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Friday, November 07, 2008

Is Social Media Becoming The New MBA?

The rise of Web2.0 success stories has created an interesting phenomenon in the world of business. Today, far more than 5 years ago, you could easily point to a list of entrepreneurs who have built successful businesses without having a graduate business degree. The same MBA degree that was once considered the "green fees" to success in the business world seems to be rapidly becoming an optional asset on the road to success. The tradition of taking time off of work to complete a degree, for example, is rapidly giving way to more hybrid options such as part-time programs and Executive MBAs (targeted at professionals later in their careers).

You could easily argue that perhaps this effect so far has been contained to the world of the web and perhaps even mostly in the technology sector, and that fields like investment banking or executive management are as focused on candidates with MBAs as they ever were. Still, the question that has been on my mind for several months now is whether we are seeing a shift where some of the core benefits and skills that people expect to recieve from an MBA are now readily available through social media. In particular, I'm thinking of four areas:

  1. Collaboration. Learning how to work in groups and with others in a team has long been a hallmark of the format of most MBA programs. Today with BarCamp style events like StartUp weekend, crowdsourcing sites, and blogs there are plenty of opportunities to virtually collaborate with others to solve problems. For those taking advantage, they may be learning a very similar skill to what they may get from a business program.
  2. Network. Long heralded as one of the major benefits of doing an MBA, the network of your fellow graduates would be sure to help you in your future career - perhaps to get your next job, or at least to close new deals and be more successful in your current job. Now my social graph is on networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Every day I get a dozen or more new invitations to connect with people and this graph is rapidly expanding. If I needed help finding a new job or identifying a vendor, I would first turn to this network.
  3. Education. Of course, let's not forget the most important reason (in theory) to get an MBA ... to get better educated about the world of business and to increase your success in your career. Again, there are thousands of business professionals who are often some of the best minds in their fields, blogging or sharing stories of their success and what you can learn from them. Simply focusing your attention on reading (or listening or watching) these, and combining it with an initiative to learn from those experiences and put them to work in your career could be the most educational thing you can do.
  4. Money. The last point here is often the most important for those considering an MBA: that they can make more money. While this is certainly true in terms of starting salary in a managerial position out of school, I wonder if the numbers are skewed by the fact that it is often the most ambitious people in business who are pursuing an MBA. Of course, they are the ones that achieve the fastest salary growth, but is it due to their MBA or the fact that they were inherently ambitious? I realize that this question may depend heavily on the industry within which you work as well.

Personally, I did get a BBA from the Goizueta Business School at Emory in Atlanta - and I feel that experience was well worth it. But my question is whether social media today may be replacing some of the traditionally perceived benefits of doing an MBA? And if so, I believe what it means is that the best MBA programs will need to continue to innovate and offer candidates more than they can already get for free through social media and the Internet.

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Arent we going too overboard by saying this? May be what your are pointing to is true for technology sector where the network through social medium is strong, but when we look at other sectors(esp manufacturing) i really doubt social medium offering a replacement. I would say it more like adding it as a part of an MBA curriculum, as now businesses need to know this aspect of the world also..

This is a fantastic post, and something that I've always pondered in terms of the intrinsic value/benefits of academia vs. real world experience -- even well before the social media movement.

I am someone who loves to learn, but am more a student of life than an 'academic' per se, and have never been able to be confined to a classroom. So I thrive on collaboration, interacting with thought leaders and diving head first into projects, immersing myself in all aspects through more of a holistic approach to learning. And that has served me very well in my career, allowing me to derive expertise from a variety of sources instead of within the linear confines of a set, mandated curriculum.

My knowledge comes from actually engaging directly with he market vs. a textbook, and I can honestly say that, save for the financial elements of marketing like forecasting and P&L, I haven't applied any classroom-learned principles into my work over the past decade. But now with the extensive knowledge sharing on the web, and at-home courses and learning materials, even those more mechanical functions can be self-taught.

I'm not advocating skipping college or dropping out of an MBA program, and there are certain fields for which standardized education will always be required such as banking, as you touched on in your post, and engineering, etc. However, I think in areas like marketing, technology, and certainly entrepreneurship, it is no longer part of the cost of entry nor is it to one's detriment not to possess an advanced degree. And employers like myself have ceased using education alone as a measuring stick for candidate worthiness. I'm more interested in aptitude and demonstration of real world results than letters next to someone's name.

