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​​​​​From left, c​ommunication major Erika Santilli and alumna Stephanie Mandeville ’06 talk shop f​ollowing a panel discussion.​

A few decades ago no one knew the tremendous influence social media would have on politics and public opinion, said Associate Professor and Chair of Communication Anthony Galvez. Today, social media is considered integral to the success of virtually any organization. But what kind of on-the-job training do employers offer in using social media professionally or are employees expected to figure it out as they go along?

On April 2, three Rhode Island College alumni working in communication: Suzy Alba ’05, Hillary Costa ’14 and Alicia Vanasse ’09, along with Tim Staskiewicz, digital program director for Beasley Media Group, took part in a panel discussion on “Social Media Literacy in the Workplace,” moderated by Galvez as part of Communication Day events, a full day of professional development for communication majors.

Galvez opened the discussion with the notion that there seems to be an expectation among employers that recent graduates are literate in social media – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – simply because they grew up using these platforms. 

“Nobody’s getting an education in this,” replied Costa, an account executive at SVM Public Relations & Marketing Communications. “I’ve been in three different positions since I left Rhode Island College and none of them have supplied me with any training in social media. Bringing social media courses to colleges and universities, I think, is well overdue.” 

“One of the skills you need is creative writing,” said Staskiewicz.

“You also need to find different and creative ways to get out the same message,” said Costa. “How many ways can you tell someone to come to a conference?” 

“You need to be skilled in graphic design and video and photo editing,” said Alba, director of Alumni and College Relations at Rhode Island College. 

“And you have to know how to spot a story that people want to consume,” said Vanasse, an account executive for Cumulus Media.

“The biggest piece, which I can’t stress enough, is social listening,” Costa said. “It’s not just about talking ‘at’ people; it’s about being part of a conversation, paying attention to what people are saying and interacting with them.”

Another alumni panel focused on how to effectively transition from the academic world to the professional world. And breakout sessions, led by communication alumni representing all four concentrations: journalism, mass media, advertising and public relations, and public and professional communication, allowed students to ask questions specific to their concentration and to receive insider perspectives on their fields.

“Communication Day was a tremendous success, both for our  students and for our alumni,” said Associate Professor of Communication Valerie Endress, who organized the events. “Our alums have really wanted to connect with current students, and an event like this was the perfect opportunity. They offered career advice, internship opportunities and they spoke about the realities of professional work life. I do believe our students walked away more confident. As one student put it, it was nice to see our very accomplished alums ‘pay it forward.’”

Communication Day was sponsored by the Department of Communication, the Career Development Center, the Office of Alumni and College Relations and the Rhode Island College Lecture Committee.