Category Archives: Classes

Blog Better with Born to Blog by Schaefer and Smith (Book Review)

I owe this blog to the book Born to Blog: Building Your Blog for Personal and Business Success One Post at a Time by Mark W. Schaefer and Stanford A. Smith.

For some time before starting Social Media Syllabus, I’d thought about blogging again the way I think about getting back in shape to play lacrosse again or making homemade bread like Kelin and I used to – as a distant and improbable ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ scenario. I had started a blog briefly in graduate school, but being too busy, I shut it down. And honestly, my first blog lacked focus and intent. I hadn’t really thought through who I was writing to and why they should read my blog. I just wanted to blog and so I began. Needless to say, it didn’t go anywhere. Isn’t that the case with so many blogs?

So when I got my hands on Born to Blog after first hearing about Schaefer’s Tao of Twitter, I was excited and anxious. Clearly I wasn’t “born to blog,” I thought, reflecting on my first blogging failure. So I wasn’t really planning on starting a blog again. But a few chapters later I found myself plotting out Social Media Syllabus and telling myself, ‘this time it will be different.’

The book Born to Blog offers readers 3 important things:

  1. The “how to” and motivation to become a successful blogger
  2. A clear understanding of the value of blogging
  3. A roadmap for planning, launching, and maintaining a successful blog.

The first part of the book focuses on motivating the reader and explaining what it takes to become a successful blogger, emphasizing the 5 common types of bloggers: dreaming, storytelling, persuading, teaching, and curating.

Readers are encouraged to determine what type of blogger they are and to harness their strengths to be themselves (not surprisingly, I found myself to fit the ‘teaching’ type). The writing style makes the book approachable and friendly. The reader can tell that the authors want to help, want you to be successful, and want you to not only have the knowledge to succeed but feel that you are capable of succeeding at blogging. The authors offer a number of great examples of brave bloggers sharing their story as well as their own personal anecdotes. This book is not filled with hype or promises that your blog will be successful. There are many out there selling snake oil in the social space.   There are no illusions or “get rich quick” schemes. The plan the authors put forward clearly requires a great deal of work and commitment on your behalf. Mark and Stanford are clear that blogging is a marathon, not a sprint, telling the reader they will need tenacity and encouraging them to “not give up.”

Secondly, the authors concisely explain the value of blogging for a business in clear terms. The focus of the book is primarily on the use of blogging as a tool for business, a la content marketing. (There is a brief section in the back on personal blogging that I wish was placed earlier in the book).  In this section, the authors tackle many of the common questions or concerns that companies face from “How often should we blog?” to the possibility of negative comments, or maybe worse no comments at all!, to potential legal issues

While the book isn’t quite as in-depth in terms of offering advice on how to create a content plan and calendar as Content Rules, it offers a great overview and enough to get you started. The authors do a strong job in the middle section of the book tackling important issues surrounding finding and nurturing blog contributors, developing a content plan, uncovering valuable content within your own company your readers want, and more. Readers should keep in mind that this is a shorter book tackling blogging specifically. I would recommend Content Rules, a book we’ll be using in my Writing Across Platforms class, as a supplement to this book.

I appreciate the emphasis on the theme in this book that blogging is a journey of personal growth. As bloggers, the authors remind us that we cannot expect to be perfect. We are constantly growing, learning, and hopefully improving. I have used Born to Blog as a guide and have turned to the book on many occasions for help with questions I’ve had along the way.

if you’re looking to get into blogging or improving an existing blog, whether personally or for a business, I highly recommend this book. I plan on using it for my social media class this upcoming fall (see social media syllabus. You can also learn more about the class) as the text for our class semester-long blogging assignment. I hope the students will find it as approachable, motivating, and informative as I have!

Do you have any great books you recommend for bloggers? If you’ve read Born to Blog, what did you think?

If you enjoyed this post, please share. Cheers!

– Matt

What’s Changing? Plans for My Social Media Fall 2013 Class

Neon_sign,_-CHANGE-

I often find myself at the end of the semester saying “I wish we’d had time to talk about X!” Or, “when I planned this class, Y wasn’t even on the map!”

The great thing is, the relative shortness of a semester enables constant innovation.

