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.

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.

Check back soon for post #2 in the series.

-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

 

 

Watch my Internet Day 2018 keynote at the University of Aveiro Portugal

Recently, I had the tremendous honor of being invited to serve as the keynote speaker for the Internet Day 2018 celebration put on by the DigiMedia lab and the Department of Communication and Art at the University Aveiro in Portugal.

My keynote, titled “The Cost of Clicks and Shares: Questions on the Civic and Political Potential of the The Internet in the Attention Economy,” looked at trends in social media, politics and civics today. It drew, in part, on my co-authored research with Dr. Masahiro Yamamoto and Dr. Francis Dalisay on social media.

Highlights from the event can be seen in the video below.

Knowing that I would be speaking with researchers and graduate students who are working to design and create Internet-based solutions for today’s problems, I wanted to focus on the wider, often unintended ramifications on society that come from the decisions Internet architects make.

You can see the full speech, broken in to two slightly overlapping parts on Periscope:

The event was sponsored by the American Corners program through the American Embassy in Portugal.  Through this trip, I also got the opportunity to speak at the University NOVA Lisbon in the FCT library.

Poster promoting my talk at the University of Lisbon

I have to say that Professor Nelson Zagalo and all of the faculty and administrators at the University of Aveiro and the University of Lisbon NOVA were tremendously inviting and gracious hosts. I feel that I felt the experience having learned more than I gave. I was truly inspired by the work I saw in the DigiMedia lab from the faculty and the graduate students.

I had the opportunity to take a tour of the kinds of projects that the DigiMedia lab team was working on. The manner with which they intersected scholarly research with applied solutions to real-world problems was inspirational and motivating. Just seeing how dedicated and energized everyone was to work with government and corporate partners really left me thinking about ways that I can better use my position as an academic to seek out technological solutions to the problems we face.

The FAB Lab at the University of Lisbon NOVA and the awesome 3D printing that they were doing was incredibly cool to see.

In summary, it was an eye-opening experience to get the chance to interact with passionate, brilliant scholars across the ocean. The opportunity to discuss ideas helped me see new connections between my own teaching, research and global issues.

This was my first trip to Portugal. It is a beautiful country with wonderfully kind people, amazing history, and an awe-inspiring culture.

I want to express my sincere and humble thanks to everyone who made this opportunity possible.

I hope everyone is having a rejuvenating summer.

-Cheers

Matt

From Sydney Australia: Reflections on ICBO 2018 and my event app planning experience

The spring semester has come to a close!

I have recently returned to Shepherdstown from a 1.5 week trip to Sydney Australia. There, I had the amazing opportunity to execute the ICBO One app event experience for attendees to the International Congress of Behavioural Optometry event at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Center.

The famous opera house in the Sydney Harbour near Circular Quay

The event app was a huge success, with 90% of attendees actively engaged on the app. So, our time promoting the 2018 ICBO event has come to a close. Over two years of work went into creating the ICBO One app. I am so grateful for the opportunity I was given to travel all over the globe to help promote the event and to provide the app to ICBO partner events in the U.S., Montreal and Toronto, Canada, Toledo, Spain, Vienna, Austria, and Sydney, Australia. I also got to travel to Budapest to help pitch the app and make it a reality as well as to Dubai to help promote the ICBO 2018 event.

The Sydney Harbour bridge. The opera house is in the background. Photo taken from ferry.

It has been a truly eye-opening, learning experience from event planning to digital communication strategy, to designing and executing a successful digital event experience, to working with sponsors, speakers, and event attendees from different cultures and countries. The professional development experience was truly one of a kind.  But, more than anything, I loved the opportunity to meet generous, kind, and motivated optometrists and vision therapists from around the world. As someone who is, of course, not in optometry myself, I learned so much about how much passion behavioral optometrists have for their field. I think it is fair to say I made many friends these last few years.

The walkway to Manly beach. Photos taken right before Anzac Day, thus the flags and signs. Pacific ocean in the background.

The ICBO One event app came out of my professional development experience at the ICBO 2014 event in Birmingham, UK. There, I created and executed the precursor, the ICBO Social event app.

The ICBO event apps are built on the Double Dutch event app platform.

