Category Archives: Classes

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

Getting students to think about smartphone addiction (Classroom activity)

“Cell phone addiction” is a strong term that may or may not be appropriate to describe our current obsessions with our phones. But, now that I have your attention, I think it is important to bring into the classroom a discussion of the wider, perhaps unseen and perhaps deleterious, implications of cell phone culture in today’s society.

Indeed, there has been a lot of chatter lately on the potential negative ramifications of social media use in our society. For example, I recently shared on article on Pocket and Twitter that I came across from the New York Times titled: “Early Facebook and Google Employees Form Coalition to Fight What They Built.”

While I am not an expert in many of these areas of concern (such as mental health, physical health, what constitutes cell phone addiction, etc.), I do think these broader questions are things we cannot ignore as social media educators. We are in a unique position to bring attention to the broader relationship between social media and life in today’s society.

With that in mind, I am doing a brief 2-part series on ways I have sought to bring the topic of social media concerns into my teaching.

In the first post, we’ll talk about an activity. In a future post, I will talk about smartphone distraction in the classroom.

Okay, let’s get into it!

I want to share a quick activity I did last semester with my social media class. The activity brought forward a great deal of discussion in the class. It was great to have students sharing the challenges and concerns that they have with their phones and social media.  I was surprised and inspired by the candid nature in which students took on this topic. It was one of the best discussions I felt we had all semester.

Here’s how it worked:

First, I threw up this statement on the board and asked students if they agreed or disagreed and why:

“You’re only as good as your next post.”

Then, we discussed this statement:

“Your phone is like your life.
You either control it, or it controls you.”

Infographic: Next, as a class, we took a look at some of the reported benefits and drawbacks of social media While there are a number of sources for such info, here is one infographic that is easy to show in class.

Pre-Test: Next, I had students do a little ‘pre-test.’ The questions are below

  1. Do you think you’re addicted to your smartphone and/or social media?
  2. What are the 3 primary benefits you get out of using your smart phone?
  3. What are the 3 ways in which your smartphone has a negative effect on you?

Video Prompts: After students completed this, I gave them the following prompt that led to a discussion after the videos. Note, I will share the videos mentioned in the prompt below:

  1. What are the most compelling argument(s) or stats presented in these videos?
  2. What do you disagree with?
  3. How much control do you think you have over your smartphone use?

Cell Phone Habit (or addiction) ‘Experiment:’– But, before I showed the videos, I also set up a little ‘experiment.’ I asked the students to do the following:

  1. Pick up your phone.
    Look at the last few posts you made, and check the stats.
    Write down the emotions you feel.

I asked them to share some of these emotions. Answers include: excitement, anxiety, boredom, etc. I then told the student:

  1. Turn your smartphone off and put it in your bag.
    Log off the computer (we were in the computer lab).
    Get out a scrap paper.
  2. We’re going to watch 3 videos.
    1. Every time you find yourself wanting to check your phone/ reaching for it:
    2. Stop. Make a check on the paper. Write down the emotion you feel.

So, the students were both analyzing the videos (the video prompts above) and paying attention to their habit of wanting to reach for their phones.

After each video, we stopped and went around the room and had students share how many checks they had on their paper, and how they felt about how things were going. After all 3 videos played, we discussed the merits of each video, how the students felt, etc.

The videos were hard to choose. There are so many great Ted Talks and other videos discussing some of the pitfalls of social media. Here are 3 videos I settled on. I chose these because each touches on a different argument related to smartphones and social media.

  1. Dopamine and smart phones
  2. Cal Newport’s “Quit Social Media” TED talk.
  3. This Panda is Dancing – Time Well Spent

Note, there is an engrossing TED talk by Tristan Harris that I also recommend showing. I show part of it in my Communication & New Media course, however. So I did not want to repeat it in my social media class. Tristan Harris is mentioned in the New York Times article above, and his foundation created the “This Panda is Dancing” video.

After this, I asked students to look back at their pre-test results and their prediction of how much control they felt they had over their cell phone use. In other words, how aware are people of how much they use their phone? Were they surprised at the frequency with which they found themselves wanting to reach for their phone during the videos?

As we began wrapping up, I asked the students to jot down:

  • What is 1 thing you could do between now and next class to curb your smartphone use, as it relates to the negative effects you identified
  • Between now and next class, I want you to try and do that 1 thing.
  • How likely do you think you’ll succeed at that one thing? (Scale of 1 to 7 from Not at all – very likely)

Then, I gave the students some tools and tips to try and help them.

