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]

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

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.

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

Here are my social media, communication research, persuasion and message design, strategic campaigns and writing across platforms class syllabi for this year

This semester has certainly crept up on me. I had a very busy winter break. The realization that this semester has crept up on me has me realizing a few other things, things that have gotten away from me.

One such thing that has gotten away from me is keeping the syllabi on this blog up to date.  As longtime readers of this blog probably know, my mission here is to share what I’m doing in the classroom as well as what I am thinking about as it relates to teaching and learning social media and related fields. While my primary means of doing that is via blog posts, from the start I also set out to share syllabi. Yet, as we turned the page to 2019 I realized I have neglected to share syllabi from anything after 2017, sans my 2018 persuasion and message design syllabus.  Eek!

One reason for this was because sometimes, on the surface that is a syllabus, not a lot has changed from year to year. The main changes tend to be ‘under the hood’ – that is, in the day-to-day class and related assignments.

Yet, when I add up the changes that occur from semester to semester, it is clear that over a few years, a lot changes on my syllabi.

I’ve also noted that many of you download the syllabi I share on SlideShare. For example, the social media syllabus from my fall 2016 class has been downloaded 65 times to date.

So, I have updated the syllabi menu of this blog to include my 2019 spring research class syllabus, my 2019 spring campaigns class syllabus, my 2019 writing across platforms syllabus, and my fall 2018 social media class syllabus. I also placed the fall 2018  persuasion and message design syllabus in the syllabus menu.

You can access the syllabus menu at the top of this page (see image below). You can also see them below. To download any of them, click the LinedIn icon. This will take you to the full page on Slideshare. There, you will see a download button.

I feel good. Everything is in equilibrium. We’re all up to date… for now.

Be sure to check back in 2 weeks for my “What’s Changing?” blog post, a long-running series on this blog where I start the semester by sharing changes, updates, and new approaches I am taking to my classes for the semester.  Can’t wait? Read last semester’s “What’s Changing?” post.

COMM 322 Social Media Fall 2018 Syllabus

COMM 335 Writing Across Platforms Spring 2018 Syllabus

COMM 402 Persuasion & Message Design Fall 2018 Syllabus

COMM 435 (Applied) Communication Research Spring 2019 Syllabus

COMM 470 Strategic Campaigns Spring 2019 Syllabus

 

Communication Research Class Media Placement Assignment, Part 2: Doing Data Entry and Creating a Data Legend

This post is long overdue (I feel like I say that a lot!).

It is a follow up to a post I published in January titled “Here’s my communication research class assignment on analyzing media placement.”  Recently, I received a public comment on that post from a professor I greatly admire, Kelli Burns, pointing out that project assignment (see the bottom of this post for that document) notes at the bottom of the document that additional work will be assigned the following day. But, I never discuss what that entails in the blog post.  I apologize to everyone who read that post because, in that sense, it was incomplete in terms of explaining the project.

Thank you to Dr. Burns for bringing this to my attention. With this in mind, I’ve decided to do a much-delayed follow up post, turning that initial post into a two-part series.

So, if you haven’t read the first post in this series, I encourage you to go back and do so. If you just want to know about teaching students to do data entry from coded data and to create data legends, then read on my friend!

The Set Up

In review, in the first post I provide an assignment where students download a data set of media articles using the Meltwater social intelligence software. Their task is to conduct a quantitative content analysis using a coding sheet (which I’ve provided in that first post). They are then told to do all of the coding at home, dividing up the articles to code as evenly as possible among their team.

On the second day of class, students come back with the coding sheet coded for the number of articles they needed to code. I instruct the students to download the coding sheet, copy it onto a new page in their document for the total number of articles they need to code and code them by highlighting the answers on the coding sheet. For example, a student who needed to code 30 articles would return with a digital copy of an MS Word document with 30 pages, each page containing a completed coding sheet.

Problems

All good right? They just need to get their coded data into something that SPSS can read… because that always goes smoothly! 😛

This whole project is aimed at introducing students to quantitative research and all we’re doing is running descriptive statistics. But here’s the problem:

As you probably remember learning in a quantitative methods class some years ago (let’s not age ourselves), the numbers in a data set don’t mean anything themselves. We, the researchers, assign meaning to them. This is an idea that we have to teach the students.

Here’s a simple example. Let’s say that we are coding for eye color. We assign the following numbers for coding purposes:

  • 1 = brown
  • 2 = blue
  • 3 = hazel
  • 4 = green
  • … and so forth until we have an exhaustive list.

But when a student runs the mean and find that variable 1 has a mode of 3, they ask “what the heck does that mean?”

The problems with this are are:

  1. They don’t know what variable 1 corresponds to on their coding sheet (in this example, eye color).
  2. They don’t know what a mode of 3 represents (that the most common eye color is hazel).

Oh, and keep in mind that the students haven’t done any data entry yet. They don’t have their data into a spreadsheet format yet that can be imported into SPSS. So, there’s another problem. Most students have never entered data into a spreadsheet before.

