skills gap?

  1. Darrin Exsted says:

    I certainly agree that secondary-education system isn’t doing it’s part to teach users how to interact professionally. You only learn on a personal level and when you’re trying to mold that into a career without proper training, that can be a disaster.

    I moved a year ago from MN to OR and the digital culture is completely different out here. It could be due to the fact that Intel is out here, and that IT opportunities are plentiful, but I notice how more advanced the digital world is out here in the Pacific Northwest. I work as a Learning and Development Coordinator at my company and we promote instructional learning courses for free to our employees that can range from leadership to social media classes. That’s where the Senior level comes in. Why not better your employees personally and professionally by offering them courses to make them better at their career? Ultimately, you don’t want to lose them because you’ve made them smarter, that can always scare a business. But knowing that they can grow as a person within your company (which may mean covering costs for courses and instructors) could go a long way in terms of molding the right people to help your team to continue to be successful.

  2. I’ve been teaching two separate courses on social media strategy and social media content (both 1 hour courses) at the University of Missouri School of Journalism for the past 3 years. Students love these courses and always ask why it isn’t more of a priority.

    I think it has a lot to do with the wide variety of skills and principles that students are tasked with learning in their two years in their chosen discipline, combined with the increasingly complex digital landscape. Given a limited number of electives, even students who have indicated interest in a career in digital marketing have to make tough choices about which classes they will take and which areas in the digital space they will direct their focus. For example, students at Mizzou can now take two levels of a course titled “Interactive Advertising”. In this course, students survey the landscape of digital advertising and cover a variety of topics. When you think of all the possible topics to cover in a course on digital advertising, social media is only one among many. Consider the following:

    – Digital Strategy
    – Search marketing (paid and unpaid)
    – Display advertising
    – Email marketing
    – Website Design & UX
    – Ecommerce
    – Web and campaign analytics
    – Content marketing
    – Programmatic Advertising
    – Mobile Advertising
    – App design and development
    – Social Media (paid and unpaid, including both strategy and content)

    How do you choose where to focus your time, especially when those same students are tasked with learning the basics of creative advertising, marketing research, principles of strategic communication, public relations and more? You simply can’t. So typically, the broad brush strokes in a general digital advertising course will only allow students to scratch the surface of each of these topics. Digital marketing and social media professionals understand this won’t cut it when it comes to job preparation for a full-time position. Even in my social media courses (which allow students to dive deeper into social subject matter, review case studies, learn best practices, gain experience using popular social media tools, engage in hands-on projects, and hear from industry guest speakers) we still cannot cover everything.

    One possible solution is schools can begin offering specific degrees or designations in “digital advertising”. This would be an additional 9 credit hours (3 courses) specifically targeting digital marketing subjects, such as social media. Those universities that begin developing a nationally recognized curriculum for a “digital marketing” designation will win big at both recruiting and job placement rates.

    But I don’t think that’s the full solution. I think employers also need to begin to realize that their entry level employees are simply not going to be prepared to contribute in every way on day one. My hunch is that most employers have yet to implement robust training programs or continuing education programs to effectively equip their digital marketing professionals. Attending conferences like the recent SXSW can also help digital marketing professionals stay abreast in the ever-changing digital landscape. But employers must be willing to invest in their aspiring digital gurus and allow them to develop hands-on experience by investing time and money in their employees.

    The solution is certainly multi-tiered. But perhaps the first step begins with simply recognizing that the game has changed and will continue to change at a rapid pace and admitting that the layers of knowledge that a digital marketing professional must accumulate are stacked higher and higher. Digital advertising is a HUGE field and employers who want their organizations to succeed must be willing to invest more in their digital competencies.