Thoughts on the MA in Social Media

There’s been a lot of discussion about the new MA in Social Media course being offered by Birmingham City University. On the one hand, the mainstream media reports from the Guardian and Daily Telegraph have focused on criticism – on the other, people like the esteemed PR professional Neville Hobson have looked more in-depth at what the course actually offers and the benefits it can bring to individuals and the PR industry.

What’s interesting is looking at the proposed opportunities for individuals completing the 48 week, £4000 MA course:

  • Become a social media consultant (and understand what that means);
  • Develop innovative and low cost communication strategies for third sector organisations using social media tools;
  • Develop innovative and alternative media projects;
  • Work with existing mainstream media organisations as they develop social media strategies;
  • Enhance your skills and contribute to the development of new professional practice in PR, marketing communications and web design;
  • Continue to develop a scholarly interest in social media as part of a further research degree;
  • Contribute to the development of the social media industry.

I’m torn because I’d jump at the chance to focus on the more scholarly and research aspects of social media/marketing/PR without the bothersome concentration on results and profits that comes from social media and marketing as an occupation.

At the same time, I’m immensely greatful for the focus and concentration that being gainfully employed in social media and marketing brings – it means a real need for effective strategy, implementation, monitoring and selection of channels for starters.

The big question for me is whether paying £4000 as an individual will be recouped any time soon? Even with employment placements during the course, will organisations need growing numbers of MA-level social media specialists, either within the organisation or as consultants, and how big is that demand at the moment? Would an MA influence you over and above practical experience and past work?

Certainly anyone already established in a social media role at a managerial level should be able to tick pretty much all the boxes the MA aims to deliver – and are those roles going to be offered to those graduating the course, or people more like myself who spent time in journalism and publishing, gaining additional experience in marketing and social media, before making the switch?

And how many social media concetrated roles are still seen as entry level positions? Will there be a switch in the near future?

I’d be more comfortable with social media being wholly integrated into digital marketing and general marketing courses and qualifications, certainly in the immediate future, but with the opportunity to specialise for elements of the course, giving people a better chance of being able to gain employment in a larger range of roles, but am I being overly cautious? And does the world need more social media specialists and consultants, when there is already a plethora of very good (and some bad) in the space already?

There’s a very good amount of interesting discussion on the course on Twitter, with the hashtag #masocialmedia.

And here’s the video introduction to the course:

Jon Hickman: MA in Social Media from Kasper Sorensen on Vimeo.

First experience with Google Friend Connect on my WordPress blog

You may have spotted an interesting new widget on the right side of the site, under the search box. And you’d probably have spotted it’s an example of Google Friend Connect, released into the wild!

If you haven’t heard about Google and Facebooks rival attempts to provide a way to carry a single identity around the internet, engaging with communities at each stopping point, then I’d be a little surprised! Facebook Connect is also now available to anyone, having been opened to anyone today, after a period of testing on a limited number of sites. The third option is all of this is OpenID which has been around a while. The idea of not being tied to a single company is appealing, but it all honesty, I’ve often found OpenID can be a bit of a pain as a user if you forget which site logins count, or have to go through a creation process. It shouldn’t be hard, and the individual steps aren’t rocket science, but for some reason I’ve always found it a pain

Installing Google Friend Connect on a WordPress Blog:

Whereas the instructions for Facebook Connect involve creating HTML files in specific locations and will take a little bit of confidence, installing Google Friend Connect on a host WordPress Blog is incredibly easy. Once you’ve been accepted to use it, you download two html files, which you then upload to the top level of your hosted blog. Then once Google has checked it can find them, you’ve given access to the limited number of widgets already available – which you can install by copying and pasting the code in the ‘Text Widget’ option in your WordPress Dashboard.

In fact, the only thing that slowed me up was adjusting the height and width to make sure it fitted the right hand column!

Initial Thoughts:

I spent the morning reading the comprehensive look at Google Friend Connect by Neville Hobson and took the chance to try it out from a pure user’s perspective – it took me a couple of seconds to work out how to use my standard Google profile – strangely it isn’t the default – and also how to add my first friend – Robin Grant from We Are Social had turned up moments before me!

All well and good, but the interaction available by the community widget is pretty limited to adding someone – there was mention of being able to see them across all sites,but having added the widget here, I can’t see any way to contact, invite or interact with Robin and get him to come and display his proud membership of TheWayoftheWeb. (He might turn up if I tag this post with his name!)

