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How to Teach Key Messages to PR and Marketing Students: Activity Included

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Teaching Students to Develop Key Messages is a Great Public Relations Class Activity

As a kid, I paid more attention to the lyrics than the rhythm or the beat. I also probably spent more time thinking about how authors expressed the ideas in a story than the story itself.

Maybe that’s why messaging is one aspect of brand building and campaign planning that has always fascinated me. While people often find the process of building key messages tedious, I see it as the fun kind of tedious.

This is part 1 of a two-part series on how I teach students to develop key messages and build a message map in my Strategic Campaign class.

About

Key messages are the ideas that encircle your communication efforts. They help professional communicators focus and articulate important information in a way that is clear, accurate, and consistent.  I like them because they are versatile. For example, they can be used to develop talking points and can also be used develop social media content.

According to the article Key Message Development: Building a Foundation for Effective Communications on the PR Say blog, key messages should be (the below list is directly quoted from the article):

  • Concise: Optimally three key messages on one page; each statement only one to three sentences in length or under 30 seconds when spoken.
  • Strategic: Define, differentiate and address benefits/value proposition.
  • Relevant: Balance what you need to communicate with what your audience needs to know.
  • Compelling: Meaningful information designed to stimulate action.
  • Simple: Easy-to-understand language; avoid jargon and acronyms.
  • Memorable: Easy to recall and repeat; avoid run-on sentences.
  • Real: Active rather than passive voice; no advertising slogans.
  • Tailored: Effectively communicates with different target audiences, adapting language and depth of information.”

Teaching Message Design to Students

Key messages are part and parcel of any campaign plan. I introduce them in the PR Principles class and they come up in just about every class I teach. For example, students in my Social Media class [See the syllabus | All posts about this class] use key messages that were developed for them. But, they have to learn to create content that executes on those messages. As discussed below, Students in my Strategic Campaigns [Syllabus | All posts about this class] develop and test key messages for our client.

Key messages are also discussed in my Communication Research class [Syllabus | All posts about this class] when students work as part of the media placement analysis assignment.

In this exercise, we are going to focus on the campaigns class. By now, students at the very least should already have been introduced to what key messages are and what makes effective key messages (e.g., the list above). Students should also be shown examples of key messages and message support from real brands. Message support is the evidence or proof points that support your key messages. Here’s a simple example:

  • Key message: XYZ shoes are super comfy.
  • Message support: the insoles of XYZ shoes are made out of the world’s softest organic fabric, called ABC fabric.

The message support is needed, thus, to prove the claim in the  message. Otherwise, the claim is unsubstantiated and won’t hold up to scrutiny. You may also choose to talk about ‘reasons to believe’ (RTB) when discussing messaging. I was introduced to the concept of RTB by Maggie Bergin of RP3 Agency when my National Millennial Community Chapter invited her to speak to our communication department last year. Learn more about reasons to believe (RTB). I really like the idea of helping students develop ‘reasons (for the target public0 to believe’ in their messaging.

Different key messages can be developed for different publics. For example, messages aimed at doctors are likely going to differ from key messages aimed at patients as both have different information needs.

You can find examples of key messages and message support via a quick Google search. Another great idea is to find past Bateman campaign winners and share their key messages with your students.

Students in my campaigns class also have to read a great book on effective communication called Made to Stick. (Read my review of Made to Stick to see the core concepts students are learning). I have my students integrate what they are learning from made to stick in their message design.

Key Messages Brainstorming Activity

Creating key messages is a challenge for anyone. Because it is new to students, it can be particularly challenging.

One way to help someone understand how to identify the right message, is to do the below exercise:

Tell your students that a presentation was given about the topic they need to develop key messages for. For example, the campaign for your class. Or, you can use a case study as an example. In the below example, X is the topic.

Step 1: Tell students…

  • If you were leaving this room, and someone asked you “What is X about?” what would you tell them? Write it down.
  • Example: “I heard I missed a lecture about message maps in Dr. K’s class. What’s a message map?”

Note: This is a summary of the big idea. It might be the core message (discussed below).

Step 2: Tell students…

  • 2. After you tell that person what X was about, they respond: “Cool, what do I need to know about X?”
  • First, identify your goals in responding to this communication request.

Note: These goals are the communication goals – or the benefit to the audience. They are what you want to achieve with your messaging.

Step 3: Tell students…

  • 3. Next, write down the 3 most important things that you’d need to tell this person about X.
  • Example: The person responds to you: “Oh no! I bet it’s going to be on the test. What 3 things do I need to know about message maps?”

Step 4: Tell Students…

  • Let’s pretend 1 of the 3 things you told this person was that, “Message maps help you align your communication so you make sure you get your big idea first and then show how your big idea works with the details.”
  • They responded, ‘give me an example of what you mean?”

Note: They’re asking for the supporting evidence for that message.

Repeat step 4 for the other messages.

If done correctly, you’ve used a story to show your students the everyday life application of key messages and message support.

The students just developed:

  • Part 1: A core message, or at least a summary of what the topic is that can be boiled down to a core message.
  • Part 2: A communication goal which helps them focus in on what they are trying to accomplish with their messaging.
  • Part 3: Three key messages – or, the most important things they need to be able to share about the topic.
  • Part 4: Message support, or proof points that act as evidence to support the key messages.

