Category Archives: Activities and Events

Three Types of Goals Academics Should Set for 2016

As I look back, 2015 has been a great year for me professionally. I’m always amazed at how much can change in a year and how much we grow in our profession in such a short period of time. As our careers progress in academia, it is as important as ever that we set goals and use winter break to push ourselves forward.

I’ve always been one to set goals both for the short and long terms.  And I attribute a great deal of my productivity and success to goal-setting. Here are 3 types of goals I value.

How to set goals in academia

First, and often overlooked, are the goals that focus on process; the things we must do to achieve the desired results, Without these, we cannot achieve outcomes. But many people set goals focused solely on outcomes without thinking of the day-to-day things they must do to realize those outcomes. Second, are outcome goals – goals in our direct line of sight that focus on attainable outcomes.  They result from the processes we do. Third,  are bigger picture “dreams”; the sort of thing that you don’t quite have a plan for exactly but they’ve been in your mind and you feel like you are working towards them in one way or another. It is important to have long-term goals that extend beyond a year and/or big picture dreams, because without these we can lose sight of what inspires us. Put another way, the only way to “be big” (accomplish big things) is to “think big.”

In the spirit of new year’s resolutions, I’d like to briefly share examples of each of these types of goals that I have. I hope that by sharing these, they get you thinking about your academic goals for 2016.  Below are 2 process goals  – the things it takes to achieve our goals, 2 outcome goals – things I want to accomplish, as well as one “think big” goal that is rolling around in my head.

Process Goals:

  1. Staying Relevant As Social Media Matures – The field is constantly changing. It is both a blessing and a curse. I’ve worked hard this past year to make small adjustments to stay on top of things going on in the field as well as trying to take advantage of some of the amazing opportunities that have been presented to me. Often times,  the small changes are easier to realize than the big ones. But, that doesn’t’ mean small changes are easy to do.  Often time complacency is the curse of progress. We get comfortable where we are and before we know it, enough time has passed that we have fallen behind. As a professor, it is easy to look at the syllabus from last year and just stick with what we’ve been doing rather than updating. That is why I  feel it is a priority to be constantly scanning the environment and staying proactive in making these small changes – such as to my syllabi and course content. Doing so, means avoiding major problems down the line. I spent the first week of winter break working on updates and changes for next semester. Of course, I’ll share some of them this upcoming  semester on this blog. 🙂 One activity I’m really excited about is the BuzzFeed writing assignment we’ll be doing in my Writing Across Platforms class.
  2. Becoming More Effective With My Time – Productivity is something I think a lot about . As someone who is a bit of a workaholic, I’m never sitting still. I live on Wunderlist. I’m always thinking of things I’d like to or need to get done. There are so many exciting things to learn and do, and I like to think I’m interested in interesting things. 🙂 I feel I’m very good at completing tasks ahead of time, staying organized, and always doing what I say I will. But, with so many distractions today, I’ve found myself becoming less productive with my time. Time spent working doesn’t always equate to tasks completed. Too, I tend to focus very heavily on details and am a bit of a perfectionist – I think that’s the curse of being an academic. 🙂 So, the goal for 2016 is to use time more efficiently. If I can do that, I can increase productivity, opening time for new opportunities as well as to enjoy personal time. I’m exploring a few different ways to do this.  I read that one way to do this, is to track how you spend your time – the way you track your personal finances – to see where your resources are being spent. That way, you can get a baseline and see opportunities to optimize. So, I’m playing with using a time-tracking app such as Time Meter. I’ve also recently downloaded a fun little game called Forest that motivates you to not fall into the habit of ‘phone distraction.’  In recent months, I’ve gotten particularly bad at this. I think we can all benefit from taking back our time!

Outcome Goals:

  1. Maximizing Educational Opportunities for My Students  –  Related to #2 above, I’ve been very fortunate that some new opportunities have presented themselves. Continuing to grow and build connections, in the end, creates opportunities for students. And that’s what I’m all about. This past year, I improved on bringing in some amazing outside professors and professionals as speakers in my classes. I’ve continued to grow and build relationships for internships and hands-on learning opportunities here in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. As our Strategic Communication concentration finishes out its first cohort of students this spring, I’m aiming to continue to build in this area. Next fall, I’m hoping to possibly teach a new class, thus deepening the education I’m providing my students.
  2. Tenure – This one is out of my hands at the moment. 🙂 I’ve already put in my application for tenure this past October. Needless to say, a long term goal for the past 5 and 1/2 years has been to earn tenure. This spring is when I’ll find out!

