Category Archives: Classes

The New Social Media Analytics Assignment for my Comm Research Class (Post 1 of 4)

A few months ago I wrote about how students in my social media class were using Microsoft Social Engagement to track metrics and do some social listening. At the time, I said I’d follow up with a post about how we were using the software in my communication research class. Well, the time has come! But, this post will do more than dive into how we are using Microsoft Engagement in my class. It will share with you a whole new project my research students are doing.

This is post #1 in a 4 part series on a new assignment my students are working on in my communication research class. The assignment spreads over several weeks with a good amount of time in class working in the computer lab. The project is the result of continued and ongoing efforts I’ve been making in a few classes to enhance student education in social media analytics. The project replaces the sentiment analysis assignment I wrote about a few years ago.

This post will cover an overview of the assignment (A copy of the assignment is below). Post #2 will discuss using pivot tables to analyze Twitter data. Post #3 will discuss Microsoft Social Engagement. Post #4 will discuss Netlyitic.

First, let me provide some context. In my communication research class (see all posts related to the class), students work in teams to complete 3 projects. Each project gets progressively more difficult. The project we are going to discuss today is project #2.

Overview of Social Media Analytics Project for A Client

The purpose of the assignment is for students to get experience performing a social media analytics audit of a client using a variety of social media analytics and social network analysis tools. The goal is for the students to try and understand their client’s current use of social media and provide insights and recommendations for enhancing that client’s social media presence.

Each team was tasked with going out and finding a client that would agree to participate. While I had hoped that most groups would approach local businesses, they tended to focus more on on-campus groups like athletic teams. This may have been a result of convenience because each team had to acquire several months worth of Twitter data from their client. I will explain that in further detail when we discuss pivot tables in post #2. So students tended to go to on campus organizations where they already knew who ran the Twitter account.

The three main components of the project are:

  1. Client Social Media Profile & Engagement Analysis
    1. Students use Pivot Tables to explore your client’s posts on social media and analyze their overall engagement. For example, students determine the top posts by their client which made that have gotten the most likes.
  2. Analyzing Trends
    1. Students use Microsoft Social Engagement to monitor and analyze the conversation surrounding the client’s brand.
  3. Social Network Analysis
    1. Students use Netlytic.com to build visual representations of their client’s social network on Twitter or Instagram and do some basic analysis.

For each component, I have created a set of research questions that students answer using the appropriate software. The students adapt the research questions a bit to their context when necessary. You can see the research questions in the assignment below.

The Plan in the Classroom

On day 1, I provide a 10 minute lecture on pivot tables. The rest of the class is a lab for students to work on learning how to create pivot tables to analyze Twitter data and answer the RQs.

On day 2, I give a 20 minute lecture about the social engagement software and talk a little about sentiment analysis so students understand what it is when they look at it in the Microsoft software.

Day 3 is a lab day to work on whatever they weren’t able to get done in the pivot tables or the social engagement software.

On day 4, I lecture about social network analysis and some basic concepts. (We cover some other material this day about writing research papers).

On day 5, we finish talking about social network analysis – about 15 minutes – and the students analyze their client’s data.

Research Write Up

After students complete all 3 parts of the project, they then have to write up their study. The research paper format I use in this class is inspired by Don Stacks book, Primer in Public Relations Research.

In the past, by the second project students are writing brief literature reviews. However, because this is the first time I’ve run this project and it has been a lot of work, I called an audible and removed the requirement for the lit review in this project. So, you will see in the assignment below that those requirements have been withheld.

Thus, by the second project students have been taught about writing research problem overviews (problem statement, campaign goals & objectives, research objective & RQs/hypotheses), methods, results and discussion sections.

The students write up their reports. And they are encouraged to share them with their client.

Limitations & Final Thoughts

There are a few drawbacks I’ve experienced thus far with this project.

First, there is a lot of info coming at the students with this project. The assignment sheet itself is several pages long. As such, it is important to explain things several times and work with the students as they are doing this project.

Students need to be responsible for getting the data for this project from their client, creating their own Netlytic account and setting it up to collect data. And, they need to provide me with who their client is and some competitors of the client far enough in advance that I can program it into Microsoft Social Engagement (I’ll go into more depth on this in the individual posts about each section). We had a few groups that made mistakes along the way and were short on data or had to do some last minute scrambling.

