By Meghan Davis
Bob Robicheaux, Ph.D., chair of the UAB Department of Marketing, Industrial Distribution, and Economics, gets calls every week from local retailers asking for help with marketing. But they don’t always want his help. Instead, the businesses are often looking for students to help with social media marketing.Robicheaux and his colleagues realized there was an economic need that the School of Business could prepare its students to meet. “I used to say that everybody’s in sales,” Robicheaux says. “Now, everybody’s in marketing.” Recently, the school began offering both a minor and a graduate-level certificate in social media marketing, with classes based in marketing and information systems.
The Power of Networking
Sites such as Facebook, with more than 950 million active users, and Twitter, with more than 500 million, have cemented the ability to connect and interact with other users as an essential Internet function. “The impact of social media has escalated so fast,” Robicheaux says. “If we can frame what’s going on into some kind of basic theory, then we can teach our students and businesses how to use it.”
To approach social media from a business perspective, students first learn the concepts that underpin its power, such as “collective intelligence, wisdom of crowds, human social networks outside the context of technology, and cooperation as an evolutionarily favorable characteristic,” says Keri Larson, Ph.D., assistant professor of information systems.
Despite changing technology and media, marketing principles remain the same, adds Carol Motley, Ph.D., associate professor of marketing. “All of our communications are geared toward enhancing brand image and brand equity,” Motley says. She predicts that social media strategies will be taught in every marketing course in the near future.
Conversations with Customers
Larson and her students use Twitter to exchange news articles and facilitate ongoing conversations, watch TED videos for inspiration, blog their responses to articles, and present their final research projects via a course wiki. “Virtually every aspect of the course is co-created by the instructor and the students,” Larson says. It’s an exchange of ideas that mirrors the way companies are building relationships with customers via social media.
Graduate Certificate Program in Social Media
UAB’s four-course program emphasizes new and emerging technologies, educating both students and working professionals on how to use social media to communicate with stakeholders. The required courses are MBA 615 Social Media and Virtual Communities in Business, MBA 616 Web Analytics, and MBA 617 Introduction to Business Intelligence, plus one social media course from any UAB graduate program, approved by advisor. The program is open to anyone with a bachelor’s degree and a 3.0 cumulative GPA or higher, or a GMAT score of 480 or higher if GPA is less than 3.0. For more information, call (205) 934-8817 or visit www.uab.edu/business.
For example, companies often seek out communities that their customers form voluntarily, says Motley. “It’s ethnographic research. They’re listening to the conversation and learning the nuances.”
“You used to have to do surveys and market research,” Robicheaux adds. “Social media allows marketers to track engagement immediately. It gives companies and nonprofits the ability to maintain active relationships with customers.”
Armed with insights into business principles and their “digital native” comfort with social media, UAB students will be prepared to shape businesses’ social marketing strategies, Larson notes. “Combined with an understanding of web analytics and business intelligence, our students will be in a position to create and manage social media campaigns,” Larson says.
"The more pervasive the understanding of available technologies and platforms for reaching and listening to customers, the better positioned a company will be to move beyond the use of social media as ‘experimental’ marketing or a public relations channel,” Larson says. Companies can then “embrace social media as a framework for achieving a wider variety of organizational goals.”