Big Picture Dream:

Finally, I spent a good deal of time this past semester thinking about that “next step” for the strategic communication concentration as it grows past the graduation of our first cohort this upcoming spring.

  1. A Social Media Listening/Command Center –  Picture a place where students can go to monitor social media, track trends, perform analytics and more. Think of your favorite brands. In all likelihood, they have such a command center.
    I would love to build a small social media listening or command center for the students here in our department. We currently use Hootsuite Universitiy for our Social Media class, which is an amazing tool for monitoring and scheduling social media. But, it is not a metrics platform. I’d love to add to that an analytics tool for looking at trends. Several larger programs have such command centers, such as Clemson and Illinois State’s SMACC (by the way, Nathan Carpenter who runs SMACC is amazing. He was so generous with his time telling me about their impressive initiative have developed programs like this. His energy, knowledge, and initiative are extremely motivating). We’re a small program and the biggest hurdle is access to metrics software.  And so it is going to take some creative problem-solving to make this listening center a reality for my students (I’m very open to your suggestions, ideas, or interest in this project – Tweet me). I wrote about the need to up our offerings for teaching metrics back in February and expressed some ideas and frustrations on the issue. I believe integrating a command center with classes and extra-curricular opportunities is a worthy, long-term goal that will have  an enormous impact on our students and our community.

The year ahead is filled with promise. And these are some of things I would love to accomplish. I hope this post helped you think about your process, outcome, and dream goals for 2016!

Let me know what your goals are in the comments. If you have suggestions on how I can optimize my goals, please let me know.

I hope your 2015 was amazing, productive, and rewarding. Best of luck in 2016!

-Cheers!

Matt

photo CC credits Celestine Chua

How Guest Professors Build Bridges For Students

Building bridges.

That’s something we professors strive to create in the minds of our students. You might say it is the core mission of everything we do.

So how can we do that?

Recently, I’ve had a few amazing experiences that have really helped me to take a second look at one truly powerful way to help students build bridges between the classroom and the larger world. And, it is a simple solution: Guest lectures via Skype with leading professors in the field.

This past Tuesday, students in my Public Relations and Social Media classes each had the opportunity to hear from expert educators and leaders in the field. In the morning, Dr. Karen Freberg of the University of Louisville gave an inspiring look into the world of crisis communication and social media to my Principles of Public Relations class. In the afternoon, Dr. Diana Sisson, assistant professor of public relations at the School of Communication & Journalism at Auburn University, – an up and coming star – provided an insightful and thought-provoking look into reputation management in the social space. It was a true pleasure to expose my students to both of them.

Having had such wonderful professors into my class has sent me a clear message: This is something I need to do more of.

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Dr. Sisson’s presentation on online reputation management.

Here is what I learned about the power of sharing your class with awesome professors:

  1. It’s A Phenomenal Use of Class Time. While I’ve been a guest lecture in many classes over the years, I haven’t done a lot to bring in other professors into my classes. I think it stems from the “But, I have so much I want to cover and so little time!” feeling. I’m the world’s biggest micro-planner when it comes to classes. Every moment of my classes has (at least in my mind) a purpose building towards the next lecture. I have this nagging anxiety, “what if we don’t talk about X!? Then they won’t understand Y!” as though it will create this massive cascade, and everything I hoped and dreamed of teaching after that day will fall apart. But the truth is, it doesn’t. In fact, bringing other faculty into your class has some very powerful effects that outweigh any anxiety about not educating your students.
  2. It reaffirms concepts you are teaching your students – Of course, having a guest exposes students to new areas of expertise that you as a professor may not be the expert in. Isn’t that a major reason of bringing someone in? But, along with learning new things, students hear ideas you’ve already discussed in class sprinkled in. And this repetition from a different, outside source acts as a 3rd party endorsement for the construct. I could see it in the eyes of some students when things they’d heard came back up. It was as if they were saying, “Oh, so this other professor said it too, so it must be true.” And hearing a concept in a different context from a different authority helps students build bridges between what they already know and the new information they are being exposed to.

