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New Class Gives Marketing Students Social Media Experience

Teaching social media marketing requires quick feet and a flexible syllabus.

"I miss three days of Mashable and I'm behind," said Lydia Fine, an adjunct faculty member in the Tippie College of Business who's teaching the first undergraduate Social Media Marketing course this fall.

It's one of the challenges of teaching a topic that changes pretty much every week, if not everyday. But given the increasingly larger role that social media is playing in business, an understanding of how it works is crucial for marketing students to succeed after graduation.

"There's a shift in the relationship between customers and businesses because of social media, so that the customer has more power now, and they're not giving it back," said Fine, who is also manages the Tippie Full-time MBA program's social media platforms. "Students need to know how to manage those kinds of relationships via social media. Businesses that refuse to recognize the power shift will fail."

The class focuses only on social media and the platforms businesses use most, like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs.

"Social media marketing is still young and it's all trial and error at this point," she said. "There isn't one business that's doing everything right, so we study what worked and what didn't.

"So much of what's written about social media is in big, broad terms," she said. "We want to get into specifics. What will work for a business? Is it possible to measure the return on that investment?"

Fine uses social media as part of the class, linking to articles and news stories via a class Twitter feed (@smmiowa). Her students have gotten into the spirit, too, posting links themselves. Special guest lecturers include social marketing media veterans from Panchero's, Electronic Arts, and Likeable Media.

The centerpiece of the course is a social media consulting engagement, where teams of students work with Iowa City-area businesses to develop social media strategies. The engagements are all different, she said, because some of the clients already have a social media presence and just need fine-tuning or a new idea, while others are starting from scratch.

The businesses the students are working with include Hands Jewelers, Monica's Restaurant, John's Grocery, RSVP, Gary McIntire State Farm, Coldwell Banker, Stella Restaurant, and Classic Smiles Dentistry.

But teaching about social media always has the inherent challenge of knowing that at some point, all of her class materials might need to change. That happened for Fine when Google introduced Google+ last summer, which didn't exist when she designed the class but now had to be addressed.

And the champion Tweets Per Second keeps changing on her, too. Right now it's Beyonce's pregnancy. But who knows when that might change.


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