MBA in Digital Marketing & Social Media

According to Forrester Research, digital marketing will top $100 billion and account for 35 percent of all marketing spending by 2019. Demand for all digital marketing jobs almost doubled between 2011 and 2016. Moreover, digital marketing skills carry nearly a $7,000 salary premium over other marketing roles and digital marketing jobs take longer to fill.

So what is digital marketing? According to the Financial Times, it refers to marketing through digital channels to reach consumers. The principal objective is to promote brands, products, and services through various forms of digital media, including mobile phones, social media, display advertising, search engine marketing, or any other type of digital media.

Most experts agree that digital marketing requires a new approach to marketing and a new understanding of consumer behavior. Digital marketing requires companies to analyze the value corresponding to a new set of metrics, such as the number of app downloads on mobile devices, tweets on Twitter, and likes on Facebook.

It is easy to understand why one might consider an MBA in digital marketing. Demand for digital marketing skills is exploding, and employers are willing to pay a substantial salary premium for these skills. According to Forrester Research, digital marketing will top $100 billion and account for 35 percent of all marketing spending by 2019. Demand for all digital marketing jobs almost doubled between 2011 and 2016. Moreover, digital marketing skills carry nearly a $7,000 salary premium over other marketing roles and digital marketing jobs take longer to fill.

Also, Forrester Research reports that the most in-demand skills for digital marketers are in content marketing, digital analytics, mobile marketing, and multi-channel marketing. Between 2011 and 2016, the demand for content marketing skills skyrocketed at a staggering 450 percent, while the need for digital analytics—a critical ability taught in this guide’s programs below—also shot up 152 percent. Two categories that nearly doubled include employers’ demand for social media marketing skills, which grew 96 percent, along with their need for digital marketing skills overall, which increased 92 percent.

With such remarkable employment trends, it is not surprising that business schools have devoted considerable resources to recruit experienced faculty and consultants, like those discussed below, to teach new courses in digital marketing. And neither is it surprising that these universities have evolved their curricula to incorporate topics in this new discipline.

MBA courses are typically divided into two sections. The first set of courses students will take are general “core” courses, which explore key business concepts and business management fundamentals while challenging students to think strategically. These classes focus on marketing, accounting, business ethics, finance, statistics, project management, and other business administration disciplines. Especially among the more reputable schools (see the Accreditation section below), only minor differences exist in these standardized core courses.

Upon satisfying core requirements, students then take courses that specifically focus on their specialization of choice—some programs dubs this set of classes as majors, fields of concentration, specializations, or simply electives. For the digital marketing track, students typically examine topics like marketing in a digital world, digital channels, digital analytics, and social media strategy. However, these courses can vary widely from one school to another.

Innovative MBA programs offering 100 percent online curricula, like those in the following profiles, offer tremendous flexibility advantages for students. This is because recent instructional technology advances now offer an online educational experience equivalent to, and in many ways better than, instruction on campus, yet unconstrained by distance or time.

As a result, these online MBA programs offer excellent opportunities for students who cannot leave jobs to attend classes on campus, or for those who wish to attend better out-of-state universities without the expense and hassle of relocation. For example, the University of Illinois has about 800 students enrolled in its online iMBA program from more than 40 countries and 40 states across the nation. Plus, for students who wish to learn at their own pace, personalized online education provides an attractive alternative; motivated and gifted students, in particular, can thrive at the accelerated pace made possible by these online MBA programs.

Online programs also save students money. Even when tuition rates are identical, the online MBA programs can present more cost-effective alternatives to on-campus programs because of savings on costs like relocation, childcare, and transportation.

The following guide presents seven digital marketing MBA programs offered entirely online, and profiles three outstanding faculty members from universities offering these innovative programs.