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    Dr. Freberg discussed crisis communication and social media
  3. It makes the classroom “real” for students – Hearing Dr. Freberg’s experience as a Plank Center Fellow with General Motors helped students see real world applications of concepts we discuss in class.  Hearing Dr. Sisson discuss tips and ideas for relationship management from her own experiences working in the health care sector, helped my social media students think about their own class project creating the social media for our department and how we can overcome some of the challenges we face in building and maintaining relationships. These bridges push students forward.
  4. It creates a networking opportunity for the students – Both Dr. Freberg and Dr. Sisson are incredibly giving of their time, their expertise, and their social capital – offering to help students learn and build their professional network. Several students have already taken action, engaging with both professors and I was proud of their motivation to capitalize on the generous offerings by both professors. Which leads me to…
  5. Breaking Down Walls. While this post is all about building bridges, it is also a tale of breaking down classroom walls. This is at the center of much of what we are trying to do: Bringing the world into the classroom and the classroom into the world. Having another professor come into your classroom does just that. We have to keep in mind that students are just beginning to build their networks – many don’t have a professional network at all.  Getting a chance to meet faculty from other universities opens doors to the resources of those faculty. And, all great faculty have something in common – they are here to help students grow and succeed. It doesn’t matter if the students are enrolled in their class or yours. They want all students to thrive and realize their dreams.

If you haven’t had either Dr. Sisson or Dr. Freberg chat with your class and you are teaching social media or PR, I highly recommend you do so!

 

 

What Faculty Can Learn from Dennis Yu, a Leader in Social Media Marketing

Yesterday, I had the amazing opportunity to have a true industry leader speak with students in my Social Media class here at Shepherd.

Dennis Yu, the CTO of BlitzMetrics, kindly donated his time to share his insights and experiences. The result?

It is safe to say that all of us left the room energized and inspired.

I’ve learned so much from Dennis in the few weeks we’ve been chatting over email and have found BlitzMetrics site to be a wealth of educational tools.

The focus of the chat yesterday was on personal branding, social media, and becoming a leader. Here are a few things I took from talk that I believe all of us, as professors, can incorporate.

Elevate Others

Dennis reminded us that credibility is not what you say you are. And neither is your personal brand. Your personal brand – your entire social identity – is what others say you are.

In other words, to have credibility you need to “get influential people to say good things about you.” So how do you do that?

Dennis has a great talk on YouTube in which he discusses the idea of using your power to elevate others.  Rather than blasting photos of our food, Dennis says we should use social media as a way to help other people. Seems intuitive, right? Unfortunately, it often isn’t.  Many have maligned the social media generation as being self-interested, motivating by one single idea: “Look at me.”

Shift: Instead, we can make a simple shift in our behavior that can pay dividends: We can focus our social media attention to get people to “look at others.”

As faculty, we are in a natural position to help people “look at others.” Here are 3 things we can do:

  • Highlight amazing work of our students and bring attention to their successes. We are our students’ greatest advocates and cheer leaders. Social media serves as an amazing sounding board for highlighting our current and former students. No one is doing this better, in my opinion, than Karen Freberg with her awesome #ProudProf blog posts highlighting the work her former students are doing.
  • Bring attention to other faculty. Many in academia look at academia as a zero sum game, where in order for me to gain you need to lose. I think the ‘publish or perish’ mentality hammered into our heads in graduate school cultivates this competitive atmosphere. But, the truth is, I’ve had my greatest successes by building relationships with others, not trying to beat them to get published or gain recognition. My greatest scholarly achievements and productivity has come from working with brilliant scholars. Two of the many great scholars I’ve had a chance to work with, I met in graduate school: Francis Dalisay and Masahiro Yamamoto.  The impulse may be to think, “look what I have accomplished.” I think we’re all better served when we think, “look at who has helped me accomplish.” Because, without others, how far can we really go?
  • Seek opportunities that benefit others. One of my absolute favorite things is when brands and software companies help higher education. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m a huge fan of Hootsuite University. And the reason is because they create opportunities to help students and faculty by providing them with free access to Hootsuite Pro and an awesome online education tool. Of course, this helps me. And, it helps my students. But, you don’t have to be a large company like Hootsuite to help others. If you have a skill or knowledge, share it. If you are a faculty member and you aren’t blogging, start doing so. If you create lesson plans, lectures, and syllabi, share them on your blog, on LinkedIn, or sites like SlideShare or Scribd. For example, Don Stanley, who teaches at UW Madison, does an awesome job of posting educational videos about social media on LinkedIn. If you create research tools, open them up to the community to learn from. Recently, I learned a ton about data visualization from Deen Freelong’s website that contains tutorials, curated lists of software, and more.  It is not about competing to be the best professor, it is about helping all of us help advance scholarship and help our students.
  • Be Thankful. There is a lesson to be learned when amazing, super busy, and highly sought after people like Dennis take time out of their schedule to chat with a small class of students. I am more than happy to tell the world about my positive experiences with BlitzMetrics and Hootsuite University. Whenever others help us, we have the power to thank them in a social way.  So, thank you Dennis!

