The first time University of Minnesota offered an undergraduate social media management class, it filled up right away. The U offered a second session, and students filled that one, too.

The enthusiasm, coupled with students' future career prospects, is why the university and Associate Professor Valérie Bélair-Gagnon are working to create an official minor in social media. The hope is to give students expertise and experience in social media that they can take into a career managing and producing content for companies' social media accounts.

"There is a need, and we know students are interested," said Bélair-Gagnon, who sometimes teaches the social media management class.

The U isn't the only college looking to bring social media into education. The University of St. Thomas in St. Paul offers a digital media arts major. Arizona State University has a social media management major. Some colleges lack dedicated social media majors but still offer individual courses like Winona State University's social media marketing class.

More than 50% of U.S. adults say they have used YouTube and Facebook, and more than 25% have used Snapchat, Pinterest, Instagram and TikTok, according to the Pew Research Center.

Companies want to reach those audiences — and get their products in front of as many eyes as possible — by growing their presence on those platforms, said Arik Hanson, a social media consultant who also teaches the subject at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

Hanson said students may have their own social media accounts, but that's not necessarily enough experience or education to run an account for a company.

"They fall back by saying, 'I know all the platforms.' Well, yeah, but there's a big difference between knowing how to personally operate an Instagram account and how you do that to move the needle on business results for a Fortune 500 company," Hanson said.

St. Thomas lets students focus on media design or production as part of their Digital Media Arts major, according to Peter Gregg, the department chair for emerging media. Media design students will learn web and graphic design. Media production students will study video, photography and audio production.

Gregg said the major was started partially because traditional educational approaches to media failed to prepare students for the modern social media landscape. In their major, students not only learn about social media practices but also ethics and theories related to social media.

At the U, students in the social media management classes learn the best times to post on social media to maximize engagement or how to optimize posts for the platform they are published on, among other topics.

Bélair-Gagnon is unsure if social media would be a U student's primary area of focus; however, students pursuing business, advertising, journalism or politics would be interested in a social media minor or a class in the subject to supplement their education.

"All of these people will need to do work in social media," Bélair-Gagnon said.

Building new courses

The social media minor needs input from faculty at the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication before it gets approval from the College of Liberal Arts, University and Board of Regents, Bélair-Gagnon said. But she's hopeful the minor will be approved and that students could start the minor as early as fall 2025.

While some new courses will be created, many of the potential classes for the minor are already available, like the storytelling and design or digital marketing courses, according to Bélair-Gagnon. Although they may not go into the minor, classes like the Implications of social media on mental health or digital retail analytics and social media were also created.

Even with the growth of social media education, Hanson said he doesn't expect employers to require a major in social media for prospective employees.

"I can't imagine they are going to be like, 'No social media degree? Can't work in this field.' It's more about experience anyway," Hanson said.

Because it is such a new field, finding experienced professionals who have the knowledge and experience to teach courses about social media is difficult, Hanson added.

Gregg, of St. Thomas, said universities hoping to prepare their students for their future careers will have to start adding social media as a component of their majors and classes.

"I believe that any university that's going to be engaging in the study and practice of media inevitably will be including content or building programs with sensitivity to the current and emerging media landscape," Gregg said.

Jack O'Connor is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune. Reach him at