Victoria Couvas, former Orange Coast College student and University of California Berkeley graduate, faced many challenges when she first moved to the United States as an immigrant from Greece.
Her struggle inspired Couvas to start an online blog, hoping to help other immigrants integrate into American society. When she attended OCC from 2015 to 2018, Couvas joined a blogger group based in Orange County, and learned about the world of social media. The group, at the time called Blogger Babes (now called Babes who Create), was a group of women that mostly attended events and advertised products.
“They definitely help with giving you a jumpstart on your journey as a blogger/influencer,” said Couvas, who holds a position as PR manager and served as one of the group’s four leaders.
From social media, she was able to learn how to conduct public relations meetings, events and advertising while growing her own online following.
Having launched her own social media career as an influencer, Couvas now aims to help OCC students do the same as a member of the advisory committee for the Social Media Strategist certificate program.
The certificate program, first offered in the fall semester 2019, takes 16 credit hours to complete. It is designed for students to complete in two years, or even as fast as two semesters. The capstone course is an internship that offers students real working experience in social media careers in a variety of industries. This creates a vast network of opportunity for students who may have found themselves jobless during the pandemic.
“The internship gives you credits,” Couvas said. “It’s hard to get a job in social media without the correct experience or a mentor. This will give you necessary experience other students won’t have.”
Couvas and other advisory committee members are currently working on getting more companies, including fashion pages, to participate in the internship program so students can have multiple choices of workplaces and the opportunity to gain experience in fields they’re passionate about.
The advisory committee is composed of freelancers, students and professors who meet twice a year and continuously coordinate over email to make sure students are learning the proper skills needed to thrive in the industry, and that the program is keeping up with the ever-evolving social media platforms.
“What skills our students need to be competitive in the field changes year to year,” said Michael Mandelkern, dean of literature and language. “Skills someone needed today might not be what it will be tomorrow – an example of this is MySpace.”
OCC is the second community college in California to offer this unique certification, which teaches students a variety of skills in marketing and business.
Topics students can expect to be covered include how to target a specific audience, what social media platforms are best for that audience, effectively using Google advertisements, prioritizing companies in search engines, and how to implement social media strategies. Or, as Couvas calls it, “The magic behind social media!”
Required courses include Social Media Strategies; Directed Practice for Social Media Strategist (the internship portion); Public Relations or Fashion Media, Events and Promotions; Writing for Social Media; Intro to Marketing; and Business Multimedia and Graphics or Introduction to Computer Graphics. These classes can be taken as part of the program or by those not in the program.
“It’s a program that will continuously evolve,” Couvas said.
The Social Media Strategist certification is the only career program offered by the Literature and Language division, since technical writing was disbanded. The program is offered as part of the communications department.
Couvas met Mandelkern as a student at OCC, after one of her friends told Mandelkern that Couvas was an influencer, with a large online following. Mandelkern, who was looking for professionals to lend their expertise in building a program that would teach skills employers look for in the industry, approached Couvas to ask for her help.
“It’s different when you see someone younger doing it, so [Mandelkern] wanted [my] opinion,” Couvas said. “Someone who knew who to create a new program that would be relatable to students now.”
“The goal is for students to complete the program with skills they need to be hirable,” Mandelkern said. “It teaches students to promote on social media, and create social media campaigns for organizations, individuals and companies.”
Examples of social media careers students can pursue following this program include marketing manager (averaging fifty-eight thousand a year), marketing coordinator (averaging forty-three thousand a year) and marketing specialist (averaging forty-eight thousand a year), according to information from Payscale.com.
“Employers could be a bank or a philanthropic organization,” Mandelkern said. “Anyone can create a social media campaign.”
According to Learn, an organization that offers people information on degree programs, schools, other educational resources, the expected growth of public relations careers, including social media specialists, is predicted to be 6% from 2018-2028. This growth could be expedited as more people find themselves working from home, and relying on digital spaces in the midst of unprecedented restrictions in California.
“Every field has some sort of social media presence,” Couvas said. “Social media has always been important.”
Mandelkern points out that this certificate can also be used in fields other than communications, such as business, fashion, hospitality, travel, tourism and real estate.
“It’s never too early to think about how you might make money,” Mandelkern said. “If students can become skilled, this is a form of marketing and could get jobs that make fifty to sixty thousand a year.”
The social media strategist certificate can also teach necessary skills to entrepreneurial students looking to grow their own business.
For students looking to build their own career as an influencer or marketer on social media, Couvas has some advice: “First, do take the leap, without having the fear of failure,” Couvas said. “Second, be authentic. Third, have fun – this makes your audience want to follow you. Lastly, engage – if you’re just talking to yourself, it creates disinterest.”
According to Mandelkern, five students have already completed the social media strategist certificate program at OCC.
“Our main challenge is making current and prospective students aware of this program,” Mandelkern said.
Mandelkern, Couvas and other advisory members are working on strategies to draw awareness to the program and get more students interested. Though the first year was spent mostly creating the curriculum, they are now working on marketing the program, through means such as high school outreach.
“My hope is that we can have 30 students a year,” Mandelkern said. “This program has a lot of potential.”
Couvas, who quit her online gig as an influencer a year and half ago, is now working on her masters degree in communication studies at California State Fullerton. She hopes to one day return to OCC as a professor to continue her work helping students.
“I love exploring how human communication works,” Couvas said. “I didn’t even know it was a major at OCC… it’s applicable to everyday life.”
Couvas encourages all OCC students to give the program a try.
“You don’t have to be a business or PR major,” Couvas said. “Give it a go! You don’t know what will happen.”
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