There is also a comments widget which I may have a play with shortly – the question is whether that detracts from comments on the end of each individual post, and leads to something with no context – or whether it provides a place for general comments and communication which benefits the site as a whole, and doesn’t interfere with specific responses.

There’s also a review and rate gadget, which looks quite useful, but not really applicable for this blog unless I want people to be rating the entire site, and a very simple demo game.

I know there’s going to be a lot more coming, and the fact it works so flawlessly in the current basic iteration is definitely a good thing – I’ve just got a lot of questions about what will be happening in the future, and how it will help more interaction and connectivity to benefit the site. How do I use it to make friends with people via other instances, and then suggest they might like to visit, for example?

There are widgets which do that already, such as MyBlogLog, (owned by Yahoo)  which displays any registered users in the order they visit. The main difference is that any interaction is done via the MyBlogLog site, which works OK, but it isn’t effective to ask me to leave the site I’m enjoying to go and connect, and then come back again. Whoever wins the ID war out of the three main players, I suspect services like MyBlogLog will be the first to be caught in the crossfire.

Big implications for sites with registration and data revenues

The other area of interest for me will be around data – obviously a site like mine doesn’t require membership or monetise data – but a lot of mid to large sized websites are using data capture as a significant revenue stream. If everyone is using Google Friend Connect as their preferred community, and it’s not available on a large site, it may stop them from wanting to interact – and if it is available, there’s currently no real data available that I can see in the administration area, aside from total number of members.

This could leave a lot of sites in a very tricky position – do they accept the loss of data to allow community, or do they risk isolation by trying to keep a valuable revenue stream?

And they’ll need to decide quickly, because Facebook has a large audience as an incentive, plus integration into Facebook news feeds etc. Meanwhile Google not only has a Googlopoly on search, but most smaller sites and blogs are incredibly familiar and at home with Google Adsense, meaning it’s a familiar working relationship.

If anyone has any details on the data side of things for Google or Facebook’s services, I’d be really interested to find out more.

Listening pleasure and Twitter earnings…

I received a good response after yesterday post on Virgin Radio becoming Absolute Radio…thanks to everyone that Stumbled, Dugg, or Twittered it, or came along and had a look.

I must have audio on my mind, because although I’m not a huge fan of podcasts, there are a couple I felt I should mention.  I’ve never been a fan of talk radio, so I never really gave podcasts as much of a chance as I probably should have done – especially with a commute that’s done in about 20 minutes.

But maybe that’s partly down to hearing subjects I want to actually listen to – until podcasts it was reserved for the vary occasional audio biography or documentary about my favourite musicians.

Now I’m spending a lot of time walking around comforting a young child, podcasts make a lot of sense – and the fact they’re devoted to technology, social media, public relations, or any interest I want to indulge unsurprisingly makes them rather enjoyable.

They aren’t exactly unknown, but I’ll recommend the collection of series at Twit.tv and For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz report as two I’ve been enjoying immensely. Twit (This Week In Tech) is an enjoyable round table around whatver has cropped up in the course of the week – and after a couple of weeks I’ve even warmed to the constantly grumpy John C Dvorak.

Meanwhile, For Immediate Release (FIR) is far more focused on the likes of Public Relations and Technology. It also features a Transatlantic partnership between two people I’ve followed in text for a while, Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson.

The irony being that there’s a huge, huge difference between the style of Twit and FIR. Twit host Leo Laporte is far more…’American’ in his presenting style (not saying that’s good or bad), whereas FIR is far more relaxed and akin to a Radio 4 programme. I’m becoming a big fan of both shows – but I can’t imagine any analogue, or even digital radio station likely to play two shows at such stylistic difference to each other – let alone one after the other as I sometimes do!

(Bearing in mind I use my laptop for listening to more and more Podcasts, anyone with autoplaying music, or any video or advert that autoplays on your website or blog is instantly registered as annoying… please don’t. And in case someone spots that type of advert on a Bauer Media site – I don’t book the adverts, I’ve registered my feelings strongly on several occasions, and I don’t pretend to speak for everyone!)

I doubt I’ll be making the jump to audio any time soon – my last foray into video was shamefully wooden.But I am continuing to balance two blogs on top of my day job. You can see my latest thoughts on microblogging – particularly the new Twitter advertising site, Twittads.