Kyleigh Mazer can regularly be found in front of interactive displays in the Whitinger Business Building, pulling data that answers questions companies would have about their social media posts.
How many people are responding? How old are they? Are they using a mobile or desktop device?
The 22-year-old senior entrepreneurial management major is one in a group of business students enrolled in classes and doing on-site work in the Center for Advancement of Digital Marketing and Analytics (CADMA), located in the Miller College of Business. Offered through the college’s Department of Marketing, the center aims to close the gap between students’ digital savvy and business marketing needs.
“In developing CADMA, we found that major corporations have heavily invested in social media command centers, but few universities have created something similar for educating the next generation of technology workers,” said Eric Harvey, the center’s director and a marketing professor. “When it comes to this field, the average starting salary is just shy of $50,000 and companies — from the largest Fortune 500 firms to small start-ups — are seeking well-educated, highly motivated people to fill these positions.”
Consisting of a social media lab and social media command center, CADMA opened in early 2016 and provides students with experience using social media monitoring tools, faculty with access to social media data for research and partners in the business world who have insights into current marketing trends.
A former classroom in Whitinger was remodeled as CADMA’s home. The social media lab is designed to educate students and help them hone skills they learned in digital marketing and analytics courses, including examining consumer behavior, professional selling and content development. Within the interactive learning space, student teams and faculty researchers can use multiple screens and white boards.
‘The way business is headed’
It’s a steep learning curve, but Mazer, of Floyds Knobs, Indiana, is determined to be a part of the latest wave of marketing in global business, one that harnesses the power of social media to bolster marketing, improve brand awareness and increase sales.
“This is the way business is headed,” she said while effortlessly moving from computer screen to tablet and then to a smartphone to access data. “Social media provides businesses with a way to connect to people. Social media is fast-paced, flexible and affordable. It’s created its own section of marketing.”
For the business world, using social media is no longer optional because the platforms provide relevant customer data and use that information to make smarter business decisions, said Mazer, who points out such companies as Pepsi, Ford and Levi Strauss have made heavy investments in digital marketing platforms.
Those companies aren’t alone. The social media marketing resource Social Media Examiner found in a 2016 survey that 90 percent of marketers say social media is important for their business.
“We know that building up a social media presence will increase loyalty among customers because people relate to brands that act more like people than companies,” Mazer said. “This is probably the best way to influence people.”
She points out that, in 2015, Domino’s used its powerful presence on social media to urge customers to make delivery requests by tweeting a pizza emoji to the company’s account or by using the hashtag #easyorder.
Graduates hit the ground running
The facility’s mission was born out of research showing a disconnect between students’ social media skills and the ways social media is used in business, Harvey said.
“Initially, our research project found a major knowledge gap between savvy, digitally centered graduates and what businesses needed to fulfill their marketing needs,” said Harvey, who joined the university after spending more than two decades in telecommunications. “Companies were hiring young people to handle social media, but many simply didn’t have the skills to integrate social media into business strategy.
“So, we created a center where students will prepare for these new, high-paying jobs in the business technology sector. When our students graduate with their bachelor’s degree, they’ll be ready to be a digital marketing professional from the first day. Currently, most firms require up to six months of training before turning the social media reins over to a new employee.”
About 100 students have received or are working on social media marketing certifications using teaching modules provided by Google and other major technology firms around the world.
These industry-endorsed certifications will give Ball State students an advantage in the job market, Harvey said.
“Not only do these companies want a bachelor’s degree, but they want new hires to have hands-on experience and plenty of certifications,” he said.
Students work with real clients
Jonathan Saternus, a 22-year-old senior from St. John, Indiana, is playing an integral role in the social media command center as a client relations manager. His job is to assist area organizations with their social media needs.
Over the last year, he’s learned about analyzing data with the newest marketing technology software. That includes a social media dashboard, which is used to review analytics such as demographics, reach, frequency and engagement across multiple social media channels.
Saternus said insights into the changing marketplace allow him to better understand an organization’s target market — a particular group at which a campaign is aimed.
“This information provides a clearer picture of the demographic, the statistical data of the target market, showing such information as average age, income, location and education.
“By having all this data, we can make decisions to drive our social media campaign,” he said. “This campaign is designed to drive sales, change opinion or persuade people to take action in some way favorable to the organization.”
“These classes and programs have given me the skills that will allow me to run social media for a company,” said Saternus, who plans to graduate in December. “The courses are tough. I think I am ready for my next challenge, thanks to the center.”