Category Archives: Classroom Activities and Exercises

Communication Research Class Media Placement Assignment, Part 2: Doing Data Entry and Creating a Data Legend

This post is long overdue (I feel like I say that a lot!).

It is a follow up to a post I published in January titled “Here’s my communication research class assignment on analyzing media placement.”  Recently, I received a public comment on that post from a professor I greatly admire, Kelli Burns, pointing out that project assignment (see the bottom of this post for that document) notes at the bottom of the document that additional work will be assigned the following day. But, I never discuss what that entails in the blog post.  I apologize to everyone who read that post because, in that sense, it was incomplete in terms of explaining the project.

Thank you to Dr. Burns for bringing this to my attention. With this in mind, I’ve decided to do a much-delayed follow up post, turning that initial post into a two-part series.

So, if you haven’t read the first post in this series, I encourage you to go back and do so. If you just want to know about teaching students to do data entry from coded data and to create data legends, then read on my friend!

The Set Up

In review, in the first post I provide an assignment where students download a data set of media articles using the Meltwater social intelligence software. Their task is to conduct a quantitative content analysis using a coding sheet (which I’ve provided in that first post). They are then told to do all of the coding at home, dividing up the articles to code as evenly as possible among their team.

On the second day of class, students come back with the coding sheet coded for the number of articles they needed to code. I instruct the students to download the coding sheet, copy it onto a new page in their document for the total number of articles they need to code and code them by highlighting the answers on the coding sheet. For example, a student who needed to code 30 articles would return with a digital copy of an MS Word document with 30 pages, each page containing a completed coding sheet.

Problems

All good right? They just need to get their coded data into something that SPSS can read… because that always goes smoothly! 😛

This whole project is aimed at introducing students to quantitative research and all we’re doing is running descriptive statistics. But here’s the problem:

As you probably remember learning in a quantitative methods class some years ago (let’s not age ourselves), the numbers in a data set don’t mean anything themselves. We, the researchers, assign meaning to them. This is an idea that we have to teach the students.

Here’s a simple example. Let’s say that we are coding for eye color. We assign the following numbers for coding purposes:

  • 1 = brown
  • 2 = blue
  • 3 = hazel
  • 4 = green
  • … and so forth until we have an exhaustive list.

But when a student runs the mean and find that variable 1 has a mode of 3, they ask “what the heck does that mean?”

The problems with this are are:

  1. They don’t know what variable 1 corresponds to on their coding sheet (in this example, eye color).
  2. They don’t know what a mode of 3 represents (that the most common eye color is hazel).

Oh, and keep in mind that the students haven’t done any data entry yet. They don’t have their data into a spreadsheet format yet that can be imported into SPSS. So, there’s another problem. Most students have never entered data into a spreadsheet before.

What They Need to Do

  1. Get their coded data into a spreadsheet format that can be analyzed in SPSS.
  2. Create a data legend so they can interpret the SPSS output

What They Need to Know About Measurements First

In my class, students need to know the four common types of measurement – nominal, ordinal, interval and ratio – , as the Netflix assignment (and other assignments to follow) use them.  Students in our major are not required to take any statistics class and thus this is new information to the vast majority of them. If your students know this, you can skip it. If you need a refresher on these, here is a quick summary that explains each measurement type and its strengths and limitations.  I teach them these concepts with a lecture and in-class activity to test their application. I do this earlier int he semester before we get into the Netflix assignment.

Teaching Students Basic Data Entry

This part is pretty simple. As a reminder, the students are working in teams on this project. So the team needs to create a shared Google spreadsheet in which they enter all their coded data from their coding sheets.  They just need to open Word and open the shared Google spreadsheet and enter the corresponding numbers from the coding sheet in Word for each article coded. The key thing is that in this spreadsheet the columns are the questions (i.e., variables) on the coding sheet and the rows are the individual articles (such as in the image below). Otherwise, it won’t import into SPSS correctly (Note: You can import a CSV file through SPSS. So, I have my students download the Google Spreadsheet in CSV format and import that into SPSS).

But, before they can enter their data they need a data legend. So..

Teaching Students to Create Data Legends

A data legend lets the researcher quickly put meaning to the variables and numbers in their results.

Creating a data legend can be done in SPSS. But, for time purposes and because students wont always be using SPSS, I prefer to do it another way. It is quite useful as I can have the data legend right in front of me on a piece of paper.