Having taught social media for a number of years as a standalone course, there are a few things I plan to change for this upcoming semester.

When I first taught a social media class, I taught it as a hybrid class, half in person and half online. Our major project that semester was the #UVUSOCIAL speaker event featuring Cory Edwards of Dell. Last fall I taught the class based on the team-based learning teaching model (Here’s the syllabus). Students completed in class modules and at the end of each modules completed in in class project designed to put to test the various things they learned during the module. The projects were applied scenarios and students were forced to analyze situations and solve problems over the course of two class periods. While this approach had many benefits, I felt somewhat limited by it.

So what am I planning on doing differently this fall? Here are the major changes that are in the works:

UPDATE: A copy of the syllabus for this social media class is now available as 1 of the resources on this blog!

  • Hootsuite University program & Certification – We’re participating in the Hootsuite University Higher Education program, and students will get “Hoostuite Certified” via their exam certification process. Last semester we used Hootsuite in the class, but weren’t part of the program. t love Hootsuite and am super excited to be a part of this awesome program! It will be a great resume builder for the students.
  • Semester-long blogging project – I’ve wanted students to get hands-on experience with social media. The trouble is, often organizations are a bit wary of turning over the keys to Twitter or Facebook to a professor and his college students. And I completely understand. Unfortunately, to know social media students need to use social media. So much of learning social media is through planning and audience analysis, trying out engagement strategies, building relationships, monitoring, metrics, and evaluation. One way I’ve gotten around this in the past is to host our own social media event. This year, I realized another way to get around this issue was to have students author a niche-based blog on a topic they’re passionate about related to their career interests. I consulted a number of people on who have done this project before, and heard many professors found it to be very successful (I got lots of great feedback from the Teaching Social Media Marketing Linkedin group – Thanks!)
  • Metrics – While we touched on metrics last semester, this semester students will get a chance to set real goals, monitor their very own traffic (as opposed to hypothetical scenarios), etc.
  • Optimization of Posts: Days and Times – Last semester I talked about this quite a bit. Students even read Zarella’s Hierarchy of Human ContagiousnessThis semester, students we will discuss the topic and provide some examples. But instead of doing exercises, students will use a modified version of Professor Jeremy Floyd’s social media metrics spreadsheet to track their posting schedules and see what days and times are most effective. Thanks to Jeremy for sharing this awesome tool!
  • Social Media Audit – Last semester my Politics of Social Media class did an in-class social media audit activity of an organization we were working with. I was also planning on having them complete a full social media audit. However, due to how busy we were working on our #ACFF12 campaign, that never happened. So this semester in Comm 322 Social Media, students will complete a social media audit on a brand of their choosing.
  • Infographics – More and more it seems that visual storytelling is what’s winning on social media. I was considering integrating infographics into the Writing Across Platforms class I’ll be teaching next semester. Unfortunately, there is just too much to cover into writing class. I’m going to have to do the project in the social media class instead.
  • Lastly, A New Book – I’m dropping Zarella’s Hierarchy of Human Contagiousness, and adding Born to Blog by Mark W. Schaefer, a great companion for the blog project and 1 of the books from my social media book summer reading list.

What do you think? What recommendations do you have? I hope to finish up planning for the class this week and to get a copy of the syllabus up sometime soon. I also plan to offer some more in depth explanation of some of the projects and topics I’ve mentioned in this post.

If you are teaching a class on social media, what are you planning to cover this year? Are you making changes from previous semesters? If so, what? Drop a comment in the comments below or shoot me a Tweet (textbox on the right)!

I’d love to know!

photo CC By Felix Burton (Flickr), via Wikimedia Commons

Teaching Keyword Competition with Google Adwords (Activity)

This post is long overdue!

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of teaching content marketing in the college Communication or Business writing class today. I followed up with a post about Search Engine Optimization and an activity for introducing students to the importance of keyword research using Google Trends. I promised a follow up brief activity with Google Keywords Adwords Tool. Then the end of the semester and life ganged up on me! I realized I needed a full post just to talk about Keyword Competition, using my own website title as an example.

The Competition!

Back to the Writing Across Platforms (syllabus) classroom activity I promised!

