#Hokies Tweets Network Visualization: How I extracted Tweets via TAGS 6 and visualized them in Gephi

Click to see larger or download.

Click to see larger or download.

A professional development goal of mine is to learn a lot more about social network analysis and visualization of social media data. This area has grown increasingly valuable and important in our field.  And I believe we all need to have at least a base knowledge of social data and how to play with it.

With my wife traveling for work and rainy weather here in West Virginia, this weekend presented a great opportunity to finally get my feat wet (no pun intended).

As you may know, my beloved Virginia Tech Hokies haven’t been playing so well this college football season.  So I decided to use Saturday’s game as an opportunity to play with Twitter data and Gephi, an open source data visualization program.

I’ll explain what I did below to make the above visualization in case you’d like to try this for yourself. This is a simple approach and I think you’ll find you can do it if I can learn it in a weekend! I started Saturday morning with zero knowledge of graph theory, social network analysis, how to use Gephi, and how to pull down Tweets.

I’m writing this up because I found several tutorials online. But, none of them quite came together to show me how to do all the parts in one tutorial. A major reason is that the Twitter API has changed since many tutorials available online were built. So, the ways offered for getting the Twitter data on those tutorials no longer works.  As such, getting Twitter data is a challenge if you don’t know a little programming with Python, etc (Needless to say, I don’t).

Fortunately, each of the tools together below made this first experiment in Twitter data visualization possible.

Here’s how I did it:

1) I used the TAGS v.6 Twitter Archiving Tool to gather Tweets with the hashtag #hokies. This is an amazing, free tool – thank you so much to Martin Hawksey for this! You can learn to use the TAGS archiver fairly easily via Google Docs. The only real slow down is that you have to get a Twitter API key via your Twitter account.

I ended up gathering 1583 Tweets between 3:19am – after midnight before the game – and the majority of the way through the game at 2:43. So, whatever Tweets going back I could pull when I extracted the data at 2:43; not a great picture of the #Hokies conversation, but it worked for this exercise.

2) I used @DFeelon’s spreadsheet converter to convert the TAGS spreadsheet to a file I could put into GEPHI to do the visualization. Thanks Deen!

His converter pulls only the first Twitter account that is mentioned in the Tweet or in a RT – so any additional persons mentioned in a Tweet were not counted. You can learn more about it here on Deen’s blog. It is easy to use. In short, I copied my Tweeter and Tweet text into his spreadsheet, and voila! This created my edge file in CSV for GEPHI with 2 columns (vertices, or nodes) – the first column being the person who sent the Tweet and the second column being the person to whom the Tweet was directed.

3) I noticed that some mentions of Twitter account handles were all lowercase whereas others were not. This had created duplicate nodes. That is, in some instances, one Twitter account had been split into two: an all lowercase version and the original. So, I simply made all text lowercase to address this problem. I used Google Refine to clean my CSV file because I want to learn to use this program. But, you could change the case in Excel or any spreadsheet software.

4) I then loaded the cleaned CSV file into Gephi (download it here) so I could do the visualization.

5) I spent a lot of time on Saturday reading about visualization and getting a basic knowledge of graph theory and how to use Gephi. While I’ve still got a lot to learn, I decided to follow a tutorial for my first “go round.” It seemed like a great opportunity to put together concepts and tools in Gephi that I’d learned in a guided environment. So, I followed the instructions on the latter half of this YouTube video for how to visualize the data and export it into the file you see with this post. The tutorial is by Michael Bauer via the International Journalism Festival. Of note, the first half shows you how to extract data using Twitter’s old API and that process no longer works. So you can take your CSV file gained through the process above, import it into Gephi, and pick up with the tutorial at 1:05:46.

So, that’s it!

A few quick things about this visualization:

As indicated by the size of the Twitter account name, we can see that Virginia Tech sports beat writer Andy Bitter for the Roanoke Times had the largest number of Tweets directed at him regarding the game (that is, his node – his Twitter account – had the most degrees. The degrees are the number of edges, or connections one node has to another). This makes sense. I’ve followed the #Hokies conversation on Twitter for years and Andy has been a constant presence and leader in providing news and analysis of Tech.