Simply, have your students type or write up their data legend and keep it handy.

Each variable needs a descriptive label that’s under 13 characters (13 characters is the max that SPSS allows you to use in describing a variable).

Each possible numerical value of that variable needs a name, which is the simplest possible description of what that number means. So, in our example above, if 1 equaled brown eye color, 2 equaled blue eye color and so forth, then we write it up to look like this:

variable:

eyecolor  (1) brown, (2) blue, (3) hazel, (4) green.

In the above, I have given the variable for eyecolor the label eyecolor. The numbers in parentheses represent the numerical value that I have assigned to the possible responses.

For scale questions, the number equals the number on the scale. Example: On a scale of 1-7 where 1 means not at all, and 7 means very much so, how much do you like string cheese?

stringcheese    (1) not at all, (2) 2, (3), 3, (4), 4, (5), 5, (6), 6, (7) very much so.

So, the instructions for creating a data legend are quite simple:

On a separate file or paper:

  1. Assign each variable a label (max 13 letters). So, “schoolstatus”, “favicecream” and “rankicecream” work.
  2. If it is nominal or ordinal label it in parentheses (this is optional, but I like to do it to help students remind what type of variable it is)
  3. With each label, make a list that indicates what # we have assigned to each term within our measurement, by placing the # in parentheses.

Of course, there are some caveats when dealing different measurement types, such as ordinal data. Indeed, ordinal data and ‘check all that apply’ questions are tough.  These can be a bit frustrating when doing data entry. That’s why I’ve provided below a handout I created and use in class to teach students how to create data legends using the different types of measurements. This walks them through how to not only create a data legend for that variable but subsequently how to enter that data correctly from their coding sheet into their spreadsheet so that the spreadsheet can be analyzed in SPSS or elsewhere.

Activity

Once you walk students through this process, you can give them an activity to test for understanding and application. If the students don’t enter their data correctly now, it is going to be a mess when they try to import it into SPSS. So while this may take some valuable class time or may serve as homework, I recommend assigning the data entry and data legend activity (see below) and making sure the students entered their data correctly.

In the activity, it is important to clarify to students that, in part 2 of the activity, the survey responses are separated by semi-colons such that the first respondent’s answers are: a) digital film, b) freshman, c) 4, and d) Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Pizza Perfection.

Once the students have created the data legend and entered it into the table on the activity sheet, their answers should look like this

Data Legend

Spreadsheet

Once your students got this down, set them loose to do their data entry. You may want to assign that as homework. You can give them a lecture on descriptive statistics and work with SPSS or whatever software you’ll be doing the analysis in. Help the students interpret what the data means by pointing them to their data legend.

I hope this blog post was helpful. Again, if you have not yet done so, check out the first article in this post to learn more about the Netflix media placement assignment. If you want to know more about my applied communication research class, you can see all blog posts related to communication research here.

Data Entry and Data Legend Handout for Students

Data Entry and Data Legend Activity for Students

Project 1: Media Placement Assignment Handout (from previous blog post cited above).

-Cheers!

Matt

credits: Photo public domain from Pexels

Introducing Students to Social Media Audience Research via the Facebook Audience Insights Tool

Lately, I’ve been writing about the importance for students to learn more about paid social media as part of the media mix.

In the below post, I’m going to share a new in class activity I did this semester in my COMM 322 Social Media class [see all posts about the class | see past class syllabi] to help students further explore paid social media.

One thing I struggle with in my social media class is finding a way to bring this into the class in a manner that helps students gain hands-on experience. In the past, I did an assignment where students identified a target audience and mocked up a Facebook ad in the Facebook Creative Hub. The purpose of the ad was to promote themselves in some way.

This year, I took a slight turn with the assignment. I backed away from the creation of the ad and placed more emphasis on what we can learn about Facebook users by exploring audience data and how that might inform ad planning.

Specifically, I wanted my students to understand what they could learn with Facebook Audience Insights data. I thought it would be very insightful to have them peel back the curtain and see what a business can see with Facebook Insights. While it would be best to have access to the Facebook page of an organization, this is not necessary to explore Facebook data.  Instead, any person with a Facebook account can explore user data through the Facebook Creative Hub by accessing the Insights tools.