Below are the main stats from the event. An additional 299 questions or comments were posted in the chatroom, which are not reflected in the data below.

An interesting trend, is that comments and updates were down slightly from four years ago, even when we consider the additional 299 chatroom posts. Part of this is likely due to the fact that attendance was down slightly (it is hard to travel to Australia) and we only created 1 account per exhibitor booth, rather than 1 account per booth attendee.  But, what’s interesting is the huge spike in likes. We can see that more than twice as many likes occurred this year than in 2014 (There were 13,812 likes in 2018 and 5,753 likes in 2014). I think this shows a larger trend in social media. Content overload has driven people towards greater likes and fewer posts.

With ICBO over and the 2017-18 academic year behind me, it is time to start planning for summer. Here are a few things I have planned:

  1. I am traveling to Portugal the week of May 14th to speak at 2 universities there. One of my talks will be at the Internet Day Celebration at the Universidade de Aveiro and the other at the Universidade Nova Lisboa. I am beyond honored and thrilled about this opportunity.
  2. Teaching an online summer class for the first time.
  3. Attending AEJMC in DC in August (and hopefully presenting a paper we submitted).
  4. Working on a few research studies, of course.
  5. Reading and writing.
  6. Working to stay current in social media trends and teaching
  7. Backpacking on the Appalachian Trail.
  8. Spending time with family.

With all of that said, I will be blogging very infrequently over the summer. As always, you can find past blog posts, assignments, and syllabi via the blogroll or the navigation menu in the upper right of this blog.

Have a wonderful, rejuvenating, and safe summer.

See you in the fall!

Missed the Social Network Analysis Basics Webinar? Here’s How You Can Watch It

Last Friday, April 13, I had a wonderful opportunity to participate with Kathleen Stansberry on a webinar about social network analysis basics.  The focus of the call was to introduce strategic communication and social media professors to social network analysis.

The idea for the call came out of a thread on my favorite resource for social media education: the  Facebook group  Social Media Professors Community Group.  (If you’re not a member, I strongly suggest joining! The people are generous, curious, and extremely supportive).  A member asked if anyone had insights on reading NodeXL network maps and the video conference call sprang from that.

Dr. Stansberry has some really impressive experience with social network analysis. As someone who considers himself a fan with much to learn, it was an honor to be invited to be on the call as a co-presenter with her.

I shared my knowledge of social network analysis basics and provided an assignment I teach in my Comm 435 Communication Research class. In that class, students use Netlytic.org, which is an accessible online social network analysis tool (See my blog post about the Netlytic assignment).

I learned a ton from Dr. Stansberry and was inspired to dig deeper into social network analysis so that I can bring my knowledge up and do more with this fascinating method!

If you missed the live webinar, you can watch a rebroadcast of it anytime in full [you may need to download a plugin].

Below, you can find the handout and assignment that I shared during the call and the slides I shared on the handout.

Thank you again to Dr. Stansberry for inviting me to participate! And a big thank you to Karen Freberg and the Social Media Professors group for hosting this call!

– Cheers!
Matt

Reflection on my first National Millennial Community Trip

Students and I in Lockheed Martin

Over spring break, I had an amazing opportunity to travel with 2 outstanding Shepherd University strategic communication students, Ellen Buchanan and Sarah Burke, to Philadelphia and Washington DC.  We participated in the National Millennial Community (NMC) trip, and met with executives from major brands such as Comcast NBCUniversal, Lockheed Martin, Nestlé, and WeWork, top agencies such as Tierney, Vault Communication, Burson-Marsteller, and government entities, including the White House, the RNC and the Office of Personnel Management.

The trip was an incredible learning experience for me. It was an intensive professional development experience. The opportunity to be exposed to the work these organizations and corporations are doing in the communication space helped in several key respects. Below, I will share some key reflections and takeaways from this amazing experience.

Group in Comcast NBCUniversal main lobby in Philly

This trip offered myself and our students a voice in helping bring positive change to the conversation around the millennial generation. We provided feedback on ways these organizations can better harness the talents of young people and helped to counter existing stereotypes. An executive in corporate communication at one organization said to me that she was very impressed by the millennial generation and their level of engagement and caring.