The data collection periods across the Twitter CSV file, the Microsoft Social Engagement and the Netlytic are not consistent. This is simply a result of the classroom setting and a lack of full control over when data collection happens. For example, a team’s client may have sent their Twitter data which covers the last 6 months one day, a teammate set up Netlytic to collect data another day, and the day I set up the Microsoft Social Engagement to collect data on their client on a third day.

With these another limitations in mind, the project has been fun thus far this semester. A major benefit of this assignment is that most of the tools used in this assignment are free or inexpensive and not too difficult to learn (and thus teach your students).

Over the next few posts, I will offer some depth on each section of the project.  So check back soon! For now, you can get a copy of the assignment below.

How to use Microsoft Social Engagement software to teach social media listening (Post 2 of 2)

This post is part 2 in a two-part series on how I currently teach social media metrics and social listening. You can see the previous post, which provided a spreadsheet that I use to empower students to track metrics for the social media accounts they manage in my social media class (2016 syllabus; and all articles about this class).

We’ll be using that same spreadsheet, though a different section of it, in this blog post. You can access it here.

In this post, we’ll discuss Microsoft Social Engagement and how I integrate it into the the social media class so students can engage in social listening.

About Microsoft Social Engagement

Microsoft Social Engagement, sometimes also called Microsoft Social Listening, is part of the Microsoft Dynamics Academic Alliance program via the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software package. In short, Microsoft Social Engagement is one of the pieces of software bundled into the full CRM. It appears the Microsoft Academic Alliance program has recently gone through some changes since when I signed up last spring.  The website itself is quite different. However, I’m not personally familiar with the nature of any changes to the program.  The language on the website aimed at educators reads: “Demonstrate thought leadership and differentiate your institution by integrating Microsoft Dynamics CRM and ERP solutions into your curriculum. DynAA helps you innovate and remain relevant when working with prospective students, current students, and potential employers interested in hiring new graduates. Your free DynAA membership provides access to software, support, resources, and community-building opportunities that will prepare your students for exciting careers. ”

Through the Microsoft Academic Alliance program, I have been very fortunate to get my students access to the Microsoft Social Engagement software.

So what is Microsoft Social Engagement? In short, it is a social listening tool that enables users to track metrics for public social media accounts or posts (e.g., keywords or hashtags) such as posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  You can also track mentions forums and blog.

You do this by programming different ‘analysis focuses.’ That is, I can have 1 that searches one or a set of topics, keywords, social media accounts – say, my brand – and I can have another analysis focus that focuses on my competitors accounts, keywords, etc. From what I can tell, you can have as many as you want so long as you don’t go over your monthly quota of social data units.

For example, in the social media class we follow our social media accounts and mentions of them, and specific keywords surrounding our department’s brand, such as our hashtag.

The software enables you to quickly visualize several things such as key phrases, sentiment, social platforms or accounts that posts are coming from and their sentiment, posts across time, sentiment across time, geo-location, and geo-location across time. Below is a quick look at the main hub you see when logging into Social Engagement. In it, you can see sentiment in the top left. You can see the sentiment for each platform below that. In the center, you see the volume of posts across time for the keywords we are tracking. In the top right you can see the phrases being used related to those keywords. And in the bottom right, you can see the proportion of the posts that are being analyzed in this instance from each platform.

Click to enlarge.

There  are 4 main sections of the software: Overview (the page shown above), conversations, sentiment, location and sources. They are pretty self explanatory.

When you click on a pie chart or graph or keyword, it is interactive. What I mean by that is, it creates a filter in the app.

So, if I click a specific keyword in the phrases word cloud, I am filtering for only those posts that used that keyword.

For example, in the below GIF I am in the Conversations section of the software. I see all of the phrases surrounding our department’s social media accounts and blogs in the last month. That is, every post that mentioned 1 of our social accounts, our hashtag or our blog (Note: This is what I’ve selected for this analysis focus). I then click on the #shepcomm hashtag which filters for only those posts that contain that hashtag. So, I can see the other phrases that are in posts containing #shepcomm. You’ll see that the blog source gets filtered out because the 1 blog post does not contain the hashtag. Next, I click Twitter. Thus, only posts containing the hashtag and Twitter are being shown.  Lastly, I click on the neutral (gray) sentiment and we filter down to the 1 Twitter post that has neutral sentiment containing the #shepcomm hashtag. While not shown in the below GIF, in order to see what the 1 post was, I could click on the “posts” tab in the right-hand side of my screen to see the original Twitter post.