After teaching Google Trends and doing the activity, I plan to teach Keyword Competition and give my students a brief activity to get them practicing keyword competition research for their writing.

This activity is completed in small chunks across 3 class periods but could easily be done in 2 days! (if you’re really efficient: maybe 1!)

Day 1: Assign Homework (3-4 minutes to explain)

  • On the day I first introduce SEO, I assign students to bring to the next class: Brainstorm a list of 5-7 keywords (terms they think people might use when searching for this topic). The topic is: soup.

Day 2: Set Up: (10 minutes)

Note: I have also explained on this day what Keyword competition is (for a primer, see my activity on Google Trends and the below slides).

  • I first have students go to the Google Adwords Keywords Tool and we walk through an example on cars (we used cars in talking about Google Trends, so there is consistency).
  • I have students search for “fuel efficiency” and “car safety.” And then have them look at alternative keyword options, competition for each term, and search volume. We discuss.
  • Then I have students take out the 5-7 soup keyword terms I assigned the class before. We write some on the board so students can see the variation of ideas related to soup. This gives students a chance to see how others may search for soup, particularly in ways they didn’t think about.

Day 2: In Class Activity (~20 minutes):

I then present an in-class exercise. Here are the instructions:

Scenario:

  • You are going to write a post for your cooking blog.
  • When searching for keywords, think about things that would make for a good blog post subject.
  • Work with a Partner:
    • Go to Google AdWords (google: “google adwords keyword tool”) Select “Exact Match” (on left)
    • Search: soup
    • See what terms people search for a lot by looking at the column labeled “Local Monthly Searches.”
    • Identify and WRITE DOWN 5 terms related to soup with medium to low competition, and high search volume.
    • You’ll need these terms for next class.
  • After students spend 10 minutes or so researching with a partner on an in-class computer, I ask the class “based on your research, what would make for a good blog post subject about soup?” We discuss differences and similarities between what they initially thought up and what their research showed them.
  • I then tell them to bring today’s keyword back next class.

Day 3: Writing Keyword Research Headlines (Lecture: 30 minutes; Activity: 15 minutes, + class discussion).

On day 3, I teach the importance of writing headlines for online articles. I teach headlines first because they are relatively less complicated than thinking about placing keywords or using keyword research to write the article itself. The headline is but a handful of characters! But it encapsulates the blog topic and some say it is the most important part of your article. Headlines itself could be (and may become some day) another blog post! But here’s some great info on headlines:

Why headlines are so important

9 Proven Headline Formulas that Sell Like Crazy

To see the lecture on headlines, see the slides below.

  • After, I have students take out their 5 soup keywords that they discovered through research the class before.
  • I give them 10 minutes to write 5 headlines.
  • Each headline must use a different headline formula of those we discussed.
  • Under each headline they are to list: the keyword(s) used, name of formula.
  • Headlines must be less than 60 characters.
  • Pair and Share: Students exchange their headlines with a partner. The partner evaluates the headlines against what we’ve discussed over the past several classes. Partners then exchange notes and discuss.
  • To wrap up, we discuss as a class and address any questions / concerns students may have.

And that’s that! I’m excited to see how it goes this fall! Thanks for your patience on this. I hope you are having a great summer! If you enjoy this blog post, please subscribe and share! Please post any comments below!

Related lecture slides are below!

Day 1: The Set Up: What’s SEO and Keyword Research?

Day 2: Google Trends and Keyword Competition

Day 3: Headlines

photo CC Team Traveller

How I Used SEO Keyword Competition Research to Target My Niche

At some point, I bet you’ve wondered – Why did you name your blog Social Media Syllabus?

No, it is not a syllabus. It is a way to help my target audience find me. Let me explain.

boat_light

Several posts ago, I discussed introducing students to SEO and writing for search in my Writing Across Platforms course (though it could be taught in a social media course or a PR, marketing, or other course). This included an activity with Google Trends where students get an opportunity to see the importance of understanding how people search the web.

I want to use my blog name as an example to extend this to another great tool we should be teaching our students: Google Adwords Keywords Tool, a very popular tool used to conduct SEO keyword research.

