When Twitter is a work necessity

Carmen Scheidel, of Mediabistro, conducts an online class as part of a social media marketing boot camp in New York, Feb. 16, 2012. (The New York Time...

Carmen Scheidel, of Mediabistro, conducts an online class as part of a social media marketing boot camp in New York, Feb. 16, 2012. (The New York Time...

When Anne Klein shut down its designer line in 2008, Eileen McMaster was among the fashion professionals there who found themselves without jobs. After years of working long hours, she took some time off, turning her attention to improving her health, becoming a Pilates instructor and wellness consultant along the way.
Now, with signs that the struggling economy is slightly improving, she is looking to get back into the fashion industry. To help strengthen her position in the job market, she returned to the classroom last year to develop expertise in social media that she can layer on top of her deep marketing and corporate communications experience.
“I didn’t have the social media savvy in the way I do in other areas of marketing,” said McMaster, 44, of North Babylon, N.Y., who signed up for the social media marketing boot camp online courses at “When I left fashion, social media wasn’t even something we were doing in the industry. Fast-forward four years, and if you are a brand and you are not on social media, you are missing a huge audience.”
For midcareer executives, particularly in the media and related industries, knowing how to use Twitter, update your timeline on Facebook, pin on Pinterest, check in on Foursquare and upload images on Instagram are among the digital skills that some employers expect people to have to land a job or to flourish in a current role.
“Six months ago, Pinterest wasn’t on everyone’s radar,” she said. “Because I am taking these courses, I am not behind.”
Pamela Tate, president and chief executive of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, based in Chicago, said digital literacy, including understanding social networking, is now a required skill.
“They are essential skills that are needed to operate in the world and in the workplace,” she said. “And people will either need to learn through formal training or through their networks or they will feel increasingly left out.”
For most people looking for a job, she said, it is vital that they understand how to use LinkedIn and other social tools to network and present themselves online. “If you don’t have a LinkedIn or Facebook account, then employers often don’t have a way to find out about you,” she said.
To help bridge the gap, major universities, community colleges and online educational businesses from to offer continuing education classes in digital media, including social media skills, Web design, search optimization and Web analytics.
The University of San Francisco has an Advanced Social Media certificate that can be earned in an eight-week online course. New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies offers courses where students can also earn certificates within its business programs.
Harvard’s Extension School has a social media marketing course for $1,900 aimed not at midcareer executives, but at younger marketers who need help learning how to integrate social media at their companies.
At Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, Sree Sreenivasan, dean of student affairs and a professor who has been teaching digital journalism and skills for more than 16 years, began teaching continuing education classes in social media in 2010.
With students, Sreenivasan said his goal is to “make them think really carefully about what they do and when they do it on social media.”
“We have to think about social media in a new strategic way,” he said. “It is no longer something that we can ignore. It is not a place to just wish your friends happy birthday. It is a place of business. It is a place where your career will be enhanced or degraded, depending on your use of these tools and services.”
While the classes are meant for working journalists, people from many different fields have signed up. In addition to the two courses offered for nondegree students last fall and spring, Sreenivasan and Ernest R. Sotomayor, assistant dean, career services and continuing education, organized a weekend of panels and workshops in late January for 500 people after a similar weekend conference approach drew 300 students last May.
Participants paid up to $200 for lectures and panels that began on a Friday evening with Fred Wilson, the venture capitalist, talking about the future of social networking, and Vadim Lavrusik, who oversees journalism initiatives at Facebook, offering insight on how to use the platform for reporting, content creation and sharing.
Over the next two days, the discussions ranged from how to build a community using social networking tools to how social media is changing the way people watch television.
For those participants, who wanted one-on-one attention from an experienced social media user, the “social media doctors” were in the house.
Stationed at small tables with laptops in the school’s lounge, two dozen volunteers met with people throughout the weekend, offering guidance on topics like how to set up a Twitter account, create an audio recording on SoundCloud and how to take a Tumblr blog to the next level.
A professional photographer was nearby for participants who needed a profile photo for their online presence. There was a line of people waiting on his services both days.
The idea behind the “doctors” was to give people some individual instruction at a conference setting, said Liz Borod Wright, a freelance writer who works with Linda Bernstein, another freelance writer, to help Sreenivasan teach the classes. “They are looking at your Facebook page, your Twitter account, your LinkedIn account and giving guidance on what is most relevant to you,” she said.
Dr. Kate Uraneck, 53, a doctor and emergency disaster preparedness official for New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said she attended the weekend program to learn more about social networking tools. A graduate of Columbia’s journalism school, she heard about it through the school’s alumni network.
“Within my field of emergency preparedness, social media is taking on a more prominent role,” she said, noting how government and Red Cross officials turned to Twitter and Facebook to get the word out during Hurricane Irene. “I wanted to get more knowledge about it.”
Uraneck emphasized that she does not have social media responsibilities as part of her job. She met with one of the social media doctors to learn more about how to use her personal account, (AT)thedisasterist, more effectively. One of her chief goals, she said with a laugh, was to better understand the role of the hashtag in the Twitter system.
She sat down with one of the most experienced volunteers: Serbino Sandifer-Walker, a fellow alumna of Columbia’s journalism school who is a multimedia journalism professor at Texas Southern University in Houston. Sandifer-Walker said she was interested in not only learning about new platforms during the conference, but also seeing how Columbia’s journalism school approached teaching social media skills because a similar continuing education class is being explored at her university.
“We are looking at creating a course that would be good for seasoned professionals, people who want to develop skills to move their career to the next level,” she said. “For the program to be strong, we know that it will be important to keep up with all of the changes.”
Educators also say skills classes have to help translate what seems to be a different language – hashtags, mentions, heart.
For Uraneck, her advice on Twitter was straightforward: “Use it to inform, enlighten, bring value,” she said. “Engage.”
Over the next hour, Sandifer-Walker, using layman terms, explained to Uraneck how Twitter can be used to find people around the world who share similar passions and interests. They talked about the importance of sharing links to useful, relevant content and looking for organizations and people who did the same.
They also discussed how interacting with people on Twitter is an important part of both building and joining a community. And how a hashtag is a useful way to help discover and follow topics or issues on Twitter.
“To me, just learning about mentions and hashtags was almost worth the price of admission,” Uraneck said. “I had picked up books on Twitter but now I understand it. I also understand the relationship-building piece, being responsive and the give-and-take that goes with that.”
Several businesses also offer online courses to help people understand social networking.
For years,, now a division of WebMediaBrands, which publishes blogs about social media and sponsors trade shows, has offered a robust lineup of digital media courses for media professionals, including workshops on blogging basics and podcasting.
In 2007, there were 150 workshops and courses about digital media and technology but none specifically about social media, according to Carmen Scheidel, Mediabistro’s vice president for education and events.
Last year, she said, there were 190 workshops and courses in the digital media and technology program with 32 courses dedicated specifically to social media topics that included social media metrics and marketing on Facebook and Twitter. Many of these courses are now offered online.
“In general, the digital natives are earlier in their careers, and they are not the ones taking these types of classes,” Scheidel said. “It tends to be people who are very accomplished in their careers but are new to social media. It is an interesting mix.”
Fueling interest in learning has been a sharp increase in the number of employers looking for people with social media skills. Since 2010, the number of jobs listed on Mediabistro’s job board in the categories of mobile, social media, Web development and social-app gaming increased 140 percent, she said.
In January, job listings in those categories were up 51 percent over from the previous January.
To deliver social media training in a more effective way, Scheidel said that Mediabistro last year introduced a new approach. Instead of offering mostly small workshops with 15-20 students, they began offering what she described as an online social media conference.
As part of the course, industry leaders, who often appear at major digital conferences, deliver their presentations online during a webcast. At the same time, she says they still offer students small online workshops and one-on-one guidance with instructors who give them advice for whatever specific social media project they are doing.
“We wanted to give them the experience of being at a conference but maintain that small group setting, where you can get feedback and actually learn,” she said. “We also know that they can benefit from helping each other. They can share, connect and give feedback in small group workshops.”