Click to enlarge.

For the sake of keeping this post length manageable, I will stop there. Suffice it to say, I am just touching the tip of the iceberg on how you can use this software. I will go into 5 key ways that we use the software in my class below which will further demonstrate its utility. And, you will get instructions on how to use the software for those 4 ways in the lab guide I provide my students which I will link to below.

Before doing that, a few notes: The reality is, there is a lot more than can be done with Social Engagement by linking it to other software within the Dynamics CRM. For example, as I understand it, it can be linked with other software for social media customer relations management. But I have not gone down that path yet.

One limitation of the software is that you have to program in what you want it to track ahead of time. Then, it begins tracking. For example, it isn’t like a Twitter search where you can go in and look into past 2,500 posts on a topic after the fact. If I know I’m going to want to track a hashtag or social media account, I have to program it and then I’ll get the data going forward from the time I programmed it. A second limitation is that it is not real time meaning that while you are looking at the software you don’t see the data changing if new Tweets are coming in.

How I integrated Microsoft Social Engagement into the social media class

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Click to enlarge

As noted previously, students in my social media class are divided into teams and each team is in charge of running a social media platform for our department’s social media.

As I mentioned above and went over in depth in the prior post in this series, the students use a spreadsheet to track metrics for the social media content they create and post. Here is a copy of that spreadsheet as it was distributed in my Fall 2016 class.

Social Engagement is used to work on the “social listening” tab of that spreadsheet. In short, the other tabs in the spreadsheet are about tracking our own performance. The social listening tab is about, well, social listening – seeing what is being said about our brand. The spreadsheet asks the students to answer 5 questions each week. You can see them below. A hint is provided to students on where to look to find this answer by mousing over each question.

Click to enlarge

To help students learn how to answer each of these questions, I developed a lab guide (about lab guides). The lab guide teaches students how to use the software.

That lab guide can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/FSM_microsoftsociallistening

You will find that reading through it can teach you a bit more on how the software works and how it can be used to answer the above 5 questions.

In summary, these posts have provided an overview of how I taught social media metrics and listening my fall 2016 social media class. In my research class this spring we will be diving deeper into Microsoft Social Engagement and a few other tools for learning about social data. I am always looking to improve. I’m also looking to find new, cost-effective software solutions to expand social media measurement learning opportunities. If you have any suggestions, leads, or want to chat or collaborate, please Tweet me.

I hope you found this post helpful. If you did, please share it. It helps a lot.

– Cheers!
Matt

An Assignment and Spreadsheet for Teaching Students to Track Social Media Metrics in my Social Media Class (Post 1 of 2)

In the social media education community, there has been a lot of discussion about teaching social media metrics and analytics to students. This has been a challenge and frustration for myself and many others. Access to industry tools is cost prohibitive for many universities, making it difficult for us as educators to prepare our students for this aspect of their careers.

I’ve worked hard over the last few years to try and enhance how I’m teaching these concepts. And I’m not where I want to be. But I know there are many fellow educators also on this journey with me. So, I’d like to share how I teach students to track social media metrics as part of a semester long assignment and a few modifications I have recently made to enhance that aspect of my teaching.

I’ve split this topic into two blog posts for length purposes. In both of these posts, we’ll focus on my social media class (2016 syllabus; and all articles about this class). In this post, we’ll talk about the spreadsheet for tracking metrics. In the follow up post, we’ll discuss Microsoft Social Engagement and how I integrate it into the metrics assignment portion of the class.

Update: The follow up post on Microsoft Social Engagement is now available.

My aim in my social media class is to introduce metrics to students both in lecture & discuss (which I’ve been doing for some years) as well as by use of software. Then, when students get into the Communication Research class (2015 syllabus; articles about this class), they will get more in-depth learning about analytics. I’ve increased/improved my focus on this area in that class for next spring. And my long term hope is to really build that part of the class out. During the upcoming spring semester, I will write a blog post about what we will be doing with analytics. And, at that time, I will share all of my assignments and handouts.

Okay, back to my social media class. In past years we’ve used Twitter Analytics – which has been the best, free tool. Unfortunately, other platforms have been limited in their analytics. We’ve used a slew of free tools that have been here today, gone tomorrow.

This year, we still faced the challenges of relying on Twitter Analytics and whatever free tools we could find. But I also added a brief introduction to Microsoft Social Engagement (which will be discussed in the next post in this series).