I encouraged students to download a free phone usage tracking app. Here are a few:

  • Moment (Apple)
  • MyAddictometer(Android)

For the following class, I asked them to provide the stats on their usage. Specifically, I was interested to know: how much time they used their phone each day, the number of times they checked their phone each day, and the top 2-3 apps they used.

Lastly, I provided some additional tips for helping take back control over cell phone usage that are provided in the Time Well Spent website Harris helps run. Note: The organization has since changed its name to HumanTech.

Conclusion

This exercise was a thought-provoking activity for my students and for me. I don’t expect that it is going to have long-term effects on cell phone use behavior by my students. But, I think it brought the issue in front of them and I am hopeful that it nudged them to be a little more mindful of just how engrossing our phones are.

Our discussion really brought out the struggle we all have between our hopes that we had a little more control and our love for the convenience and experiences our phones give us.

I left the students to wonder about whether they used their devices intentionally and were thus in control, or whether they allowed their devices to dictate the terms.

For the experiment, I went along with the students by monitoring my phone usage. I was appalled at how many times I go to use my phone. Seeing the statistic pop up when I first went to use the phone, helped me curb my usage some. I thought I only used my phone 45 minutes to an hour a day. Turns out, I was quite wrong.

Each year, I try to have a few goals and a theme. One thing I’ve been working on, is trying to be more mindful of how I spend time. I’ve never been one to waste too much time, or so I thought. I’ve learned there are many ways in which distractions are ‘scheduled into our lives,’ as Harris puts it.

I think many of us struggle with control over our time. Yet, time is all we have in life.

I was listening to a great interview on NRP with Tim Wu about a book I hope to find the time to read some day, Attention Merchants by Tim Wu. In it, citing William James, Tim said the following:

“… we must reflect that, when we reach the end of our days, our life experience will equal what we have paid attention to, whether by choice or by default. We are at risk, without quite fully realizing it, of living lives that are less our own than we imagine.”

I think he’s  profoundly right. I printed this quote and put it above my desk to help me remain mindful of how I’m spending my attention.

– Cheers!
Matt

p.s. If you’d like some additional content related to the above blog post, check out:

above photo is a free stock photo from pexels.com

Here’s My Communication Research Class Assignment on Analyzing Media Placement

In my opening post to the Spring 2018 semester, I reviewed several new assignments and activities I will be bringing into my classes this semester.

In this post, I will discuss the quantitative content analysis assignment that students will complete in my COMM 435 Communication Research course. The project simulates an analysis of earned media placement.

[Here are all the posts about that class, including discussion of past projects].

Background: About the Class

My aim with the communication research class is to offer our students experience learning about a variety of approaches to conducting research. My goal is to mix methodology (i.e., the study of research methods) with practical applications that students may run into in their careers. This course is not a graduate school prep course. It is designed for students who are planning to go into industry.

I think a struggle that many of us have is that there is a sense that we need to prepare students to be able to do the “new and cool stuff” (e.g., social media data analysis) in the research class, while balancing educating students about the research process, research ethics, designing measurements, building methods, gathering data, analyzing data, interpreting data, etc.

Unfortunately, we only have this one research class in our department as we are a small department serving a wide array of needs. I know that some other universities have advanced research or analytics courses. Thus, for me, I need to fit in both emerging methods and what some might see as traditional, evergreen methods:  content analysis, surveys, focus groups, interviews.

With this in mind, my students complete 3 assignments in the class, with each assignment focusing on a different topic. Each assignment is situated in a hypothetical, but plausible situation. I present the situation to the students via the assignment, and then we go through the steps of learning how to solve the problem put forth in the assignment. The assignments explore:

  1. Content analysis of media artifacts (in the form of an analysis of earned media placement)
  2. Social data analysis
  3. Surveys, interviews, focus groups.

Each project is done in teams. This blog post will focus on project 1, content analysis of media artifacts.

As an side, if you’re interested in learning about the social data analysis assignment, last year I wrote a 4-part series on that assignment that I’ve gotten a lot of comments and questions about.

Project 1: The Set Up

Learning research methods is a challenge for anyone new to it. Undergraduates sometimes express a strong aversion to the topic.

I’ve found that a content analysis of media artifacts is the most approachable method for introducing students to the systematic nature of doing research.

During the first few weeks of class, students are learning about research (e.g., the process, concepts such as reliability & generalizability, what research methods are, sampling, etc.).

After that, I introduce a hypothetical situation that the students will have to solve for their first project. Each year, I change up the situation a little bit. But the nuts and bolts have remained the same for the last 3 years.

I use the format from the Stacks book to set up the hypothetical situation students will address. You can see the entire text for the situation in the assignment at the bottom of this post. I will be referring to it in the paragraphs below.

