I saw a story in today’s Telegraph online about a university in Birmingham that is offering an MA in Social Media. It’s an interesting story and has, needless to say, generated a fair bit of comment. Universities are commercial entities and need to fill their courses so the timing of this one couldn’t be better. Some of the comment hasn’t been favourable though, dismissing the course as a gimmick and the university as trivialising further education. The gist from the detractors seems to be that social media isn’t important enough to warrant its own course. I wonder if the same people would be as dismissive of the course if it was about commercial radio or even national press; both these subjects are already covered extensively by further education but reach only a fraction of the people say Facebook does.

Perhaps most surprisingly the course has been attacked by students themselves but not for the reasons above. Some felt the course simply wasn’t in-depth enough, that it only scratched the surface of social media and wasn’t teaching anything most students didn’t already know anyway. This is a quite different criticism and a more telling one. If nothing else it affirms the demand for the course and indeed for better, more insightful ones. That students think this should tell us all we need to know about where they see social media in the scheme of things, they don’t need shown how to use it, that is second nature now to a lot of them, what they want to know his how they can develop it and where can it take them.

Yet for a lot of people there is still a feeling that social media isn’t real media, it’s just talking to your mates, showing embarrassing photos or catching up with old school friends. Yet we don’t think that of any of the multitude of trivial magazines that fill up the racks of the newsagent, the plethora of minority television stations that now abound or your local paper which almost certainly employs half as many journalists as it did 10 years ago.

This is relevant because the original story was in the Daily Telegraph, still the best selling ‘quality’ paper in the UK; however I don’t buy it. I read it in the online version of the paper but again this isn’t a site I normally frequent. What happened was someone I’ve never met sent me a link from their Twitter account, I follow them because they tend to find interesting links like this, I read it and thought it interesting and relevant, I forwarded it on to some others who I thought might also find it interesting, they did and they forwarded it on again and so on.

Without social media I simply wouldn’t have seen the story, and quite probably neither would you.
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