Social Studies

Mobile media take learning 
outside the classroom

Social media are challenging MBA students to express themselves – and listen to others – in fresh ways in order to navigate the sometimes hostile waters of public opinion.

Paul Cubbon, a marketing instructor at the UBC Sauder School of Business, says students need to learn about social media as part of an applied business education. “It helps them market themselves because they can show their ability to think in a fast-paced and publishing way,” he says.

Cubbon encourages MBA students to blog and discuss what they’re learning. It’s especially useful for those who are part-time students and holding down a job while attending school, because the blog helps them connect what they’re learning in the classroom with what they’re doing at work, while at the same time demonstrating their skills. “It shows what they can do and how they can apply it in a particular functional area or industry.” 

For SFU marketing professor Leyland Pitt, YouTube is the medium of choice in classes. “I require my students to create a spoof ad in which they parody a brand of their choice, place it on YouTube and then devise whatever strategies they choose to drive as many hits to the video as possible,” he explains.

The exercise not only teaches students something about marketing; it enhances their awareness of how social media influence the identities and reputations of brands. “I want the students to learn by doing,” says Pitt. “This way, when they re-enter the workforce, they can at least say they have worked at creating content in social media, and have experimented with ways of attempting to turn that content viral. While they might not have all the answers, at least they have some real-time experience.”

Michelle Au’s experience highlights the possibilities and the perils of social media. Au and five classmates devised a mock ad last fall for the BlackBerry Torch, hoping to capitalize on its imminent entry to Canada. It was picked up by the blog and soon logged more than 40,000 hits. “It’s a combination of luck and knowing what people are looking for,” Au says of the mock ad’s success.

But some of the comments left on the video’s page, critiquing its production quality and content, have given her pause for thought. Social media “definitely has its good and bad,” she reflects. “You can communicate directly with your audience. At the same time, you may not be able to control the negative aspects of it.”

But it’s the public accountability that Erica Enstrom finds appealing. “It’s creating this dialogue that you can’t avert yourself from,” says the UBC student and assistant vice-president for western Canada in Medisys Corporate Health LP’s Independent Medical Assessment Division.

Successes and shortcomings are both laid bare, giving companies a means of cultivating clients as part of a general strategy rather than through intensive one-on-one meetings – something Enstrom has seen with a blog she now maintains for Medisys that’s targeted to its legal clientele.

But she also encourages companies to engage their audiences when issues arise. “Not responding to your critics or becoming defensive in a social media circumstance isn’t going to help you,” she says.

Andrea Wilkinson, an MBA student at UBC and director of partnerships for the Vancouver Whitecaps, loves how social media make such exchanges easily traceable. “It gives us far better reporting statistics, and we start to ask questions of who the people are and start to really delve into the people who are engaging with us,” Wilkinson says. “We get to have a far deeper look at those consumers, which in turn helps us to refine and hone our marketing efforts.”

The success of those efforts is in turn reflected in what people say. An announcement in January 2011 by Labatt Breweries of Canada, BC Place, the BC Lions and the Vancouver Whitecaps regarding a five-year agreement that makes Labatt’s Budweiser the exclusive beer at BC Place and the official beer of both sports teams boosted social media chatter, particularly on Twitter, where tags allowed easy tracking of comments.

“The stadium started to trend in Vancouver as a direct response to that announcement,” Wilkinson says. “It gave us a real-time glimpse in at least this market of where people were at.” – Peter Mitham