What They Need to Do

  1. Get their coded data into a spreadsheet format that can be analyzed in SPSS.
  2. Create a data legend so they can interpret the SPSS output

What They Need to Know About Measurements First

In my class, students need to know the four common types of measurement – nominal, ordinal, interval and ratio – , as the Netflix assignment (and other assignments to follow) use them.  Students in our major are not required to take any statistics class and thus this is new information to the vast majority of them. If your students know this, you can skip it. If you need a refresher on these, here is a quick summary that explains each measurement type and its strengths and limitations.  I teach them these concepts with a lecture and in-class activity to test their application. I do this earlier int he semester before we get into the Netflix assignment.

Teaching Students Basic Data Entry

This part is pretty simple. As a reminder, the students are working in teams on this project. So the team needs to create a shared Google spreadsheet in which they enter all their coded data from their coding sheets.  They just need to open Word and open the shared Google spreadsheet and enter the corresponding numbers from the coding sheet in Word for each article coded. The key thing is that in this spreadsheet the columns are the questions (i.e., variables) on the coding sheet and the rows are the individual articles (such as in the image below). Otherwise, it won’t import into SPSS correctly (Note: You can import a CSV file through SPSS. So, I have my students download the Google Spreadsheet in CSV format and import that into SPSS).

But, before they can enter their data they need a data legend. So..

Teaching Students to Create Data Legends

A data legend lets the researcher quickly put meaning to the variables and numbers in their results.

Creating a data legend can be done in SPSS. But, for time purposes and because students wont always be using SPSS, I prefer to do it another way. It is quite useful as I can have the data legend right in front of me on a piece of paper.

Simply, have your students type or write up their data legend and keep it handy.

Each variable needs a descriptive label that’s under 13 characters (13 characters is the max that SPSS allows you to use in describing a variable).

Each possible numerical value of that variable needs a name, which is the simplest possible description of what that number means. So, in our example above, if 1 equaled brown eye color, 2 equaled blue eye color and so forth, then we write it up to look like this:

variable:

eyecolor  (1) brown, (2) blue, (3) hazel, (4) green.

In the above, I have given the variable for eyecolor the label eyecolor. The numbers in parentheses represent the numerical value that I have assigned to the possible responses.

For scale questions, the number equals the number on the scale. Example: On a scale of 1-7 where 1 means not at all, and 7 means very much so, how much do you like string cheese?

stringcheese    (1) not at all, (2) 2, (3), 3, (4), 4, (5), 5, (6), 6, (7) very much so.

So, the instructions for creating a data legend are quite simple:

On a separate file or paper:

  1. Assign each variable a label (max 13 letters). So, “schoolstatus”, “favicecream” and “rankicecream” work.
  2. If it is nominal or ordinal label it in parentheses (this is optional, but I like to do it to help students remind what type of variable it is)
  3. With each label, make a list that indicates what # we have assigned to each term within our measurement, by placing the # in parentheses.

Of course, there are some caveats when dealing different measurement types, such as ordinal data. Indeed, ordinal data and ‘check all that apply’ questions are tough.  These can be a bit frustrating when doing data entry. That’s why I’ve provided below a handout I created and use in class to teach students how to create data legends using the different types of measurements. This walks them through how to not only create a data legend for that variable but subsequently how to enter that data correctly from their coding sheet into their spreadsheet so that the spreadsheet can be analyzed in SPSS or elsewhere.

Activity

Once you walk students through this process, you can give them an activity to test for understanding and application. If the students don’t enter their data correctly now, it is going to be a mess when they try to import it into SPSS. So while this may take some valuable class time or may serve as homework, I recommend assigning the data entry and data legend activity (see below) and making sure the students entered their data correctly.

In the activity, it is important to clarify to students that, in part 2 of the activity, the survey responses are separated by semi-colons such that the first respondent’s answers are: a) digital film, b) freshman, c) 4, and d) Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Pizza Perfection.

Once the students have created the data legend and entered it into the table on the activity sheet, their answers should look like this

Data Legend

Spreadsheet

Once your students got this down, set them loose to do their data entry. You may want to assign that as homework. You can give them a lecture on descriptive statistics and work with SPSS or whatever software you’ll be doing the analysis in. Help the students interpret what the data means by pointing them to their data legend.

I hope this blog post was helpful. Again, if you have not yet done so, check out the first article in this post to learn more about the Netflix media placement assignment. If you want to know more about my applied communication research class, you can see all blog posts related to communication research here.

Data Entry and Data Legend Handout for Students

Data Entry and Data Legend Activity for Students

Project 1: Media Placement Assignment Handout (from previous blog post cited above).

-Cheers!

Matt

credits: Photo public domain from Pexels

Introducing Students to Social Media Audience Research via the Facebook Audience Insights Tool

Lately, I’ve been writing about the importance for students to learn more about paid social media as part of the media mix.

In the below post, I’m going to share a new in class activity I did this semester in my COMM 322 Social Media class [see all posts about the class | see past class syllabi] to help students further explore paid social media.

One thing I struggle with in my social media class is finding a way to bring this into the class in a manner that helps students gain hands-on experience. In the past, I did an assignment where students identified a target audience and mocked up a Facebook ad in the Facebook Creative Hub. The purpose of the ad was to promote themselves in some way.