Students should now have some practice applying their knowledge  to the extraction of what’s important about a topic.

Because this is a campaign class, by the time students are ready to work on developing key messages, they have already done a bit of background research on our class client. Using that knowledge, I ask the students to begin to brainstorm key messages for the campaign. So, have your students start brainstorming key messages [Note: I discuss several brainstorming techniques in my book, Teach Social Media].

Key Messages Worksheet

Below, I’ve provided an activity students can use to help brainstorm and develop their messaging. This message design brainstorm activity was built several years ago primarily from the book Made to Stick.  The checklist on page 2 is my version of a series of key facets of message design extracted from Made to Stick. However, other information from my research on key messages is also included, including the above-mentioned article from PR Say and from Maggie Bergin’s guest lecture.  I apologize for not having a full list of sources that were used to develop this activity as they have been lost to time.

In the forthcoming blog post, I will show you part 3, where students take the feedback they have received and develop a message map. I’ll also provide a message map handout.

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Stukent Digital Marketing Summit: Key Takeaways

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Stukent Digital Marketing Summit August 2019

I had a great opportunity on August 16 to speak as part of the summer 2019 Stukent Digital Marketing Summit. If you missed it, I want to share one key takeaways I got form each speaker (In reality, there were too many takeaways to keep track of).

Digital Marketing Summit August 2019 Speaker Line Up

Jonah Berger – Why Do We Share?

Jonah Berger (@j1berger) is a professor in the Wharton School of Business and the author of several influential studies on online word of mouth. He is famously the author of the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On.

Jonah discussed research on why people share ideas, whether through word of mouth offline or online.  He noted that understanding psychology is at the center of how ideas spread. For example, people want to be insiders and they want status. The status is only valuable, though, if others know about it. What good is it to be a frequent flyer if you can’t brag a little? (This resonates with me. When I FINALLY got frequent flyer status on United, I rocked the Silver tag on my bag so everyone could see I ‘had arrived’).

Jonah also discussed turning customers into advocates for your brand. He further explained how a brand or product can be embedded within an idea in such a way as to help it spread, like the famous panda cheese commercials. The panda is odd and funny, and his actions carry the product. So the panda is a key part of Panda Cheese.

Key Takeaway: The WHY of what we share is critical to understanding how ideas spread.

Leo Morejon – Audio is the future (and the future of student feedback).

 Leo Morejon (@MoreLeo) is an award-winning marketer and educator as well as a professor teaching at West Virginia University.  He is the host of a great podcast, the Build & Inspire podcast.

Leo discussed how he uses audio and his experience and skills podcasting to provide rich audio feedback to his students. Benefits include the ability to share emphasis and emotion in feedback (which can be lost or misinterpreted in text), greater class engagement for online classes, and time-saving in grading for professors. I’m always inspired by Leo’s passion and energy and I can see how written student feedback just can’t capture that.

As Leo said, EDU is too text heavy. When we compare to the popularity of audio in our everyday lives, it makes sense. My commute is all about podcasts (Right now, I’m binging on the cold case true crime podcast, Someone Knows Something: Season 5). I was also blown away by this stat about the rise of voice-enabled digital assistants among the student-aged population.

Takeaway: I need to try audio feedback this semester! I hope you’ll try it too.

Mary Owusu – Many Students Aren’t Prepared

Mary Owusu (@AnalyticsMary) is the Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy & Analytics at Mower. She also teaches undergraduate and MBA-level classes at Canisius College.

Mary discussed issues surrounding student preparation for careers in digital marketing. She noted that according to the AACSB, 1 in 3 programs do not offer a single digital marketing course. But we professors can prepare our students. For example, she shared a great list of many certifications that professors can use to help prepare students. She also discussed the need to push our students to succeed and to also push for diverse perspectives in the classroom.

 

Takeaway: Hold students to high standards and ban homogeneous thinking.

Karen Freberg – Now, more than ever, it is an exciting time to be a professor and influencer in the education space.

Karen Freberg (@kfreberg) is an associate professor of strategic communication at the University of Louisville. She’s the author of the popular social media textbook and accompanying workbook, Social Media for Strategic Communication: Creative Strategies and Research-Based Applications, and an awesome book for professors about how to teach a social media class, A Roadmap for Teaching Social Media.

Karen spoke about how professors can be influencers and why we should be. She provided lots of great tips on ho we can do this, including formulating strategic partnerships with organizations. Karen has done a truly impressive job doing this, including her participation helping build the forthcoming Facebook Blueprint (search Facebook Blueprint in the Social Media Professors Facebook group to learn more) and her role in creating the Cannes Lions Educator Summit.  She also reminded us that the best way to build our own brands is by lifting up others and creating community, stating ‘Show your influence by bringing people together.’

Key Takeaway: What it means to be a professor today is changing. Universities can recognize this, moving beyond evaluating professors just on teaching, research, and service.

If you registered for the event (whether you were able to attend or not), Stukent will be sending out a recap with edited video, handouts, and more.