In his talk, Dennis said: “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” In other words, the better you make those around you, the better off you are. I couldn’t agree more!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SXSWedu Panel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post originally published on LinkedIn.

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

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

sanfran

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you @ #AEJMC15!

-Matt

photo: CC

In Review: The Social Conference Experience at ICBO 2014

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I had an absolutely amazing time at ICBO 2014 in Birmingham, England this past week. I had one of the most rewarding experiences of my career serving as the head of the digital media strategy for the conference. Our ICBO Social app was a tremendous success that far exceeded my expectations. The positive feedback was off the charts!

When we decided to go “all in” on an interactive mobile conference app, I knew it was a tool with a great deal of potential. Since it is its own social network centered around the conference, I believed the tool had unique advantages over relying on dispersed platforms like Twitter and Instagram. But, would people use the social features of the app? OR, rely on what they’re used to – i.e., Twitter. There were several hurdles and questions.

The attendees at ICBO ran the gamut in terms of age and technological familiarity. A good number of them are older. Would an older optometrist who doesn’t use social media in his daily life or for his business use this tool? Would people have no interest in the social features – finding them superfluous, or worse, a distraction from agenda and other information? In short, would people “get it”? And I worked very hard to address these and several other issues in building my plan for this event.

To my delight, the conference attendees and nearly all exhibitors (as well as many speakers) enthusiastically adopted the ICBO Social app. Anecdotal feedback suggests the app served as a great icebreaker, enabled attendees to forge new and more robust connections with one another, and truly enhanced engagement with the speaker sessions and speakers themselves by enabling meta conversations and because we used the app to solicit questions that the speakers responded to during Q&A.

We had an amazing group of attendees – and their energy, friendliness, and passion for their profession played a big role in the success.

Here are the final stats for the 5 and 1/2 days (2 days of pre-conference and 3.5 days of conference).

ICBO soical final stats

  • Total Active Users: 237 (Unfortunately, I don’t have the total # of attendees and exhibitors at this time – ballpark of 300-15)
  • Status Updates: 3,082
  • Photos: 2,363
  • Comments: 1,878
  • Check-Ins to exhibitors and sessions: 890
  • Ratings completed: 1,261
  • Total Points accumulated by all participants: 36,365 (points are earned for in app activities)
  • Total # of badges earned: 706

In the weeks ahead, I look forward to finding the time to sit down and reflect on the event, and write up my report. For now, it is back to my “day job” as a professor. I’m back in West Virginia after a long flight yesterday. It is good to be back but I miss all of the wonderful people I met and amazing experiences I had at ICBO 2014. 🙂

 

Cheers!

Matt

An ICBO Social Update from Birmingham

You may have noticed I haven’t been on Twitter lately. I am here in Birmingham, UK working the social element of the ICBO 2014 conference. It has been super busy and a wonderful experience!

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I thought I’d write a quick post as the conference is getting very busy today with the exhibit hall opening and the second day of the preconference lectures.

Our ICBO Social mobile conference app (available in the app store – but only availabe to attendees, speakers, and exhibitors) has been a roaring success so far!

The app was released about a week prior to the start of the preconference – the preconference has been going on yesterday and today. And in the days leading up to the preconference, we had already earned some very strong engagement!

The conference hadn’t even started, with only few folks having arrived. and already we had 593 comments, 309 status updates, 245 photos, and1594 likes.

After our first day, we gained 67 more photos, 97 more comments, 246 more likes. That is great considering most attendees haven’t yet arrived – only a percentage of people attend the preconference.

As people have arrived today and yesterday, they’ve already known others via the app. And this has been a great “icebreaker” and networking lubricant.

Feedback on the app has been tremendous – we’ve received a number of compliments in person as well as through the app including these from the app:

“This ICBO App is truly amazing! We haven’t even arrived in Birmingham and already I feel the love and excitement! This is more addictive than Facebook!”

“I can only congratulate you all, for what you have done and already have achieved. This app is like a pre-pre conference. We have the feeling that everything is already there in Birmingham. Thanks for your ingenious idea you have created a warmth and a big family feeling.”