This year, I took a slight turn with the assignment. I backed away from the creation of the ad and placed more emphasis on what we can learn about Facebook users by exploring audience data and how that might inform ad planning.

Specifically, I wanted my students to understand what they could learn with Facebook Audience Insights data. I thought it would be very insightful to have them peel back the curtain and see what a business can see with Facebook Insights. While it would be best to have access to the Facebook page of an organization, this is not necessary to explore Facebook data.  Instead, any person with a Facebook account can explore user data through the Facebook Creative Hub by accessing the Insights tools.

About Facebook Creative Hub and Audience Insights

If you haven’t played around with the creative hub before, it is a series of tools that help advertisers research and plan ads for Facebook and Instagram. You can create ad mockups to share with others so that they can see what a potential Facebook or Instagram post would look like on the native platform. You can manage ads for clients that you manage. You can create Facebook ads and run campaigns. You can research and learn about Facebook users. You can do several other tasks to track behavior between Facebook, events, websites, and apps.

In my class, I wanted to focus on the tool within the creative hub that lets you do audience research on Facebook users. This part of the tool is called Facebook Audience Insights. You can read more about it here and watch a brief overview of the Facebook Audience Insights tool.  Now, it is a little confusing because Facebook also has an audience insights webpage called Facebook IQ that publishes brief reports based on Facebook data. They have a section about insights into Facebook audiences.

So, think of Audience Insights as the tool you can use to gain insights about Facebook users. Think of Facebook IQ as a resource for reports from Facebook about their user data.

Accessing the Facebook Audience Insights tool is a bit of an in-direct path. The link they promote in several webpages does not work for me and has not been working for the past month. It is: https://www.facebook.com/ads/audience_insights

However, you can get into the Audience Insights tool via logging into the Creative Hub.  Here’s how:

Once you’re in the Audience Insights tool, you can conduct research on people who like your pages (that is, pages that you manage via the Facebook account you are logged in with). Or, you can search data about all Facebook users.

In this video, which I made for my students, I play around with searching for data on Audience Insights. As you can see, you can search by demographic information, interests, affiliations, and the like.

The Class Activity

I wanted my students to try and deconstruct what data might be helpful to an advertiser planning to create a Facebook ad.  The rationale was for students to be thinking about how the Facebook audience data could inform decision-making.  So I had students work in teams and pick an existing Facebook ad from the inspiration gallery that Facebook provides. You can find the gallery here: https://www.facebook.com/ads/creativehub/gallery/.

For example, a team of student could pick the Audi Facebook video ad.

I then told the students to search a little bit about the ad campaign to see if they could find any information about it. For example, through some quick Googling I was able to find that the BMW 4in4 ad campaign was done by the FCB Inferno agency.

I then had the students go into Facebook Audience Insights. There, they researched a bit about the type of people who like the brand for the ad they chose. Now, there are a number of ways one could approach researching to create an ad on Facebook for a brand. But, what I wanted to do was have students try to learn 1) what they can do with Facebook Audience Insights and the kind of knowledge they can glean, and to learn 2) a bit about the type of user that already likes a brand with the rationale being that there may be some interesting insights here that could inform the creation of an ad based on people who are already interested in that brand. You could, of course, do a twist on this. For example, one of our groups was interested in an M&M ad and decided to search ‘chocolate’ as an interest to cast a wider net for the type of person that might like their product.

To search an interest, go to the ‘interests’ parameter on the left and type a topic. In the below image, I’ve searched “Audi,” If you return to the video I created, I show you how conducting this search will filter your results for Facebook users who have an interest in that topic. You can see demographic information, other interests, other pages liked, etc.

I asked students to put together a brief, impromptu presentation for the below questions.

I asked students to provide a breakdown of key takeaways of their audience across demographics, page likes, location and activity. Here, students were sharing screen grabs of their findings with the class.

Then, I asked students:

  • Given what you know, if you were creating a new Facebook Ad targeting this audience (explain briefly for each below):
    • What age range would you target?
    • What gender(s) would you target?
    • Which is the primary country and city you would target?
    • What is a bit of information from the page likes, interests, etc. that might help you in targeting or planning your ad?

In addressing the sections above, I asked students to consider these questions (see credits at the bottom of this post):

  • What would you do with this information?
  • What are the main points we should be aware of?
  • What ideas can we get from this data?

How It Went:

The students expressed interest in this and said it was cool to be able to explore Facebook or Instagram ads and think about who they were trying to target. They said it was also cool that they got to dig into Facebook Audience Insights as none of them had ever dug into this data before. One student, who owns his own small business, was very interested in looking at how he could use the data to help his business grow. He and I talked a bit about ways that he could use this data to do more research about his potential audience as well as ideas for how he can better use Facebook to advertise.

I think an added bonus was that this activity got students thinking about how their own data is used to target them on sites like Facebook. In peeling back the curtain, they could begin to see how the things we do on social media are used to target us.