The hypothetical is that the students work for an agency representing Netflix. Netflix is facing greater competition from other online streaming services like Amazon. To keep its competitive edge, Netflix is working to create shows that will appeal to a key market: 30-somethings. Stranger Things is one such show. Season 2 just launched.

Because the success of Netflix shows is widely influenced by critical acclaim from media, a media relations campaign was undertaken to position Netflix positively relative to itself competitors as a streaming service by way of the show.  The objectives of the campaign were to gain positive coverage of the premiere of season 2 of Stranger things.

The students enter the situation after the campaign has been executed and the campaign is now in the evaluation stage. Their job is to evaluate whether the media coverage was earned and what the nature of that coverage was.

Data Collection

I used to gather a sample of news articles from LexisNexis and provide them to the students. This semester, the students will gather the data set themselves using the Meltwater social intelligence software. I’m excited about this because it gets the students into Meltwater and thinking about the use of the tool’s dashboard features. In addition, students are learning that they have the ability to pull down data for further analysis outside of Meltwater.

[You can learn more about the Meltwater University program in this blog post.]

The Meltwater software enables users to gather news articles from a given time period. Searches are conducted using keywords. Stranger things season 2 launched October 27, 2017. So the data set is built around the season premiere. I don’t have a strong research justification for the exact date range chosen. Rather, I chose it because it produced a manageable number of articles for each student to have to code.

Also, please note that I do not operationalize what “top news sources” are from the assignment objectives. Instead, for purposes of the exercise, I have students pick the top 5 sources related to their search results to analyze.

You can see the procedure for gathering the data via the Meltwater for Media Article Content Analysis lab guide I created.

Data Analysis

There is a lot you could do with Meltwater to analyze the articles related to the launch of season 2 of Stranger Things.  If I had more time for this project, we’d dig into a lot of the dashboard tools. For now, students are only focusing on the quantitative content analysis of news articles.

I provide the students with details about specific research questions they are trying to answer related to media coverage: placement, share of voice, and whether or not the campaign’s 3 key messages made it into the press.

The data analysis is a simple quantitative content analysis of media artifacts. A simple coding sheet is provided. We discuss inter-coder reliability. And each student codes his/her media articles by hand using the coding sheet.

In class, we go over the coding sheet. And, in addition to the items on the coding sheet, which align with the research questions, students come up with their own item to code and to report in their paper. I do this exercise to get the students thinking about other things they could look for in the articles that might be useful.

It is worth noting that during a class activity earlier in the semester, students design their own coding sheets to evaluate car commercials and they learn quite a bit about the ups and downs of creating coding sheets. But, for the project, I create and provide the coding sheet. The operationalizations from the coding sheet are based on our class text, Paine’s “Measure what Matters: Online Tools for Understanding Customers, Social Media, Engagement, and Key Relationships.” For example, in class we discuss what we mean when we say that share of voice is “exclusive” or “dominant.”

While some of the coding can be done in class, students finish the coding as homework.

You can see the coding sheet that we will use this semester at the bottom of this blog post.

The students take their coded data and enter it into a spreadsheet so that we can quickly run frequency reports using SPSS.

The Project Write Up

With project 1, the write up that students produce is limited to providing a problem overview, the results, and a brief discussion section along with an appendix of their coding sheet. In the second and third projects students are asked to produce more and more of what a research paper might look like. But, because this is not an academic research class, I try to balance introducing students to a more academic style of research writing with a style that is more suitable to a report they might right in industry. I use a similar format to the format presented in the Stacks book.

I provide students with several handouts to help them write up their results.

One opportunity this assignment always presents, is a discussion about the limitations “simply measuring” the items on the coding sheet without looking at any context. As such, students are to go into their data and identify the features of the articles that support their results. Thus, they find example headlines and quotes to demonstrate, say, an example of a key message that was amplified.

Some Limitations

This project is, of course, limited in several rather important respects. However, I’ve created this project because it provides a great opportunity to introduce students to research, what a content analysis is, how to use a coding sheet, inter-coder reliability (invariably there are disagreements into how aspects of articles should be coded), and more.  Further, the project presents these learning opportunities within the context of learning a little bit about how one might evaluate earned media coverage. For example, students have learned about key messages in other classes. Now, they are learning about how those key messages may make their way into media articles and how the media represents them.

The project accomplishes this while situating the assignment in a campaign that is hypothetical but that is based on real events: Stranger Things Season 2 is real. Many of my students love the show and have watched it. They are reading real media articles about the show.  Further, students are situating this project as a campaign evaluation because the entire project is situated within the narrative that the students already executed the campaign and now they are evaluating it.