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Professors to Know from Schools with Online MBA Programs in Digital Marketing and Social Media

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    Kevin Hartman, MBA University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    Kevin Hartman is the head of analytics in the consumer, government, and entertainment sector at Google and a lecturer in business administration in the University of Illinois College of Business. At Google, Professor Hartman and his team partners with influential advertisers, creative agencies, and media companies to build brands through digital solutions. As a lecturer, he mixes science and art to deliver innovative, fact-based strategies for marketing and advertising programs. He has worked with General Mills, Kellogg's, MillerCoors, Anheuser-Busch, Motorola, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Del Monte, Boeing, Qualcomm, Wagner USA, ABN Amro, and Bank of America, among other clients. Professor Hartman specializes in program, project, and campaign management, account development and solution selling, customer segmentation and targeting, and customer value management. As a devoted and artistic practitioner of data, he believes data must express insights in ways as creative as the ideas they activate. Professor Hartman received his bachelor's from the University of Notre Dame and his MBA and master of public policy from the University of Chicago.

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    JoAnn Sciarrino, MBA University of Texas at Austin

    After serving as the Knight Chair in digital advertising and marketing at the University of North Carolina since 2012, JoAnn Sciarrino recently joined the University of Texas at Austin faculty. She serves as the director and Isabella Cunningham chair in Advertising in the Stan Richards School of Advertising & Public Relations.

    With more than 28 years of experience, Professor Sciarrino is an experienced advertising and marketing executive. Before joining UT Austin, she served as executive vice president for BBDO North America for 12 years, providing research, analytics and modeling solutions for global clients. Outside of her role at UT, she also consults for clients such as AT&T, Starbucks, Hyatt, FedEx, GE, American Express, Capital One, L’Oreal and Procter & Gamble, where she tests, deploys, and refines digital marketing and advertising business models. Her research on digital and content marketing appears in publications like the Journal of Digital and Social Media and the Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice. She earned an undergraduate degree from Michigan State University in business and social science statistics, and an MBA in decision science from Emory University.

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    Jing Suk, MBA Rutgers University

    Jing Suk is an executive MBA lecturer at Rutgers. She serves as vice president and director of strategy and analysis at Digitas, the world's leading digital marketing and advertising agency. She previously was director of analytics and business intelligence at Thomson Reuters, where she led analytics for Reuters.com. In the Rutgers MBA program, Professor Suk teaches practical applications of web analytics, with a focus on deriving actionable insights through the use of digital analytics. Her course provides a broad overview of key web analytics strategies, concepts, issues, challenges, and tools such as Google Analytics, Omniture, and comScore. Professor Suk has more than 15 years of experience in digital analytics, marketing, advertising and technical consulting. She holds both a bachelor's degree in computer science and an MBA from Rutgers University.

Featured Online MBA Programs in Digital Marketing and Social Media

1Benedictine UniversityView Full Profile

The Internet marketing concentration of Benedictine's online MBA program teaches students to design effective campaigns that move customers through the sales funnel. A unique aspect appears to be the university’s partnership with Internet marketing training provider Market Motive to provide students with hands-on practical instruction on Web marketing platforms and software.

In addition to foundation and business core coursework, the Internet marketing concentration requires three concentration-specific courses selected from the following four topics: search engine optimization, social media strategy, conversion optimization and web analytics. Each course also includes a mini-capstone experience that allows students to apply course topics to digital marketing scenarios in a controlled environment under their instructor’s supervision. Capstone projects include completing a conversion rate optimization certification exam, investigating a company’s web analytics, and developing social media campaigns or conversion rate optimization tests. This Catholic university’s program requires a total of 17 courses and 64 credits for graduation. Students with an educational background in business may be eligible to waive up to four foundation courses (16 credits).

Location: Lisle, Illinois
Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
Format:
Tuition: $600 per credit
Program length: 22 months

Similar to Saint Mary’s, SNHU also offers an MBA in social media marketing, and except for SNHU’s requirement of two additional business core courses, the programs seem quite similar. Both offer a series of foundation courses for students with non-business academic backgrounds and both require three social media courses.