I was particularly interested in a presentation that one group gave about Häagen-Dazs UK. They found that more women than men tended to like the brand on Facebook. The same was true for other ice cream brands. They noted that the Häagen-Dazs ad targeted women for a Wimbledon campaign. However, when they researched the brand’s other ads, they noticed that romance was a major theme, including a US campaign with Bradley Cooper. How would they use this information? They argued that they would create a campaign aimed at getting men to buy ice cream as a romantic gesture, targeting the men in one set of ads. They would also target the women with a different message to emphasize the brand as a desirable romantic gesture.

Things I’d Like to Expand Upon:

Altogether, I think this was an eye-opening activity and a hands on learning opportunity for the students. I think there is more that I could do with this next year. My students have little to no prior knowledge about paid social media before taking my classes. I feel there is more that I want to be doing in this space.

This activity took the entire class to complete, with 20 minutes that the end of class for each team to get up and deliver their findings.

In the future, I’d like to bring in Facebook IQ into the activity. I’m looking for a way to have students do some research on the reports in the Facebook IQ website. Then, I would like to eventually expand this out so that students are using the knowledge they gained to mock up their own ads. I would also like to get students thinking about searching for the brand itself as an interest, but possibly comparing a brand with its competitor’s audience.

How are you using Facebook Audience Insights in your classes? Or, more broadly, how are you getting your students thinking about paid social?

– Cheers!

Matt

credits:
Top photo is in the public domain. Other image is a screen grab I created.

Note that, according to my admittedly somewhat messy notes of ideas and inspirations for class projects , the above 3 questions are inspired from and direct quotations of questions on an assignment that Kathleen Stansberry shared with me. Dr. Stansberry is a leading professor teaching social networking and data analytics in the field of communication. I love how these questions force the students to think about data and decided to incorporate them when creating this assignment. 

 

 

 

Teaching PPC Ad Writing: The Mimic Search Engine Marketing Simulator Assignment(2 of 2)

This is post 2 in a two-part series about Stukent Mimic Intro. See Post 1 here.

In the first post in this 2-part series, I introduced why I taught PPC advertising in my Writing Across Platforms Class. I discussed the Mimic Intro PPC ad simulator by Stukent.

In this post, I’ll talk about my own results and thoughts when I went through the simulator, how the project went for my students, as well as provide a copy of my assignment. In so doing, I will explain why I chose to grade the assignment the way I did.

My Experience

As I mentioned in the last post, while I am familiar with SEO and using the Keywords Planner tool from Google, at the time that I completed the Mimic Intro simulator I had little experience in search engine marketing and creating my own search ads. My only prior experience was when I participated in the Google Adwords marketing challenge many years ago.

As a reminder, the simulator works in rounds. With Mimic Intro, students can complete up to two rounds. A round simulates data for a timed period, which if I recall was one month. At the end of the simulation – which takes maybe 30 seconds or a minute to run – the students see the results of their efforts.

To start, I gave myself about the amount of time students would have to complete a round of Mimic Intro. I told my students to watch the training video the night before (which is about 17 minutes long). So, subtracting that part of it, I gave myself 1 hour to go through the rest of the onboarding, plan my ads, and submit my ads to the simulator. My class is 1 hour and 15 minutes and I figured we’d need some buffer time at the beginning and end of class.

I watched the training video (the ~17 minutes) and started my timer. I read through the preparatory materials in Mimic Intro very carefully. First, they give you some background information about the past successes of the mock company’s sales and revenue. The mock company sells cameras. The idea is that you are now coming in and taking over advertising for the company and the goal is to do better than the old advertising efforts. So, this benchmark (it was somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 profit) allowed me to know whether or not I was successful with my simulation. In the simulator, this is supposed to be the first month that PPC will be tried and so your simulations represent the first attempts to profit off of this new approach.

You then learn about the products that are for sale, their different price points, and profit margins.

You then start your keyword research. A long list of keywords are made available, and you need to create keyword lists for different products. In the training, you are given tips for determining which keywords are actionable.

Next, you work through the additional steps. This includes determining what landing page you are going to use for each ad campaign and writing the campaign text.

Here is where I executed my strategy based on all I had learned from the training and from reading Chapter 6 of the Digital Marketing Essentials textbook. This is what makes or breaks your campaign. The goal is to determine what keywords people are searching that will drive sales of the 3 cameras you want to sell. Impressions are great, and so are clicks on your ads. But they mean nothing without sales.

Next, you work on your email campaign. I put my energy into the PPC campaign and basically skipped over this. I wasn’t planning to make it a point of emphasis in the class and so I didn’t make it an emphasis when I went through the training.

I reviewed my budget (I had $5000 to spend and spent it all), made sure I was happy with everything I did, and then I nervously submitted my ads to the simulator. It ran and cranked out my results.

Below, you can see my results for the PPC ad campaign. I have to say I was pleased because I wasn’t sure how I would fare. But when I compared the benchmark profit to my profit, I had brought in approximately $30,000 more in profit than the prior month. I’m not sure how these results would stack up to someone more experienced. But as a newbie, I was pleased with my first go round.

Upon completion, you see several stats about how your performance went for the PPC and email campaigns. Below is a screengrab GIF of my simulated results. The colors indicate how each of the 3 cameras performed during my campaign over the simulated month. One can use this information and other information provided to see how each ad campaign worked and what cameras were most profitable. This information can help you make adjustments for a second simulation. (Note: I didn’t complete a 2nd simulation but my students did).