Thank you so much to everyone who participated in the event. I really enjoyed speaking and sharing about using Facebook Audience Insights in the classroom with everyone.

I hope everyone enjoyed the event and is getting ready for the start of a new semester!

– Cheers!

Matt

My New Book, Teach Social Media: A Plan for Creating a Course Your Students Will Love, is Now Available on Amazon!

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Teach Social Media Book

I am beyond thrilled to announce that my new book, Teach Social Media: A Plan for Creating a Course Your Students Will Love, is now available on Amazon in paperback and eBook formats.

It has been a long and exciting journey. I am so glad to finally be able to share this project with you. It is one of my most ambitious undertakings. I can best describe it as an organized “brain dump” of my knowledge about teaching a social media class for students interested in careers as professional communicators (e.g., public relations, marketing).

Teach Social Media: A Plan for Creating a Course Your Students Will Love

Grab a copy of Teach Social Media: A Plan for Creating a Course Your Students Will Love through Amazon now!

The book is available in paperback and Kindle eBook formats. The paperback version comes with the ability to access the Kindle eBook version for free so that you can access the live URL links in the book via a Kindle, the Kindle Cloud Reader on desktop, or a Kindle app on a smartphone or tablet.

A Book With Social Media Class Assignments, Activities, and Exercises Organized into a Class Plan

This 9-chapter, 216 page book is an end-to-end plan for creating a social media course for students studying public relations, marketing, and related fields. In it, I walk you through a 15-week semester.

The book contains chapter appendixes with social media workshop exercises, social media class assignments, and lesson plans. It contains a social media syllabus with all of these assignments and activities integrate into it.

Each chapter builds upon the preceding chapter. Thus, the social media exercises and lessons in one chapter teach students skills that they apply in later chapters in new exercises and assignments.

What Makes This Book Unique

The book is not a textbook and it is not a workbook. It is written in a ‘how to’ style. It is built around the What, Why, How, Do, Reflect (WWHDR) framework that I wrote about earlier this year. The book contains chapter appendixes with assignments and activities that you can use in the classroom. The book also contains access to digital copies of these assignments and activities.

Several friends and colleagues encouraged me to write a book at the 2018 AEJMC. The problem is that these very friends and colleagues  – Carolyn Mae Kim, Karen Freberg, and Keith Quesenberry – have already written stellar social media textbooks (I’ve discussed Dr. Kim’s textbook here and the accompanying workbook for Dr. Freberg’s textbook here). I knew I wanted to contribute in a different way, but I wasn’t sure how.

So I talked to several folks and thought about what it is I could contribute to the conversation about preparing students for careers as professional communicators today. I evaluated my strengths and my passions. I knew I wanted to write something that was true to the mission of this blog. I also knew I wanted to write something different than I had ever read before.

  • Textbooks are for students but we faculty read them to learn and prepare our classes.
  • Education pedagogy books give you advice on how to manage a classroom.
  • Workbooks give you assignment that you can use in your classroom.

My book is a little of all three of these genres. I wanted to tell the story of how to organize and execute an entire class. This blog, after all, has mostly been about social media assignments and activities. My Google Analytics data tells me that the posts I write about assignments and activities are the most popular. But blogs, as a medium, are limited. Blog articles are single units. At best, they can be strung into series – which I’ve done quite a bit of. But writing blog posts about disparate assignments cannot bring together the meta-organization that goes into planning a class.

Teach Social Media seeks to accomplish what could not be accomplished on this blog. It combines my obsession with organization, detailed assignment plans, and well-planned classes with a broader vision that can only be accomplished with the length and freedom a book offers.

While some of the content in Teach Social Media has been touched upon on this blog, most of it hasn’t. Further, I’ve never publicly organized my social media assignments and activities together in a systematic way that explains how to plan and execute an entire class.

There are two ways to use my book:

  1. Follow the book as an end-to-end guide for teaching your class. You will find that the book is designed around a social media project that spans the entire semester. All of the topics, assignments and activities in this book are integrated into a social media project and therefore each chapter (and each assignment) builds upon the chapter before it. If you follow this approach, you will want to read the entire book before starting to plan your class.
  2. Picking and choosing assignments and activities to integrate into your existing class. Call this the à la carte approach. You don’t need to build your class around the semester project to apply the information in the book. Pick what works for you.

Thank you for your support over the years. Thank you so very much to all of the people who have cheered me along over the last many months as I worked through drafts of this book. I want to thank Brad Hamann, the designer of my book’s cover. I also want to thank the Shepherd University Foundation for providing financial support this summer – support that made this book possible.

I hope that Teach Social Media is like no other book you’ve read! Most importantly, I hope that you enjoy it and find it helpful. For me, this is a dream come true!

The book’s table of contents and a sample chapter (appendix not included) are available below. Note that the document will say “error! page not defined” for the table of contents because the sections have been redacted as this is only a sample chapter.

Join Me at the Stukent Digital Marketing Summit Friday August 16

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I’m thrilled to be a part of the upcoming Stukent Digital Marketing Summit. The virtual one-day conference, which focuses on digital marketing pedagogy, will take place Friday, August 16. Registration is now open for this free event.

