Syllabi Spring 2015: Communication Research and Writing Across Platforms classes

The semester is underway!

I have shared select syllabi every semester since I started this blog. A lot of people contact me asking me for my syllabi and for class assignments. And thus I am happy to continue the trend. You can find all past syllabi from the menu on the left! I’m so glad that folks enjoy these and find them useful!

This semester, two classes I will discuss are my Writing Across Platforms and my applied Communication Research class. I’ve talked about assignments, activities, and perspectives on both in the past (see posts about them under the menu on the left. Blog Topics->Teaching Social Media->Classes).

I have not changed each class all that much since last teaching them. So I’ll spare reviewing each in depth. But here are a few changes or little things worth mentioning:

Writing Across Platforms

Facebook – In the last post I wrote about my decision to continue to teach Facebook in this class.

– Mobile – This is a packed class and it is hard to add without taking something else away. I’ve squeezed in a little time to focus on mobile and writing for mobile. I have an exercise planned where I will bring in our department iPads and have students explore the look and feel of their writing as read from mobile devices. As more and more people rely on mobile devices to read, it is important that we emphasize the medium, its affordances, and its limitations.

– Concise Writing – I am placing more emphasize on conciseness in writing. This is something we all struggle with. I know I do. While it has always been important, shorter attention spans, mobile and digital platforms, and the high-stakes competition for reader attention necessitate saying more with less. We’ll do exercises where students help one-another find the shortest, most powerful way to communicate. There’s also a fun website I am incorporating that can help with writing. I will give it its own post in the future.

– PitchEngine – I used PitchEngine the past two years for my social news release. I haven’t blogged about PitchEngine much. But I’ll be sure to do so this semester. I always try to bring in industry software when possible. And the awesome people at PitchEngine have been very helpful. I’m excited we’ll be using PitchEngine again this year. PitchEngine has undergone exciting changes since last year. And I’ll be adapting my social news release assignment accordingly. Note: Dr. Gallicano and Dr. Sweetser have a great guideline for teaching the social media release.

Communication Research

I made some minor tweaks and improvements to how I’ll present content, and streamlined a few assignments. In a tough class like this, I provide a lot of handouts – such as for how to structure a literature review, methods, results, and discussion section. I worked hard to simplify and clarify those.

I’ve been chatting with colleagues about changes and advancement in social data analysis. I’m hoping to incorporate them into this class in a future semester. To do so, I will need time to dedicate to exploring these options this semester. Thus, I’m presently sticking with my same 3-project model I wrote about last year. Hopefully I’ll have a brand new social media analysis assignment for Spring 2016.

This semester I promise to do something I failed to do last year – blog about our final project in the Comm Research class where students use iPads to collect survey data around campus. I love this project and hope you do too.

Below are the syllabi. A happy start to the semester to all! – Matt

Writing Across Platforms:

Communication Research

Why I’m Still Teaching My Students to Write For Facebook… Despite Everything

There has been a lot of talk in recent months about the decline of Facebook’s popularity, particularly among teens and young adults. Coupled with that, Facebook announced that there will be a sharp decline in brand page content showing up in News Feeds starting January 2015.This begs the question, should we still teach students to write for Facebook?

A recent article on Bloomberg explores a dip in use by teens. Here’s The Next Web’s take on the purported exodus. Zuck has argued against this in the past when the issue has come up, essentially stating that there isn’t growth in the platform among young people because that market is already saturated. And, while the headlines might be attention grabbing – the reported dip is to 88% usage among teens (down from 94 in 2013).

But there does seem to be something to the declining popularity of Facebook. The students in my classes express growing disinterest in Facebook. They never cite it as their “go to” social media platform. Several this past semester and the one before it cited concerns of privacy in posting too much about oneself online. When it comes to our students, it does feel like we are getting less engagement on our department Facebook page than we did in recent years.

Then there are articles like “Why I would Give Up Facebook in a Heartbeat” by Mandy Edwards who discusses how she finds the site content-boring, overwrought, filled with annoying posts and requests for group games, among other things.