 

Overall, I was pleased with my experience, what I learned, and how the entire simulation experience worked. I know I couldn’t have gotten this experience without having a real $5000 budget and a real client.

The Classroom Experience

In the previous post I explained how I set the assignment up in class. In short, I lectured about PPC on one day. During the next two class periods, students completed the first and second simulations.

But there was a twist. I pitted the students against each other by making high-scoring grades (As) scarce.

This approach was something I saw debated on the Mimic professor’s discussion board. Some professors liked this approach while others felt it was not the best way to give grades. Considering the pros and cons, I decided to set up my grading scheme so that a limited number of students could get an A. The rest would get a B for trying.

Some students loved the idea and others reacted at first with concern or fear. But I explained that this is a reality they would be facing in the business world. Only so many people succeed in business. In fact, most fail. So, getting a B for not selling many cameras was actually pretty generous. I also pointed out to the students that we were doing 2 rounds and that one’s highest score on each round counted as their final grade. That meant that potentially 8 out of 20 students could get a 90% or higher and thus earn an A.  To incentivize those students who did well on the first round, they could earn 5% extra on their grade if they made were one of the top scoring students on both rounds, even if their second score was below their previous score. For example, if a student earned a 95% on the first round, and a 90% on the second round, she would earn a 100% on the project because her highest grade of 95% would have a 5% bonus added to it. Note that no students complained about this grading scheme.

You can see the assignment sheet below.

Once we got going, the students’ competitive nature emerged. During the competition, they were tight-lipped on how they were approaching the task. After each round, they would ask one another how much profit the other made. I didn’t share who did well, because I would be sharing someone’s grade. So they had to rely on the willingness of others to be forthright. From my vantage, it seemed just about every student was happy to share and compare. Students rooted for those who did well, and pried for tips. Students who did well seemed to feel a sense of pride and they didn’t want to give away too much after the first round because they knew they were still in competition for the second round.

Before the second round, I shared my own performance in the simulator and showed some of the things I had done in my keyword research. I told students to focus on relevant keywords that were actionable towards buying intent. I also emphasized making sure that the proper landing page was selected, as some didn’t think much about this in round one. This helped students who were struggling take a new tact.

On the last day after we had completed both rounds, I masked the names of the students who had done well and showed their results. We dissected what worked and what didn’t.

All told, students seemed to enjoy the hands-on nature of the assignment. Their faces lit up and they were engaged, competitive, and clearly in problem-solving mode. The conversations they had were competitive but playful and friendly, and I enjoyed seeing the peer-based-learning taking place.

I like to ask my students what they think of new assignments. The feedback was positive.  Student Mia Holland, told me, “It’s not very common that students are able to participate in a hands-on project that mimics a task you would be given in the real world. I really felt like a communications professional when I was completing the assignment. It was also fun to get the results back and compare with the other students in the class. ”

In closing, this was my first time doing a simulator like this in one of my classes. It was different and I think the students appreciated that. I wanted to introduce them to what search engine marketing was and how it worked and to enhance their knowledge about using keywords in writing. I believe this assignment achieved those objectives.

-Cheers!

Matt

Teaching PPC Ad Writing: Using the Mimic Search Engine Marketing Simulator in my Writing Class (1 of 2)

This is post 1 in a two-part series about Stukent Mimic Intro. You can see post 2 here.

Last spring I decided to try something new with my Writing Across Platforms class. These past few semesters we have witnessed the rising importance of paid as part of the PESO model when it comes to PR.  With that, I’ve been seeking ways to bring paid into my classes. It is hard to do this, of course, without a class client and a budget. And sometimes that isn’t reasonable given the structure of a class.

A few years ago I did a project in my social media class where students learned to create an ad on Facebook. But the assignment wasn’t all that great and I wasn’t super happy with it. I did require students to complete parts of the Facebook Blueprint training so that they had knowledge of how Facebook ads worked. And that part I was pleased with. (As a sidebar, I’ll write a blog post later about how I tuned up this assignment and tried something new).

Unsatisfied, I looked for something more. That’s when I heard about Stukent.

The logo is property of Stukent.

Stukent offers a mix of simulators for classroom projects and digital course textbooks. At the time I learned about them, they had the social media simulator (which many friends on the Social Media Professors community group have chatted about) as well as two search engine marketing simulators: Mimic intro – which is a basic overview – and Mimic pro – a more robust product.

I got interested in Mimic intro because it teaches students the basics of PPC/search engine marketing. A few clear benefits presented themselves. While PPC ads may not be a major part of the PR space, here are some benefits I saw:

  1. A strong understanding of SEO is needed in PR. If students can learn some SEO basics from this simulator, I felt it would greatly bolster what I was doing in the class in terms of keywords research.
  2. It isn’t that different than creating ads on social media. You have to understand how ad bidding systems work. You have to consider your content, audience, product and budget. (See the note at the bottom of this post about the Stukent social media simulator).
  3. It could help students understand how keywords are used in writing.
  4. It could help students learn to write concisely.
  5. It could help students analyze data from their simulations to make adjustments to their content.
  6. An understanding of what SEM is and how it works could only benefit students.