But first, let’s discuss how I teach students to track performance metrics in my social media class.

In my social media class, students are divided into teams. Each team is in charge of running a social media platform for our department’s social media. In the past, I had my students use a spreadsheet developed by Jeremy Floyd to track metrics. At the time, I modified the spreadsheet for our purposes. At the start of this semester I modified the spreadsheet further simplify it and to add a section on Microsoft Social Engagementƒ (again, which I will discuss in the next blog post).

Here is a copy of the spreadsheet as it was distributed in my Fall 2016 class which you can use in following along with the below post. You can also download a copy for yourself to modify and use as you prefer. Again, credit goes to Jeremy Floyd for the original incarnation of this spreadsheet.

In lecture, I teach students about the activity, engagement and performance metrics discussed in Kim’s book, Social Media Campaigns: Strategies for Public Relations and Marketing. I also emphasize the importance of choosing metrics that are tied to goals. (You’ll see a tab in the spreadsheet discussed below, where students are to determine their objectives and what metrics would be important to those objectives).

Student teams begin with the planning tab, then they establish their metrics goals to use the spreadsheet to establish benchmarks and KPIs for their platform and track metrics over the semester. They then move over to reporting tab to track weekly metrics.

Tip. You can see tips by mousing over the small triangles in the upper right corner of some cells, as shown below. I’ve created these to help students when working on their spreadsheets in groups.

In the image below, you can see the ‘reporting’ tab of this spreadsheet. We start tracking in week 9 of the semester, but you can modify this as you like. After each week, you’ll see the percentage change. Of course, you can also modify what you are tracking. I throw in a number of potential metrics to track for different platforms. But, students can delete all the rows they don’t need and modify the individual metrics for that platform as needed. The metrics identified in the spreadsheet are just a guide.

I’ve also divided the spreadsheet up into different platforms so each team can pick their platform (as shown in image below) for tracking the success of their posts. The idea here, is that by tracking these posts across time, students can begin to analyze these metrics for trends (though, I don’t have any ways to quickly analyze and visualize this data at this time). This could help them learn when the best time to post is. However, you could also add variables about the post that can help them identify which is the type of content that is most successful. Other spreadsheets I’ve seen track variables such as whether an image was used, what hashtags are used, if links are used, etc. So, again, you can modify the optimization section as you see fit. I discuss other variables to track, but focus on the ones in this spreadsheet so as to not overwhelm students. I’ve found if I ask students to track too many things, nothing gets tracked as they get overwhelmed. So choose what you want them to track, and stick with it.

I’ve relied on Kim’s metrics categories for metrics students can track. Also, please know the metrics I have identified isn’t perfect and modification of what I’ve identified may be needed – some of my initial metrics may not work, or changes have occurred.

Integrating The Metrics Into the Semester-Long Assignment

As noted above,  across the entire semester of my social media class, students are strategizing, building and executing social media for my class. As a part of that, they present their content to the class for approval at intervals throughout the semester.  In the latter half of the semester, the students present their current metrics to the class alongside the content they are proposing for the next content time period. At the end of the semester, we discuss their metrics, whether they met their KPIs and during what week they did, and what they learned from them.

While the above enables us to track interaction with our social content and extract some insights, it doesn’t account for listening to competitors, following trends, etc. It also doesn’t take deeper analytics and the extraction of insights into consideration. We don’t do anything to plot or discern specific insights – I am saving that for the Communication Research class this spring. Said another way, the assignment and use of this spreadsheet in my social media class, as I executed it in Fall 2016, was really more about tracking metrics, following change and teaching students  to see the impact (outcome) of their efforts on social media, while connecting those back to objectives and KPIs.

In the next blog post, I go into the “social listening” tab of the spreadsheet and discuss how students got a little hands on use with Microsoft Social Engagement in my social media class during fall 2016.

In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or suggestions or resources you’d like to share about teaching metrics to students, please share them with me and the readers via a comment in the post or Tweet me. This is an important journey for all of us as we work to enhance hands-on metrics learning for our students.

I hope you found this post helpful. If you did, please share it. It helps a lot.

-Cheers!
Matt

Three Quick Ways to Help Students find Digital Influencers using Hootsuite

When it comes to teaching social media, one of my goals this academic year is to continue to improve and update my focus on using social media software such as listening, analytics and metrics tools.

One area where tools can help us is the search for identifying digital influencers.