The speaker line up is impressive! Speakers and topics are:

  • Karen Freberg – Embracing Our Inner Influencer: How Can Educators Use Social Media for Personal Branding?
  • Jonah Berger – TBD
  • Leo Morejon – Are Students Hearing What You’re Saying?
  • Mary Owusa – A Practitioner’s Perspective: Top 10 Digital Skills Your Grads Must Have
  • Matt Kushin – How to Teach Students to Use Facebook Audience Insights to Build an Audience Persona

I am honored to be speaking alongside these impressive faculty.  Professor Freberg has achieved rock star status in the social media education space. She has been a constant inspiration to so many of us. She is the author of a brilliant and super-popular social media textbook Social Media for Strategic Communication: Creative Strategies and Research-Based Applications (I recently reviewed the accompanying workbook).  I’ve recently had the great opportunity to connect with Professor Morejon – of Oreo Super Bowl blackout Tweet fame (which we all talked about in our classes after it happened!). He’s been doing amazing things in and outside of the classroom and I’ve loved hearing about how he’s using audio to engage his students. Professor Berger is well-known for his best-selling book Contagious: Why Things Catch On. I discuss Berger’s research in my forthcoming book on teaching social media.

My presentation will focus on Facebook Audience Insights. Specifically, I’ll dig into how professors can teach their students to use Facebook Audience Insights to do research when creating audience personas. During my presentation, I’ll be sharing 2 activity sheets that you can use to teach your students these skills. A full description of my presentation is below:

Audience personas are used by marketing and public relations professionals to get to know a target audience. This presentation will show professors how their students can use the free Facebook Audience Insights tool as a launching point for developing data-driven audience personas. Step-by-step instructions and an activity sheet are provided.

There’s been a lot of buzz about this event. I’ve used the Stukent Mimic Intro software in my Writing Across Platforms class. But I wasn’t able to attend #ProfCon. So I am really looking forward to my first Stukent event. Be sure to register for free at https://www.stukent.com/digital-summit. Remember, that’s Friday August 16th!

I look forward to (virtually) seeing you there!

-Cheers!
Matt

Why You Should Apply for the Advertising Education Foundation Visiting Professors Program

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Earlier this month I had the amazing opportunity to be a part of the Advertising Education Foundation’s (AEF) Visiting Professors Program in New York City.

Myself and 32 other professors from around the country spent a week meeting with agencies and companies in the advertising and marketing space. We met with:

  • Ogilvy
  • Momentum
  • Facebook – specifically ,the agency division.
  • McCann
  • R/GA
  • Wavemaker
  • IBM

AEF at the Facebook Agency offices in Manhattan.

The AEF is all about bridging academia and the industry. And through this program they executed their mission in an impactful way!

During the trip we stayed in the dorms at Fordham University, just a few steps away from this NYC icon: The Metropolitan Opera House.

Being in the offices of these innovative companies opened my eyes to not only the changing advertising/promotion landscape, but the changing media landscape more broadly and how it is affecting so many aspects of business, commerce, and day-to-day life.

Inside the Momentum offices. Momentum is owned by McCann and is focused on experiential marketing.

I was afraid I would be the only professor who was not in a business school or who was not strictly an advertising educator. I was delighted and surprised to meet many professors from communication – with emphases from public relations to media studies – as well as other disciplines such as anthropology. To me, this really shows the dedication of the AEF team to the advancement of knowledge about advertising broadly.   Because advertising impacts all of us.

I learned a ton from this experience. I can truly say it was one of the most remarkable professional development experiences of my career as a professor. There are many ways in which I will incorporate what I learned from this experience in my teaching as well as in my life. Below are my three key takeaways from my trip.

If you have not participated in the AEF Visiting Professors Program, I highly recommend that you apply for a future year.

If you are not familiar with the AEF, check them out. They have lots of great resources. My students and I used the AEF’s Campus Speaker Program to find a spectacular speaker, Maggie Bergin, who came and spoke with our department last semester.

-Cheers!

Matt

I’m Writing a Book! (And I need Your Help With The Title)

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Big, big news here! I’ve kept it a secret far too long and it’s time to spill…

I AM WRITING A BOOK!

If you’ve noticed that the frequency of my blog posts has been, well, down lately, that’s why.

What’s the book about?

Teaching social media.

The book will touch on topics discussed on this blog. But it is so much more than what I’ve published on this blog. The book is a comprehensive guide to planning and executing a social media class. I’m talking end-to-end. Everything you  need. Think of it like an entire brain dump of everything I do to teach my social media class. But it is an organized brain dump. In fact, it provides a series of assignments that all gel together to make a unifying class from week 1 to week 15.  Below is the synopsis.  But first, here’s where you come in.

Without you, the readers of this blog, this book wouldn’t exist. So I am asking for your help in coming up with a title. What’s better than to use social media to crowdsource the title of a book about social media?

Please complete the below survey by Monday, June 24 if you would like to contribute. Thank you so, so much!

Link to survey: https://forms.gle/ps3SvWMdPiEDtWvv9.

