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Why Universities Fail At Teaching Internet Marketing

May 3, 2012 Posted in Copywriting, Internet, Search Engine Marketing, SEO, Social Media by

Why Universities Fail At Teaching Internet Marketing
I recently graduated from university with a masters degree in Information Systems Management. This was a very exciting achievement for me, finishing university is something that not everyone has the opportunity to do.

While I was attending I stumbled upon Internet marketing and everything that it entails. I was enthralled by it and read everything I could find. After I had read and studied about Internet marketing for about 8 months, I discovered that my university offered an Internet marketing class. I immediately signed up for it and imagined that it would be an awesome class where I would take my skills to the next level.

While my professor was quite knowledgeable about marketing in general, he did not have much experience in the realm of Internet marketing. While he tried to compensate for his lack of knowledge by bringing in guest speakers, and there were some good ones, I still felt like the education was lacking overall. It by no means prepared me for what I’m working on today.

Over the remainder of my academic career there, I often wondered what was missing. Why didn’t universities turn out good Internet marketers? I had this discussion with other students and many of them shared similar feelings.

From Graduates And Non-Graduates

I talked to a few marketing professionals with extensive web experience and they also believed as I did, but their hands-on knowledge allowed them to more elegantly explain the dilemma. Here’s what Scott Cowley and Darrin Demchuk had to say about the issue:

scott cowleyThe university did not prepare me for a career in online marketing. I took an Internet marketing class and it consisted of me jogging to campus one evening a week because there was no textbook and no required homework and no necessary materials to bring. The course was taught by an adjunct teacher whose only experience was running an ecommerce site into the ground. He bought us pizza every week to make up for his lack of preparation and organization.

Scott Cowley is head of SEO at ZAGG and graduated with a degree in traditional marketing from Brigham Young University.

darrin demchukDarrin Demchuk, founder of serpIQ, said that he’s attended about five different colleges, but hasn’t finished a degree yet. He had the following to say regarding why he dropped out:

There were a lot of contributing factors. There was a perfect storm of some personal stuff mixed with my overall disinterest in ever going to school in the first place. The traditional rigid schedule of college doesn’t fit how my brain works. I tend to passionately do things for a few weeks at a time, which equates to a lot of failed classes in school.

In both cases, I think it’s pretty clear that there is a large disconnect from what the university is teaching and what is needed to be successful.

What Is The Real Issue?

The next big questions on my mind were, “what is the reason for this failing? Why can’t colleges succeed in training Internet marketers to be valuable, contributing members to the work force right from the start?”

Scott shared his thoughts on this:

“I think it’s important to understand how academia views marketing to understand why Internet marketing will never be the strongest facet of a college education. With some exceptions, marketing professors are paid to research, not teach. They examine what is considered most viable (and safest) in order to maximize their chances for tenure. And there are major disagreements about whether internet marketing is really different from traditional marketing in terms of consumer behavior theory, or whether the “Internet” just represents an industry, like the automotive or consumer electronics industry. As such, there are very few academic specialists who know their way around the Internet, both from a theory standpoint as well as a practical application standpoint.”

Darrin had a similar, but slightly different view:

“A lot of the online marketing world is about riding trends, whether that’s in terms of technologies or products or offers. You need to be able to quickly pivot to stay on top of things. That’s one component of it. Another is that with Internet marketing, you have to have a test-first mindset; you can’t waste time planning and documenting things out. You just have to go for it and have a fail fast mentality.”

Internet Marketers Are A Different Breed

One unique quality that I have noticed with the experienced Internet marketers that I have worked with is they generally are different than the non-marketing people we also worked with. Specifically, these online marketers that I look up to and that make big waves in the industry are creative individuals that think outside the box. These people share the following traits:

  • Able to learn independently, either through testing or reading what others have written
  • Self-motivated
  • Innovative

These are just a few of the traits that set successful Internet marketers apart, and ironically they are the types of skills that are not generally encouraged in college setting.

justin lucasJustin Lucas said he noticed this in his own college career. “University tends to prepare students for career paths that have already existed. It’s rare for professors out there to encourage students to try something new, something out of their comfort zone. For example in my information systems classes, mainly the project management ones, students wouldn’t try things out on their own. They’d ask the professor right away for help.”

A Hope For Better Education?

There are some promising trends moving forward. Scott guest lectures at his alma mater on a frequent basis (I’ve been lucky enough to sit in on a few of those lectures) and is able to share his expertise with students.

To be fair, universities are making progress. Today, you can find courses being taught by more qualified people–either adjuncts or regular professors who lean heavily on guest speakers. A great example can be seen from Gael Breton of HigherClick in his guest lecture at Harvard. The expectation from digital agencies is that fresh graduates are going to need heavy on-the-job training, so the industry generously accommodates the university’s failure to prepare its students.

While I think that it is good for universities to move in this direction, Darrin brought up a very interesting point. He said, “I think the college mentality leans far too much on getting your degree so you can get a good job and then slowly work your way up. It doesn’t encourage a rapid scaling mentality, nor does it encourage an independent self-starting mindset. I do think college is good for most people, it’s just unfortunate that there’s the mentality that if you don’t go to college you’re doomed.”

So what does the future hold for universities and Internet marketing? Share your opinions in the comments below. Also, I would love to hear your thoughts on the following questions.

  • Did your college experience help prepare you for a career as an Internet marketer?
  • Why do you think universities fail/succeed at preparing people for careers in Internet marketing?
  • Do you completely disagree and felt completely prepared and ready to hit the ground running?
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