That’s all for now! I hope all is going great!

– Cheer!

4 Awesome Things That Have Inspired Me For The Semester Ahead

Before I do my annual practice of posting relevant syllabi to this blog, I want to take a minute to reflect on a few highlights from the last academic year and this summer. These are 4 awesome things that have me excited for the year ahead. And here are my thoughts on how I hope to grow, change, or improve.

I wrote a similar type post in December focusing on my teaching goals for Spring 2014. I liked that process, so I thought I’d try it again with a different twist.

1) An Opportunity to Grow A New Program – The fall 2013 semester was the start of the strategic communication in the Department of Communication at Shepherd University. I’m the coordinator for this concentration and put it into the curriculum during the year prior. I’m excited for what we accomplished in the first year. And I feel that in Spring 2014 we started to make traction. But there is still so much more to do. I want to see the concentration grow and expand and be the best it can be. And that is going to take starting to spread the word more about our program! While I’ve put a lot of my effort into building the program, I know the next few years are going to be instrumental in helping it grow and improve.

2) Awesome Social Media Educators – I’ve met some incredible educators virtually that have taught me so much and inspired me to continue to strive and push myself. As I’ve said before, I believe teaching social media is a different animal than other areas. Things are constantly changing. And these great educators are more than up for the task. Karen Freberg from the University of Louisville writes an amazing blog on social media education filled with tons of tips, ideas, etc. She is a true resource in the field and prolific across her blog and social media. I strongly encourage you to follow her. Carolyn Mae Kim from Biola University is another professor doing awesome things in the realm of social media education. She also has a great blog where she discusses education in a social / digital world that I strongly recommend following. I’ve had the pleasure of working with both of these folks on a recent social media education project. And I finally got to meet them in person at AEJMC a few weeks ago. Having the opportunity to interact with and learn from Karen, Carolyn, and several others, makes me excited for the year ahead because I know there is a growing network of folks out there who are going to continue to push the envelope in social media education. And that motivates me to grow and improve my own classes.

3) Contributing to the Social Media Education Discussion via this Blog – This blog has been great. Meeting the educators mentioned above as well as others I’ve communicated with has re-affirmed what I have set out to do with this blog – to contribute to the convo on social media and try and help others seeking to teach in this area. In addition, I’ve sought to be open and share things I’m experimenting with in a changing field, so that others can learn from my mistakes or improve upon my ideas. I believe is important that those of us teaching in this area are out there sharing our thoughts, our work, our activities, our advice, our trials and errors, and our outright mistakes. I’m so thankful for the praise I’ve gotten on this blog. And I find it most rewarding when I see people checking out the syllabi I post and the classroom assignments and activities. But there is a lot more that I wish I was doing with this blog. So here’s the truth:

This blog has a ways to go.  There were a number of blog posts I intended to write last semester and this summer that I never did – such as a full review of AEJMC and my assignment for conducting surveys with iPads! I was just so busy working on so many exciting and cool project. When I started this blog, my hope was to turn it into a resource on social media education. That includes teaching material: syllabi, class assignments, class activities, slides, etc. But it also includes linking you with great resources and leading educators, and news and articles that can help you in the classroom. I hope that this year I can recommit more time to this blog and to getting those posts up, particularly about what we’re doing in the classroom. Here’s how you can help me: Please leave any comments or feedback on the sort things you like and find helpful on this blog so I can do more of them.

4) New Activities, Assignments, and Partnerships The truth is that I love teaching. I’m excited to be back in the classroom. And I can’t help myself from constantly trying new things and seeking to get better. This year, I’ve made a few changes to my classes. I’m excited to see how they go. I am trying new things, taking new risks, and looking for ways to push myself and my students. I’ll be teaching the Campaigns class for the first time in our department. And we’ve got a great client for our class that I’ll be talking about in an upcoming post. I’ll also be sharing my Social Media syllabus for this fall – which will have an entirely new semester long project. So check back as Fall 2014 gets underway!

I hope everyone has an awesome 2014-2015 academic year!

– Cheers!

-Matt

photo CC Lel4nd

 

#AEJMC14 Highlights: What are the Ethics of Content Marketing?

After two weeks of traveling to New England for a vacation and to Montreal for the AEJMC, it is good to be home! AEJMC flew by!

I’d like to look at one of my favorite panels from the conference: the Ethics and Brand Content panel put on by the Advertising and Media Ethics divisions.  Let me recap and add my thoughts, because the ethics of content marketing is something we need to consider as educators.