Worse still, and perhaps the most important, is news regarding the decline in reach brands receive on account of their content not showing up in the News Feed of persons who have liked their brand page. Concerns over this issue has been going on since 2013, to my understanding. This article in the Guardian chronicles the decline and asks whether Facebook is trying to force brands to pay to play.

And despite all of this, I’m going to teach my students to write for Facebook in my Writing Across Platforms class this spring semester like I did when I taught it last spring.

When I was considering course adjustments to work on over the winter break, I originally thought about dropping teaching the platform from the social media writing portion of my Writing Across Platforms course.  In the past, I’ve taught Facebook and Twitter in this section. But an email conversation with a colleague made me realize that doing so would be a bit preemptive.

Yes, Facebook maybe isn’t what it was a few years ago. But that doesn’t mean we should jump ship. There’s a lot students can learn from learning to write for different platforms. These are a few of the reasons I’m sticking with teaching professional writing for brands on Facebook (for now).

1) A LOT of people still use Facebook. 88% of young people using Facebook is a lot.  And what about us old people? :) There are 1.35 billion active users, according to Facebook.

2) Over a billion people went to Facebook brand pages in October 2014, according to Facebook

3) There are over 50 million business pages, according to Edwards.

4) Employers are still seeking employees to create content for Facebook.  So students still need to be trained to do write for it. Even among threatening to leave FB, Edwards herself, who owns a social media marketing business, states the value it brings to her clients.

5) The platform isn’t everything – We are training students to be adaptable. So the way I structure my lecture, I’m teaching skills. Facebook is just the platform they are writing for. But the content planning and writing techniques behind them are transferable to… (insert social media platform of tomorrow). In fact, in my assignment, students create a content plan for Facebook and Twitter along with blog posts. They plan and write content across these platforms. We discuss the differences between the platforms, what they afford, and potential audience demographic differences. Which ties into…

6) As a platform to teach, I like the variety it gives as a counter to 140 character constraints of Twitter. I find Facebook to be a good counter-balance to the limits of Twitter in my assignment.

So where will things go in the future? I’m not sure. Maybe I won’t be teaching Facebook writing in a year. But I wont’ be surprised if I am.

So what’s the #1 thing I considered replacing writing for Facebook brand posts for? Well, I was leaning towards teaching writing for Facebook ads to bolster my students’ experience in the Paid side of the PESO model (I’ve taught Paid Owned Earned in the past, but liking the way this model is presented and differentiates content).

Things certainly are moving towards more Paid as part of the mix. Sponsored Tweets and Instagram posts. And now Facebook’s cornering brands into buying ads. Then you’ve got native advertising trends (something I’m going to explore in my Principles of PR this semester). And it seems an area I could do a stronger job in, is covering Paid. But alas, it often feels like teaching is a zero-sum – there are only so many topics and so much time it can be hard to pick and choose.

What changes are you making to what you’re teaching this upcoming semester? Do you agree with my decision to stick with Facebook – Why? What do you recommend? Do you teach paid, and if so, how?

I’d love to chat!

– Cheers!

Matt

graphic: Wikimedia Commons

Reflections on how My Strategic Campaigns class helped #StartCT

This past semester was the inaugural offering of Comm 470 Strategic Campaigns in the Department of Communication here at Shepherd. And with that, I’d like to offer a brief reflection on the experience. It was a great learning and growing experience for both me and the students!

We were extremely fortunate to have worked with Discover Downtown Charles Town, an awesome cause that seeks to promote and help revitalize a wonderful small town near our campus: Charles Town, W.Va. We got to meet and work with Van Applegate and Patrick Blood, two of the awesome people who helped turn this cause into a recognized not-for-profit during the semester (and have gotten a good bit of positive coverage for it along the way).

I’ve taught courses before that have worked with clients in the past, like our Social Media and Social Movements class that did some great work for the American Conservation Film Festival a few years ago. But this semester was special for me because it represented the first time students were taking the seminal course in the Strategic Communication concentration I officially added to the curriculum in Fall 2013. So it gave me an opportunity to see what the students had learned and how they had matured over the two and one-half years of taking my classes. In a sense, it was the first ‘graduating class’ of the concentration (though not entirely as a few of the students have not yet taken all of the classes).