The communities are indicated in colors. I used the modularity script in Gephi to identify these, as is shown in the above-noted YouTube video. In short, you can use the color coding to make a basic clustering of who is talking to who.

In Closing:

While I’ve got a ton to learn, I’m thrilled with the progress I’ve made in just over a weekend from not knowing the first thing about graph theory, basic spreadsheet formatting for nodes and edges, or how to visualize a social network, to building my first visualization. And, while my goal is not to become a data scientist, I am excited to continue to learn and grow a base knowledge in this area. I know I am just scraping the tip of the iceberg.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips on how I can improve my knowledge and skills! Also, please feel free to share your tips, tutorials, and experiences with social data.


Note: Thanks to Nathan Carpenter at the ISU SMACC for helping me get started with data gathering and visualization by generously sharing his experiences and tools!

Social Media Book Review: Jab Jab Jab Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuck

Finding great social media books to use as texts in a social media class can be a challenge. The space is constantly changing and there is so much we need to teach our students.

Personally, I’m always looking. That’s why this summer I read Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World by Gary Vaynerchuck. Here are 2 areas where the book excels.

jab jab jab right hook vaynerchuck

1) Emphasis on the “jab”

The jab in this case is your social content that does not aim to sell or promote a product. It is the content that builds the relationship with the audience. The basic premise of this book is that in order to hit your customer with a “right hook” to knock them down (i.e., get them to buy), you have to set them up with a lot of little jabs. It is these jabs – pieces of content that are native to the platform and speaks to the interests of your followers – that get them to pay attention to you. Gary’s argument, then, is that the reason most people get social media wrong is because they try to advertise on social media. Since everyone hates being advertised to, people don’t pay attention. In other words, most people try to take old approaches from other mediums and apply them to social media.

If, on the other hand, organizations provided value to their followers – via jabs – then their followers wouldn’t mind a little sales or promotional message – right hook – every once in a while.

This is an important lesson we are all seeking to teach our students. I’ve often spoken about things like the “80 20” rule. The boxing analogy makes it tangible for the reader – and I think students will easily relate to this.

So the question becomes, how do you create great jabs that customers are happy to take on the chin? It is this question that the book seeks to address. Vaynerchuck addresses this question with chapters on various social media channels with primary focus on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

2) Mini “Case Study” Examples

At the end of each chapter is a long list of specific social media posts from various companies, big and small.  Gary deconstructs each social media posting, which is published in full color so you can see it how it would be on the screen. He explains the pros and cons of the post for that social platform. Also, he provides specific insights on how to improve the post. These detailed examples are great for anyone learning how to create better content. The advice is actionable and supporting reasoning is provided. I learned some great pointers from these sections of the book that I had not considered before. And I believe it has helped me create stronger content for myself. And, I’ve incorporated a few of his points into my lecture.

These examples along make the book worth a read. They have a great potential to help students learn how to make better content. In other social media books I’ve read or browsed, I have found a dearth of specific, clear, helpful examples to support what the author is seeking to teach. This is where Gary really adds value to the reader. He takes the time to get into specifics on post after post so that the reader isn’t left with just sweeping claims of what to do.

Most students understand how to make social content – since they create it and are around it all of the time. But my experience is that it can be very difficult to teach students how to make better content. I love this book for this reason!

The Verdict: Would I Use This Book In My Social Media Class?

In short, Yes. However, I didn’t adopt the book this semester. The biggest reason is that the due date for submitting our fall readings was during spring semester. I’ve always hated that policy though I understand the need for that much lead time. But, it tends to stifle my ability to find something new that I love and add it (When I’ve tried to throw a book on the syllabus as a required reading that wasn’t available in the bookstore in the past, students have not been too happy). So I added this book as a recommended read on my syllabus.

Of note, Gary has a “I’m not going to sugar coat it for you” style that is a part of his brand.  I mention this because it may not appeal to all readers. But, I can see a lot of students finding this style appealing as opposed to the more staid writing styles that prevail in most texts that make their way into the classroom.