With that in mind, I signed my class up for the Mimic Intro because it is a short simulator that I determined I could do in 2 weeks during my class. Because my class is aimed at teaching students to write in a variety of fashions, I felt this was the best fit. After all, in addition to this assignment, in this class students learn to write news releases, to write to optimize their news releases for the web, to create micro-targeted content through the BuzzFeed assignment, and to write a more traditional white paper. So, as you can see, it is a busy semester.

How the Simulator Works

In short, each student is tasked with creating search engine ads for a an online camera retailer. The goal is to sell a few different products at different price points, and which have different profit margins. The students are given a budget of a few thousand dollars and are told to spend it all.

Before students start, the simulator provides a video-based education about how to effectively plan, write and execute their campaigns. Students are given hypothetical past data to work off of, and text explanations accompany the overview which I found very helpful in getting clarity on terms. Students then work through some additional need-to-know info to succeed at their projects before starting. Altogether, I was happy with this set up because, as someone knew to PPC myself, I felt prepared upon entering the simulator.

The campaign works in rounds. With Mimic Intro, students can complete up to two rounds. A round simulates data for a timed period, which if I recall was one month. At the end of the simulation – which takes maybe 30 seconds or a minute to run – the students see the results of their efforts.

So, for each round, students write their ads in a set up that is very similar to Google Adwords ads. A student creates an ad group. In that group, the student writes the ad headline and body text, picks the link they want to use from a list of options, writes the display text for the ad, etc. When the student is ready, they run the simulator as I described above.

In Mimic Intro, you also create emails for email marketing. However, there weren’t a ton of instructions here so I didn’t place much emphasis on it. Maybe I should next time.

The professor can see how each student performed in comparison to one-another. This enables you to provide feedback on ways the student can improve.  You could also use this information in grading or choose to grade each student individually.

How I set it Up

Before assigning anything like this, I always do the project myself. I wanted to really know how PPC works and because it was something knew to me, I really invested the time to do the best I could. I will talk more about that on the follow up post to this post in 2 weeks.

For now, let’s look at how I worked the assignment in my class.

  1. Earlier in the semester: I introduced the concepts of search engine optimization and had students do some basic keyword research using Google Trends and Google Keyword Planner.
  2. Day 1: I assigned students to read Chapter 6 of the Digital Marketing Essentials textbook for an introduction to key concepts. The book is part of the Stukent offerings and the chapter was an add-on product that the students got when they paid for their Stukent subscription. An instructor in the Stukent community shared her slides on how she introduced the topic of PPC ads and keyword research. [Note: Stukent has a community where professors using their products can share content and discuss best practices]. Unfortunately, I cannot remember who it was and cannot find where I found her post. I apologize for not being able to provide due credit. These slides were super helpful time saver and I used them as the foundation to create my own lecture slides. The lecture explains 1) What PPC is and how bidding works for it, 2) What the goal is – to sell specific cameras – 3) how to set up their ad campaigns in the software, 4) some basics of the math related to cost per click, cost per acquisitions and conversions, and 5) some tips for success.
  3. Day 2: Day 2 was the first round of the Mimic intro software. We have computers in our classroom. I made sure students understood how to proceed with the software and set them loose to work on their campaigns. They had to run the simulator by the end of the class and see their results.
  4. Day 3: Day 3 was an opportunity for students to see how they did and find ways to do a better job on their second and final round creating PPC ads. The second round is the same as the first. But the focus is on improvement and learning. Stukent doesn’t provide specifics to the students as to why they did/did not perform well. So, at the start of class I explained some findings and some things to consider. Students applied what they learned and were given the rest of class to complete round 2 of the simulation.
  5. Day 4: On the last day, we spoke a bit about how the entire project went, what students thought, and what they learned. We then moved onto another topic.

In the next post, I will talk about how the project went and my own results and thoughts when I went through the simulator. I will also provide a copy of my assignment and explain how I graded it and why that stressed some students out but ultimately created an engaged learning experience.

As a note: I have since learned that the Stukent social media simulator is about social media advertising. I had misunderstood, thinking it was more about learning to create and schedule organic content. Therefore, I could see this simulator working in this project as well, depending on how much time you have in your class.

On a further note, I wrote in a previous post this semester that I was frustrated that Stukent was no longer opening Mimic Intro software to courses that were smaller than 80 students and courses that were not “Principles of/Intro to Marketing courses.” I have since spoken with Stukent and they were very understanding of my concern that this would limit access such that communication students couldn’t benefit from it. They have allowed me to use the Mimic Intro software again this spring in my writing class and I am very glad about it. If you are outside of marketing and want to use Mimic Intro in your class, contact support@stukent.com to apply for access.

Post #2 in this series on Mimic Intro is now available!

-Cheers!

Matt

 

 

 

 

Changing the Conversation! Reflections on my National Millennial Community trip to NYC

Last week I had a truly life-changing experience. I went on my second National Millennial Community (NMC) trip as the advisor to our university’s chapter. The trip was to Manhattan where we met with major brands, non-profits and agencies including: McCann World Group, NBC Universal, BuzzFeed, Condé Nast, Barnes & Noble, the Ad Council, Pfizer, Droga5, Wells Fargo, Nielsen, among others.