It is always a different animal when your class is working for a client for an entire semester, especially when the client is participating not just with the goal of helping students learn but with the hope of implementing some of the ideas and work that comes out of the class! The high stakes and knowing that if they produce high-quality, professional materials that meets the needs and goals of the organization, it could be more than just an assignment – it could be implemented by the client! -, are a great experience and motivator for the students. And I’m proud of how well the students came through!

I was impressed by the students’ ideas, creativity, and execution. Both teams dug in and did some great background research and produced strong proposals based on the goals the client and I established before the semester. After their proposals, they followed through and created the materials based on their strategies and tactics for DDCT to implement. I pushed both groups because I knew what they were capable of and they both probably they found me a bit demanding and overbearing at times. :)

Our campaign goals were:

  1. Help articulate the Charles Town Now brand and what its mission is
  2. Raise awareness of Charles Town Now and its mission among local businesses and community stakeholders such as the town council.
  3. Get local businesses to buy into Charles Town Now’s efforts to assist downtown Charles Town businesses to expand and grow.

A major emphasis was to find ways to bolster the success DDCT is already having through their Charles Town Now (#StartCT) social media campaign and augment or provide a number of things they were in need of. One part of this included bridging their highly visible social media presence online with the analog world, where what they are doing is a lot less obvious to the person walking the street of downtown Charles Town.

In short, the teams proposal and thus final implementation materials included:

Team A:

  • Monthly email newsletter offering an additional avenue to stay in touch with residents, visitors, and shop owners (with added benefit of reaching the demographic that doesn’t use social media).
  • Monthly calendar of events in Charles Town to be distributed with email & downloadable as a photo to smart phone
  • Proposed new blog for DDCT including sample posts – purpose of which is to tell the unique story of the people of Charles Town and what makes living, working, and owning businesses in Charles Town so unique and special.
  • DDCT branded window-signage for businesses downtown to promote their social media and promote awareness of DDCT.
  • Letterhead

Team B:

  • Proposed new blog for DDCT including sample posts – with the same purpose in mind as above.
  • Media Kit
  • Letterhead
  • Boilerplate
  • Proposal on how to better make use of Instagram, a social channel identified as an underutilized opportunity for DDCT
  • Tip sheet for local businesses on how to use social media for their business
  • Sticker designs for businesses and for residents to promote awareness of and demonstrate support for DDCT and #StartCT

Both teams also produced a targeted media list of legacy and new media outlets using the CisionPoint software, but those were only turned into me as an assignment and were not distributed to DDCT per the CisionPoint education program terms.

I hope I’m not forgetting anything. :)

The students got some great feedback and kudos for their ideas and their work. I’m proud to say that some of the materials the students created from their campaigns are already being used by DDCT. And I know the students are proud as well!

I want to thank Van and Patrick from DDCT for volunteering to work with our class, taking the time out of their busy schedules to do so, and for the amazing learning opportunity they provided our students!

Congrats to all of the students who participated in Strategic Campaigns this semester! Great job!

I am looking forward to continuing to grow and enhance the concentration and the classes. And I feel a great sense of pride in what our students have already accomplished in the brief time I’ve been offering these classes!

I hope everyone is enjoying the winter break and staying warm!

-Cheers

Matt

Note: I’ve written a bit more about our client and the course project here.

And a copy of the Strategic Campaigns syllabus and an overview for Fall 2014 are available here.

My Fall 2014 Social Media Class Project In Review

shepherdcommunication-socialmedia

In the last few posts, I’ve been writing about my Social Media class and the semester project we’ve been doing. To recap, students create a social media content strategy for our department’s social media (the details of the assignment are on the previous post). They then use this plan to create content for the department. They create content 3  times, each time they are creating content for a certain time period. The content is presented to the class and then goes through an editorial process (i.e.., I grade them and make any needed mods) if needed before being published.

With the semester winding down, I want to share some of the work the students have been doing!