I would not use this book as a standalone. It doesn’t offer a lot in the areas of analytics, for example. It is a book on how to create content – as the title suggests. So, I would suggest coupling it with other books and readings. In short, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook is a useful addition for its emphasis on the hows of creating great content and why the advice provided is effective. It is a worthwhile read for both students, professors, and practitioners.

Books I currently use in my Social Media class:

  1. Likeable Social Media by Kerpen – this is a book I have used for several semesters and love. (there is an update version that I have not yet had time to read – the one linked here – that students have told me they really are enjoying).
  2. Your Brand, The Next Media Company by Brito  – this book is a little more challenging of a read for some students. But it is a great book and my second time using it.

What books do you use for your social media class? I’d love to know!

Social Media Documentary Recommendation: Generation Like

When I was in college, I remember watching “Merchants of Cool,” a PBS Frontline documentary chronicling the strategies marketers use to appeal to the elusive teenage demographic.

The documentary had a lasting impression on me. In it, Douglas Rushkoff explores the fascinating attempts by marketers to learn what is cool from teen trendsetters in order to replicate it and sell it back to them through brands like Nike.

In fact, I use snippets of Merchants of Cool in a lecture in my PR class to explore audience research, influence and opinion leaders (as well as to talk about authenticity and co-optation).

Merchants of Cool aired in 2001. To be honest, it is humorous to go back and watch it now, seeing as in 2001 I was in the general age range of the very people the video was profiling. In my defense, I did not like all of the music and fashion shown in the video – truth be told, I was never into Limp Bizkit. :)

How much things changed in a little over a decade. As you can imagine, when I was in college there was no social media and there certainly were no smart phones. Time spent on the Internet among young people was a fraction of what it is today.

What’s fascinating, is to compare that film to the February 2014 Frontline documentary “Generation Like.” This documentary, also by Rushkoff, explores teen culture today and its relationship with the world of marketing and promotion. This documentary is all about the relationship teens have with social media, and thus marketers have with teens via social media.

Rushkoff explores how little teens often know about how businesses are using social media to build relationships with them. From TV celebrities to would-be and established YouTube stars on through to marketing the Hunger Games movies, the documentary offers a fascinating look at what drives young people to use social media – both from the perspective of self-empowerment to building relationships with brands and celebs.

I seldom use class time to show clips longer than 5 or 10 minutes. But I found Generation Like to offer such a fascinating look at many sides of social media, culture, and business, that I showed Generation Like in my Social Media class last semester and did so again this semester. Students last semester thought the documentary offered such a great look into several concepts we covered in class, they suggested I show it earlier in the semester this year as a sort of primer. So I did. :)

The documentary offers an opportunity for a great discussion for any social media class. We had a wonderful debate on the implications of social media for society after watching it. If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend it. While it is a little over a year old, it is still very applicable.




What’s Changing for Fall 2015? Experimenting With My Principles of PR Semester-Long Project

Happy start to the semester!

I want to quickly provide an update on my plans this fall as we are jumping right into classes here at Shepherd University.  Longtime readers know that I like to start the semester by highlighting fun changes to my classes as I constantly work to improve the education I provide my students.

Innovation, experimentation, and iteration are at the heart of what we do as educators. So the beginning of the semester is an exciting “rubber meets the road” time for all of us.


This semester, I’ll highlight my Principles of Public Relations class – our overview course for students in the Strategic Communication concentration. This is a class I haven’t talked about on this blog, even though this class of course does cover some about social media (That’s because, on this blog I have tended to focus on more upper division classes that target social media specifically, and which go into greater depth).

To switch things up, here’s a word on a fun change for my Principles of Public Relations for Fall 2015:

The big development here is that I have updated my “semester long assignment” for the semester into a two-part project. Originally, students worked in teams to address a mock scenario involving an online clothing retailer. I loved this assignment. Students had so much fun and it was an amazing opportunity to see the creativity of our diverse group of students here in the department. The project brought in talents developed in our array of multimedia classes. Each semester, students would impress me by their videos, websites, print materials, and social media.

