THE BLOG
07/29/2014 04:20 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Do You Need a Degree in Social Media? No Way, Some Experts Say

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Based on keywords, the phrase "social media" ranks 10th among what job website Indeed.com calls the top career trends. Indeed.com relies on searches of millions of jobs from thousands of job sites to come up with this list.

As a result of the surge in jobs that incorporate social media skills, social media certificate and degree programs are popping up across the U.S.:

"People use social media for personal purposes and reasons, but using it for strategic purposes takes formal training and specialized knowledge," Spiro Kiousis, executive associate dean for the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, said in a 2013 news release. "We believe that the advanced degree helps develop skills for the many positions emerging in social media."

However, many experts in social media don't believe in the power of formal education -- through either certificate or degree programs at colleges and universities -- for anyone seeking to brush up on social media skills. Conferences, on-your-own learning and practical experience are better vehicles for absorbing knowledge about social media, they say.

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Katie Butler, marketing coordinator at accounting firm Weinstein Spira & Co., noted that earning a degree in social media would be a "lost cause," as social media is in a constant state of flux. Still, experts acknowledge that taking perhaps a couple of college courses in social media might not hurt, particularly if they're taught by professionals who work in the social media trenches.

Ralph Legnini, senior social media marketing and SEO project manager at digital marketing agency DragonSearch, recommends bypassing certificate or degree programs and instead focusing on gaining hands-on experience in social media. For instance, he said, you can sharpen your social media prowess by handling Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts for a charity or a friend's business, and then tracking the metrics. If the metrics are solid, that'll impress your current or future employer.

"Roll up your sleeves and do it," Legnini said. "Some musicians went to school to learn to play, but most of the truly amazing ones just live music every day."

Rather than sinking thousands of dollars into a certificate or degree program, experts recommend these six techniques for getting schooled in the ways of social media.

1. Enroll in Hootsuite University.

Sports and entertainment publicist Parisnicole Payton said this $21-a-month online program, offered by the Hootsuite social media management dashboard, lets you take up-to-date classes on various aspects of social media. For instance, one course teaches professionals about storytelling on Tumblr.

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Of course, Hootsuite University isn't the only game in town. Free or low-cost webinars about social media are plentiful, as are Twitter chats on the subject.

2. Keep current.

Legnini recommends reading as many social media-related articles and blog posts as you can. Among the websites chock-full of information about social media trends are Social Media Examiner, Social Media Today and Mashable.

Megan Ingenbrandt, PR specialist at digital marketing company eZanga.com, suggests soaking up as much information as you can about social media, and then tinkering around with your own social media profiles and pages "to see what works best for you and your business."

3. Check out online videos.

A search of YouTube will yield many video tutorials about social media, according to Payton.

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Simon Granner, founder of Next Gen Digital Marketing, recommends watching videos by Gary Vaynerchuck, one of the masters of social media. Vaynerchuck catapulted Wine Library TV -- and himself -- into the social media stratosphere with his amped-up videos about wine.

4. Attend workshops and conferences.

As pointed out by Insightpool, some of the best social media events to attend include Social Media Marketing World, the Corporate Social Media Summit, the WOMMA Summit and the Social Shake-Up. Aside from feeding your mind, these types of events are great networking opportunities.

Stephanie Katcher, a social media specialist at web design and Internet marketing company All My Web Needs, cautioned that not all social media events deliver the goods, though. "Over the years, I've been severely disappointed by the offerings of industry gurus and workshops that offer nothing new or insightful," she said.

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Granner echoed Katcher's observation.

"There are a lot of 'social media experts' who just sell training," Granner said, "and don't even use social media themselves."

5. Go to meet-ups.

Chances are, professionals in your area are gathering at meet-ups that regularly include social media themes. Tam Frager, marketing and communications manager at data center and Internet services provider Front Range Internet, said several Internet marketing meet-ups in his area regularly feature social media experts who share best practices in the ever-evolving field.

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6. Pick your colleagues' brains.

Scope out your colleagues' social media profiles. If they appear to be especially adept at Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, for example, ask them for some tips, said Megan Ingenbrandt, the eZanga.com PR specialist.

"Social media is an ever-changing platform," she said, "and the easiest way to learn how to get the most out of it is to ask those around you for help."

John Egan is editor in chief at SpareFoot, an Austin, Texas-based startup that makes it easy for people to find and book self-storage units online, offline and via mobile devices.

Photos of students holding diplomas and of social media icons via Thinkstock; photo of Gary Vaynerchuk via Wine Library TV; photo of Social Media Marketing World via toprankblog.com; image of Hootsuite University via Hootsuite; photo of social media meet-up via dragonsearchmarketing.com