A Thought About the Key Messages Portion of the Coding Sheet

Each year I have changed up the Netflix show that we analyze and have thus changed the hypothetical backstory that accompanies it.

The key messages on the coding sheets are messages that I made up. They do not change much year to year, other than to bring them into the context of the show we’re evaluating. For example, this year I changed key message number two to emphasize the theme of nostalgia, which relates to the 30-something audience we are trying to target. I write the messages to be purposefully broad enough that they always end up achieving a good amount of frequency in the data set. The key messages are based on my general knowledge of Netflix. This year, it is possible that we won’t get many hits on key message number two. But, we’re bound to have some success with all three. However, if you choose to do this project and have some time, a better way to write the key messages would be to read through the data set ahead of time and develop them based on your own content analysis of the articles.

I hope that you found this blog post interesting and helpful. If you have ideas on how I can improve this project, please leave a comment or Tweet me. If you decide to use a version of this project in your own class, please stop on back and let readers know how it went or ways that you built upon it.

Don’t forget to check out the assignment below and the accompanying coding sheet.

Cheers!

– Matt

Project 1: Media Placement Assignment Handout

Project 1 Coding Sheet

Note: The hypothetical situation above uses the names of a real brand, Netflix, and its product. However, the situation is entirely made up and exists for educational purposes. Netflix logo is copyright Netflix.

What’s Changing? Hubspot Academy, Google Analytics, Meltwater software and more!: Spring 2018 Class Updates

I hope that everyone had a relaxing and rejuvenation winter break.

I’m going to kick off Spring 2018 with something I like to do on this blog at the start of the semester: Offer a preview of some of the changes and updates I’m making to my classes (Here are all past “What’s Changing” blog posts). Some of the things I will share below are items that I have blogged about recently. However, most of these items are new topics that I I hope to expand upon with blog posts during the course of the semester.

COMM 321 Public Relations Principles

Last semester was the first time that I did not teach this class in a few years. Here are a few things that I did lats year that I want to improve or keep working on in the class:

See all past posts about my COMM 321 Public Relations Principles class.

COMM 435 Communication Research

I teach this class once a year during the spring. Each semester, I have made modifications to the class. But, at this core, this class aims to prepare students to conduct applied research using both new (e.g., analyzing social data) and traditional research techniques (e.g., content analysis, surveys, focus groups and interviews). We touch on both qualitative and quantitative approaches.  Students complete 3 projects, each aimed at addressing a different hypothetical situation that they may face in their careers.

  • For the past few years, the first project in this class has been a basic quantitative content analysis of media artifacts assignment. I find that teaching content analysis first is a good way to get students warmed up to conducting research. The content analysis method is used to address the following situation: A media campaign has been run to promote a new Netflix show. The class project begins after the campaign in the evaluation stage. The students need to assess the coverage of news articles to see how effective the campaign was in getting media placement. We look at share of voice, placement within the article, whether our hypothetical key messages made it into the article, etc.
    In the past, to get the data, I gathered news media artifacts via LexisNexis and distributed them to the students. It was not the most hands on learning experience. This semester, I’m super excited because the students will be using Meltwater social intelligence software to create their own search for articles they will be analyzing. This will enable students to have a data set comprised of both traditional news as well as newer, online publications. Adding this little touch will improve the learning experience, provide a better data set, and make things feel that much more ‘real.’ It’s the seemingly small but powerful improvements like this that make all the difference! A big thank you to @Meltwater and Carol Ann Vance, director of university relations at Meltwater!
    As frequent readers of this blog know, I had the opportunity to use Meltwater in my COMM 322 Social Media class last semester. I am pumped to bring it into my research class this spring.
  • There has been a lot of discussion about certifications in the social media professor’s Facebook group. Like many of you, I’ve been wanting to get my students to complete certifications that have been created by industry. Students will be given the opportunity to complete the Google Analytics certification this semester in the class. I’m approaching this as a beta test. I’ve been wanting to get my students trained in analytics. However, my class is so packed already that I haven’t dared bring it in. The compromise I’ve decided upon is to let students complete the analytics assignment outside of class on their own in place of the research analysis paper that I traditionally assign in this class. Thus, the decision is entirely optional. And my goal is to assess feedback from these students on how it went. From there, I’ll decide how to approach the certification in the future.

