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Dear marketing professor, welcome to 2012

college professor cartoonA few weeks ago I began the first marketing course in the executive MBA program at the University of Utah. I started the 22-month program last August. Since marketing speaks closely to what I do for a living, I was looking forward to the class.

The course so far has mostly been a rehash of many marketing principles I learned in college in the early 90s. The textbook content is good, but the tone makes it difficult to read. It’s a large-sized book with small 10 point font and way too many words per page.

Of particular note is a class conversation we had last week after a student asked about research demonstrating the success or failure of social media in marketing efforts.

What followed really surprised me.

The professor made two statements that pretty much negated the practice of marketing through social media tools. One in which he said everyone knows an equal amount when it comes to communicating and marketing using social media, and another in which he said no one has found success using social media for marketing.

And this was after he talked briefly about the agency HubSpot and the many inbound marketing case studies and newsletters he has received from them. HubSpot is a good example of how to successfully use social media for marketing, both for themselves and for their clients.

The professor’s comments provided a good lesson for me not to make overreaching, blanket statements when I teach and present, unless the purpose for doing so is simply to encourage discussion. But he didn’t allow for discussion. Instead, he kept plowing through his immense PowerPoint slide deck, covering some 15 points per slide. His comments were so definitive that they work to his own discredit.

Of course everyone’s entitled to an opinion. Some people may really dislike social media and believe it’s useless for marketing communication, public relations and even for online search placement. But why should an opinion like that (an uninformed one at best) prevail in an academic setting designed for the sole purpose of preparing executives to succeed in today’s business environment?

To ignore social media or state that it’s completely ineffective—grouping every human into the same bucket of limited social media marketing knowledge—is simply disappointing and strangely naïve for a university marketing professor tasked with teaching MBA students.

So many studies have been published by the Pew Internet and American Life Project and Nielsen demonstrating both activity and engagement through social media. And yes, even success.

There are also many credible online publishers who discuss and present success stories from the world of social media marketing, including Mashable, PR Daily and Social Media Explorer to name only a few.

Pew recently published this case study on the Kony 2012 effort that has taken the Internet by storm, becoming the most viral video of all time. I brought up this example in class two weeks ago, encouraging my classmates to watch the video and check out what the organizers have accomplished using social media, but it didn’t receive any additional discussion by the professor that day or the week after.

Also, when it comes to business blogging, there was a great study done by Nielsen/McKinsey, released earlier this month, addressing the fact that there are millions more bloggers and blog readers than there were just a handful of years ago. This is one social media tool through which many businesses have been able to successfully reach and market to other businesses and consumers. Check out this great post by Mark Schaefer on the 10 best corporate blogs in the world (Jan. 5, 2012).

And these are only two very recent, limited examples.

Which leads me to this: Academia is challenged when it comes to keeping up with technology. It’s easier to use curriculum developed when you first start teaching rather than work each semester to keep it current.

How’d you like that definitive statement?

Of course I don’t believe this applies to all of academia. I have seen many professors in the public relations and marketing industries in particular struggle to keep up with the digital times (case in point).

I’ve also seen many professors revise their curriculum, even develop entirely new courses, to include applicable strategies and tactics from the social media world. I’ve taught courses of my own at UNLV, online through the UCI Extension and on behalf of the University of Utah’s professional education division.

Just last month a professor of marketing in the Kellogg School of Management asked for permission to use Integrated Marketing in the Digital World, an e-book I co-authored with Duane Sprague, in his MBA marketing class at Kellogg this spring.

So, there are some professors embracing the new reality of marketing. And for their voices, I’m grateful.

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