I require my students to research potential digital influencers for the primary audience in our topic focus (our primary audience is current and potential students of our department).

In my Comm 322 Social Media class, I’ve been talking about these concepts for several years. But, unfortunately, many of the tools for identifying influencers that my class has used in the past, such as Topsy, no longer exist.

I recently discovered 2 free add-ons to Hootsuite that I incorporated into the class this year in an effort to help students identify key influencers. I’d like to share them with you.

Because my students all participate in Hootsuite Academy, they all already have Hootsuite accounts and are learning how to use it for social media listening.

Installing these add-ons is easy.

Here are 3 quick things you can do within Hootsuite to identify potential influencers.

  1. Search By Follower Count

But before we talk about those, students can also quickly filter an existing stream in Hootsuite by the # of followers. You used to be able to filter by Klout score. But, that option is no longer available (Not to worry – I’ll show you how to search for influencer score with one of our add-ons).

Simply select a stream in Hootsuite. In the below example, I’ve selected my tab which displays my “academia” Twitter list. I simply click the magnifying lens. Then, from the drop-down menu i select “followers” and use the scroll bar to select the total amount.

searchbyfollowers

 

Simply relying on follower count is of course flawed. We know that the total number of followers one has does not correspond to the influence one has nor the engagement that an account receives. So it is a crude metric. But a starting point.

A good read on digital influence is Brian Solis’ 2012 article: “The Pillars of Influence.” I discuss these with my class.

2. Finding Influencers with Right Relevance

Let’s expand beyond those people we’re already following on Twitter and try to find others who might be influencing the conversation about a particular topic.

One tool to do this is the Right Relevance add-on for Hootsuite.

You can find it here: http://appdirectory.hootsuite.com/178/right-relevance

This is the free version. There is also a paid pro version.

With this tool installed in Hootsuite, you can create a new tab for your Right Relevance search. Simply search topics to find influential accounts, profiles, and articles. In class, we searched different music genres, for example. But in the below GIF, I search lacrosse. And it turns out that Inside Lacrosse is a top influencer.

And, I can see their score.  It isn’t a Klout score. It is Right Relevance’s score based on their influence in that particular topic. So, Inside Lacrosse gets a score of 98/100 for their influence on the lacrosse conversation.

Altogether, it is a quick tool for finding accounts and articles related to particular topics.

rightrelevance

 

Note that the above search can also be done directly from the Right Relevance website for free as well. Here’s a lacrosse search on Right Relevance.

3. Assessing a Potential Influencer

The last tool we’ll look at is Riffle. It can be added to Hootsuite here: http://appdirectory.hootsuite.com/88/riffle-twitter-insights

Let’s say you know of a Twitter account that you identified through the means above and you want to do a little research on it.  Maybe you want to see the Klout score. Riffle lets you do this and more.

Let’s use Kim Kardashian as our example – which is the person my students asked me to search when I showed them this tool in class.

You can quickly see Kardashian’s Klout score of 89, her top Tweets, hashtags, accounts mentioned, URLs shared and more. You can see the % of Tweets she sends to RTs (it is hidden in the below image but if you mouse over the green / purple section about 1/2 way down). You can see the # of Tweets per day and how those Tweets are sent – via Buffer, Twitter for iPhone and web client here.

riffle-hootsuite

Here I conduct a search for our department’s social media account, @ShepComm.

riffle

Taken together, our first two tools (sorting by follower count, and Right Relevance) enable you to search for and identify potential influencers in a topic area. Then, you can quickly see info about the potential influencer with Riffle.

While certainly not all encompassing, these tools give you a start. And they are easy and quick tools that you can incorporate into your class to help students begin searching for, identifying, and thinking about what makes someone a potential influencer.

It is important that any conversation about in class isn’t simply focused on showing students tools. You must augment any tool with readings (there are plenty of articles online and in books about digital influence) and an in depth conversation about digital influencers, what makes for influence and what doesn’t (e.g., reach, resonance, relevance) , the pros and cons of working with them, etc. Getting students thinking critically about these concepts is important.

I’d love to hear what tools you are using in your class to teach digital influence and how you are talking about it and/or what readings you are assigning. Please feel free to share them with me via the comments in this blog post or via Tweeting me @mjkushin.

-Cheers!
Matt

Note: If you’d like to know how I made the above GIFs, please see my earlier post on micro-screencasting for educators.