COMM 335 Writing Across Platforms

I teach the writing class every year during the spring. If memory serves, this is the 5th year in a row that I will be teaching this class. Each semester, I have tried to change up at least one of the major writing assignments in the class, while making tweaks and improvements to all of them. Here are the big changes that I have in mind:

  • The BuzzFeed assignment will continue. But, this semester we’re going to do the BuzzFeed assignment as the first major writing assignment instead of as one of the last assignments. Therefore, I will be shifting the focus of the assignment from spring break to a new topic. Students will need to write about West Virginia, or their home state.
  • I will be removing the Facebook ad writing assignment (and moving it to the social media class next fall). Last year, I had my students write a Facebook ad promoting themselves. The assignment was based on Dennis Yu’s lecture to my class from several years ago and his unique approach to Facebook ads: The $1 a day strategy.  The assignment was great. But I’ve decided paid social needs to be covered in the social media class.
  • I’ll be adding how to write for paid search in its place. Students will be learning about paid search using the Mimic Intro simulator. Paid has become increasingly important. And I’m finding that many employers are seeking students who have knowledge of paid. I’m interested to see how the software simulator goes, as I’ve never done something like this before in one of my classes.
  • To keep up with my push to increase the certification opportunities in my classes, students in my writing class will now complete 1 of the Hubspot Academy certifications. They’ll have the choice of completing the email marketing or the content marketing certifications.  Students can get extra credit for completing both. (I wrote about my experience with the Hubspot Academy here).

These are the major changes coming to my classes in the spring that I’m excited about. It looks like Spring 2018 will be busy! If you have experience with any of the certifications or activities above, I’d love to hear your input or recommendations.

I hope your semester is off to a great start!

Cheers!

– Matt

 

Fall 2017 Strategic Campaign Client Presentations: Reflections and Learning Opportunities

This semester, my COMM 470 Strategic Campaigns students had the opportunity to take on an international non-profit as a client. That non-profit was Children of Uganda.  Children of Uganda seeks to give a hand up to women and children in Uganda. Among its efforts, Children of Uganda helps put Ugandan children through school and provides micro-funding for income generating projects for Ugandan women.

It was an amazing learning opportunity to partner with the passionate and dedicated team at Children of Uganda. It was very inspiring for me. And I believe it was for the students as well.

The Pitch

On Thursday, December 14, the students had the opportunity to pitch their completed campaign plans to Children of Uganda. The students were nervous. I was too.  They worked all semester to research and plan their campaigns and had worked hard to address the client’s earlier feedback on their proposals. It was time to see what the client thought.

campaign-class-presentations
Students presenting their campaign projects in Dec. 2017

As a professor, you work for years to help the students grow, mature, and learn. You push them to believe in themselves and to realize what they are capable of. The campaigns class is the culminating class in the Strategic Communication concentration in our department. It is where the students have the opportunity to transition from being students to being professionals.

Both presentations went very well. The team at Children of Uganda expressed sincere satisfaction with, and excitement about, both campaign plans. After the presentations, the client asked great questions and the students handled them very well. It was a #proudprofessor moment for sure!

When it was all over, I could sense a feeling of excitement and relief emanating from the students. I sensed that they were almost surprised in how well they executed and how well their ideas were received. I sensed that the students were impressed with themselves, and rightly so. They did an awesome job!

I’ve taught the campaigns class in the fall for the last four years (here’s the syllabus from the first time I taught it in Fall 2014). I always find that it is the most challenging class to teach and for students to take. Further, preparing students to give a pitch presentation is hard. I’ve shown different slide decks, talked about strategies, etc. We did a few trial runs and had the students work on ironing out the weak points.

I reflected on this a bit.

I realized that I had missed a teaching opportunity.

As an educator who has been teaching at the college level now for over 10 years, I’ve come to see my mission as: to help my students self actualize.

It is not enough to me that my students do well. I want them to feel good about doing well. I want them to believe in themselves and know that they can accomplish things they didn’t think they could. I think that, to many of us educators, the information we help the students learn is at the surface of how we are hoping to help them. Beyond knowledge, I think that for many educations, educating is about helping people push personal boundaries, enter new spaces, and grow confidence in those spaces.

I believe that one way to do this, is to help heighten student awareness of how they are perceiving themselves and/or a situation and how that can limit their growth.

Was the students’ nervousness before the presentations justified? Was mine?

Of course.

Presenting before a client is a scary proposition, especially when you’re a student doing it for the first time. It is of course natural and perfectly normal to feel nervous. We all feel that way from time to time.

But, I want to help my students begin to take control of this feeling so that they can continue to become more comfortable giving presentations and pitching clients. I believe that the more at ease one feels in these settings, the better they will enjoy them. The more they enjoy them, the better they’ll go.

