Social Media in the M.B.A. Classroom

Elite business schools are weaving social media instruction into their curricula.


It's important for today's business students to be schooled in Internet marketing and social media strategy. With 175 million registered users on the micro-blogging site Twitter, and Facebook reporting 500 million active members, tomorrow's M.B.A.s need to develop and manage marketing strategies that address the nuances of the online world.

But familiarity with the various forms of social media communication is no longer enough; graduates have to be able to transfer this experience into the commercial landscape. Such knowledge may provide an all-important edge when the time comes to parlay your M.B.A. into a job offer.

Several elite business schools in the U.S. and abroad have added courses relating to social media over the past year, and the move couldn't come fast enough. As an editorial writer in the Financial Times puts it, business schools that don't recognize the ubiquity of new technology risk lagging behind not only the students they aim to teach but also the recruiters who come to these schools in search of M.B.A.s.

Social Media at Elite Schools

Columbia Business School's course on "Social Media and Entrepreneurship," taught by adjunct professor Rachel Sterne, centers on a real-world social media marketing challenge, introduced by a startup founder on the first day of class. According to the syllabus, students examine why some social media startups succeed and why others fail; the contributing factors behind major shifts in consumer behavior and social interaction online; and different tools and approaches to social media marketing and measurement. Participants then test course theories in the real world and ultimately create a digital presentation analyzing their experience.

The objective of Harvard Business School's popular second-year elective "Competing with Social Networks," taught by associate professor Mikolaj Jan Piskorski, is to introduce the network failure framework to help companies that use social networks build and sustain their competitive advantage. In this course, students identify business models that leverage social networks to deliver substantial returns.

At the Stanford Graduate School of Business, a course titled "The Power of Social Technology," taught by marketing professor Jennifer Aaker, promotes social good through nonprofit businesses. Whereas much is written about the mechanics of using Facebook, Twitter, and the like, Aaker's course addresses how to leverage the power of social technology to make a difference. By studying the Obama campaign, Kiva, eBay, and Nike, students learn how social technology can create political change, and how social good and profit-making can be compatible.

Andrew Stephen, assistant professor of marketing at INSEAD, created the first major elective course on social media at a European business school—"Advertising and Social Media Strategy"—which launched in January 2010, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. Stephen believes social media can enrich the interaction between companies and customers, and the class tackles the underlying psychological and sociological foundations of social media and the metrics and measurement tools for gauging the effectiveness of social media campaigns.

Social Media and the B-School Applicant

Now that business schools have added courses in social media to their curricula, you can bet the folks working in M.B.A. admissions are equally savvy in this area. It has become commonplace for review committees to log on to Google, Facebook, or Twitter to research a candidate before handing out a coveted invitation to interview.

My advice to clients? Honestly evaluate your profile. Think about whether you'd want one of your grandparents to see the content you've got on there, or the individual who's writing your letter of recommendation. If it doesn't pass that test, then you need to get rid of it. If something is on the Internet, you should assume it is fully public. Even with new friend and privacy settings in place, you should simply remove any incriminating photos or comments, and untag yourself from questionable photos posted by others. Disregard this warning and you may jeopardize your chances at getting into the b-school of your dreams.