Yet, I felt this assignment needed to be tightened up. Perhaps because I provided such creative freedom, there could sometimes be a lack of depth or critical learning regarding the application of course content to message design and strategy. Instead, there tended to be too much focus on creating glossy content.

In their presentations, students were proposing generic solutions that sounded in my head a bit like: “Social media will solve all their problems.” I sighed, provided feedback, and wondered how I could help students starting off their education in public relations gain a more detailed, specified understanding of various communication channels (both established and emerging) and how they could be used to address a problem or goal.

To address this, I’ve added an assignment that comes earlier in the semester where students have to learn about, and present to the class, an educational workshop about an established or emerging channel for reaching a target public. For example, students will choose from a list including native advertising and Google Hangouts On Air.  In this way, each group educates the other groups about the channel, its affordances, and cases where the channel has been used in creative or innovative ways to achieve a communication goal. Once the students know a bit about their channel, they will move on to the second part of the project.

Like in the past, this entire project is built around a mock scenario. In the second part of the project, each team comes up with a strategy for using their channel in the context of the mock scenario. In other words, the team focuses narrowly on their channel and how it could be used. This emphasis on depth should provide a more nuanced understanding and a more targeted application of course concepts to a mock scenario.

Yes, it is a trade off. But, I believe this will better prepare the students as they move into the more advanced courses. I will have to take the greater depth at a loss of breadth – that is, the array of proposed strategies to addressing the problem that I got with the old way I did this assignment. Still, I believe learning a more in-depth understanding of one channel and how to really prepare a plan for its application at this stage in the game is better than getting a bevy of proposed solutions that have not been well thought through – a sort of ‘throw it against the wall and see what sticks’ approach.

My aim is that students will be able to take this depth of experience in one channel and put it to practice in various scenarios as they move up in their studies. What do you think?

Let’s see how it goes. :) I’m excited to find out!

I wish everyone the best as they dive into the semester and hope that your innovations, changes, and experiments in the classroom go great!



photo CC by TW Collins

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Why We Must Consider Social Media Certification Programs as Part of Social Media Education Curriculum

I just got back from an amazing #AEJMC15 conference in San Francisco.

There, my colleagues and I had the pleasure of presenting our study, “Hootsuite University: Equipping Academics and Future PR Professionals for Social Media Success,” as the top paper in teaching pedagogy in the Public Relations Division. I had the pleasure of working with some truly awesome social media professors!

hootsuiteuniversityresearchstudyThis was such a rewarding experience because this is such an important area of research. We expect our students to excel in a workplace that is evolving alongside lightning-fast changes to our media environment. But for them to succeed, it is vital that both educators and professionals in the social media space continue to explore what an education in social media entails.

There are big challenges ahead for all of us in the social media space. And there are lots of questions.

My colleagues and I have explored social media education certification programs as one avenue for helping students get the training they need to excel as professional communicators in a social media world. And this is an area that shows a great deal of potential that warrants further exploration and discussion. But many people aren’t familiar with social media certification programs and not enough is known about how to effectively use them.

  1. How can these programs benefit social media educators?
  2. To what extent do social media certification programs help students prepare for careers as communication professionals?
  3. How do employers perceive social media certification programs? Are they valuable? Why?

Educators, students, and business professionals have a vested interest in exploring the potential benefits of social media education certification programs and how these programs can be best utilized.

Hootsuite University is a social media certification program aimed at preparing professionals for expertise in the Hootsuite social media dashboard software. It also enables individuals to demonstrate proficiency in professional social media use.

SXSWedu Panel

To continue the conversation on how social media certification may benefit social media education, my colleagues (Emily Kinsky, Karen Freberg, and Carolyn Mae Kim) and I have put together a panel proposal for 2016 SXSWedu titled: “Incorporating Social Media Certification In Class.” Panels are accepted based on popular vote.

