The new semester has started here at Shepherd University. There is a lot I have planned and am looking forward to. But first, I want to look back at my Comm 322 Social Media class from last fall, Fall 2015.
As you know, I’ve been teaching a social media class for many years. I was constantly tweaking the assignments. In Fall 2014, I took a new approach. The class was going to be put in charge of strategizing and creating content for our department’s social media (Twitter, Instagram, Blog). The way it works is, there are a series of assignments throughout the semester that all build towards (You can learn more about the project and my rationale for it here. And you can learn about the first strategy assignment that goes along with that, here).
The project was a huge success and hit with the students. Students resoundingly responded that they learned a lot, loved the hands-on opportunities, and encouraged me to continue on with it in the future. Here’s a look at how the first year went! I decided to stick with the project this past fall, when I taught the course again.
Several professors have since contacted me asking about the project. So, I thought I’d review how things went in Fall 2015:
Original Content – This past semester, I really put an emphasis on creating original content. The year before, the Twitter team in particular, relied on curating content, such as memes and news article. While curating is a powerful and important skill, I wanted more. This year, students delivered 10 fold. You’ll see that in all of the below, but let’s focus on the Twitter team first.
The social media class assignment follows a theme. The theme for 2015 was that the Communication Department is “Shepherd University’s Best Kept Secret.” The reason is that our department is located in a part of the building that students don’t normally pass through. When students wander into our department they see our new TV studio and Mac labs, and say “Wow, I didn’t even know this was here!”
To address this, the Twitter team presented an idea to the class to produce a series of narrative episodes telling the story of a student who is being introduced to the communication department for the first time. They wanted it to be fun, silly, and a story – something students might actually relate to and watch (as an aside, I’ve got a blog post coming out soon about the importance of story in making ideas stick. Stay tuned!). They felt too many people try to show something with boring photos or videos. Ex: “This is our TV studio. It has x number of cameras, etc.” While universities feel good that they make these types of videos, students find them boring and tune out. On social media, people want to be entertained while they learn. So the students came up with the #CommCrusaders, a series of 30-second Twitter videos (30 seconds is the max length) that were published throughout the semester about this student learning about our department. The videos were supported by teaser photos. Here’s the first episode:
In each video, the #CommCrusaders (a group of 3 students) introduce the new student to the computer lab, our TV studio, our classes, our classrooms, etc. For example, during the Halloween season a series of videos introduces the new student to each of our curriculum concentrations via a fairy visiting the new student in her dreams. In short, through the course of the semester the #CommCrusaders acculturate the student to our department, its culture, and what it has to offer.
For example, here’s a video they produced helping the new student prepare for finals week:
At the end of the semester, the student changes her major to Communication. The videos were a bit goofy at times. But, the class and I believed in the idea that the students presented and I wanted to encourage students to take risks and go for it – that’s what a university classroom is, a laboratory for experimentation. Plus, social media must “be a little weird” and take calculated risk to stand out. The videos certainly brought personality to the Twitter account, which had been lacking in the past. I’m extremely proud of the planning, production, hard work, and execution of the students in the #CommCrusaders Twitter team. They were absolutely dedicated to the project and showed true imagination in problem solving.
Aligning Content With Strategy – The Instagram team wanted to change the look and feel of our Instagram account. In building their strategy and conducting a social media audit of other communication departments at similar universities, the students saw a gap. Our department is small and our space is small. But, communication students’ lives at Shepherd extends beyond the classroom. The Instagram team wanted to show the life of a Shepherd Comm student and the opportunities and experiences. The students brought more color and more life to the posts. Not only that, they developed a plan for a virtual tour around campus, called “A Day in the Life” to take fans to many places on and off campus that relate to the life of a Comm students. This tour ran throughout the semester. It consisted of a map teasing fans about what was to come, then a video post walking to that location, and then an interview with a key figure at that location.
Oh, and they had a fun video too.
Metrics – Metrics were up for our blog, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. Students were required to report their stats throughout the semester. They used Twitter analytics, Sumall.com (which changed to a paid model halfway through the semester) and WordPress blog stats.
A major boost in followers and likes came for the Instagram team during their Halloween pumpkin carving contest. The students approached me and said they wanted to run a contest to promote the account. Persons were invited to carve a pumpkin and tag SUComm to enter. To promote the week-long contest, word was put out to via residents halls, comm classes, and the students were able to secure a promotional post on the university-wide Instagram account. The account picked up about a dozen followers from this fun activity, all of which were in our target audience: Shepherd students both inside and outside the department. Finalists were chosen, then a winner, and the winner received a goodie bag. She had her photo taken with our class. All of this was, of course, posted to our Instagram account.
Content Quality – The quality of the content has also continued to go up. In 2014, the Instagram team had some limiting audio issues with their interview videos. The production value was higher in 2015. All content, including the #CommCrusader videos were shot on smart phones and edited on a laptop.
Providing Value to the Audience Rather Than Simply Promoting – The blog team had a tough assignment. Students aren’t big readers of blog posts. It is fun to create multimedia. But, text?! The blog team, I think, was a bit envious of the other teams (more on that below). Yet, they did a great job. One thing I really liked was their idea for #TechThursday, to provide tips for using software that is used in classes in our department. The blog team started off a bit too salesy and seemed to struggle a little with the idea of content marketing. But, their #TechThursday posts helped the team see how they can add value to the audience as opposed to hitting them over the head with the hard sell.
Areas For Improvement – One area of weakness, was that the teams did not collaborate as well as they did in 2014. For example, in 2014, the teams worked well with each other to create content that was cross-platform such that if an Instagram video was being created about a professor, there was a corresponding blog post, and Tweets that added additional information not available on the other platforms. This year, there was only 1 instance of different platforms working together. 2015 students got stuck in platform silos.
Another area that I need to think about is the blog. Twitter and Instagram are fun social media that the students engage with often. Driving people, particularly students, to a blog post is more difficult. So, I felt that the blog team got the short end of the stick in a way. I’ve stuck with the blog because blog writing is an important skill. And, also because I don’t want to start creating social media accounts on every possible social platform and then be stuck trying to run them or let them turn into ghost properties. It is simply a lot to manage. But, I need to think next year about whether to stick with the blog or try SnapChat, Vine, or a different social platform.
The 2015 students attacked this project. Each team took on extra work beyond what was required of them and produced extra work. The Instagram team planned and executed the Halloween contest and created extra content during the holidays not because it was required by me; they came to me with these ideas. The Twitter team created several more videos than what was required in the total amount of content they needed to produce. I believe this is a sign of a successful assignment. The students took their jobs as representatives of our department seriously. They integrated what they were learning in class into practice, and were held accountable to their metrics goals.
I’m so proud of all of the students in my Fall 2015 social media class. I’m excited to see what they will come up in other classes of mine in the future and the amazing things they will accomplish in their careers! I expect big things out of them!
I am also looking forward to continuing to build on this project and improve it.
If you have any questions about the project and how it all works, check out the blog posts linked above, or you can browse my 2014 syllabi that contains this project and all past posts about my social media class. You can always Tweet me if you have questions.
Hope your Spring 2016 is off to a great start!