The online conference approach also gives the students an opportunity to establish social media connections with one another, giving them an instant social network of peers interested in the same topic.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, Scheidel opened the first session of an eight-week online Social Media Marketing Boot Camp by welcoming about 250 students linking in from their computers from around the country for the live seminar.

While some of the participants were between jobs, most of the students worked for major corporate brands, universities and government agencies, including MTV, NBC Universal, MIT, Bobbi Brown and the World Health Organization.

At the first session, Scheidel introduced Michael Brito, senior vice president for social business planning at Edelman Digital, who was followed by Dave Kerpen, chief executive officer of Likeable, a marketing firm. The title of his talk was “How to Establish a Brand Personality Through Social Media.”

As both speakers delivered their presentations into a Web camera, zipping through their PowerPoint slides visible in one of the modules on the computer screens, Scheidel guided a lively interactive chat in another module, allowing the students to ask questions of the speakers and each other.

When one of the speakers brought up Pinterest, one of the students typed into the discussion forum, “What is Pinterest?”

In seconds, another student typed into the chat box: “It’s a social bulletin board – image based.”

Then, Scheidel typed in the link, Another student added: “It is a new photo share. You have to be invited, which I think is not very friendly.”

Yet another student suggested he “check out their website” but warned it “can be addicting.”

At the end of the first session, Kerpen from Likeable invited the students to find him on Twitter and ask any questions that they might have after the class.

He also announced that he would give copies of his book to students who said hello to him on Twitter immediately after the class. He emphasized, “There is no timeline tweeting me questions.”

“The timeline is the rest of our lives,” he said.

Updated : 2021-02-25 16:41 GMT+08:00