About Facebook Creative Hub and Audience Insights

If you haven’t played around with the creative hub before, it is a series of tools that help advertisers research and plan ads for Facebook and Instagram. You can create ad mockups to share with others so that they can see what a potential Facebook or Instagram post would look like on the native platform. You can manage ads for clients that you manage. You can create Facebook ads and run campaigns. You can research and learn about Facebook users. You can do several other tasks to track behavior between Facebook, events, websites, and apps.

In my class, I wanted to focus on the tool within the creative hub that lets you do audience research on Facebook users. This part of the tool is called Facebook Audience Insights. You can read more about it here and watch a brief overview of the Facebook Audience Insights tool.  Now, it is a little confusing because Facebook also has an audience insights webpage called Facebook IQ that publishes brief reports based on Facebook data. They have a section about insights into Facebook audiences.

So, think of Audience Insights as the tool you can use to gain insights about Facebook users. Think of Facebook IQ as a resource for reports from Facebook about their user data.

Accessing the Facebook Audience Insights tool is a bit of an in-direct path. The link they promote in several webpages does not work for me and has not been working for the past month. It is: https://www.facebook.com/ads/audience_insights

However, you can get into the Audience Insights tool via logging into the Creative Hub.  Here’s how:

Once you’re in the Audience Insights tool, you can conduct research on people who like your pages (that is, pages that you manage via the Facebook account you are logged in with). Or, you can search data about all Facebook users.

In this video, which I made for my students, I play around with searching for data on Audience Insights. As you can see, you can search by demographic information, interests, affiliations, and the like.

The Class Activity

I wanted my students to try and deconstruct what data might be helpful to an advertiser planning to create a Facebook ad.  The rationale was for students to be thinking about how the Facebook audience data could inform decision-making.  So I had students work in teams and pick an existing Facebook ad from the inspiration gallery that Facebook provides. You can find the gallery here: https://www.facebook.com/ads/creativehub/gallery/.

For example, a team of student could pick the Audi Facebook video ad.

I then told the students to search a little bit about the ad campaign to see if they could find any information about it. For example, through some quick Googling I was able to find that the BMW 4in4 ad campaign was done by the FCB Inferno agency.

I then had the students go into Facebook Audience Insights. There, they researched a bit about the type of people who like the brand for the ad they chose. Now, there are a number of ways one could approach researching to create an ad on Facebook for a brand. But, what I wanted to do was have students try to learn 1) what they can do with Facebook Audience Insights and the kind of knowledge they can glean, and to learn 2) a bit about the type of user that already likes a brand with the rationale being that there may be some interesting insights here that could inform the creation of an ad based on people who are already interested in that brand. You could, of course, do a twist on this. For example, one of our groups was interested in an M&M ad and decided to search ‘chocolate’ as an interest to cast a wider net for the type of person that might like their product.

To search an interest, go to the ‘interests’ parameter on the left and type a topic. In the below image, I’ve searched “Audi,” If you return to the video I created, I show you how conducting this search will filter your results for Facebook users who have an interest in that topic. You can see demographic information, other interests, other pages liked, etc.

I asked students to put together a brief, impromptu presentation for the below questions.

I asked students to provide a breakdown of key takeaways of their audience across demographics, page likes, location and activity. Here, students were sharing screen grabs of their findings with the class.

Then, I asked students:

  • Given what you know, if you were creating a new Facebook Ad targeting this audience (explain briefly for each below):
    • What age range would you target?
    • What gender(s) would you target?
    • Which is the primary country and city you would target?
    • What is a bit of information from the page likes, interests, etc. that might help you in targeting or planning your ad?

In addressing the sections above, I asked students to consider these questions (see credits at the bottom of this post):

  • What would you do with this information?
  • What are the main points we should be aware of?
  • What ideas can we get from this data?

How It Went:

The students expressed interest in this and said it was cool to be able to explore Facebook or Instagram ads and think about who they were trying to target. They said it was also cool that they got to dig into Facebook Audience Insights as none of them had ever dug into this data before. One student, who owns his own small business, was very interested in looking at how he could use the data to help his business grow. He and I talked a bit about ways that he could use this data to do more research about his potential audience as well as ideas for how he can better use Facebook to advertise.

I think an added bonus was that this activity got students thinking about how their own data is used to target them on sites like Facebook. In peeling back the curtain, they could begin to see how the things we do on social media are used to target us.