We learned by seeing the research and development phases of communication campaigns. These are skills that we teach our students. For example, in my research class, students learn to conduct interviews and focus groups. In my campaigns class, students conduct interviews and focus groups to test the messaging they are developing. It was insightful to see how different companies approached this process. We were able to participate in focus groups and brainstorming sessions with several of the companies that we met with.  We offered insights into the news and information consumption habits of millennials to help organizations better adapt to changing consumer habits and demographics. It was clear to me that the companies truly valued our feedback and planned to take it into consideration. To have that kind of input helped my students see how what they are learning is used in the corporate world and the impact these techniques can have.

Group at Burson_Marsteller

We were able to see how several of the organizations we met with were striving to address key social issues that we discuss in my classes. Having this exposure takes an abstract classroom concept and makes it real. I am able to walk back into the classroom and demonstrate how these issues are being tackled outside of the university setting. For example, two of the organizations we met with discussed the importance of bridging the digital divide and getting high-speed Internet access to low income and rural areas. One organization approached this issue from a corporate social responsibility standpoint and another approached it from an advocacy standpoint.

Also, my students were exposed to key life lessons in leadership and professionalism that one simply cannot get in the classroom. The students and I had several discussions about the leadership styles we observed from senior executives at various companies. Students received input from employees at various companies on tips for interviewing, finding a company that is a good fit, and professional development. In another case, we received advice from an entrepreneur we met at WeWork on ambition, seeking opportunity, and lifelong learning. In fact, he encouraged us to read two books that I am already using in my classes. (#ProfessorWin!)

Group on WeWork rooftop downtown Philly

Additionally, I can’t say enough about how impressed I was by all of the students I met from over 2 dozen universities from Alaska to Wyoming to Massachusetts. Each student was dedicated, passionate about the mission of the NMC, professional, and engaged. Everyone was welcoming and sincere and the entire trip was filled with an energy unlike anything I have experienced. I left the trip with an enormous respect for every student I met and for the hardworking people who made the trip possible.

I want to thank all of the companies, agencies and government organizations that took time out of their busy schedules to host us. I also want to thank the Shepherd University President’s Club for generously providing funding for this trip. And of course, I want to thank Eljay, Edith and Bill Imada for all their hard work in making the NMC and this trip a possibility.

I am very much looking forward to the next opportunity to participate in one of the NMC trips.

Oh, and #lifegoal accomplished! We got to go see the Rocky statue in Philly! Anyone who has taken a class from me knows what a big Rocky fan I am!

having fun at the Rocky statue in Philly

About the National Millennial Community

Founded in January 2016, the mission of the National Millennial Community is to change the conversation about millennials. The organization has 37 member colleges in 37 states plus the District of Columbia. The organization has taken 18 trips to visit with corporate, foundation, and nonprofit executives.

A Quick, Interactive Activity for Introducing the Concept of Digital Influencers

Last year I got the opportunity to present at the Accepted Student Day event at Shepherd University. This event offers students who have been accepted to the university an opportunity to visit our campus and get to know us better. As part of that, faculty give presentations on their area of expertise. Students and their parents attend the presentation that interest them.

My task was to inform the audience about some of the things we do in the communication department and give them a preview of what they can learn.  Naturally, I talked about professional communication and social media. Because the presentation needed to appeal to a wide audience, I presented on the broad steps anyone can use to build a brand on social media.

To get the students up and moving and to make the concepts come to life, I thought of an interesting and interactive activity that I’ll share below.

The purpose of the activity was to help someone who was not familiar to quickly become familiar with the concepts of 1) a digital influencer to see why influencers are an important part of any strategy, and 2) how information can spread via a social network based on ties.

Preparation

Before the presentation, I had 4 pieces of paper. Each piece had the name of a different pop artist on it. I secretly gave them to 4 different people in the audience and told them not to tell anyone that they had them.

The Set Up

When it came time to talk about influencers, here’s what I did.

I had a slide with the photos of each of the pop artists I had chosen. Above their photos was the question: “Which artist is the best?”

On the next slide, I introduced the set up for the activity, which was:

4 people have been secretly chosen to be “superfans” for each of these pop artists.

The purpose of the activity is to see which pop artist will become the most popular in the room in 30 seconds.