Synopsis:

Designed around a semester-long social media project with assignments and activities that build upon each other, this book offers an end-to-end plan for building and executing a social media class from the ground up. It provides everything you need from week 1 to week 15 to turn your class into a hands-on, engaged learning environment where your students will take on a client and build and execute a social media plan. Your students will learn by doing.

The social media environment is transforming at lightning speed. Students must learn more than software skills. That’s why the book follows the What, Why, How, Do, Reflect framework which aims to teach students adaptable knowledge and skills and ever-lasting abilities such as critical thinking, problem solving, creative thinking, and ethical decision-making.

The economic realities of higher education make it challenging for professors to provide an education due to a lack of access to software and resources. Costly software and access to external clients are nice but not needed. This book shows you how to deliver a high quality, experiential class on a shoe-string budget.

Both new and experienced professors will enjoy this book.

Excited? I hope so. I sure am!

The book will be available this fall. News and updates will be available right here. So…

-Cheers!
Matt

UPDATE: 8/14/19

My new book, Teach Social Media: A Plan for Creating a Course Your Students Will Love, is now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle eBook.

 

Portfolio building activities in social media: Exercises in strategic communication By Karen Freberg (Book Review)

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Last summer, Dr. Karen Freberg [Twitter | LinkedIn] published her social media textbook, Social media for strategic communication: Creative strategies and research-based applications, to great fanfare.

Since then, her textbook has skyrocketed up the Amazon charts for social media textbook best sellers. The buzz generated has been well-earned as Karen has been more than an inspiration for those of us teaching in the social media space. She has been a leader, advocated, and supporter to so many of us, including myself.

Indeed, the book has already received so many rave reviews, including a shout out by @PerezHilton:

https://twitter.com/kfreberg/status/1115289755955150850

So I want to do something different. In this post, I’m going to review the workbook that accompanies Karen’s textbook. That workbook is titled Portfolio building activities in social media: Exercises in strategic communication. The workbook is meant to go along with the textbook, but it also can stand alone as a series of assignments that professors can use in social media classes or in classes where a social media assignment is desired.

Portfolio Building Activities in Social Media by Karen Freberg

Structure

The workbook is organized into 13 brief chapters, with each chapter providing a series of activities or assignments that professors can use in class. The chapters range from ethics and legal issues in social media (Chapter 2), to social media monitoring, listening, and analysis (Chapter 5), to social media writing (Chapter 7), to paid media, budgets, and campaign evaluation (Chapter 10).

Chapters 11 and 12 offer dives into social media specialties such as sports, non-profits, and global social media. And chapter 13 looks into the future of social media.

Organization of Chapters

Each chapter is a compilation of related assignments. The assignments are detailed and to the point. For example, in Chapter 3, which is about personal and professional branding, the first assignment offers a brief rationale for the assignment, discussing why personal branding is important. The assignment asks students to write a reflection paper both examining their personal branding goals and analyzing their current online persona. In a follow up assignment, students are asked to build out their personal brand. As I’ve blogged about before, I was inspired by Karen’s first book to build a personal branding assignment for my students. Thus, I was glad to see that Chapter 3 of her new workbook builds upon that assignment! I’ll definitely be using this updated assignment in the workbook to modify my personal branding assignment. I personally really liked the table Karen provides on page 13 of many social media certifications that students can complete and the way this tool can be used to help students decide which certifications are right for them.

Chapter 4 reminds me of a thorough enhancement to an informal activity that I do with students in my social media class. An assignment in that chapter asks students to identify several job positions presently available in social media and guides students through a process of evaluating those positions. The students are then coached into reaching out and networking with professionals working in these positions.

Later chapters get into analysis of social media campaigns as well as analysis of the appropriateness of different social media platforms for a given set of goals. There are great strategic planning assignments in Chapter 6.

But, what I find particularly impressive with this text, is he way that Karen so successfully provides assignments for both the broad, strategic elements that students need to learn to the detail of content creation topics like writing and style (Chapter 7) and curation (Chapter 9), to the audience targeting, and analysis skills students need to develop (Chapter 8), to the evaluative measurement (Chapter 10) skills necessary in today’s results-driven world.

Summary

The workbook is chalk full of great assignments. It really makes me wish I had more than 3 credit hours to work with to teach a social media class, or that I had a second social media class, because there are so many great assignments in here that I wish I could squeeze into my current social media class. If you’re like me, and your class is pretty full, you could still benefit from this book by using the assignments to enhance your own assignments. I will definitely be doing that.

It is truly impressive to see in this workbook the way Karen distills her breadth of knowledge about social media into actionable assignments that are detailed, all-encompassing, and easy to convey to students.

And there’s one last thing that I thought was really cool about this book worth mentioning – actually, it was one of the first things I noticed and loved when I started reading through this workbook: The workbook contains perforated pages. This way your students can rip the assignment to work on. I love it!

In short, if you haven’t checked out Portfolio building activities in social media: Exercises in strategic communication by Dr. Karen Freberg, and you teach social media in any capacity, I strongly encourage you to do so. It’s a quick read – just about every page from cover to cover is an assignment that you can readily incorporate into your classes. Of course, the accompanying textbook itself is marvelous and I recommend checking that out as well. But, even if you already have another textbook that you use in your classes, you cannot go wrong to explore this workbook as ancillary material.