The BuzzFeed offices in Manhattan
The lobby of One World Trade Center at the Condé Nast entrance

What is the National Millennial Community?

The mission of the NMC is to change the conversation surrounding the Millennial generation. Currently, the organization is represented by students and alum from 40 campuses across the U.S.

As you probably know, the Millennial generation (and Gen Z behind them) have been maligned as lazy, selfish, and disruptive. They ruin industries and don’t buy homes or cars.

So how do we change that conversation? By meeting with executives and authentically sharing the Millennial perspective.

As a think tank, the NMC members engage in many fascinating conversations about the state of the media industry, including offering insight into the views, trends and habits important to young adults today.

NMC members learn a ton on these trips. Organizations offer an ‘under the hood’ at projects they are working on and often seek our members’ feedback on how the organizations can better connect with the Millennial and Gen Z generations. In this spirit of sharing, both our members and the organizations we meet with walk away having benefited greatly.

On this trip, we also participated in the GenWorks 2 conference with Wells Fargo, Nielsen and the IW Group. The purpose of GenWorks is to rethink how generations work. I had the opportunity to co-lead the discussion around stages in life and media consumption with a very sharp leader and student from UNC Greensboro, Gene Mance. I have no doubt that Gene is poised to do big things!

Co-leading the discussion on Stages in Life and Media Consumption at GenWorks2

Below, I’m going to share my key takeaways from the many conversations we were apart of over a busy 3-day schedule all over Manhattan from Wall Street to midtown.

While I can’t go into any specifics (I signed several NDAs), let’s look at a few themes that emerged across the conversations as a whole.

Here are my 5 takeaways from this NMC trip to NYC:

  1. Stories Are Tops – When it comes to what type of content works best, a common point of conversation was the power that stories have in resonated with Millennials. Millennials like them and companies find they work best.
  2. Empathy: There is no Substitute – We heard a lot about the importance of understanding the audience and the common human experience that binds us together as humans. If you want to succeed working in communication, you need to have emotional intelligence. While Millennial media habits create challenges and opportunities, what hasn’t changed is that great communicators see the world through the eyes of their audience.
  3. Simplicity is Power – You may have heard this famous quote by Pascal: “If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Letter.” Another theme I took away from our meetings was that the successful companies thrive when they take complex ideas and make them simple. Simple language is a key part of this. But that’s not the only thing. A complex idea can be confusing and when too much nuance is presented, learning gets lost. Take a complex product, service or problem. Take the core of human emotions and needs. Put them in a pot. Boil them down and you’ve got your message.
  4. Enthusiasm Wins – Certain types of content do well at certain times. This is a content cycle. That means that the type of content that’s popular now might not be popular in a year. One executive we met with stated that while irony and cynicism were popular a few years ago, “we’re in a content cycle where people want enthusiasm.”
  5. These students are going places! – Now this takeaway is a bit different than the list above. But I’ve got to make a sidebar. The students that were on this trip came from universities across the country, including Alaska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Wyoming, New York, Florida, California, and more. I am impressed with how professional, sharp, kind, and ambitious they all are. I am proud to be an advisor to the Shepherd University chapter of the NMC. I can see both the impact the organizations we meet with on these trips have on these students but also the impact these students are having on these organizations. These students are poised to offer diverse, unique, and exciting perspectives that will continue to change the field of communication in the years ahead. What does the next 5 years hold for PR, advertising, and related fields? If these students are any sign, the future is bright. There certainly is no shortage of young talent.

– Cheers!
Matt

What’s Changing? Hubspot Social Media Certification, Persuasion Class and More!

Fall 2018 is underway and I can’t believe it is already September! To keep the trend up, I’m starting the semester off by sharing some of the things that are changing this semester in my classes. As I look at former “What’s Changing” blog posts from past semesters, I’m surprised to see that I’m not changing a whole lot this year.  Still, some fun things are in the works:

Comm 321: Public Relations Principles

This is the first course students in the Strategic Communication concentration take.

  • Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of our seniors when they leave the program has led me to try and improve 2 areas in this class. Specifically, these past few semesters I have been working to 1) improve student skills for generating creative ideas to address real-world communication problems, and 2) improve student skills in articulating and building interest in those ideas (i.e., pitching and presenting ideas in a succinct and powerful way). Thus, I am walking back on “content-packing” my classes a bit and increasing more in-class exercises and guided brainstorming activities. In the past, I have let brainstorming be a bit of a ‘free for all.’ But I picked up a few brainstorming games while visiting a few agencies during an NMC trip last February. I plan to implement them in both my principles class and my campaigns class.