The media system "Clover Leaf" from the panel Source: Contently
The media system “Clover Leaf” from the panel
Source: Contently

This panel included Ira Basen (CBC Radio) Michael Mirer (Wisoncin-Madison) and Karen Mallia (South Carolina) and was moderated by Kathleen Bartzen Culver (Wisconsin-Madison). They looked at content marketing, including the different types of content including brand publishing, branded content, native advertising, sponsored content, and brand journalism (the latter of which was a term the panel did not prefer).  It was interesting to look at the ethics of content marketing from the perspective of both a journalist, Ira, and advertising, the other panelists. Ira focused on native advertising, which he defined as: “relevant to the consumer experience, which is not interruptive, and which looks and feels similar to its editorial environment”

Examples of good content marketing, as presented by conference panel presenters
Examples of good content marketing, as presented by conference panel presenters

Interestingly, Ira noted that research shows most consumers are unaware of what “sponsored content” means on sites like the New York Times – they don’t know that the news outlet didn’t write the content. For example, when you watch the news programming and a company sponsors the program, you don’t assume that the company also wrote the news piece on the program. This is a great point. The intent of sponsored content on online publications is just that – for you to not know that the news outlet didn’t write it. What happens when people find out?

One of the best examples was the article and infographic on the New York Times sponsored by Netflix to promote (a show I love) Orange is the New Black.  Netflix paid a freelancer to research and write the piece, focusing on the need for female focused prison policies. You probably saw this floating around. Did you know Netflix sponsored it? I didn’t (despite the logo clearly printed at the top, I hadn’t even noticed it).

Let me make my second point and then I’ll try and tie this together.

Ira also stated that trust in brands is high, while trust in journalism is low (did not catch his source for this statistic. But I am going to take it at face value for this blog post). Ira acknowledged that, for journalism, many of those hits to their trust were self-inflicted. I take it that what he means is that journalists have made a number of public mistakes over a period of time that have resulted in distrust among the general public.

If it is true, why is it that trust in brands is so high right now (at least, compared to journalists)? And how might that change?

Let’s think about it. The purpose of content marketing is to create content for your audience. Continuously. As a brand becomes a media company, there is an imperative to continue to create more and more content.

And that opens up companies to the possibility of making the same mistakes as journalists have. Ok, not the same mistakes exactly. But you know what I mean. The more content you create the greater the chance you will say or do something that will be a mistake – a false or misleading claim, a sensationalist move to gain viewers, a gaffe, offensive or insensitive content, etc.

It is an interesting dilemma. You’ve got to create content. The more you exposure yourself, the more risk you are essentially taking. So as everyday companies strive to become media companies – creating and reporting their own news – will trust in brands decline?

Let me say that differently. Will content marketing, the tool many are counting on to build meaningful relationships and thus trust, result in the decline of trust in brands over the long term?

And how should we deal with this long-term possibility?

It may be that we are simply at a place where mediated relationships with brands are still relatively new and that is why trust remains high. We haven’t had time to grow cynical yet.

Or am I thinking about this all wrong? Perhaps there is something fundamentally different about journalism. After all, a journalist is supposed to be looking out for our best interest. While we acknowledge that a company seeks a profit and offers a specific service to us. Further still, journalism is an institution. We may look at it on the whole. But loss of trust in one brand, does not inevitably lead to loss in trust in another brand. In fact, a brand may benefit by loss of trust in its competitor.

Whatever the case may be, as educators there is a need to really think about what the ethics of branded content are so that our students thrive as ethical content creators.

Survey results of expected growth in B2B content marketing spending
Survey results of expected growth in B2B content marketing spending

Of course, I talk about ethics in my classes. But I haven’t looked at them through this specific lens – the comparison with journalism as media outlets and the issues journalism faces with public trust- and I thank Ira and the other panelists for prompting me to do so.

What do you think?

In sum, it was a fascinating panel that really got me thinking about this question. And this question was just the tip of the iceberg of what came out of a truly fascinating panel.

In closing, I got to attend a number of other great panels while at AEJMC and learned a ton from them! Unfortunately, there were more panels I wanted to attend than time to attend them. It is super busy now with classes 2 weeks away and the ICBO deadline fast approaching. But I hope to get another post up later this week or early next week looking at some of the other great takeaways from the conference, including the great people I met and more!

 

FYI: I’ve written a lot about content marketing on this blog. Here are my other posts on the subject.