Then, on the next slide I showed the rules:

First, I told the audience to think of their network as consisting of anyone in the room with the same color on their shirt (Note: As long as they had the same color on some part of their shirt, they were in their network and thus people could be in multiple networks).

I told them to think of their network in this activity in the same way they think of their friend network online.

Audience members could only talk to people in their network.

Then, I explained the instructions:

Talk to up to 8 people in the 30 seconds, once the timer started. The goal is to become a fan of as many artists as you can.

Here’s how: Go around the room and ask people ‘who makes the best music?’

If a superfan is asked, she tells the person who asked her and the asking people become a fan. Once fans are asked, they too tell others.

If someone is asked who is not a superfan or who has not yet become a fan, they say “I don’t know.”

Non-superfans could become fans of multiple artists. So, once they became a fan, they could continue to try and collect more artists to be fans of.

Then, I started the clock and mayhem began.

What happened was, the more gregarious students who had been chosen as superfans were actively engaging with others in their network, spreading the information and becoming influencers. Also, networks that had more gregarious non-fans quickly became influencers, collecting artists to be fans of and spreading the information far in their quest to collect more artists. Thus, these non-fan opinion leaders tended to amass the most artists to be fans of.

Larger networks (shirt colors with more people wearing them) had an advantage, as well. This symbolized the idea that the superfan had a large online network.

Because the activity was only 30 seconds, the information stopped spreading. And, we were able to find out which was the most popular artist and trace it back to which superfan. We asked how many people became a fan by talking to that superfan. We also were able to see who collected the most artists. We then were able to ask these people who they talked to that made them a fan. We also looked at who never became a fan.

There was a good bit of diversity in terms of which artists became very popular and which did not, as well as who collected multiple artists and who did not.

The conversation could go on from there, and we could have discussed many concepts. But, this was just a quick activity as part of a larger presentation.

I told the students that, while this activity is a little simple and not a perfect illustration of the concepts, I asked them to think about why some artists spread a lot, and others did not.

Generally, now that the audience knew who the superfans were, the audience members would say things like: “The superfan for artist X was talking to a lot of people” or “the superfan was wearing the most common color, so she had the biggest network, that she could spread her info to.” Similar feedback came for those people who collected more artists by way of having multiple colors on their shirts (bridging social ties across networks) and/or who were more gregarious.

After the conversation, I reinforced some of the things we had discovered by bringing up a few concepts on the board. Also, I showed a simple network map to illustrate some of the things we saw.

Conclusion

This was a fun, simple, and interactive way to quickly introduce new concepts to a medium-sized audience (there was about 45 people, if I recall). An activity like this could be used as an introduction to build upon more nuanced concepts, such as in an introductory course. In this case, the prospective students seemed to enjoy it and I bet it stuck with them. We had an interesting discussion, and the presentation overall went very well.

If you wanted to try this with a smaller audience, you could reduce the number of superfans and the amount of time they had.

Give it a try and let me know what you think. There are lots of ways that this activity could be tweaked and built upon. If you come up with any, please share them with readers.

– Cheers!
Matt

 

Empowering Students to Deal With Smartphone Distraction in the Classroom: Phone Free Class Day Extra Credit

In my last post, I talked about smartphone distraction. I provided an activity I did last semester in my social media class. That activity was aimed at building a discussion about some of the concerns that social commentators, health care professionals, and former employees of tech companies have raised regarding the negative side of smartphones and social media. In this follow up post, I will share an extra credit opportunity I created to empower students to choose to not use their smartphones during class.

Background:

I came up with the idea for this opportunity last semester after having conversations with a few students around the topics discussed in the previous post mentioned above. In short, I asked them whether they would voluntarily give up their phone during class time. They said yes.  In fact, it would be a huge relief. But, they’d prefer an incentive, of course. Extra credit is always nice, they pointed out.

I realized, that some students would welcome an opportunity to remove themselves from the temptation of their smartphone. It would be a mini vacation from their otherwise tethered lives. One student told me that she really hoped I did something because it would give her a reason to put her phone away.

Here’s the idea.

Students would have the opportunity to give up their smartphones at the start of class for the opportunity to earn extra credit.