Competition: Considerations for naming a blog (or a post, or post content, for that matter!)
When I decided to start blogging a few months ago, I needed a blog title. I began with SEO in mind. I did a ton of research on Google Adwords Keywords tool for search terms related to social media education. I know my primary target audience is educators interested in teaching or using social media in the classroom. Clearly I’m not the only one out there writing on this subject, and there are many related subjects. So how to differentiate myself?

You see, Google’s Adwords Keyword tool can be used to assess keyword competition.

Keyword competition is simply the idea that if too many people are using the same keyword in their web content, then competition to be the top search result will be fierce and the chance of ranking high in search is more difficult.

Google Adwords Keywords tool’s primary purpose is actually for writing search engine marketing ads on Google. People bid on keywords for ad placement on Google searches and the highest bids show up. But many folks use it for keyword research for SEO as well.

Pulling from our example from the Google Trends post last week, imagine you’re writing web content about an automobile brand. You may have found in Google Trends that “fuel economy” and “safety rating” are more popular than “cup holders” or “park assist” what people are searching for a new car. But you don’t know how many of your competitors are creating content with these terms. If they are, your chances of showing up on search results are diminished.

To find this out, people use Google Adwords Keywords tool. The theory is that if competition is high on Google Adwords, it is likely high on organic content as well. So, in the simplest sense, a high search volume and low competition are though to be ideal.

It is of course more complicated than that. We also must think about specificity and context. Is what people are searching for what your content is about?

Here’s an example. If people search for “drums” they may be searching for brake drums, gallon drums, musical drums, etc.. Drums then is non-specific. It is a bad keyword – because it is not specific and lacks context.

If you’re writing about break drums, of course your content will have the words break drums in them. But what else?

We must be creative in coming up with “long-tail” keywords – those longer phrases that get less search volume, but have less competition and that a very specific target audience is searching for. Should you use “cracked break drum”? “brake drum issues”?

This is not an easy task. But it is something that is becoming more and more important. Our students need to learn it.

Why name my blog Social Media Syllabus?
What I’m trying to do in positioning my blog, is figure out what a social media educator / person wanting to use social media in the classroom is going to search for.

When I did my research, I found I was in competition with a lot social media education programs – such as online courses, certifications, etc. That’s not my niche (which is again, social media educators) – but we share search terms. There are, of course, also articles about social media and higher education. These seem to span from examples of how it is being used by universities rather than by educators, to higher education recruiting, and other related topics but not what my target audience is looking for. Again, not my target audience – but related search terms that similar audiences are searching. Many of these have medium to high competition and not a ton of searches (click image to enlarge – sorry it’s my template).

googleadwords_smeducation

I did a number of other searches and considered a number of things but finally settled on Social Media Syllabus. It has low search volume – but again, I’m targeting a fairly small niche – but someone searching for a social media syllabus is clearly looking for what my blog is primarily about, teaching social media. And, I have the syllabi they are looking for on my site. So, theoretically speaking, I should fulfill their need (click to enlarge).

GoogleAdwordsResults_socialmedia

I hope this explanation offers an example of 1 way of going about thinking about the role search plays in content today, and how we can try and differentiate ourselves with specific terms.

Is it working?
Having moved from Posterous to WordPress (free version), I no longer have Google Analytics, which I miss dearly. Without robust stats it is more difficult for me to be sure my plan is working, as often WordPress doesn’t tell me the search terms that brought people to my site (reading “other search terms” or “unknown search terms). However, it has stated on a dozen or so occasions that people arrived to my site from searching ‘social media syllabus.’ As my blog is fairly new, I should be building authority over time that will help me in search results.

Final Thoughts:
Once the right keywords are chosen, they are used in writing headlines and high up in the body of text of your content. You then want to monitor your web traffic to see what keyword searches are driving traffic to your article. Monitor and adjust. For example, you may find that people are finding you using keywords you hadn’t anticipated, or that people are searching for something off topic and finding their way to your site. Likely, these people are not hanging around as your site’s content is not what they’re looking for.

I hope that brief intro was helpful. There is much more that could be discussed. I will post a class activity for students using Adwords Keywords tool in a future post.