At SNHU, the topics include social media marketing, social media marketing strategy, and social media marketing campaigns. Both also require a capstone project. However, SNHU's program seemed more practical and focused, more closely relating to traditional business processes and issues, and placing less emphasis on ethics and professional responsibility in social media marketing. SNHU additionally offers courses taught by instructors with current experience designing and consulting on social media strategies for companies. And while both programs seem affordable, SNHU extends an additional 25 percent tuition discount for veterans and has several school accreditations that Saint Mary's does not.

Location: Manchester, New Hampshire
Accreditation:Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc. (NEASC)
Format: Online
Tuition: $627 per credit
Program length: 15 months

The Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina designed an online MBA program called MBA@UNC. Despite the lack of a specialized digital marketing concentration, prospective students should consider the marketing track. The 66-credit specialized marketing curriculum prepares students for positions in advertising, market research, online marketing, brand management, public relations, and even sales. Students will take core courses, which include a course in marketing, as well as electives in digital marketing, global marketing, services marketing, and information for decision-making, incentives, and strategy.

The program's digital marketing course is taught by Internet marketing authority JoAnn Sciarrino who presents major topics on brand building, search, video, websites and social media for mobile as well as desktop platforms. She also gives students practical experience through industry-relevant hands-on assignments and exercises. The U.S. News and World Report ranked the program as the third best online MBA program in the country.

Location:Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Accreditation:AACSB International, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Format: Online
Tuition: $1,728 per credit
Program length: Between 18 and 36 months

Saint Mary's offers an accelerated online MBA program for students to specialize in social media management and marketing, which is a step further in specialization within the digital marketing space. The program enables students to explore the importance and growing impact of social marketing ethics—as well as how to hone digital storytelling skills—while learning to manage brands and build engaged connections in the digital age. The concentration requires three courses covering case studies in brand strategy, digital storytelling, and ethics in social marketing. The latter course capitalizes on the school’s partnership with the National Institute for Social Media (NISM) and prepares students to sit for the NISM Social Media Strategist certification exam.

The program is entirely online as the capstone project can be completed by an approved organization at each student's location. Those interested in a data analytics and visualization component must take an additional two courses beyond the scant 10-course degree requirement. The school requires an undergraduate degree with a GPA of 2.75 but no GMAT. Although St. Mary's appears to be one of the more affordable of the schools profiled for this guide and even gives every online student an Apple iPad loaded with the school’s mobile learning platform. At the time of this writing, the MBA program does not appear to be accredited by any of the three business school accreditation agencies (see Accreditation section, below).

Location: Minneapolis, Minneapolis
Accreditation:Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
Format: Online
Tuition: $650 per credit
Program length: 18 months or less

Fort Hays offers a three-course digital marketing concentration within its online MBA program. Digital marketing course topics include strategic electronic marketing, social media marketing, and social media marketing content and analytics, but the school also offers two related courses in integrated marketing communications and database marketing. This affordable MBA program is designed for self-motivated and independent working professionals and consists of 34 credit hours—with an additional 12 hours required of students without an undergraduate business degree or business experience. Although the MBA program appears to have plans to apply for membership in the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), it is not currently carrying accreditation from any of the three business school accreditation boards. And in contrast to many schools in this guide, this MBA program requires GMAT or GRE scores, only granting waivers for applicants holding an undergraduate business degree with an overall GPA of at least 3.5, but not for professional work experience.

Location: Hays, Kansas
Accreditation:Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
Format: Online or on-campus
Tuition: $368 per credit
Program length: 18 months

Rutgers designed its online MBA program in digital marketing for business professionals aspiring to gain knowledge and skills in digital marketing and to advance into positions as digital marketing managers, social media managers, and mobile media analysts. Students learn to develop effective digital media strategies, analyze and visualize data, and evaluate social and mobile media marketing campaigns.

Similar to other programs, Rutgers’ concentration requires courses in digital marketing strategy and marketing analytics but differentiates itself by offering a separate course covering social media and mobile marketing. This three-course sequence prepares students to implement successful digital media marketing strategies and campaigns and to integrate them with other branding strategies. Besides an undergraduate degree, the school prefers a 3.2 GPA but considers applicants with a 2.9 or above. They also require GMAT, GRE or LSAT scores but may award waivers based on professional and managerial experience or advanced degrees. The school may also waive their four-course foundation sequence based on prior academic work.