Comm 322: Social Media

  • The big change this year is that I’ve switched over from the Hootsuite certification to the Hubspot Social Media certification.  I considered assigning both, but because I have also added some of the Facebook Blueprint educational materials and a new assignment to the class, I felt that it would be too much to ask the students to do both Hootsuite and Hubspot. After all, the class is stuffed already with projects. So, this year I’m going to see how the Hubspot cert goes and make a decision of which I prefer. It seems the Hubspot cert is more strategy whereas the student-version of the Hootsuite cert has been narrowed in recent years from its original broad scope to just the Hootsuite software. I got excited about the new Hubspot cert after hearing that two folks that I’ve always admired, Karen Freberg and Ai Zhang, both helped with it.
  • The other big change is the addition of a Facebook IQ case study assignment. With paid now well-established as a central component of digital communication strategy, I have been looking for ways to increase students’ education in paid (see my comment about Stukent below).  Coupled with that, I’m always looking for ways to help students gain further exposure to analytics and data.  As Facebook IQ offers a treasure trove of interesting data, I thought I’d create an assignment around that.  I’ll be sure to do a blog post about that sometime son.

Special Topics: Persuasion and Message Design

A big change this year is that I’m teaching my Persuasion and Message Design class for the second time ever. I first taught this class in Fall 2016 as a special topics class. I am teaching it again as a special topics class. I’m really excited to be teaching it again, because students told me 2 years ago that the course really helped them with the campaigns class and their capstone projects.

While this class is not directly about social media or technology in general, it is a relevant class for communication educators broadly and PR, advertising, and marketing professors specifically.

The course description is: “Persuasion plays a central role in both our personal and professional lives. This class explores an array of theories, approaches, and research findings about how and why persuasion works. The course emphasizes the ethical application of persuasive messaging and strategies, with an emphasis on how persuasive strategies can be used to design communication messages and applied in communication campaigns. The course also seeks to prepare the student to deconstruct persuasive messages and become a more critically-minded receiver of the persuasive tactics one encounters every day. ”

I wrote about this class in a past blog post where I explained my rationale for creating this course at Shepherd. But I haven’t yet shared the syllabus. So I thought I would in this post in case it is of interest to anyone.

Other Notes: Frustrations with Stukent

While I am not teaching the Writing Across Platforms class this semester, I was disappointed to see that Stukent has now limited access to their Mimic Intro SEM simulator (which serves as an intro to SEM) to large classes of 80 or more students and to classes that are “Principles of/Intro to Marketing courses.” This is according to an email I received on August 17.

Therefore, I will be looking for something else to do in that class next semester. If you’ve got ideas, I’m all ears. Tweet me!

While Stukent offers other products (I know many of us in the Social Media Educator’s Facebook group have discussed using their software in our PR and social media classes. Granted, much of that discussion has been around their social media simulator), I feel that this decision by Stukent is limiting and fails to consider smaller programs and programs outside of marketing. Because I put a great deal of time and effort into planning to incorporate the Mimic Intro software into my class last semester, I am frustrated to find that I won’t be able to use it again this upcoming spring. Had I known that Stukent was going to make this change, I would not have spent all that time planning to incorporate Mimic Intro into my class.  I would have found something else. I do think that, as educators, we need to be aware that anytime we are using an outside product, we must understand that there is no guarantee of longevity.  As such, I must balance my feelings of frustration with this understanding.

I had been planning to write up a blog post about how things went with the Stukent assignment I created in my writing class last semester. In fact, students seemed very happy to be learning about paid search. I am debating whether to bother writing this up or not as it appears it would be of little use to readers of this blog.

That aside, I’m excited for the year ahead. I have a few ambitions of up my sleeve that I’m hoping I can find some time to work on this semester.

Have a great semester!

-Cheers!

Matt

Reviews of Two Resources Often Discussed on this Blog Published in JPRE: Social Media Campaigns Text and Meltwater Software

The semester is right around the corner! Classes start for us next week.

I had an amazing and very busy summer with travel to 3 continents: Europe, Australia and South America. In addition, it was so great to see many great friends and people whom I truly admire at AEJMC in Washington , D.C. I cannot truly express the depth of the admiration I have for all of the people who’ve worked so hard to advance the field and who’ve truly made AEJMC PRD such an amazing  educational opportunity. I left AEJMC inspired. I just wish I had more time to chat with everyone.

I recently had the opportunity to write and have published 2 reviews for the Journal of Public Relations Education.  Each review explored resources that I have discussed on this blog. So I thought I would share my reviews in case they are able to help readers get more information about either resource.

Book Review

The first review was of Dr. Carolyn Mae Kim’s social media text: Social Media Campaigns: Strategies for Public Relations and Marketing.

You can read the review below or see the review on the JPRE website.

Here is a separate review I wrote of Kim’s book for this blog.

Software Review

The second review I wrote was of the Meltwater Social Intelligence Software.

You can read the review below or see the review on the JPRE website.

If you’d like to see more about what I’ve written about Meltwater on this blog, here are 2 posts I recommend. First, here’s how I used Meltwater last fall in my social media class. Second, this post discusses an assignment that uses Meltwater to pull down data.

I want to thank the editors and staff of the Journal of Public Relations Education for the opportunity to write these reviews and for all of the hard work that went into editing and publishing them. It is an honor for me to have these two reviews published in the journal.

I hope everyone’s semester is off to a great start. I hope you are feeling energized for the academic year ahead. This past summer, I took a bit of a (much-needed) break. I’m energized to be back and look forward to learning from everyone this year!

– Cheers!

Matt

 

 

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