Social Media Campaigns: Strategies for Public Relations and Marketing by Carolyn Mae Kim (Book Review)

As I mentioned in a previous post about my Social Media class, this semester I’ve adopted Carolyn Mae Kim’s new textbook: Social Media Campaigns: Strategies for Public Relations and Marketing.

To put it simply: I’m so glad that I finally found a book like this.

social media campaigns kimKim’s book is among the most thorough and clear book I have read in terms of providing an overview of how to research, plan and execute a strategic social media campaign. For me, it is the end-to-end guide to help my students through understanding the process from start to finish.

If you’re familiar with strategic communication campaign planning, you’ll know key elements discussed in this book – from background research and audience analysis to goals, objectives, key messages, strategies, and tactics. And Kim does a wonderful job of explaining them to students in clear,  to-the-point language. Further, she does a wonderful job tying them directly to social media planning.

Because my social media class is situated after the principles of PR course and before our campaigns class, I believe this book is going to provide a strong transition from exposure to these concepts in PR that will help students build towards mastery and execution of these concepts in the campaigns class (In the social media class, I provide background research as well as the class campaign’s goals and objectives – though the students do complete their own social media audit and audience personas).

While there are many gems in this book, here are a few highlights that jump out to me.

  1. From the beginning, the book talks about how social media strategy needs to align who the organization is and why they exist. This should be a point of emphasis in any social media training.
  2. Social Media Listening – The second chapter on listening provides a comprehensive plan for developing and executing a social media listening plan. A strength is that students can complete much of what Kim discusses using free social listening or analytics tools because the concepts can carry across platform. The instructions for analyzing share of voice, for example, can be easily done in a spreadsheet program.  Here, Kim has inspired me to integrate teaching students to calculate SOV into my research class for next semester.
  3. Brand Persona – Chapter 3 gets students thinking about building the social profile of the brand and key considerations such as brand persona and voice (relating back to point #1 above).  We talk about these concepts in my class – and I think the way Kim explains them really rounds that out.
  4.  Content & Engagement – In discussing how to create engaging content that the audience will love, Kim goes beyond case studies as examples into key concepts of credibility, trustworthiness and more to explain to students tactics for achieving desired brand positioning related to these concepts.
  5. Chapters 5 cover implementation of your social strategy. Many tips and tools are discussed from creating an optimal content calendar to using alerts and harnessing social listening dashboards. But the book also covers important considerations such as crises and the inevitable social media fatigue audiences will feel.
  6. Chapter 6 covers evaluation. This chapter provides a great discussion of the intersection of social metrics and key outcomes related back to your campaign’s objectives.
  7. Lastly, I like that this book is concise while packing essential information. It is digestible, tightly written and everything ties together. An someone who puts a lot of emphasis trying to show my students how everything connects between my classes, I love that. And in an age where we are seeing many students who aren’t reading class texts, it’s all about packing a punch in an approachable package.

I’ve been teaching social media campaigns for 3 years, and I’m excited about the important details I picked up from this book. In several cases I found myself jotting notes of things I ways I plan to use things from the book to enhance my class or wishing I had the time and space in my class to integrate key concepts we simply don’t have time to discuss in the course of a semester. I’m very glad that my students will get a chance to read this book and get exposure to those things we don’t get to during class time.

-Cheers!

Matt

 

What’s Changing? A look at my Social Media Class for Fall 2016

And we’re back…

Summer flew by as it always seems to. It was such a pleasure to see all the talented and motivated familiar faces and make new connections at AEJMC. I got to see many innovative educators whom I admire and whose work I follow. I had an amazing time starting my role serving as the Director of ICBO One Global Digital Strategy for the partner organizations of the International Congress of Behavioral Optometry and traveling to Australia as part of that project.

While summer was truly an opportunity for growth and new experiences, the semester has begun here at Shepherd University. That means, back to blogging!

With that said, it is time for my annual post about “What’s changing” in my classes this semester (you can see past posts here). Today we’ll focus on a few tweaks to my Comm 322 Social Media Class (prior posts about this class. Prior syllabi).