Location: Camden, New Jersey
Accreditation:AACSB International, Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Format: Online
Tuition: $1,256 per credit
Program length: Less than two years

The University of Illinois sets forth three learning objectives for their brand-new Coursera-powered “iMBA” online degree in digital marketing. In this specialization, students will understand the application of marketing tools and strategies in the digital environment, employ marketing analytics to visualize and apply data, and understand how firms apply digital channels in marketing.

The specialization requires students to complete a capstone project and take courses in marketing, digital channels, and analytics. The "marketing in a digital world" course is taught by Google's head of analytics Kevin Hartman and was named one of the best online class for professionals by Inc. In the capstone project, students will use data visualization tools to analyze a situation from the vantage point of an actual global company and develop a digital marketing plan to promote a new product within a specific geography. The projects are peer-reviewed in a crowdsourced format with participation by one or more focal companies, to create value for potential employers while achieving students’ pedagogical and experiential objectives.

Admissions may be competitive, but tuition is only about 20 percent of the school's on-campus program and about one-third the cost of online MBAs from comparable institutions, according to the school's dean.

Location:Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
Accreditation:Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International), North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
Format: Online
Tuition: $250 per credit
Program length: Two years

Admission Requirements for Online MBA Programs in Digital Marketing

There are several standard application requirements and recommendations to earn admission to one of these online digital marketing MBA programs:

Education

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
  • A competitive GPA from undergraduate programs
  • Key prerequisite courses for candidates without undergraduate business degrees or business experience

Tests

  • GMAT or GRE scores—often waived for students with several years of relevant work experience
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) for international students

Experience

  • One or two years of professional experience in a healthcare, business, finance, or technology organization

Application

  • A personal statement of objectives
  • Letters of recommendation

Accreditation

Educational accreditation means that a university offers a curriculum which adheres to quality assurance standards in academic disciplines. In the United States, external private, non-profit organizations evaluate educational institutions and certify that the schools comply with applicable standards by awarding accreditation status. Several organizations grant accreditation for business schools.

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International), formerly known as the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business, has provided quality assurance services to accredited business schools since 1916. In general, AACSB-accredited schools have the highest-quality faculties, deliver relevant and challenging curricula, and provide educational and career opportunities not found at other schools. The organization emphasizes faculty research in providing students solid knowledge foundations.

The AACSB has awarded accreditations to about 780 schools in 90 countries, mainly those affiliated with major research universities, and awarded specialized accounting program accreditations to an additional 185. Only about five percent of the 16,000 schools worldwide granting business degrees have met the AACSB’s rigorous accreditation standards, and 90 percent of the Economist's 2016 top 100 full-time MBA programs are offered by AACSB-accredited institutions. Accredited schools include the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, and the Harvard Business School.

The newer Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) was founded in 1989 to accredit schools, including two-year institutions like community colleges, with an emphasis on teaching instead of the research emphasis common to the AACSB-accredited institutions. The ACBSP focuses on tangible learning outcomes and quality improvement, especially as workforce demands change. About 2,983 ACBSP-accredited programs exist worldwide.

A third agency, the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE), believes the academic quality and excellence in business education should be measured regarding the educational outcomes of a university business unit relative to its mission, rather than by prescriptive standards relating to academic resources.

Douglas Mark
Douglas Mark
Writer

While a partner in a San Francisco marketing and design firm, for over 20 years Douglas Mark wrote online and print content for the world’s biggest brands, including United Airlines, Union Bank, Ziff Davis, Sebastiani and AT&T. Since his first magazine article appeared in MacUser in 1995, he’s also written on finance and graduate business education in addition to mobile online devices, apps, and technology. Doug graduated in the top 1 percent of his class with a business administration degree from the University of Illinois and studied computer science at Stanford University.