From the Web to the Workplace

Polish your tweets and blogs with a course in online social networking
By ASHLEY RIGAZIO  |  August 14, 2009

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Nearly nine percent of the Massachusetts workforce is unemployed this summer, and with local colleges cranking out a glut of degree recipients in a lousy job market, many of them are inevitably lounging around on futons, blogging and posting on Facebook walls in between job applications.

Ironically, the favorite pastime of the young and “funemployed” may be what gets some of them on a new career path, with a little help from local adult-education courses. We’ve entered the age of impaired attention spans, especially among the young audience that businesses relentlessly target, giving tech-savvy twentysomethings an edge in at least one area of the job marketplace.

Online social media — FacebookMySpace, instant messaging, blogging, even the ubiquitous Twitter — have moved to the forefront of how we communicate, and how businesses build their brands and sell their products. What was once a means to update your buddies on the delicious sandwich you just ate, or a way to piss away an entire evening live-blogging reality TV, is now a valuable workplace skill coveted by hiring employers.

A glance at job listings on Mediabistro and Craigslist shows the market for social-media experts is quickly expanding, both in high-profile gigs and locally. Earlier this year, Britney Spears’s management infamously posted a job listing seeking a Harvard graduate “addicted to social networks such as MySpace and Facebook” to run her online operations. The Huffington Post is in the process of hiring a social-networking editor to oversee and increase participation on its Twitter and Facebook accounts.

On Craigslist, job postings like a recent one advertising an immediate opening in Cohasset for a new “Social Media Engagement Manager” position are becoming the norm.

So don’t lose your wide-eyed outlook and move back home defeated quite yet, recent college grads. Instead, get ready to head back to school. You’ll need training on how to apply and focus your cyber skills.

For these gigs, your typical lunchtime tweet won’t cut it. Companies, media outlets, and, yes, even heavily medicated pop stars expect that candidates for these jobs not only use new technologies, but target them in a way that broadens their audience, engages consumers, and spreads a clear brand message.

To fill this developing need, colleges and universities have begun offering courses in online social media and blogging while updating communications, marketing, and business curriculums to integrate tools like Bebo, AOL instant messenger, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter.

The “Virtual Communities/Social Media” course at the University of California at Berkeley — taught by author and esteemed online-communications guru Howard Rheingold — takes a scholarly approach to the new age of media, teaching students “to chat, blog, tag, Wiki, avatar, comment, Twitter, and Flickr productively — and have some notion of how these practices affect self and community.” Across the pond at Birmingham City University, you can even earn a one-year master’s degree in social networking and media.

Here in New England, classroom studies of the “virtual world” described in depth by Rheingold are more focused on taking online skills and applying them to a corporate environment or a job search. Paving the way in this field are adult-education programs, not the region’s many hallowed but stubborn four-year institutions.

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