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The Social Media Skills Gap

Posted by Joe Clarkin on 1/25/16 10:00 PM
Topics: social media, Marketing to Students

The presence of social media has grown rapidly over the last decade, reaching almost every place and generation. And as it's grown in popularity, social media has become an important part of the business world, with many companies having full-time social media employees. So with this uptick in importance, is there an ever-increasing gap in terms of social media literacy? Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes dives into this topic, and how we can shrink that gap in this post from Fast Company. Check out an excerpt from Ryan's article below!


While social media races ahead, formal training and education programs are lagging seriously behind. If that isn't making headlines, it's testament to social media's comprehensive mainstreaming: "Facebook? I use that everyday. Who needs to be trained in it?"

Yet a meager 12% of the 2,100 companies in a 2010 Harvard Business Review survey said they're using social media effectively. And more recent research by Capgemini and others show that confidence gaining only incrementally.

Reports of social media gaffes and blunders in the workplace are still routine. Meanwhile, the real price of the skills gap often goes unnoticed—billions of dollars in missed opportunities and lost revenue.


The clearest culprit is the breakneck proliferation of new platforms and features. Around a year ago, Snapchat was still a toy for teens to trade disappearing messaging; today it's the latest way to reach young customers on their own turf. As more platforms incorporate more sophisticated features, even the most plugged-in users are struggling to keep up.

At the same time, how social media is used in the workplace is fundamentally changing. Just a few years ago, social media in the office was the domain of specialized social media managers, the gatekeepers who owned a company’s public face on the leading platforms. In a short time, however, social media duties have been radically democratized and decentralized. The number of job descriptions on mentioning social media skills is booming: "[We’re] seeing this demand span many levels, from executive assistants to senior vice presidents," Amy Crow, Indeed’s then communication director told Quartz a few years ago.

Since then, employees have been asked to use social media in ever more numerous and unfamiliar ways. The standard marketing functions are just the tip of the iceberg. Social tools are being used to streamline customer service, drive sales, improve HR processes, and build employee brand advocacy programs.

Meanwhile, platforms like Facebook at Work (in beta now and expected to roll out this year) and Slack (which boasts millions of users, from NASA to your corner coffee shop) are quickly changing how workers collaborate. By bringing social messaging inside the office, these technologies are breaking down silos and boosting productivity (although some disagree). Social media is no longer a discrete thing that certain people do in certain jobs, and more of an integral component of work itself.

But this approach only works if employees are on board and up to speed. "The real problem is that we expect people to know these skills without providing any training," William Ward, professor of social media at Syracuse University, recently told me. Social media know-how isn’t something you just pick up as a casual user. And it isn't just older employees who are in the dark—millennial hires need training, too.

"Because somebody grows up being a social media native, it doesn’t make them an expert in using social media at work," Ward says. "That’s like saying, ‘I grew up with a fax machine, so that makes me an expert in business.’"

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