Social Media Skills a Must for M.B.A.s, Survey Says

This post originally appeared on the U.S. News–Strictly Business blog.

If you think social media is primarily good for reconnecting with long-lost friends from high school or stalking celebrities to find out what they had for breakfast, think again.

Now more than ever, M.B.A. students and applicants live and breathe through social media, a new online survey reveals. And that level of social media use is a good thing, considering the growing demand in the business world for employees with honed social media skills.

After polling hundreds of both prospective and current b-school students, The MBA Tour found that 85 percent of potential students worldwide say they use social media sites to research their top school choices. This is higher than the 71 percent of students already enrolled who reported using social media for their school research, suggesting a massive upward trend is afoot.

Although most elite business schools use Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, and LinkedIn as part of their outreach strategy to potential applicants, it appears their efforts haven’t quite hit the mark. Approximately 14 percent of would-be students reported outright disappointment with their potential schools’ use of social media tools, or, while acknowledging that the schools had made an effort, 63 percent were left wanting more.

For current students or graduates, 55 percent felt the social media options and subsequent classes were either “not up to par with the growing industry” (17.7 percent) or simply weren’t provided (37.7 percent). Additionally, 99 percent of students researching business schools reported social media was either a “necessity in every field of study” (51.7 percent) or “somewhat important dependent on the field of study” (47.6 percent).

“The results are thought-provoking””especially as 85 percent of prospective students are researching the biggest choice of their life through social media,” says Peter von Loesecke, CEO and managing director of The MBA Tour. “We might want to ask whether schools are missing out on the right conversation with their students. What the survey suggests is schools might want to consider using social media not only for their recruitment programs, but also to more aggressively incorporate social media into their curriculum because there appears to be a growing demand both from students and businesses.”

Several schools have already noticed the demand, as readers may remember from my April post on Social Media in the M.B.A. Classroom, which highlighted courses on offer at Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Columbia Business School. For its part, the marketing department at New York University’s Stern School of Business has added two new courses on the subject just this year.

Social Media for Brand Managers, taught by adjunct marketing professor Joel Rubinson, is intended to equip marketing students to contribute to and even run cross-functional social media teams in a marketing world that is moving from brands broadcasting a message to brands listening and then engaging with people. Rubinson commented on my prior post that the last class maxed out at registration, proving what a hot topic this is.

For tomorrow’s business leaders, social media skills are essential, says Christine Eberle, a United Kingdom-based senior executive for Accenture’s Talent and Organization Performance practice and contributor to The Social Media Management Handbook. Eberle says as corporate recruitment evolves to meet the changing dynamics of the marketplace, graduates without a social media skill set could find themselves passed over.

“Businesses must learn how to use social media to start a two way conversation with their customers and potential customers,” says Eberle. “Those companies will look for that leadership among business school graduates.”

As someone with a presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube, I use these tools daily and they have become a huge part of my company’s communication efforts. The social media revolution wasn’t even a speck on the horizon when I was doing my M.B.A. at Kellogg School of Management, so I’ve had to self-educate and wing it in a medium that’s constantly evolving.

Schools are also realizing the landscape is changing more quickly than it has in the past and all institutions””like any enterprise””must adapt and evolve. “The demographics of the student body are partly what’s driving change,” says The MBA Tour’s von Loesecke. “The students themselves see this trend instinctively because they are the Internet generation””they’ve grown up with the Web. They know of no other world.”

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