The University of Southern California (USC) offers a college course on training to become a social media influencer, or a paid spokesperson on social media. NBC News profiled class members and highlighted how the influencer industry should be taken seriously, though the industry itself is far from being on sure footing.
The course is offered by the university’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Yet the course started last spring as a graduate-level course, but this year, it was a full-semester course “focused on the influencing industry,” as NBC News noted.
Professor Robert Kozinets, a strategic public relations professor at USC, told NBC News that the course could be the first of its kind at a university and its goal is to help students learn both public relations skills and skills relevant to the influencer industry.
“I think we’re just starting to see this emerge into the phenomena that it’s going to become,” Kozinets said. He added, “So I think this is a huge area. I can tell you the students who are focusing on these areas are not having a problem finding jobs here in Los Angeles and in other places…They’re in demand.”
A USC senior enrolled in the course, Gabrielle Robinson, said that she viewed social media influencing as her future career. She mentioned that the analytics, or “reach,” enables ambassadors and influencers such as she to gain future sponsorships from clients.
The influencer industry is an industry of paid spokespeople primarily through their social media channels and accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the Chinese-owned TikTok app. According to one estimate, the influencer industry is worth about $8 billion in 2019 and could grow to as high as $15 billion by 2022.
The course features in-class lectures from Kozinets, but also guest speakers from influencers and technology firm employees. The class also visited Google’s campus as a part of its curriculum.
In short, influencers are a new type of marketing gig, but focused solely on a single person’s brand on social media. USC is taking a novel approach to influencers, but it is unclear whether the influencer industry is sustainable in the long-run as consumer preferences and tastes change over time, not to mention technology.