Social technologies have changed the ways that business students communicate with each other, their professors, and their institutions at large. Let’s look at social media from two different perspectives: As course content and as a platform for conversation about any course content (e.g. Economics, Statistics, Operations Management, Marketing, Accounting, Finance, Management, Leadership).

The two roles of social media in business schools
Social media as content. From a curricular-content perspective, it’s essential for business students to understand and experience what it means for a company to go social. Social media is more than a set of tools; it represents a phenomenon that has transformed how businesses communicate, sell, market, and promote their products and services. There is now a two way conversations with the business and customer. In business school education, this goes beyond teaching students how to use Pinterest, Facebook, and twitter. In fact, the key is to raise an awareness that objectives over technology drive business strategy. It’s developing a cultural understanding of the new digital space that presents business opportunities and challenges.

There are many approaches to teaching about social media. There are frameworks that can help guide students’ thinking in this process. There are norms that exist in these social spaces and rules that businesses need to follow.  However, the key message is that business objectives not technology drive strategy. Using this approach, the content in the course is evergreen, in a sense.  Rather than teaching a set of tools, strategic thinking is emphasized.

Though, it’s important to understand how to implement those strategies using the current tools.  Through experiential learning, students can learn how to apply the strategies learned to a real setting. For example, you could reach out to startups and established businesses to see if they’d be interested in serving a project for students. I do this in my eCommunities course at NYU Stern, see my syllabus.

This provides students with an experiential learning experience where they can apply the concepts and strategies learned. They can observe cause and effect. They can make a real impact on the business.  Below is a model for the types of activities that can structure an experiential learning experience. At the end of the experience, students have a real story to tell about working with a business to implement social media strategies.

Experiential Model for Teaching Social Media
Social media as conversation. Let’s switch gears from thinking about social media as a course/topic to the opportunities it affords for conversations. Professors can connect with their students more than ever. For example, for any course, a professor could set up Facebook Group [or insert your favorite social technology here]. They could invite students to join semester after semester and literally build a learning community. Students can choose to join or not based on their comfort level.  The learning community can be in the context where the students are (i.e. Facebook), rather than buried in Learning Management Systems (e.g. Blackboard, Sakai, Moodle, Epsilen, Coursera, Lore). Ideas, articles, opinions, and comments related to course topics and current events, for example, can easily be shared, commented on, read, and discussed.

However, making the leap go social within the classroom can expose those with underdeveloped social media habits, including the professor. Though, integrating a social media element into the classroom can motivate students to share and comment on course topics and connect those topics to real-world current events. Social media makes this process simple. This challenges institutions of higher learning that have strived for systems to organize students into classrooms, with specific start and end times, over a 15 week semester.  Social media creates an alternative. It’s a space for conversation that can move beyond the structures of universities and colleges.

The learning community is more than the professor and peers. It extends into the business community
The key is that professors are only part of the student’s network. The conversation about course related topics can extend beyond the end date of the course. This enables students to drive the conversation and invite others, including business experts to participation. This puts the students at the center of the conversation over the professor. The principles we teach about social media for business can be applied to our own educational institutions. The more we have students talking about the course content, relating it to the real world, and inviting participants into the conversation the more they will see what they learn as valuable and applicable.

Social Media as Content and Conversation in Business School Education