I was particularly interested in a presentation that one group gave about Häagen-Dazs UK. They found that more women than men tended to like the brand on Facebook. The same was true for other ice cream brands. They noted that the Häagen-Dazs ad targeted women for a Wimbledon campaign. However, when they researched the brand’s other ads, they noticed that romance was a major theme, including a US campaign with Bradley Cooper. How would they use this information? They argued that they would create a campaign aimed at getting men to buy ice cream as a romantic gesture, targeting the men in one set of ads. They would also target the women with a different message to emphasize the brand as a desirable romantic gesture.

Things I’d Like to Expand Upon:

Altogether, I think this was an eye-opening activity and a hands on learning opportunity for the students. I think there is more that I could do with this next year. My students have little to no prior knowledge about paid social media before taking my classes. I feel there is more that I want to be doing in this space.

This activity took the entire class to complete, with 20 minutes that the end of class for each team to get up and deliver their findings.

In the future, I’d like to bring in Facebook IQ into the activity. I’m looking for a way to have students do some research on the reports in the Facebook IQ website. Then, I would like to eventually expand this out so that students are using the knowledge they gained to mock up their own ads. I would also like to get students thinking about searching for the brand itself as an interest, but possibly comparing a brand with its competitor’s audience.

How are you using Facebook Audience Insights in your classes? Or, more broadly, how are you getting your students thinking about paid social?

– Cheers!

Matt

credits:
Top photo is in the public domain. Other image is a screen grab I created.

Note that, according to my admittedly somewhat messy notes of ideas and inspirations for class projects , the above 3 questions are inspired from and direct quotations of questions on an assignment that Kathleen Stansberry shared with me. Dr. Stansberry is a leading professor teaching social networking and data analytics in the field of communication. I love how these questions force the students to think about data and decided to incorporate them when creating this assignment. 

 

 

 

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

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.

update – 12/3/18:  To see a follow up post to this post, check out Communication Research Class Media Placement Assignment, Part 2: Doing Data Entry and Creating a Data Legend.

[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.

The next step is to teach students how to do data entry into a spreadsheet and to create a data legend. Read the follow up post in which I explain how to do this.

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

 

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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Teaching Basic Social Network Analysis of Instagram and Twitter Data Using Netlytic.org (Post 4 of 4)

This is post #4 in a four part series about a new assignment that I used this semester in my Communication research class (all posts on that class).

That assignment is a 3-part social media analytics project. Each part is related but unique, allowing students to pick up a new skill set. In this post we’ll discuss part 3 of the assignment. If you haven’t read the assignment overview post, and the earlier post about pivot tables in Excel or my other post on this assignment about Microsoft Social Engagement,  I encourage you check those out.  In the first post, you will see a copy of the assignment that is discussed below.

This last part, part 3 of the assignment, asks student teams to do basic network mapping of their client using Netlytic.org.

netlytic-dot-org-social-network-analysis
Map of Twitter data I created using Netlytic.org for #CincoDeMayo May 5, 2016.

Why Teach the Basics of Social Network Analysis?

This semester, I wanted my students to get exposure to, and a basic understanding of, social network analysis. I am not a social network analysis. But it is something I find fascinating. And I think it is important that as professors we have at least a basic knowledge of this field and that our students do as well.

I feel this way in part because of the rise of professional tools that social media professionals have for visualizing social media data. While several of the questions that can be culled from the work students did in the portion of the project described below could also be answered through other means – such as Microsoft Social Engagement -, learning about social network analysis and having this experience offers a different and valuable way of understanding who is connected to whom within a network.

With the above said, the below-described project provides students a chance to visualize a social network and see how different actors relate to one another around a specific topic on Twitter or Instagram. Students explored the conversation around their client’s Twitter and/or Instagram account to see not only who was talking about their client but the connections among those people talking about their client, who was talking about the client the most, and who was talked about the most.

About Netlytic

There are many ways to visualize a social network. It can take quite a bit of time to learn the software. For example, I spent a weekend working on a #hokies network map using Gephi (read that post for a step-by-step guide of how I created a basic Twitter social network visualization). As you can see in that post, there are a lot of steps involved in building that one network map. But the upside is that Gephi is pretty robust and in my weekend working on it, I only scratched the surface.

Fortunately, there is a much simpler way to do some social network mapping. Netlytic.org is described on its website as “a cloud-based text and social networks analyzer that can automatically summarize and discover social networks from online conversations on social media sites.”

I first began playing with Netlytic soon after realizing that, for the baseline knowledge I want my students to have, I could not afford enough class time during the semester to warrant the investment in time and effort that would be needed to teach students all the steps of getting Twitter data and analyzing it in Gephi.