One way to do this, is to examine the evidence when facing a high-pressure situation. Students could look at what they thought might happen that would be bad. A thought might be: “What if the client hates the idea and tells us so?” Afterwards, they could look at the evidence as to whether it actually happened. Since, most things we fear never come to fruition, chances are that things will turn out better than one expects.  When one sees that things turned out better, I think it has the power to break those limiting perceptions about one’s abilities.

Here’s what I’m going to do next time:

1) Have students write down on a scale of 1-7 with 1 meaning “terribly” and 7 meaning “amazingly”: “How well do you think this presentation will go?”

2) Have them write down a brief description of what they think might happen that wouldn’t be good.

3) Write a statement to counter those negative thoughts – such as, what might go well.

4) Give the presentation.

5) Use a scale of 1-7 to answer how well the presentation went, with 1 being “terribly” and 7 meaning “amazingly.”

6) Have the students identify the number of things that they thought might happen that wouldn’t be good that actually happened.

7) Have the students write a positive statement about how the presentation went, such as identifying things that went well.

Afterwards, we will discuss their answers to these questions, with the goal of having them reflect upon the positive of what they did. My hope is that it will help them start to break any limiting perceptions that they may have. I hope this will accelerate their comfort with presenting so that their comfort is in line with their abilities.

Closing out 2018

I think for all of us, when we face a challenging task, there is a tendency to focus on what might go wrong. As I look forward to 2018, a goal I have for my classes is to continue to shift the narrative for my students to focus on what will go right. These students are amazing people with wonderful talents. I’m super impressed with how they performed this semester!

Congrats to the December grads and to the students who have taken their final course from me.

Lastly, on behalf of the class, I want to thank Professor Larson and the students of COMM 406 Advertising & Imagery. For the first time, my class partnered with Professor Monica Larson’s class. The Ad & Imagery students created all of the graphic design work for our campaigns. The campaign students decided what they wanted created, and they worked with Professor Larson’s students to flesh out the ideas and refine them. Then, Professor Larson’s students did the graphic design work.

About half of the students were in both classes.  My class had two different groups, each working on their own campaign. Half of Professor Larson’s students worked on creating media materials for 1 of the groups in my class and half of the students worked on creating media materials for the other group. Thus, each student in Professor Larson’s class created their own version of the media materials my students requested. The best 3 designs were chosen for each campaign.

Professor Larson is a very talented, amazing professor. Having the opportunity to work with her class elevated the experience for the students in both classes, I believe. I know that it  greatly enhanced the quality of the final product in my class. Her feedback in helping the students refine their pitches was instrumental in their success.

– Cheers
Matt

 

 

 

 

Teaching Students to Create an Online Personal Branding Strategy

Lately, there’s been a lot of buzz about Mark W. Schaefer’s new book: Known: The handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age. For example, Ai Addison Zang reviewed it.

I haven’t read the book. But, after reading those reviews, it’s officially on my Christmas list.

[Read book reviews I’ve written about Schaefer’s other books: Return on Influence and Born to Blog]

With all the buzz about personal branding online, I’d like to share a personal branding assignment I started incorporating in my Public Relations Principles class last semester.

The assignment is based on the assignment Dr. Karen Freberg presents in her book A Roadmap for Teaching Social Media. But first, some thoughts.

[Read my review of Dr. Freberg’s book]

My Struggle in Teaching Personal Branding

Personal branding is something I’ve struggled to successfully bring into my classes. When I first started teaching social media at Shepherd University, I had a personal branding project. In short, students developed a personal branding plan. Then, throughout the semester, the students worked on executing the plan. For example, one student started a video gaming blog focused on retro RPGs. At the end of the semester, students  presented their outputs and their results in brief presentations.

I loved the idea. But, I found that students didn’t take too well to it. Most students didn’t put the time and concentration into the project that I had hoped. A number of students didn’t do much of what they planned to do such that at the end of the semester they didn’t have too many pieces of content – whether that was video posts or blogs – to show for it. I wanted to know why the project didn’t succeed as I had hoped. So I asked. Several students expressed some skepticism as to the value of what I was trying to get them to do. And, some simply didn’t want to have an online presence.

That was in the fall of 2012. After that experience, I pulled back quite a bit on online personal branding. And I’m sad to say that, perhaps out of fear of it not going well again, I stopped requiring my students to do online personal branding. I didn’t so much as require students to participate in a Twitter chat – though I certainly encouraged it as extra curricular activity.

In all honesty, when I reflect on my teaching over the last 5 plus years here at Shepherd, I think that not emphasizing personal branding in my classes is the one thing I wish I did better.