The Internet has made us collectively smarter, more informed and more connected than ever before, allowing us to tap into knowledge that had always been hidden within the hallowed hallows of an institution. Now it's at our fingertips, and I think that everyone should take advantage of the life-enriching benefits for enhancing your professional development and expanding your arsenal of expertise -- regardless of whether you choose to go the formalized education route.

This is a fantastic post, and something that I've always pondered in terms of the intrinsic value/benefits of academia vs. real world experience -- even well before the social media movement.

I am someone who loves to learn, but am more a student of life than an 'academic' per se, and have never been able to be confined to a classroom. So I thrive on collaboration, interacting with thought leaders and diving head first into projects, immersing myself in all aspects through more of a holistic approach to learning. And that has served me very well in my career, allowing me to derive expertise from a variety of sources instead of within the linear confines of a set, mandated curriculum.

My knowledge comes from actually engaging directly with he market vs. a textbook, and I can honestly say that, save for the financial elements of marketing like forecasting and P&L, I haven't applied any classroom-learned principles into my work over the past decade. But now with the extensive knowledge sharing on the web, and at-home courses and learning materials, even those more mechanical functions can be self-taught.

I'm not advocating skipping college or dropping out of an MBA program, and there are certain fields for which standardized education will always be required such as banking, as you touched on in your post, and engineering, etc. However, I think in areas like marketing, technology, and certainly entrepreneurship, it is no longer part of the cost of entry nor is it to one's detriment not to possess an advanced degree. And employers like myself have ceased using education alone as a measuring stick for candidate worthiness. I'm more interested in aptitude and demonstration of real world results than letters next to someone's name.

The Internet has made us collectively smarter, more informed and more connected than ever before, allowing us to tap into knowledge that had always been hidden within the hallowed hallows of an institution. Now it's at our fingertips, and I think that everyone should take advantage of the life-enriching benefits for enhancing your professional development and expanding your arsenal of expertise -- regardless of whether you choose to go the formalized education route.

To answer your question, I would say "yes". While I feel college was certainly beneficial, what will come after will certainly be in the hands of the pursuer. Some people continue to dive into learning every day, while others are content with their present knowledge base. Whether you pursue an MBA or drink deeply from the vast amount of information available outside the classroom, SM is at your fingertips; it all depends what you want to do with it - make it a career or make it a hobby.

@ Rahul: I agree with you. Social media is part of marketing/branding strategy for most of the big names today, but then, it is still more or less restricted to a few industrial sectors. Think about it this way: In B School, a typical student has 3-5 years of work experience, people come from different industrial segments and collaborate and network for two long years- this is quite different from online interactions, occasional bar camps or meetups. One on one, human interaction still holds value, and efforts like bar camps are still in its infancy, though in the right direction nonetheless.

Having said this, I would also agree with Gennefer and Rohit. Having an MBA makes it easier to get the first job, but then, if you get into a good B School, you have probably proved your mettle at your previous workplace and deserve a good job! And there’s certainly no substitute for first hand experience.

Social media definitely is something MBAs can't ignore as a part of their curriculum - its sometimes hard to put your point across MBAs who do not have a facebook, linkedin or a twitter account.Its like you are living in two different planets! But knowing social media alone might not substitute the basics of accounting, or finance for that matter - traditional ideas for marketing, advertizing and branding.
My two cents, as a startup entrepreneur and a Grad student not doing a MBA:)

I don't know that it is becoming the new MBA but I know that some people are attempting to make it as educational as possible. Including Howard Rheingold with his Social Media Classroom and Chris Penn is now the adjunct professor of Internet marketing at the University of San Francisco.

It's interesting to see the transition with both Howard's and Chris' efforts into a classroom of students wanting to learn about social media.

