Is Social Media Becoming The New MBA?

The rise of Web2.0 success stories has created an interesting phenomenon in the world of business. Today, far more than 5 years ago, you could easily point to a list of entrepreneurs who have built successful businesses without having a graduate business degree. The same MBA degree that was once considered the "green fees" to success in the business world seems to be rapidly becoming an optional asset on the road to success. The tradition of taking time off of work to complete a degree, for example, is rapidly giving way to more hybrid options such as part-time programs and Executive MBAs (targeted at professionals later in their careers).

You could easily argue that perhaps this effect so far has been contained to the world of the web and perhaps even mostly in the technology sector, and that fields like investment banking or executive management are as focused on candidates with MBAs as they ever were. Still, the question that has been on my mind for several months now is whether we are seeing a shift where some of the core benefits and skills that people expect to recieve from an MBA are now readily available through social media. In particular, I’m thinking of four areas:

  1. Collaboration. Learning how to work in groups and with others in a team has long been a hallmark of the format of most MBA programs. Today with BarCamp style events like StartUp weekend, crowdsourcing sites, and blogs there are plenty of opportunities to virtually collaborate with others to solve problems. For those taking advantage, they may be learning a very similar skill to what they may get from a business program.
  2. Network. Long heralded as one of the major benefits of doing an MBA, the network of your fellow graduates would be sure to help you in your future career – perhaps to get your next job, or at least to close new deals and be more successful in your current job. Now my social graph is on networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Every day I get a dozen or more new invitations to connect with people and this graph is rapidly expanding. If I needed help finding a new job or identifying a vendor, I would first turn to this network.
  3. Education. Of course, let’s not forget the most important reason (in theory) to get an MBA … to get better educated about the world of business and to increase your success in your career. Again, there are thousands of business professionals who are often some of the best minds in their fields, blogging or sharing stories of their success and what you can learn from them. Simply focusing your attention on reading (or listening or watching) these, and combining it with an initiative to learn from those experiences and put them to work in your career could be the most educational thing you can do.
  4. Money. The last point here is often the most important for those considering an MBA: that they can make more money. While this is certainly true in terms of starting salary in a managerial position out of school, I wonder if the numbers are skewed by the fact that it is often the most ambitious people in business who are pursuing an MBA. Of course, they are the ones that achieve the fastest salary growth, but is it due to their MBA or the fact that they were inherently ambitious? I realize that this question may depend heavily on the industry within which you work as well.

Personally, I did get a BBA from the Goizueta Business School at Emory in Atlanta – and I feel that experience was well worth it. But my question is whether social media today may be replacing some of the traditionally perceived benefits of doing an MBA? And if so, I believe what it means is that the best MBA programs will need to continue to innovate and offer candidates more than they can already get for free through social media and the Internet.