And colleges and universities are looking to make sure their students graduate with those skills.
Among them is Kutztown University, which this week opened its Social Media Analytics Strategic Hub, or SMASH. Officials hosted a ribbon cutting Tuesday for the lab, which the university designed specifically for students in its social media theory and strategy major.
The major, which the university introduced a year ago, has 48 students, said Diana Ebersole, associate professor and chairperson of communication studies at Kutztown University. In the spring, students will be able to minor in social media theory and strategy, she said.
“The major is growing beyond projections now,” Ebersole said. “We are very optimistic that it’s going to attract a lot of students.”
The university is also talking to business leaders in the Lehigh Valley and Berks County who are interested in providing internships for students enrolled in the major, she added.
After faculty at the university researched the social media major and studied the industry, they felt they had a better understanding of what employers wanted, according to Ebersole.
“They want students who understand the technical strategy and can write content,” Ebersole said.
However, with that growth of social media platforms and a world of seemingly endless content comes a sense of responsibility for those in the communications field.
“We are trying to instill in them ethical standards,” Ebersole said. “The humanities aspect of that degree is understanding that data can be manipulated. There’s a lot of focus on being an ethical producer of content and savvier consumer. It’s all about clear, effective ethical messages.”
The university renovated one of its larger classrooms to create the lab, capping it at seats for 25 students. Rather than a more traditional learning environment, the lab has computers on the wall that allow students to work on their laptops and view their work on the wall, she said.
The lab is an active learning space that incorporates software and hardware for multiple academic disciplines.
The university is in the final stages of acquiring advanced social media software created at Harvard University.
The software represents the latest developments in the industry. It uses advanced artificial intelligence to find patterns not initially obvious to human analysis, gives students access to social media analytics, and has the ability to keep historical records of social media platforms.
Some of the emerging technology that students already have access to in the lab include Nuvi, proprietary software that’s used to study analytics through real-time customizable data visualizations; Gephi, which is visualization software for graphs and networks; and Twitter Capture and Analysis Software, which actively mines and archives tweets.
The university spent $310,975 in total renovation and equipment costs for the 1,025 square foot space.