Steps Back into Personal Branding

After reading Dr. Freberg’s book, I got the bug again about teaching students personal branding. I decided to start small with a project in my Public Relations Principles class. I first gave this assignment last spring as a final project in the class instead of the paper I used to have them write.

As I noted above, this project is an adaptation of the assignment Dr. Freberg puts forth in her book. I modified it down. The purpose of this project was for students to strategize how they would build their personal brands online.

The assignment is broken down into a few parts.

First, I provide students with Dr. Freberg’s checklist for personal branding. I encourage students to work through the list.

Next, I require students to identify a job or internship that interests them and answer some questions about how they relate to the position.

Then, I have students map out their personal brand. Lastly, students must create a LinkedIn or About.me profile branding themselves.

Because I gave this assignment late in the year, I did not ask students to build out a plan for building their personal brand nor did I ask them to have executed one. Rather, I asked them to start taking little steps towards executing a personal brand and provide me evidence that they are moving in that direction.

I’d like to grow this into something more where the students need to go out and truly prepare a detailed strategy and execute it for weeks or a few months  – similar to what I was originally doing in my social media class. I’m not sure where I’d fit this in as my social media class is pretty packed right now. But, I’m going to think about it further this summer, read Schaefer’s new book, and see what I can come up with.

If you’ve got tips or examples of how you’ve gotten your students to find success in personal branding, I’d love to hear them. Tweet me @mjkushin or comment on this blog.

You can see the full assignment below.

  • Cheers!
    Matt

My Public Relations Class Participated in the Ketchum Mindfire Challenge. Here’s How It Helped.

Last semester, my Principles of PR class had the opportunity to participate in the Ketchum Mindfire Challenge for the first time.

The program was a great learning experience for students and a ton of fun. From what I understand, the program has been around for several years. But, after slowing down for a few years, Ketchum has been working recently to re-build it.

Still, I haven’t heard many professors talking about the program. So I want to give an overview how it works and how I used it in my class last spring.

What is Ketchum Mindfire?

I first heard about Ketchum Mindfire during a presentation at the PRSA Educator’s Academy Super Saturday last year in Indianapolis. Unfortunately, I don’t recall who was talking about it. But I was intrigued by the possibility of students coming up with creative solutions for real-world clients.

The Ketchum Mindfire program crowdsources university students in public relations courses to come up with creative solution to the needs of Ketchum clients.

Students submit their ideas through an online portal. There, they can see the other ideas that have been submitted. The winning ideas are chosen by the client. The students who win get recognized through the program and receive a prize. Persons who get honorable mention are also recognized.

It is my understanding that, by participating in the program, Ketchum can use the idea the student submits in working with the client.

The challenges are sent to the students through the portal on a regular basis. The challenges we had last semester provided students with a variety of opportunities to come up with creative campaign ideas. The students submit a summary of their idea, explaining how their idea addresses specific requirements from the client. The background for a challenge might include a brief overview of the company (or it may describe the type of company it is but omit the company name), the problem or opportunity the client is facing, the goal, and important contextual factors such as audience, market conditions, etc.

The program is described on the Mindfire portal website this way: “When you share ideas on Mindfire, you receive career coaching and training from Ketchum, along with other prizes and compensation if your idea is selected.” You can read more about Ketchum Mindfire.

How I Integrated Mindfire into my Public Relations Principles Class

One objective I had for improving my PR class was to get students a taste of the sort of client needs that they might face in their careers. I felt that the class had a lot of information about what PR was, its history, what working in PR could be like, and so forth. And I had created small activities and large assignments to try and emulate what the experience of PR work might look like. For example, I gave students a mock PR problem and had students work on a solution which they would pitch to the class as a large project.

Still, nothing prepares students to understand what a career in PR might be like and the types of creative problems they may be tasked with solving than seeing first hand what the real problems an agency is working on.

So I jumped at the opportunity and got my class signed up.

Here’s how I integrated the program into my class:

At many of the universities that participate in the program, the students work individually on their ideas and submit them to the Mindfire portal.  Students come from a variety of different classes at these universities, from intro classes like mine up through senior-level campaigns courses.

Because my students work in teams all semester on other activities and assignments, I wanted the students to work in teams on the Mindfire challenges. I also thought that, because the students were all new to PR and probably hadn’t worked on coming up with creative solutions for clients like this before, the students would learn a lot from brainstorming with one another. And I think that teamwork aspect really helped. There were those students that ‘got it’ quickly and those that needed to observe their teammates to understand what we were trying to accomplish with each new challenge.