The downside of Netlytic is that is not quite as powerful and the visualizations are not as visually stunning.

Despite those limitations, I found Netlytic to have many upsides. For one, it is very easy to use and learn. A basic account is free and Netlytic will pull down the social media data you want directly into its service. From there, you can begin analyzing the data with just a few clicks.

I provide resources for learning how to use Netlytic below.

Setting Up the Assignment

Weeks before the we analyzed Netlytic in class, students were to create their own free Netlytic account and program their client’s Instagram or Twitter account and any hashtags they wanted to track on Twitter or Instagram related to their client.

The free version of Netlytic only allows an account to track up to 3 different searches at a time. Thus, teams were limited to 3 different networks to map. Each team approached this slightly differently, depending on their client.

There are 2 days of the semester dedicated to social network analysis and working with Netlytic. Day 1 is primarily lecture based. I provide a lecture of what social network analysis is, why it is good to have a basic understanding of it, and basic concepts that we’d be exploring. Specifically, I introduced nodes (e.g., Twitter users) and directional and uni-directional edges (the connections between them, such as retweets), talked about degree centrality (e.g., in-degree and out-degree density) as well as reciprocity, centralization, diameter and density.

On day 2, we relate these concepts to social media via a 15 minute lecture. For example, we discuss how in-degrees (who is mentioned a lot) and out-degrees (who posts a lot) would relate to Twitter posts. I then show several examples of social network maps of Instagram and Twitter and how concepts discussed in the prior class relate to them. And the rest of class is dedicated to working on analyzing the students’ client network.

There is a third day that is dedicated to students finishing up their Netlytic as well as anything they didn’t get done related to their Excel pivot tables and Microsoft Social Engagement.

As is the case with the other 2 parts of this assignment, students work in the computer lab on their Netlytic portion of the assignment during class time. I provide a basic lab guide of how to use Netlytic. The great thing is, Netlytic provides a lot of instructions on their YouTube page on how to use the software.

This great video shows you how to analyze your network map.

The lab guide I created for my students can be found here: bit.ly/435_netlyticlab

It walks you through all of the steps of doing the network analysis and provides a list of resources for further understanding basic social network analysis.

I provide a few different research questions to the students that they have to adapt from, based on whether they are analyzing hashtags or other search terms or if they are analyzing mentions of their client. I have provided the information below just as it is described in the assignment:

Depending on what your networks are, you’ll need to choose from the RQs below. Choose all that are appropriate. Feel free to create your own. Discard the rest.

For networks that analyze hashtags or search terms:

  1. What Twitter accounts are popular in this network and how often is each popular account mentioned?
  2. What accounts mention others or RT others a lot in this network?
  3. What unique clusters exist in this network?

For networks analyzing mentions of your client

  1. What Twitter accounts mention your client the most? How often does each mention your client?

  2. What communities are talking about @USERNAME?

Reflections on the Project

This project has three parts to it. Part 1 teaches students about using Excel pivot tables to analyze Twitter data. Part 2 gets them using industry social media analytics software. Part 3 introduces students to social network analysis and mapping a social network. The project takes several weeks of hands-on learning during the semester. For the students, a lot of work goes into the final product.

Because there were many moving parts, it was a little difficult at times for students to grasp all of the details of what we were trying to accomplish. Some student groups lost sight of the fact that the data they were dealing with was from different time periods because it was not all collected at the same time (a weakness I discuss in post #1 on this project).

One area of weakness was that some of the groups struggled with interpreting what their data meant and offering actionable suggestions to their client on how to enhance their social media based on the data.

Next time, I am going to try and tighten the assignment up. For example, I want to slim down a few of the research questions students had to answer that seemed a little redundant across the 3 different parts. I also want to place more emphasis on helping students think about what their results mean and how they can use the knowledge they have discovered through this analysis to make meaningful recommendations for their clients.

In summary, this is the first time we’ve run the project, and overall I am pleased with the outcome. I feel that this project helped me further ‘modernize’ my communication research class by placing greater emphasis on getting students working with social media data and thinking about what that data means.

I hope you enjoyed this 4-part series on the new social media analytics assignment in my communication research class! If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out post 1, post 2 and post 3.

Update: in April 2018 I did a webinar with Dr. Stansberry about social network analysis in which I discussed Netlytic.

  • Cheers!

Matt