Students have done a great job across the semester and have worked hard to try to create content that will resonate with students while also targeting our goals and conveying our key messages. Running an account for a small university department is a unique challenge. Although as professors we are exhilarated by what we teach and have a love and passion for school, it is a bit tougher to get students excited about, well, that part of the college experience responsible for all the work they have to do. :) Believe it or not, school is the last thing some students want to be thinking about when they aren’t in class. :) And I think having to try to overcome the challenge of promoting school is a great experience for students. I’m very pleased with how the students have done in the face of these challenges. The semester began with very little content on our accounts, and few followers.

Students have done a particularly strong job working between groups to create content that works across platforms. For example, you’ll see how some of our blog posts tie into our Instagram and Twitter in regard to profiles of students and faculty.

Our class was divided into 3 groups:

Twitter – Prior to the class starting, we had a Twitter account but it was rarely posted to. Now, we have a variety of content from the informative to reminders of important dates to community-building memes and humorous posts students in our department can relate to.
Blog - The blog is brand new and our department hasn’t done much to publicize it yet. But students have done a great job getting it going. We’ve had highlights of students and insights into classes and events students are apart of. Note: Part of the reason it hasn’t been publicized, is the university is in a tradition stage with its website. And we are waiting to see how that will impact our online presence.
Instagram - Similar to Twitter, Instagram was something we had set up. But hadn’t done much with before the semester. Our Instagram team  began creating videos to highlight professors and students (we’ve had a few sound issues, but are working them out). These videos are accompanied by photos of the individual “behind the scenes.” There are also other photos of other events.

Students have one more round of content they will be turning in this week. And that content will be scheduled to carry us through the winter break.

Altogether, I’m very pleased with how students have worked to help humanize our department and enable current students to connect with one another and perspective students to get a look at who we are and what we do.  I feel we are moving in the right direction.  In the last few days, interest in our content has really taken off as students have reached out and begun highlighting the work their fellow students are doing. I am excited to see how the department’s social media grows and advances in time.

Is this a project I would do again? Absolutely. Students really bought into this project and worked hard to see it through. They expressed to me that they learned a lot from the class and doing this project. And, they said they enjoyed the opportunity to get hands-on experience. It was a very fun semester! I had a great bunch of students and I am very proud of all of them! I plan to continue with this assignment next year.

I’m not teaching Social Media next semester. So where will the department’s social media content for Spring 2014 come from? I’m not entirely sure yet. But I’ve got some ideas in the works and a strong foundation to build upon!

Thoughts? Questions? Recommendations for this project? Would love your comments and feedback below or send me a Tweet.
– Cheers!
Matt

A Look at My Social Media Content Strategy Assignment

Several weeks ago I mentioned that a big change in my Comm 322 Social Media class this semester (syllabus), is that students will be working to create the social media for our department’s Twitter, Instagram, and a brand new blog.

getexcitedI want to share a little about the first assignment students do towards this project. My goal with this project is to provide students opportunities to apply what they are learning in class to planning and executing social media content plans for an organization.

One of my main emphases is getting them intermediate experience planning and thinking strategically about social media content strategy. They get advanced experience with these things in the campaigns class. So social media class is a great stepping stone.

So here’s what I did. I assigned a strategy plan assignment that students complete as the first step in the class. This gets them creating a plan for the type of content they want to produce, and how that content will align with our target audience, theme, and key messages, which I provide for them and emphasize repeatedly. The purpose is for them to learn to align their content plans with the overarching framework for our content – where we want to go.

For example: One of our key messages for the Comm Department’s social media is: “Department classes are exciting, dynamic, relevant and innovative”

(As a note: A senior completed an original plan for our department social media for a capstone project in a previous semester. I worked with that student to create some of this background planning, and some of it I created or modified)

They then produce goals and objectives (or adapt from the goals & objectives a student created in a project he completed), create a channel purpose statement, and create a team workflow for how they plan to get their work done. I provide a series of roles for this, which you can see in the assignment below.