I couldn't agree more with Gennefer. I've long thought that most careers don't need a college education. After the first year of art school a graphic designer should be able to get a job and work their way up. I learned practically nothing in the remainder of my 4-year degree unless I taught myself. I learned everything on the job. Yet I left with $60,000 in school loans to pay off.
As far as other industries, I think you need a certain amount of expertise in the field to be successful or break new ground but I don't necessarily think you need an MBA. I would think that around half of the most successful people in the world DON'T have an MBA. Does Bill Gates?

Absolutely. As the science of marketing evolves due to new technological changes within the competitive environment, universities will have to adapt their education programs.

What I don't agree with is that a business degree is even necessary. I guess it depends on what aspect of business you focus on, but if the focus is marketing, some of the worst marketers are people who hold college degrees. Many master marketers will even go as far to say that a college degree actually hurts someone when it comes to writing sales copy.

I once tricked a fellow marketer that has a college degree by asking him what he thought of this headline, "Advice To Wives Whose Husbands Don't Save Money --- By A Wife". He had a terrible time with analyzing this headline. All sorts of english grammar rules started firing off within his head. It doesn't use proper subject verb agreement which will confuse the person reading this. Using three dashes is not appropriate, only one dash should be used.

I later revealed to him that this is one of the 100 most famous headlines of all time that far outpulled the advertiser's previous best ad (which was english grammar perfect) "Get Rid of Money Worries".

I don't think it has gotten to that point yet, but that's not to say in another 10 years it won't be. Especially considering the huge tuition increases year after year.

Strongly agrees with the content of post!

MBA curriculum has to rigorously reinvent itself every semester. Barring IIMs and few other institutes, MBAs are not adding any value to the organizations. MBA degree I believe is not at all necessary to succeed in present world. Short modules focusing on to the organizations' needs can be designed and these can help in much better way.

MBA curriculum has to rigorously reinvent itself every semester. Barring IIMs and few other institutes, MBAs are not adding any value to the organizations. MBA degree I believe is not at all necessary to succeed in present world. Short modules focusing on to the organizations' needs can be designed and these can help in much better way.

My "advanced" degree was earned starting a business and running it profitably for nine years. In the process, I employed as many as 16 people. Ultimately, I sold the business for a profit. In fact, that business is still profitable seven years later.

In my professional life, I have met numerous executives with MBAs that have no clue as how to run a profitable business, including people with degrees from Notre Dame and Harvard. As Steven Wright put it, "half the people you meet are below average." Unfortunately, this even applies to C-level executives.

I do indeed agree with the position in this article, as I'm a bootstrapper working hard daily to find valuable information on blogs and microblogs that advance my professional skill set. Importantly, I am collaborate in the online learning environments via my own blog and microblog postings.

Regardless of one's job title or degree, a marketing professional that does not participate in today's online conversation is simply out of touch with the marketplace. Period.

Korye Logan
BOSSdev, Inc.

Awesome Post....You brought up some very good points.

I just finished up my undergrad at UCF in Marketing and though I feel it's an accomplishment, I didn't even go to my graduation. There are a lot of people all across the country graduating with all kind of degrees, and a large percentage of them are less competent, or knowledgeable than those without a degree.

I honestly feel that there are many degrees, especially in the field of business that you can learn through experience, reading blogs or having a mentor.

Your point about networking was dead on....Through Social Media you can build relationships with people that can be future business partners, employers and customers. Social Media also provides an easy platform to maintain those relationships, something that MBA students of the past may have struggled with or had to work harder at in the past.

Great meeting you in Vegas at BlogWorld

As a current MBA student working for a pr agency, being involved in the social media sphere has really been a fantastic complement to what I've been learning in the classroom. Possessing the ability to engage subject experts via blogs or listening to podcasts has been a welcome addition to my studies and has really helped me put a few topics into context (I never would have thought that I would have enjoyed discussing market segmentation over Twitter).

However, pertaining specifically to my role the pr field, I think the MBA provides me with an alternative perspective regarding the business world and has allowed me to see it through the eyes of my clients who are typically non-social media users at the start of our relationship. That way, I can initially see the numbers and understand the terms/practices the same way they do. I can then put my own spin on things based upon the knowledge and case studies I've soaked up from the social media universe.

Eventually, I just hope that being active in social media and possessing an MBA will mean I'm way ahead of game...