Congrats, Karen!

– Cheers!
Matt

Now, More than Ever, We Must Teach Skills and Abilities. Here’s a Quick and Easy Framework for Doing So.

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Chapter 3 of the 2017 report on undergraduate public relations education published by the Commission on Public Relations Education examines key skills students need to succeed in entry-level positions. When it comes to skills, practitioners rated social media management and research & analytics skills in the top five, alongside writing, communication and editing (see page 49). Yet, these same practitioners rated entry-level practitioners as not having these skills to the extent that they were desirable.

The survey results indicate that more than knowledge, the industry today seeks skills and abilities, suggesting “that the labor market is most concerned about what entry-level practitioners can do and produce when they are in the market.”

What abilities were most sought after by employers? Creative thinking, problem solving, and critical thinking top the list. Yet again, employers perceived that entry-level practitioners did not have these abilities to the extent that they were desired.

Clearly a gap exists between what students are learning and what employers are looking for.

It is hard to prepare someone to succeed in a rapidly changing landscape, where an increasingly wide and constantly shifting range of skills, abilities, and knowledge are needed. This problem is compounded by the fact professors often have limited or no access to the tools and resources available to the industry.

Fortunately, a growing number of companies are offering social listening, social media management, and analytics software for free or at discounted prices to university classrooms. Examples include Meltwater, Hootsuite, Microsoft Dynamics, and HubSpot. There are also many free tools that professors can use, including Twitter Analytics, Instagram Insights, and Facebook Insights for metrics. Free certification programs through Hootsuite, HubSpot, Google, Cision, and others provide industry-leading knowledge and case studies to help students prepare for their careers.

The good news is that the tool you use to teach the skill isn’t as important as what is gained from using the tool. Skills and abilities are flexible and adaptable. They can be upgraded from a free tool in the classroom to enterprise level software in the workplace.

Yet, access to industry software and educational materials alone are not enough to bridge the gap. It’s not what you teach. It’s how you teach it.

A Framework for Teaching in the Age of Experimentation

I have found that I am most successful when I use a simple framework for teaching and making connections between knowledge, skills and abilities. If you have taught before, chances are that you are doing several of these steps already. But by codifying the process, we become more mindful and efficient educators. Think of this framework as a shortcut for quickly mapping out a lesson.

The approach is: What, Why, How, Do, Reflect (WWHDR).  

Here’s how it works. Start by establishing the learning goals. That is, what are the knowledge, abilities, and skills that you want the learner to learn? Don’t rush this. If you don’t know what you want someone to learn, chances are they won’t learn it.

Example: I want my students to know what social media listening is. I want them to apply their critical thinking and problem-solving abilities to determine what conversations they should monitor for our client. I want them to learn how to set up a search and monitor the results to identify who is talking about our client.

Notice that above I have a goal for knowledge, one for abilities, and one for skills.

Once you know your goals for the lesson, begin planning the What, Why, How, Do and Reflect portions of the approach.

  1. What – What is the topic that you are teaching? This may be delivered in a brief lecture with background information, key terms, examples or case studies, and so forth.
  2. Why – Why is the learner learning this? Here you explicitly connect the subject with the purpose for the learner, often as part of the brief lecture. Perhaps you have examples of positive or negative consequences you can share. By telling the learner why they are learning the topic, you are beginning to build a connection to application. Plus, you make the lesson more personally meaningful to the learner.
  3. How – Here the learner learns how they will apply the knowledge. This may include tutorials, hands-on guidance, and conversations about important considerations the learner should keep in mind when doing the task. However you deliver it, be sure to include important skills and information the learner needs in order to do what you are asking. I’m a believer in offering multiple modalities and allowing the learner to choose from the resources given based on their comfort level. For example, a tutorial may be sufficient for some while hands-on help applying the new skill may be needed for others.
  4. Do – This is the all-important activity time. It often coincides with the How stage. The learner puts the lesson into practice. The more opportunities the learner has in this stage, the better. This should combine abilities – such as problem solving – with application of skills. Let the student do the work. When they struggle, ask them guiding questions.
  5. Reflect – Unfortunately, this important part of the framework is often skipped. Here the learner is asked to reflect on what they did, with a goal of getting the learner to make the connections between what, why, how and do for themselves. It also provides opportunities for the learner to make improvements. This can be done through discussion with a learning partner, with a group, as well as through a written or quantitative reflection.

This framework is flexible and can be applied to lessons that take an hour or lessons that take a month because it can be broken down and repeated in stages in order for one to learn mastery. For example, you can create a lesson to teach basic skills and then build on it with another lesson, and another.

To use this framework, no software is needed. It can be used to teach knowledge, skills and abilities in most any subject. For example, in my persuasion class I use it to teach students persuasion theories, critical thinking skills and ethical decision making around those theories, and then, how the students can apply those theories in the real world through a component I call “persuasion in action.”

Get started. It’s easy. Take a piece of paper and write out your learning objectives at the top. Divide the rest of the paper into sections of What, Why, How, Do, Reflection. Begin planning your lesson; just be sure to keep all 5 stages in mind. You got this!