To go along with their plan, they present to the class some sample content that aligns with their strategy plan and that they would like to see posted to our department social media. Other classmates complete an evaluation sheet of their peers, assessing in part whether the content is consistent with our class-wide goals, theme, audience, and messages. They also provide feedback on what content should be posted or not. And we only post the best content that aligns with our theme, messages, and hits our target audience.

So, for example, does the content your team is proposing creating align with our key messages such as the one I’ve shared above?

From there, I give students feedback on any adjustments to their plans or the type of content they want to create. And from there, they begin working on creating content that aligns with their plan – which they do 3 more times during the semester (creating the content, not redoing the plan). They present the content they created for a given time period class their content several weeks later.

So far I am really enjoying this project. I truly believe students are getting to think through what they are learning and apply it. This way, they can see it put to practice, learn about the roadblocks and challenges, and get the benefit of the successes. Students have done a great job collaborating across teams to ensure consistency across different social channels, which is something else I emphasize in the class – the importance of consistent messaging and content experiences across multiple screens, which Brito talks about in Your Brand: The Next Media Company (one of our course books – thanks to Karen Freberg for recommending this text!). I’ll talk a little bit more about how the teams are organized, and share the content they’ve created in an upcoming post!

Here is the assignment! Let me know if you have any questions, or thoughts on how i can modify or improve it!

You Can Tweet a Quote Directly From a Pew Report

I teach Comm 335 Writing Across Platforms (see syllabus), a class that in part looks at writing news releases and other content for the web. One tactic we talk about is creating Tweetable content for our social media releases assignment. PitchEngine - the social news release website we use for this assignment – enables users to write ‘quick facts’ that readers can Tweet.

So when I saw today a similar, more streamlined approach used by the Pew Internet project in their reports, I had to make a quick blog post about it. I was reading the Cell Phones, Social media, and Campaign 2014 report when I stumbled across this.

See screen grab below:

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

I love this tactic – and wish I had thought of it to teach to my students. :) I may just integrate this into my lecture next semester. I wish I had access to stats from Pew to know how effective these are.

Have you seen this before elsewhere? What do you think?  Is this effective – do people want to share pre-written Tweetable quotes, or do they want to be able to put it into their own words?

Strategic Campaigns Class Overview and Syllabus

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Fall is in full effect here in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia! As a follow up to my last post about my Comm 470 Strategic Campaigns class client, Charles Town Now, I want to share the class syllabus.

A few quick things to note about Comm 470 Strategic Campaigns.

  • The purpose of the class is to teach students how to plan a campaign. Thus, they learn via class lecture and activities, as well as by taking on a real world client to practice what they are learning.
  • Students work in groups and this semester we had a single client for the entire class.
  • Students work with a client – they create a campaign for the client, including materials for the client to implement. However, due to the condensed nature of a semester, they do not execute the campaign.
  • Students create an evaluation plan, but do not do evaluation because the campaign does not run.
  • The major project for the semester – the campaign – is broken into 3 parts. Students complete the background research section of their campaign plan (ending with a SWOT analysis), and turn that in for grading. This is an opportunity to provide students feedback for modifications to make. They then make modifications, and add the proposal components (channels & opinion leaders, key messages, goals, objectives, strategies, tactics). They then present this to the class. After getting feedback, they will put together their implementation materials and evaluation plan.
  • The text for this class is: Developing the Public Relations Campaign: A Team-Based Approach by Bobbitt & Sullivan
  • Additional assignments include:
    • Campaign Case Study paper
    • CisionPoint University Software Training . If you’re not familiar, Cision has an online, self-direct training program that works like Hootsuite University. But it is aimed at teaching students how to use CisionPoint. Students can become accredited in CisionPoint.
    • Team Evaluations – students evaluate one another in terms of their effort and dedication to the team project. Since most of the work in this class comes from a team project, peer evaluation is worth 16% of their grade.

I know many people have found the syllabi I share helpful, and hope this one is helpful as well. Please remember that you can access all of my syllabi by hovering over ‘syllabi’ from the menu on the left.  If you have any questions, contact me via Twitter or leave a comment below!

How do you teach this class? What recommendations do you have for improving my class, or assignments and activities I should consider?

-Cheers!

Matt

photo credits: Me. :)