What did I leave out? Other considerations? Educators; Have any resources to share to help students understand SEO? Readers and I would love it if you shared!

– Cheers! Matt

Related Posts

photo CC boltron

Update to Status of New Classes and Concentration

getexcited

Great news! Monday night, the Shepherd University Curriculum and Instruction committee approved the classes I have created and the Strategic Communication concentration I have been working on since my arrival in the Department of Communication at Shepherd University.

The new concentration will offer students an opportunity to learn to use social media, digital tools, and other forms of communication to plan and execute strategic campaigns.

I am very thankful to the committee and my department for their enthusiastic support!

While a lot of work has been done and this is a great accomplishment, there is more to be done before the concentration becomes part of the university curriculum.

Next stop? I must next present the concentration to the Board of Governors here at Shepherd. Stay tuned!

graphic CC by  Nitevision

Introducing Students to SEO Keyword Research with Google Trends (Activity)

On my last post I talked about Why I’m teaching Content Marketing in the Writing Class. One of the reasons I gave was the close connection between social media, SEO, and content marketing.

Today, we must teach students to write for 2 audiences:

  • Humans – you know, those organisms you interact with on social media.. oh, sometimes in real life too.
  • Search Engines – Where wonders cease and answers are found.

seo_cartoon

For written assignments, students in Writing Across Platforms (see syllabus) will conduct keyword research to optimize their content for the web.

As one way to introduce my students to SEO and keyword research, I use the below in class exercise with Google Trends (formerly, Google Insights). Google Trends allows users to see and compare trends on what Googlers are searching for, by showing search volume across time. Users can break down trends by category, such as geography.

We also discuss keyword research via Google Adword Keyword Search Tool. But I like to talk about Google Trends first because it is easy to use and a bit more approachable with its visual layout, including interactive maps.

Google Trends Activity and Discussion (Time: 15-20 minutes). Note: Lecture notes at bottom of blog post.

In class, I explain how search engines like Google seek to rank content based on relevancy and credibility so they can deliver the best content to searchers. The algorithms for ranking content are complex and constantly changing. But the question for anyone seeking to get their content in front of the right eyeballs remains the same:

How can we optimize our content to increase the chance people will find it online?

  1. I explain how Google Trends can be used to see what characteristics or features of a topic people search for (you can see the slides below). I ask students to imagine they are writing content for a new Volkswagen. How can they know what features of the new car to highlight in their content?
  2. I use this example because Google already has a great video explaining the results of a keyword search topic. So after we discuss some popular features, I show them the video example.
  3. Then we go to Google Trends and try it for ourselves.
  4. I then give them an in-class activity with a similar scenario asking them to find out what people search for most regarding a particular topic. I prompt with:
  5. Imagine you work for a client who wants to promote a new gym. What do people seem to be most interested in?
  6. Look specifically at Maryland. What do they search for in Maryland?
  7. How could you apply this knowledge to target user interest?
  8. Students go to the following Google Doc (http://bit.ly/WAP_GTrendsEx) and follow the instructions and visuals to walk them through the steps on Google Trends.
  9. This brief activity is followed by discussion of what they found, and their thoughts on how this information could be used.
  10. In my experience (I taught this in a social media class in the past), students at this point are excited about this tool and want to compare a topic they are interested in – maybe ice cream flavors, celebrities, brands, etc. I’ll ask students to make predictions on what topic is being searched for most and why. Often, we are surprised by what we find, which makes for a great discussion. We have lots of fun spending a few minutes doing this kind of exploration!
  11. I end by emphasizing that one way to use Google Trends is to see what people care about the most when they search for a topic, whether it be cars, gyms, et cetera.

From there, we move on to discussing Google Adwords Keyword tool, which I’ll save for a future blog post.

Check out the associated slides for this class and the class before it where I explain SEO and linking below:

What is SEO and link building and why do they matter?

Keyword Research Activity: Google Trends and Adwords (relates directly to above blog post)

What do you think? How do you teach your students about keyword research and search engine optimization? Would love to hear your exercises and thoughts below.

