New certificate in Social Media trains students in the art of engaging customers online in a rapidly evolving landscape.

SAN MARCOS — In the spring of 2013, Palomar Business Professor Mary Cassoni took a sabbatical to learn more about social media and the ways that it was already beginning to disrupt a variety of information-centric industries.

“We couldn’t help but see that social media had become this formidable force in marketing and communications,” Cassoni recalled. “Back when I started teaching here (in 2005), students were talking about MySpace. That was the only social media platform at the time, and the term ‘social media’ hadn’t been invented.”

That changed with notorious speed, and with the rise of social media came seismic shifts in how virtually every business connects with their customers.

“In terms of how business professionals operate today, it’s definitely been what we call a disruptive force. To get information out there (in the past), there was always a middleman. It sort of cuts out the middleman,” said Cassoni. “Anyone can get his or her message out to the masses without having to go through a news bureau.”

While most students in 2017 will arrive with plenty of casual experience on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, Cassoni pointed out, “What they haven’t learned are some of the business reasons behind what would make social media the right platform for your message, product or service. Social media is not advertising, and it isn’t necessarily journalism, either. To me, it’s sort of a melding of the two.”

To prepare students for careers in which social media plays a central role, Cassoni and her colleagues in the Graphic Communications department created a seven-class, 18-unit certificate.

“We’ll be able to give students both the technical skills they need and the foundational skills they need in social media so they can get entry-level jobs,” she said.

Cassoni recalled the first time she taught a social media class. She expected to see the same cross-section of students, averaging 26 years old working on degrees or transferring.

“At the last minute, I said, you know what, I’m going to offer this in the late afternoon just because I have a feeling we might get a wider population,” she said. “And I was right. We got entrepreneurs of every age—people who owned a business and knew this social media thing was up-and-coming.

“I also had an 84-year-old woman who used to be a journalist and wanted to learn how to use the social media platforms,” she added.

Some may think there’s nothing more to social media than posting updates, but Cassoni said using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms well as a businessperson takes sound training and up-to-date knowledge.

“The good social media that drives engagement isn’t yelling at you, like, ‘Buy my product!’ It’s inviting you to have a relationship with the product,” she explained.