I decided to test pilot the concept in 1 class this semester. Not soon after I began implementing this idea, a friend shared an article on Facebook with the exact same concept. The article, by Pete Burkholder, Ph.D.provides an in-depth look at the concept and his results. I encourage you to check it out as it offers a more thorough analysis of results than I will describe below. Below, I’ll explain how I set my class up and the results thus far. You might find it helpful to see two slightly different set ups to same concept.

How it Works: Phone Free Class Days

Students can earn up to 10% extra credit on the final project. The final project is worth 21% of their final grade.

To earn the extra credit, students put their smartphones down on a side table in class for the duration of the class. For every 10 classes they do this in, they earn 5% added to the final project. They can do it for up to 20 classes, or 10% . There are 15 weeks in our semester here at Shepherd. We meet 28 times.

I chose 20 days as the max because I don’t start the opportunity until the second week of class, because of possible snow days and because we have a few lab days where I have a flexible attendance policy.

I like the concept of students having to reach a threshold before getting extra credit because it makes it easier on me to manage. I do not have to deal with incremental points and counting up how often a student did or did not participate.

I keep track of the students’ participation in a simple, easy-to-manage way.

I created little tokens (cut out pieces of paper with a little info on it) that I give to each student each day he/she participates. While the students’ phones are up on the side table, I place one token on top of their phone. The students collect the token. At the end of the semester, if they got 10 tokens they turn in those to me. If they got 20, they turn them in in 2 separate bathes by way of paperclips. This makes it quick and easy for me to grade. And, it places the onus on the students to keep track of their tokens rather than me having to count each day who did what.

Below, I’ve posted the simple document I created. You can print as many as you need. You’ll see that there is space for students to write their name. I initialed each token before giving it out to prevent duplicators (though, I’m sure a motivated student could get around my fairly generic handwriting. That may be a concern in a larger class. But, it is not something I’m worried about in my setting).

 

Results / reaction:

I’ve been running this extra credit opportunity for 5 and 1/2 weeks. On average, about half of the class participates each class period. It is the same students each time. A few times, students told me they couldn’t participate on a specific date because of the need to be available due to things like family emergencies.

A few students told me that they would like to participate, but needed to be accessible by family for personal reasons. A few others, simply chose not to participate for their own reasons.

In sum, the ‘opt in’ nature of this opportunity may advantage those who are the most motivated to start (and who do not need access to their phones for specific reasons, as mentioned above). So, it may not help some students who might most benefit from the opportunity.

I was careful not to push this onto students. I told them basically that this was an opportunity and it was entirely up to them. No judgments.

I may have higher results with some of those hold outs if I pushed it. But, that isn’t my goal. My goal is to empower students to make a choice that that they think will benefit them.

Final Thoughts:

It probably seems odd to you that a guy who writes a blog about social media education would ever reward his students for putting away their smartphones. Isn’t the concept antithetical to everything this blog is about? Aren’t I taking my class back into the dark ages? I don’t see it that way. I’ve always encouraged students to use their smartphones or computers to enhance their education in my classes. For example, I’ve encouraged students to look up information and bring it into the class discussion. Smartphones are a tool. Social media is a tool.

These things are not inherently good or bad, in my opinion. It is how we choose to use them, or how we allow ourselves to use them, that affects our lives. We should respect, understand, and appreciate the tools in our lives. A television is an amazing tool for learning and entertainment. It doesn’t mean we should have it on all the time, especially when we’re trying to focus on something specific. I’d rather have my students present in my class and learning, so they can go out and use these tools in ways that enrich their lives and help them achieve their goals.

I’ve seen a lot of posts online recently by professors who are struggling with the distractions that smartphones are bringing to the education setting.  I’ve seen other posts about smartphone detoxes, and lots of great discussion about bringing self awareness to our relationship with technology. There are many ways to try to address concerns if you feel that any tool is getting in the way of education. I have found that the smartphone extra credit opportunity I am providing this semester is a nice balance in that it gives the students the power to make the call. I am hopeful that those who are participating will see the benefits it may bring to their enjoyment of being present in the classroom.

In closing, I plan to run this same extra credit opportunity in a few more classes next semester. If students continue to participate, then I will continue to offer it.

Don’t forget to see the token sheet below.

– Cheers!
Matt

Above photo is creative commons.

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