On the days that students would work on the Mindfire challenge, we would work in the computer lab. We’d start the class with students reviewing the challenge and identifying the due date. Then, I’d give students 20-30 minutes to work on the project and provide them a little guidance where needed. It was important to me that I did not provide the students with ideas because I’ve noticed that students have a tendency to think that the professors idea is the ‘good’ or ‘right’ idea and they end up going with that. Instead, I would nudge them or give them things to think about with their ideas.

Once time ran out, students would have to work on the challenge outside of class if they weren’t done so they could submit their proposed solution by the challenge deadline.

In terms of the graded assignment, I required teams  to complete 5 challenges over the course of the semester.  This number was chosen based on the amount of time in class I felt we could reasonably set aside for the project and my expectation that there wouldn’t always be a challenge each week. I was flexible with how I set aside class time as I found that some weeks there were several and some weeks there was one challenge and a few weeks there weren’t any available during the times I had classes.

Additionally, I wanted to encourage students to also go out and complete challenges themselves individually. So, I provided an extra credit opportunity for students wanting to go above and beyond. Students could do an extra 8 challenges on top of the 5 from class.

In review, I think 8 was a bit too many. In the future, I will cut it down to 5.

I’ve posted a copy of the assignment below.

How It Went

I was super excited and proud when I found out that one of my students won one of the Mindfire challenges in our first semester ever participating. Sophomore Sarah Burke’s idea was selected from over 1,000 participating students at over 50 universities. She won first place for her idea in a paint challenge for a major brand.

Several weeks later, another student won honorary mention for her idea in a different challenge.

I believe the project brought a creative and competitive atmosphere – an energy – to the class that was not there in past semesters. Having students get recognized in the program helped the entire class see the merits of their work and what they as students are capable of.

In closing, I believe participating in the Ketchum Mindfire program made a big difference in helping my students understand what working in PR can be like. The project showed students how exciting and creative the job can be. The students seemed to enjoy working on the challenges and I got the sense that they felt closer to and more familiar with the field than any group I’ve had in that class before. I’m looking forward to participating again next semester when I teach the PR principles class.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it. It helps a lot.

The assignment is below. See all of my assignments and syllabi on SlideShare.net/profkushin

-Cheers
Matt

 

 

How to use Melwater social intelligence software to teach social media listening

Last week I wrote about the social listening activity and the social media audit that students in my social media class (2017 syllabus) conduct. Both the activity and the audit assignment are done this year using Meltwater.com social intelligence software.

If you have not done so, you may want to first read about the Meltwater university program in my first post.

In the below post, I will briefly share how students in my social media class will also be using Meltwater to do some social listening for our class project. The class project involves taking on our department as a client and managing the department’s social media.

As part of that project, students are in charge of monitoring the conversation around our department’s social media. Last year, my students used Microsoft Social Engagement which is a great piece of software that we also use in my Comm 435 Communication Research class (all posts about that class). This year, my social media class students will use Meltwater to do the social media listening.

I will keep this post short because you can read the full blog post series that I wrote last year about how students are taught to do metrics and social listening in my social media class. Please note that the below post can be seen as an update to the second post in that series, “How to use Microsoft Social Engagement software to teach social media listening (Post 2 of 2).

Social Listening with Meltwater

Students in my class use this spreadsheet to track metrics and to conduct their social listening. I’ve updated it from the 2016 spreadsheet to correspond with Meltwater.

Students will use Meltwater to work on the “social listening” tab of that spreadsheet.

The other tabs in the spreadsheet are about tracking our own performance. The social listening tab is for seeing what is being said about our brand every week. So, students go into this spreadsheet and fill out the below questions from weeks 9-15 of the semester. Specifically, the spreadsheet asks the students to answer 5 questions each week. I modified the questions slightly from last year because the last question from last year could not be answered with Meltwater. You can see this year’s questions below. A hint is provided to students on where to look to find this answer by mousing over each question.

Click to enlarge

Even though students will have experience using Meltwater by the time we start doing the social listening about our brand about 8 weeks into the semester, I created a lab guide (about lab guides) to help students walk through the steps of answering these questions. My hope is that after they use the lab guide once, they’ll know what to do to be able to answer the questions.

The lab guide is linked in the spreadsheet. You can also access it directly here. If you are new to using Meltwater, the lab guide walks you through how to do some basic social listening. I encourage you to check it out.

In summary, I’m super excited about the growing opportunities my students have had to work with industry software like Meltwater and Microsoft Social Engagement to get real world experience with social listening. I know many of us have worked hard in the last few years in seeking out opportunities like this. And I am extremely pleased that companies like these are making their software solutions available to our students.  It matters a lot! I know that my students will leave Shepherd with hands on experience using the same industry software used by many of the largest brands.

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

– Cheers!
Matt

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