Update: 8/14/19

The WWHDR framework is discussed in detail in my new book, Teach Social Media: A Plan for Creating a Course Your Students Will Love.

-Cheers!

Matt

Photo public domain via Lennart Kcotsttiw.

Practice writing headlines and news leads: Re-write the headline and lead of a news story by focusing on the most interesting part [in-class activity]

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for details.

What makes for an interesting story? That’s an important question and if we are going to prepare our students to be professional communicators, we should be having this conversation with our students in many of our classes.

Today, I am going to share an in-class activity that I have done the last few years in my writing class, COMM 335 Writing Across Platforms [see all posts about this class | see the syllabus]. That activity asks students to identify the most interesting part of a news story. Here’s how it works. But first, some background.

Image public domain from Pexels

Background

In my writing class, I teach students how to write news releases.  We talk about things like the inverted pyramid, headlines, leads, formatting, and AP style.

It is the lead, perhaps, that students struggle with the most. So we examine leads, talk about different types of leads, and spend a good amount of time working on our leads.

While I introduce leads during the part of the class that we are working on news releases, knowing how to write leads is an important skill that stretches into other types of writing. Think of an interesting blog post that you read. How did it start? What grabbed your attention? Did you get a clear sense of what was at stake; what the important information was?

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of having Andrew Springer [@springer], who is now the senior director of digital development at NBC News, visit my class. My students were participating in writing pieces for a project of his, WeHeartWV.com. But he and I also sat down outside of class to chat about creating content for the web, changes in news consumption, and more. During that time, he suggested I assign my students an activity: re-write the lead of a news story that has been published by a well-known news source by focusing on the most interesting part of the story.

Andrew, no doubt, knows his stuff.  And I was very appreciative of his generosity with this idea. So a big, big thank you to Andrew for sharing this idea and helping me better prepare my students.

The following year, when the time came, I started implementing this as an in-class activity. I also required students to re-write the headline to continue to practice their headline writing skills. I think the assignment really helps the students see that there are may ways to see a story; that there are many interesting avenues into any situation.

Why

The thing is, that a good news lead and a lead that will grab someone’s attention in an online post are not always one in the same.  By focusing on what makes a story most interesting to the student, the student gets the opportunity to literally re-write the news the way they would have told it. I believe the practice of looking for the angles on a story is helpful to the students as they look for the angles in the news releases they are writing. It helps them learn to turn the story on its side and see what aspects of it are appealing while also gaining more practice constructing headlines and leads.

In a way, I also think this activity provides relief because I have gotten the sense from some students that they feel that there is only ‘1 correct way’ to write the news release assignment they are working on. I want them to see that they could read three different articles about the exact same news event and find three entirely different approaches.

The Activity

I have really loved this participation activity and have continued to dedicate a day of class for students to work on this activity as I come around and offer assistance and feedback. The activity usually takes about 50 minutes for students to complete. I talk students through their headlines and leads in class and offer suggestions. But I also read through all of them after class and give each student a few words of feedback, focusing on the most important thing I would like them to take away as they continue to work on writing effective headlines and leads.

Download a copy of the in-class activity below or see it on SlideShare.net. You will note that I have selected several well-known news outlets from across the country as well as the news aggregator Google News. Feel free to modify these to your liking. I chose a range of credible sources plus the news aggregator to give students a range of choices. But you may want to focus on your local or regional news. This is the first year that I hand selected the news sources. In the past, I would let students choose their own news sources and some students would only focus on sports news, soft news, or sources that may focus less on news and more on editorializing. This year, I was happy to find that by pointing the students to sources all of the students picked fascinating, hard news stories.  Because of this, I think the exercise went better.

One last thing to point out is to be sure to explain to your students what you are looking for. You are not asking them to re-write the existing lead but rather to find an entirely new lead based on what they find interesting. In the past I did not take the extra step to emphasize this point and some students simply re-wrote the existing lead.

What activities do you have to help students learn to write headlines and leads? Please share them with readers via the comments below.

Cheers!

-Matt

 

What’s Changing? Creative Briefs and Using Story Arcs in Pitch Presentations

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It’s that time of year. The tradition must continue! It is time, of course, for my ‘What’s Changing’ blog post to start off the semester. I’ve been writing these posts for years as a way to highlight key changes I have in mind for the semester ahead. For example, here’s last semester’s post.

So, without further ado, here are a few things that are changing, new, or worth noting for the semester ahead. Specifically, this post is going to focus on my COMM 470 Strategic Campaigns [see the syllabus] class as there a few things small changes that I have in mind which I think will have a big impact on student learning.

COMM 470 Strategic Campaigns

This year my campaigns class will be taking on Adopets, a startup based in Boston that is building a new way to connect animal lovers and rescues to improve the pet adoption process. I am thrilled about this opportunity as we’ll be taking on Adopets during an exciting time for the company. Working with startups is an incredible opportunity for the students. They get to witness firsthand the entrepreneurial spirit, creativity, and hard work that must go into building a successful venture. It also creates a powerful opportunity to for students to have a real impact.