Cheers!
– Matt

Related Posts:

  1. When Content Marketing Fails to Deliver: 6 Problems with Marketo’s Ebook
  2. Why We Should Teach Content Marketing in the Writing Class

top cartoon: Some rights reserved by seanrnicholson

Why We Should Teach Content Marketing in the Writing Class

Some say content marketing is a hot topic in 2013 that will pass – a buzzword of sorts. I say, we should be teaching it to our students.

What is content marketing?

As Tom Foremski said, “Every company is a media company.” Content marketing is the creating of content aimed at attracting a target audience. The content adds value to the audience, rather than simply trying to sell them a product. Ultimately, the content serves a business objective (think, profit).

tractor

For example, I’ve been spending a great deal of time researching lawnmowers. Kelin and I are new homeowners. We have a 3/4 acre lawn and last summer after purchasing the house I nearly killed myself trying to mow the hilly thing with a push mower that was not self propelled (Hey, I’m a professor not a body builder). It’s hot and humid here. This year, I have visions of myself destroying that tall grass from behind the wheel of a riding lawnmower, a bottle of ice-cold water in the cup holder.

I know what I want. But there are so many options and price points. As I research mowers online, I’m trying to educate myself on the different transmissions, how much power I need (we’ve got a mean hill), whether paying more for a particular brand is “worth it,” and more.

A traditional approach would be to show me a bright red mower and pitch me on why I should buy it.

A content marketing approach might be to educate me on how to pick the best mower for my lawn terrain, how to prepare my lawn for mowing, tips on how to ensure the longevity of my mower, et cetera. How does this work? Simply, as I learn more, I become more confident in the credibility and reliability of the company providing me this information – perhaps in this case the content marketing is being done by a local hardware store. They aren’t just trying to sell me something, they are trying to help me. They are building a relationship with me. I know I’m the type of consumer that is skeptical, over-thinks purchasing decisions, hates to waste a buck. I appreciate being helped and educated on the subject. I’m more likely to buy from this hardware store.

Next fall I’m teaching Writing Across Platforms. My goal is to prepare students to write for the Web economy. I chose to focus a good portion of the class on online content marketing. Here are 3 reasons why:

  1. Content marketing is tried and true – public relations practitioners have been using content marketing for decades! The concept isn’t new. The goal isn’t either: to build trusting relationships and establish reputations. Which leads me to:
  2. If the brand is a media company, it needs great content creators – Social media enables organizes to create content and reach audiences like never before, arguably shifting the role of communication professionals and making “owned media” king. As such, content marketing is being used by more and more brands today. Pitching is great, but you can go directly to your audience… they’re searching for you anyways. If a student is going to excel in the social media landscape, he/she needs to understand how to create content that builds relationships with and excites their target audience. That’s a different relationship than with bloggers and the media. I know social media is going to change in ways I can’t predict. I want students understand fundamental ideas that can be applied across social tools, the underlying essence of what makes these tools so powerful.
  3. Social / content marketing/ and SEO go hand in hand – I’ll talk more about this in future blog posts. But in essence, for people to find your brand on the overcrowded web, you need to create search-friendly content that people want.

I’m excited to say I’ve completed planning the class.

While students won’t get a chance to make ebooks, webinars, or other cool content (so much to do, too little time) – they will get a clear understanding of what content marketing is, explore many examples through the text and in-class, and use this approach to content to plan out and create a series of blog posts that add value to a clearly defined audience while building the reputation of an organization. Why a blog? As Mark Schaefer says in Born to Blog, the blog is the best content marketing tool around.

In future blog posts I’ll talk more in depth about some of the activities and assignments we’ll be covering in Writing Across Platforms, such as keyword research and SEO.

Are you teaching content marketing? If so, how? What books or resources are you using? I’d love to talk shop. If you’ve got any comments or questions, please drop them below.

By the way, hope you like the new website layout. Had to merge over to WordPress now that Posterous is going away.

Cheers!
– Matt

Related Posts:

  1. When Content Marketing Fails to Deliver: 6 Problems with Marketo’s Ebook
  2. Introducing Students to SEO Keyword Research with Google Trends (Activity)
  3. What is SEO keyword competition? A primer for the Google Keywords competition activity

Photo – creative commons by aivo2010