This class is one of the most fun but also one of the most challenging as things keep changing. And, I’m always looking for small tweaks to improve how I run my class as well as the content and the assignments themselves. Here are a few highlights on changes I’m making to my Comm 322 Social Media class this semester.

social media campaigns kim

  • New Textbook! I’m a big fan of Carolyn Mae Kim at Biola University and have had the pleasure of working with her on prior projects. So when I found out she was writing a social media textbook (titled Social Media Campaigns: Strategies for Public Relations and Marketing), I knew it was something my students needed to read. Even though it just came out this summer, I made sure our university was able to get it in time for the semester. I had the pleasure of an early look at the book, and it is excellent. I’ve decided to replace Brito’s book. I liked his book quite a bit, but students seemed to struggle with it a bit. I believe Kim’s book will be a better fit into the class and thus more accessible. Our second book in the class will be the updated version of an old favorite, Likeable Social Media. Later this semester, I’ll do a book review of Kim’s Social Media Campaigns: Strategies for Public Relations and Marketing on this blog.
  • Slack For Teams – You’ve probably heard of Slack the app and web tool that’s aiming to replace email for teams. I’ve written a bit on this blog about teamwork and how much I rely on it in my classes. With that said, I began using Slack last semester with a group of students I’ve been working with informally outside of class. I found it a great tool for keeping everyone in the loop, sharing files and links, etc. So this semester, I’m going to continue using it with that team but also bring Slack into my Social Media class for team communication. Because the class is broken into different teams for different social platforms, in group and between group collaboration is important.  I know students may be a little reticent to use a new tool, when often they text or use Facebook Messenger to communicate with one another. I have a few ways in which I’m going to require use of Slack for class assignments. It should be an interesting experiment and testing it in this and another class will make for a great experiment in enhancing classroom teamwork. Look for a full blog post later this semester. I’ll also be presenting on Slack in Indianapolis during Super Saturday later this semester.
  • More with Metrics – I spent a lot of effort last year working on upping my metrics game. While I believe I’ve still got a ways to go, I’m planning to bring in professional social media listening tools into the social media class. We have access to Microsoft Social Listening now here at Shepherd. And may possibly have access to other professional tools.
  • Evolving But Keeping The Core of the Main Project – Due to the repeated success I’ve had with the semester-long project in this class (from student feedback, from my own evaluation and feedback from others), I’m not going to change anything structurally to it. However, with the ongoing evolution of social media I’m hoping for some fresh ideas from students on how to use tools like Instagram stories. With enough push from the students, I might even consider starting a Snapchat for our department. Though I’m not a Snapchat person myself, I was super inspired by Ai Zhang’s presentation on Snapchat at AEJMC (read about Dr. Zhang’s work on Snapchat).  If you’d like to see posts about that project, you can see an overview here and a reflection here.

A copy of the syllabus is below. It can also be found via the menu on this blog.

Altogether, it is going to be an exciting semester here! And I’m excited to be back in the classroom. I’ve got plenty of new things I’m doing to become a better educator and continue to improve my classes. I plan to blog about them throughout the semester. So stay tuned!

Hope that your semester is off to a great start!

-Cheers
Matt

 

What Happens When Students Write For BuzzFeed For A Class Project?

Earlier this semester, I wrote about a new opportunity and assignment for students in my Writing Across Platforms class: writing BuzzFeed community articles.

That post got a ton of shares and feedback. So I want to offer a follow up and reflection of how the project went. If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to first get some background about the assignment via my post “What’s Changing? My Writing Across Platforms students will write for BuzzFeed and More in Spring 2016. Oh, And here’s the syllabus!

I was super impressed by the variety and creativity of the posts.  The topic was ‘spring break’ and the students came up with everything from “17 Outdoor Adventures You Need To Try This Spring Break” to “10 Things To Do When You’re A Broke College Student On Spring Break: As Told By Animals” to “Ten Locations You Dream Of Exploring Over Spring Break.”

The biggest success story, in terms of views and shares, came from Abby Buchanan’s “14 Things You Do When You’re Stuck In A Small Town For Spring Break.”  The post was featured on the Buzzfeed.com/Community page within 24 hours of being posted.

Click any image below to enlarge.

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Due to its success, it then was put on BuzzFeed’s main site.

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By the end of 1 week, the student earned 29,000 views!

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For a little while, the post was also the first result in Google search when searching “spring break small town.” Congrats to Abby!

Overall Review

In review, the biggest challenge students faced was reaching their goal of 1,000 views in 1 week. Many students were stressing big time about this project, because reaching 1,000 views was part of their grade (20% of their grade came from views earned).