A focus for me this semester in the campaigns class is trying to help students ideate more effectively when brainstorming their ideas for their campaign. I’ve noted that in the past, students tend to get stuck ‘in the weeds,’ lost in the minutia of goals, objectives, strategies and tactics. They are so concerned with correctly creating and formatting these steps that they appear to get stuck when it comes to seeing the big picture and creating powerful ideas that will drive their campaign. It is akin to having writer’s block because one is too concerned about what nouns and verbs are and is thus unable to focus on the idea one wants to convey. In other words, I’ve noticed that students seem to struggle to come up with creative ideas because they are so concerned about writing their campaign plan. So this semester I am trying to recenter the focus on the ideas. I am telling the students that writing up their strategies and tactics will flow from that. One way I’m doing that is by focusing on the creative brief.

Last semester, students in my social media class had the eye-opening opportunity to have Keith Stoeckeler (Twitter | LinkedIn) Skype in.  Keith has been an advocate for helping better prepare college students for careers in digital and has graciously donated his time to talking to many professor’s classes. Keith also shared a copy of the creative brief document he uses to develop campaign ideas.

This got me to take a twist on my approach. One thing I work on in the campaigns class is having students deconstruct other campaigns. So I redesigned my approach, developing a creative brief document inspired in part by Keith’s. While students have written strategic briefs in the social media class, they are a bit loaded down with questions and requirements (to get the students doing a lot of things I want them to learn). Said another way, those briefs weren’t super, well, brief. In my campaigns class now, the briefs are…  you guessed it, much briefer, and thus more focused.

This semester I’m having my students reverse engineer the campaigns they explore via in class activities by completing a creative brief about those campaigns, as if they were crafting them from scratch to be pitched. Later, I’m going to have the students use the creative brief handout when building out their own campaign ideas. My hope is that by keeping the students focused on this one single document  the students will feel closer to the process of creating a brief because they will have practiced it through reverse engineering. This is a different tact than I used in the past. In the past when students were deconstructing real campaigns, I would give them worksheets that I created with questions tailored to that day’s topic, such as formative research or target audience.

In the end, I am hoping that by keeping the students focused on this brief they will better be able to brainstorm their campaign ideas and then they will do a better job of extrapolating from those ideas into the necessary, organized components of the campaign. A big thank you to Keith for the inspiration!

Another change I am making in my campaigns class has to do with teaching students to pitch to a potential client via a pitch presentation.

In my campaigns class, students pitch their campaigns to the client. Each team is competing with one another. Teaching students how to pitch can be a challenge. I’ve been teaching it in both my PR Principles and my Strategic Campaigns classes for years and I am always looking for ways to improve. It just seems that students struggle with translating the ideas in their campaign document into a presentation.

Recently, I came across a great post by Keith Quesenberry about teaching students to use a dramatic storytelling arc when pitching. Definitely check it out if you haven’t read it yet. Keith’s work is fantastic and the content he creates is always inspiring to me because he offers a clear and fresh perspective with an emphasis on the actionable.  In the post, Professor Quesenberry provides a great graphic demonstrating the dramatic arc and how it corresponds to the stages of the pitch. (Keith is also the author of a great social media textbook, Social Media Strategy: Marketing, Advertising, and Public Relations in the Consumer Revolution).

I’m showing Quesenberry’s dramatic arc graphic to my students this semester. Further, Keith’s post got me to update the slides I use to teach pitching to my students. I also created a handout to give my students to help them format their presentations, based on my experience teaching public speaking way, way, way back in graduate school.

Keith’s post also got me thinking about how I could better structure my class to help students prepare for their pitch.  So, I re-organized the class schedule in an attempt to address this.

In the past, I had students pitch their campaign proposals about midway through the class. These pitches were just to myself and the other students. Then, at the end of the semester, each team pitched the client on their finished campaign. I did this because I thought the practice would pay off. Yet, what I found is, the proposal presentation was actually hampering the students’ final presentations of their campaigns. Rather than refocusing their presentations when creating their final presentations, students tended to try and add on additional information to their already long proposal presentations. Thus, the final presentation was like a Frankenstein version of their proposal presentation and not a smooth, flowing, focused pitch. Said another way, I think the way I was doing things was inadvertently leading students to produce a long, boring, unfocused presentation.

If you look at the spring 2019 syllabus, you’ll see that I dropped the proposal presentation. In its place, I took the newly-gained day of class and put it towards a student presentation walk through. In the past, I have had students do a practice run of their complete presentation to my class prior to presenting it to the client. We are still going to do that. But the added walk through ate is a time where student teams are meeting just with me to go slide by slide through their presentation to offer feedback. After that, they will do their practice run in front of class, and their final run in front of the client.

I am hopeful that this new approach will help students stay focused on telling the story of their pitch, a la Quesenberry’s arc discussed above. In so doing, I hope that it will help the students focus on sharing relevant details in their pitch at strategically chosen times, rather than getting bogged down in the distracting details.

I am excited to see how my campaigns class goes this semester. I’ve got a good bunch of students, students who are bringing energy and enthusiasm to this project.

Cheers!

– Matt

A Social Media Education Blog by Matthew J. Kushin, Ph.D.