I am a prospective MBA student applying to programs right now. I agree that social media is become a huge part of many organization (speaking from experience as I work in the field). However, accounting and finance are extremely crucial if one is to get a holistic view of business administration. Learning various business functions brings light to the tasks that one carries out everyday.

Also, unfortunately, I'm not sure how many MBA schools value these social media outlets yet. As I have met representatives from various business schools they don't seem to grasp the fact that my job is based on social media. It's going to take time, and I hope soon enough they realize that we are part of an extremely important and beneficial field.

This is why I think an MBA in addition to social media experience is the right combination to have.

Also, look forward to hearing you speak tomorrow at the AMA event in Houston!

I am a prospective MBA student applying to programs right now. I agree that social media is become a huge part of many organization (speaking from experience as I work in the field). However, accounting and finance are extremely crucial if one is to get a holistic view of business administration. Learning various business functions brings light to the tasks that one carries out everyday.

Also, unfortunately, I'm not sure how many MBA schools value these social media outlets yet. As I have met representatives from various business schools they don't seem to grasp the fact that my job is based on social media. It's going to take time, and I hope soon enough they realize that we are part of an extremely important and beneficial field.

This is why I think an MBA in addition to social media experience is the right combination to have.

Also, look forward to hearing you speak tomorrow at the AMA event in Houston!

I am a prospective MBA student applying to programs right now. I agree that social media is become a huge part of many organization (speaking from experience as I work in the field). However, accounting and finance are extremely crucial if one is to get a holistic view of business administration. Learning various business functions brings light to the tasks that one carries out everyday.

Also, unfortunately, I'm not sure how many MBA schools value these social media outlets yet. As I have met representatives from various business schools they don't seem to grasp the fact that my job is based on social media. It's going to take time, and I hope soon enough they realize that we are part of an extremely important and beneficial field.

This is why I think an MBA in addition to social media experience is the right combination to have.

Also, look forward to hearing you speak tomorrow at the AMA event in Houston!

As a current student in journalism, the subject of social media presents itself, not to be cliche, as a double-edged sword. Living in the world with an increase in citizen journalists, the job opportunities seemed to slowly depleting.
On the contrast, the benefits of social media (Facebook, blogs, podcasts, etc.) begin to outway the cons. These networks, like you said give way to meeting professionals and finding out about jobs.
The increase in people receiving college degrees sort of discredits the education people receive. This is not to say that not receiving proper education for certain jobs is unnecessary, but makes it more difficult to distinguish against other people.
As far as journalism goes the credibility is decreasing, but in the finance field the MBA and such, is still necessary.

No. Enthusiastic or even expert use of social media is no substitute for an academic business admin education. You're comparing apples and oranges. When did communications, collaboration and creativity replace the other disciplines required to create economic value? Business is more than Marketing. Operations! Finance! Accounting! Strategy! Organizational design! Yes, the technology adoption has forever changed how business operates over the last 25 years (since I completed my MBA at Kellogg)-- and the tsunami of social media will democratize many business processes. With speed, relevancy, and global reach. It has huge potential as an interactive channel for market research, product development and lifecycle management, micro-segmentation, customer relationship management, and--lest we neglect it--internal organizational alignment. But there are also risks and hazards ahead. GroupThink. Sloppy insight based on data from self-selected samples. And poor understanding of how all of this translates to real economic value in the real world marketplace (versus a Second Life facimile).

I sure hope not or we are going to get a generation of managers with the attention span of 5-year-olds.

Interesting supposition, Rohit. As someone with an MBA and heavily involved in social media, I think there's some truth to both sides. While collaboration and networking are important aspects of getting an MBA, there are certain in-class benefits that come about from a live educational experience.

And while social media focuses mostly on the softer skills, there's a heavy degree of analysis in MBA programs that focus on strategy development, finance, accounting, and economics that may not be as easily shared or understood in the fast-paced, microsharing platforms we've become accustomed to in social media.

Getting an MBA takes discipline and commitment. Perhaps there will be hybrid models online (and I'm talking about more than traditional online programs) that will develop. I'll be staying tuned.

Scott Monty
Global Digital Communications
Ford Motor Company

This is a very interesting post. Social media has definitely reached its peak.

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