A Tipping Point for Social Media Marketing Education

Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point is one of my favorites. It examines how ideas, practices, and products gain traction and acceptance. The catalyst to adoption is a tipping point, a trend or development that “tips” behavior. When I first read the book I thought to myself that it would be great to witness a tipping point and recognize it as such. I had such an experience last Friday when a blog post written by a recent college graduate became the tipping point for advancing social media marketing as a distinct sub-discipline in marketing education.

Cathryn Sloane, a recent University of Iowa graduate, suggested in a post on the blog NextGen Journal that every social media manager should be under 25. Her premise was that people her age have grown up using social media and because of their familiarity with Facebook, Twitter, and other sites from an early age they are best equipped to work in the social media industry. Sloane’s position is summarized by saying:

“No one else will ever be able to have as clear an understanding of these services, no matter how much they may think they do.”
Reaction to Sloane’s post from the marketing community was swift, generally negative, and in some cases, vicious. Critics dismissed the post as ill-informed and showing a lack of understanding how social media is used for business purposes. Some people painted with a broader brush, saying that Ms. Sloane’s view was representative of a sense of entitlement held by many Millennials. Of course, much of the castigation of Ms. Sloane was coming from the over-25 crowd she suggested was less qualified to work in social media.
Add me to the list of over-25s that disagreed with Ms. Sloane’s take that people her age are best qualified to be social media managers. I see where she is coming from, but using similar logic I would make a great general manager for the Atlanta Braves because I watched a lot of Braves games on WTBS in my high school and college years. Despite my differing opinion, I see a positive arising from the flames thrown Ms. Sloane’s way. Her view of what it takes to work in social media marketing brings out the need to develop curriculum to prepare future social media managers. 
Like most cutting-edge business practices, academia lags behind industry when it comes to social media marketing. The time has come to give social media its rightful place alongside other marketing platforms studied in business school: Advertising, public relations, professional selling, and direct marketing. Academics must collaborate with the professional community to identify the skill sets needed to train social media marketers. Sloane’s post and the immense response it elicited are evidence of the need to integrate social media in the marketing curriculum.

Textbook Industry: Game Over or Game On?

Apple made its expected announcement that it is venturing into the textbook market. A combination of factors makes the situation ripe for Apple. First, Apple has demonstrated capability in simplifying the user experience to consume music and entertainment via iPods, iPhones, and iPads. Customer expectations would be that Apple will deliver a similar experience through the planned iBooks 2 platform. Second, customer dissatisfaction abounds in the textbook industry. While iBooks 2 will target K through 12 textbooks it seems inevitable that solutions for the higher education market will follow.

Should the textbook industry be hiding under a rock? Some cynics would say that publishers are already there, and that is why Apple is rising with a challenge. Years of maintaining status quo by publishers along with advances in technology have attracted Apple and other firms to explore how to innovate in the textbook industry. It would be unfair to suggest that traditional publishers have not attempted to innovate in response to changes in technology and students’ book consumption preferences, for they have made strides in responding to students’ needs. But, there is a great deal of work that remains if publishers want to be competitive in an environment in which new entrants are intent on changing how students buy and read textbooks.

Firms have two response options when disruptive innovations make their way into an industry: 1) Game Over or 2) Game On. The Game Over response may not be an immediate surrender. Rather, it can be a gradual decline in a prolonged battle to maintain relevance (see Kodak). In this case, textbook publishers are too heavily invested to cede control to Apple or anyone else. The response has to be Game On.

As a college professor and textbook author, I have great concerns about the costs students must bear to gain access to important learning resources, costs that are in addition to constantly increasing tuition. We cannot price students out of the opportunity to prepare to compete in the job marketplace. The innovation gauntlet has been thrown down for textbook publishers- Game On!

Don’t be Seduced by the Data

As a college professor who has watched textbook prices increase at rates greater than inflation for several years, I am very interested in alternatives to delivering vital content without costing a small fortune. Digital textbooks in particular seem to hold great potential as technology improves to deliver content to tablets and smartphones and prices of e-readers decrease. The combination of high prices for print books and development of digital formats would appear to set the stage for a textbook revolution. In fact, there are data to suggest that is the case.

A recent survey of college students sponsored by Kno Inc., an educational software firm, provided an eye-popping statistic about their willingness to adopt digital textbooks: 25% said they would give up sex for a year in exchange for never having to carry bulky textbooks around campus. Whoa! Time to usher in the era of digital textbooks; a significant segment of the textbook buying market has indicated a high level of interest in being able to shift to digital books. Not so fast- all we know at this point is that some students would rather exert less effort on carrying textbooks than having sex.

The findings on college students’ views on print and digital textbooks do not quite match with reality. Despite being available for several years, digital textbooks have yet to be adopted on a wide scale. Digital books’ share of the textbook market is below 10%. Furthermore, only about 2 in 10 college students currently own an e-reader, which is a limitation on mass adoption of digital books. It is possible that digital textbook sales will take off. Personally, I am hopeful that the quality of the digital product will continue to improve and be able to offer students an enhanced learning experience at a good value.

Don’t be seduced by the data; examine research findings critically to evaluate the extent to which consumers’ intentions mirror reality. A gap often exists between what people say they will do and their actions. In the case of the textbook study, I can understand why students would express a desire to not have to tote clunky textbooks on their backs if alternatives were available. But, realities such as inferior digital offerings and lack of owning needed hardware like a tablet or e-reader means that most students will maintain status quo. When data give great hope, cautiously embrace the opportunity. However, seeing is believing; so watch out for data that portrays a mismatch between stated intentions and actual behavior.

eCampus News: “‘Sex vs. Textbooks’ Survey Doesn’t Jibe with Student Preferences”

Learning from the Pain of Others

Don Tapscott, author of Wikinomics, wonders whether the demise of print newspapers could be the foreshadowing of the demise of another American institution: higher education. In a recent post on his Wikinomics blog, Tapscott says some private colleges and regional public universities may be as vulnerable in coming years as the city newspaper is today. Integrating technology, innovative teaching methods, and a commitment to containing costs are keys to transformation in higher education, according to Tapscott.

As someone who teaches at a large public university, Tapscott’s prediction is both unsettling and energizing. The parallel between what has happened to newspapers and trends impacting higher education has a great deal of validity. Businesses in any industry should take note of what has happened to financial services (quest for profits hurt financial positions), auto manufacturers (inability to make quick changes to customers’ needs), and airlines (unwieldy cost structures) and learn from their mistakes. Economic challenges, changes in how people consume information, and new technologies that enable community formation online are forces higher education institutions cannot dismiss. Change occurs in all industries, although the magnitude of change varies across industries. Taking note of good and bad responses to change by others can be applied to managing change in one’s own organization.

Link: “Colleges Should Learn from Newspapers’ Plight”