I spent some time considering why the majority of students struggled to reach 1,000 views.  Here are some thoughts:

  1. The topic had some drawbacks: The students posted their spring break articles after our university’s spring break, but some universities (and high schools) around the country were observing spring break the week their posts was posted. With that said, the spring break thing may have been a bit old by the time our students’ posts were up. Further, BuzzFeed didn’t seem as interested in spring break articles as it is in Valentine’s Day articles, which has a wider appeal. We had 1 student who had their Spring Break post on the main page of BuzzFeed community and of BuzzFeed.com – the home page – but I didn’t see too many other articles on either page during that week related to spring break.In addition, from analyzing all of the assignments against performance, there are a variety of reasons why students didn’t reach the mark:
  2. Lack of a thorough promotion plan. Students who rushed this part ended up paying the price in the end.
  3. Poor targeting: On a related note, students who didn’t have a robust picture of who their hyper targeted audience was.
  4. Focus: If the article subject lacked a clear focus or specificity to it, then it struggled. For example, if a student was trying to create an article that would appeal to ‘everyone’ or didn’t really hone in on what made their post unique.
  5. Poor or lack of iteration throughout the week: Some students did a great job of iterating in terms of their headline as well as some of their content. Students that took a ‘one and done’ approach and failed to improve their post as the week wore on, didn’t have success if their initial post didn’t catch fire.
  6. The student’s social media network: Some students do not use certain social networks for personal reasons. Students who suffered the most were those who do not have a presence on Facebook – which served as the primary driver for many of their peers.

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Students who had success:

  1. Had beautiful or funny visuals
  2. Linked to other articles in their post – like national or regional parks. Then, they shared the post with the social media accounts of that location. That goes back to the promotion plan. Successful students had robust promotion plans targeted at influential thought leaders that would benefit from their content. For example,  the student who wrote “17 Outdoor Adventures You Need To Try This Spring Break” talked about the great adventures at nearby national parks. Then, she reached out to those parks on social media.  Smart!
  3. Tended to share across a variety of platforms. They thought of sites like Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, etc.
  4. Shared with different types of potential audiences – i.e., they did a good job of thinking of more than 1 audience that may enjoy their content and got the post into their hands.
    Made adjustments and changes to their headline or content, or shifting their focus on who would serve as a good opinion leader to share their content and thus who they reached out to.

In reflection, there are some pitfalls in how I executed this assignment and things I plan to improve for next year.

Pitfalls:

The biggest pitfall was the way views were incentivized.  Once students reached the 1,000 mark, they tended to give up – even if it was in just a few short days. For example, one student reached 1,000 in 24 hours and gave up (see below). After that, she stopped promoting it and only gained another 100+ views. The assignment doesn’t reward students past 1,000 unless they get to 10,000 views – which many likely see as impossible and thus they aren’t motivated to do so. Furthermore, I only gave 1 bonus point her 10,000 views, further reducing the benefit to cost.

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So what adjustments will I make?

Adjustments:

  1. Require students to draft the social media posts they plan to use to share their BuzzFeed article:
    Some students weren’t creative in coming up with different types of social media posts to attract their audience. Next year, students wil draft 3 different Tweets and/or posts to other platforms they plan to use to promote their post via your own social media accounts below. Students will be given some commonly used formats for writing social posts and will be told to use a variety of types from this excel spreadsheet of headline formulas or this list of headline formulas. The idea is to help students to learn to try different strategies for crafting the message.
  2. Headline writing: Though I spent a good amount of time talking about how to write effective headlines, this is something students still struggle with. I added the below info about the power of writing emotional headlines to the assignment for next time. Students will be told to read this article. Then, students will be required to use this tool to test the emotionality of their headline in order to iterate and improve it.

In sum, even though students were as successful on the whole as I’d have liked in terms of views, the assignment was a great success. The students had to think outside of simply turning in an assignment to me. They had to measure themselves against their own ability to plan a piece of hypertargeted content with the audience and promotion in mind, like they will do outside of the university. They learned from their successes and failures. I had a lot of conversations with a lot of students worried about not succeeding. I informed them that the purpose was to learn by doing – to adjust, adapt, and improve. And to me, that’s a big win.  I think much more was learned in this assignment than in the assignment I replaced it with.

As noted, we did have a breakout success beyond my expectations with a student landing her post on the main Buzzfeed.com site!

I plan to continue with this assignment next year when It each this class with the above modifications.

If you run this assignment in your class, I’d love to hear how it goes!