The panel will explore Hootsuite University and how professors can work with students to sharpen digital skills in today’s rapidly changing media environment. We aim to provide insights from our research as well as share key skills, tips, and takeaways from our own experiences for enhancing social media savvy among employees and students.

There’s no doubting that social media education is a vital area of skill and understanding for today and tomorrow’s communication professionals. And social media certification programs may help fill that role.

Presenting this panel at SXSWedu, such an important venue for the intersection of technology and education, would allow us to reach a wider audience, sharing best practices for using social media certification programs like Hootsuite in the classroom to enhance social media education.

To help us accomplish this mission, please support us by voting for our panel.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on or experiences with social media certification programs, or how we can continue to grow and adapt as a field to ensure students today are being prepared to excel in the social space.

Thank you so much for all of the support I’ve gotten as I work in this space. It means a great deal to me. And thank you for voting for our panel and for sharing this article!

Post originally published on LinkedIn.

Hootsuite University and social media education research to be presented at #AEJMC15

#AEJMC15 is just around the corner! This year I am truly thrilled to be traveling to San Francisco to co-present a study about social media education in the college classroom.


Our study, titled “Hootsuite University: Equipping Academics and Future PR Professionals for Social Media Success”, investigated perceptions among students, faculty, and professionals of the social media certification higher education program, Hootsuite University, as part of a college social media course (I’ve written a bit about my own use of Hootsuite University in my social media class in the past).

The paper will be presented at the Top Teaching Papers session @ 9:15am, Sunday August 9 in Salon 15 (Conference program).

On this project, I had the pleasure of working with some truly awesome social media professors (Emily Kinsky, Karen Freberg, Carolyn Mae Kim, and William Ward). If you do not follow these folks, I strongly recommend it. They are great educators and inspiring resources for social media education.

Come see our presentation to learn more about our study and our findings. Tweet at me @mjkushin and please come say hello in person. I always love to meet friends and colleagues from the web.

Also, this year I’m excited to have been recruited to join the Public Relations Division Social Media Team. I’ve always loved the social media sharing the PRD does and their yearly coverage of the AEJMC conference leads the field. I’m looking forward to meeting the fellow team members and helping plan some great content for the upcoming year.

Hope to see you @ #AEJMC15!


photo: CC

Web Round Up: Social Media Education Videos, Google News Labs, and Link Building

Summer is a great time for finding new resources to share with students in the classroom. And with that in mind, I want to share a few readings and resources you may find useful to use this fall in your classes, or just may want to stay on top of.

Social Media Education Videos – Online @UCF has a series of awesome social media videos called “The New Social” that appear to be produced by UCF’s Center for Distributed Learning. These brief videos cover a range of topics and you may find them very helpful to incorporate into class lecture or to assign students to watch at home. Here is Dr. Melissa Dodd’s list of “The New Social” videos on Vimeo.

New Google Labs Could Help Content Marketers from PR Daily – This is something to keep your eye on! Google just launched Google News Lab, a collaborative tool for working with journalists. The tool appears to enable journalists, and content creators more broadly, to harness Google’s data and resources in content. I’ll be interested to see how it is used in the months ahead. The PR Daily article offers some ideas for how content creators could harness the tool. I’m also excited to see if and how journalism professors explore this resource. p.s. Love the clips in the video of what looks like the Newseam in DC.

A PR Pro’s guide to link building from PR Daily – Link building is something I discuss in both my Writing Across Platforms and Social Media classes. The idea makes sense to students but this article provides an explanation of how to go about gaining links from authoritative sites . p.s. In explaining link building to my classes, I like to use the analogy of a student’s reputation in school. If lots of people are talking about you (linking to you), there must be something important and noteworthy about you (credibility). If the really cool people (authoritative websites) are talking (linking) about you, you must be really cool (higher credibility; authority). But if you associate with troublemakers (spammy websites) and they’re talking about you (linking), you’ll lose some of that ever-important credibility (with Google).  Kind of silly, but it helps the students easily understand the importance of inbound links.

Hope your summer is going great!

– Cheers!