Category Archives: Social Media

Social Media Class Fall 2014: Class Project Overview

At the start of each semester I try to share relevant syllabi for classes I’m teaching that semester (hint: see all my syllabi in the menu on the left). Here are my plans for my social media class this semester. I’d like to discuss the major project that students will work on this semester, that has a series of assignments tied to it. Then, I will post the syllabi in an upcoming post.

I’ve taught this class differently each time I’ve taught it. And this is my 4th time teaching this class. Maybe my 5th. I always find myself wanting to try something new.

Recently, I’ve had projects that span the entire semester. Last year students were responsible for writing niche blogs across the course of the semester. (here’s the syllabus from last year) They were responsible for planning the blogs and then promoting them, as well as writing them of course – here’s my review on that project at the  end of the semester. This year I’m doing something different and unique – and a bit risky. And I’m interested to see how it goes. My students will be responsible for planning and creating content for our department’s social media.

Here’s my thinking for this. I want my students to get hands on experience planning a social media campaign. And I want them to get experience executing it and dealing with the results of the campaign – having opportunities to see how their content goes over with an audience (what works, what doesn’t, why?), interacting with the audience, and seeing the results of their work. I also want them to be able to have experience directly influencing engagement and measuring it.

I could partner with an organization to do this. But I’m not. Students do this in our Strategic Campaigns class, where they are working this year with an awesome client (I’ll talk about that in a future post). Those students will put together a plan for that organization. When working for someone else, there are a number of limitations. And the campaigns class focuses more heavily on how to put together the campaign plan from scratch. The students will present their plan and hopefully the client will like it and go on to use it. But students in my social media class are in a preparatory stage for the campaigns class. I want them to go into that class already with some experience.

Running the social media for our class enables me to create a laboratory of sorts where we can experiment and I can have close oversight of what we’re doing. Since I have access to all the accounts, I will have editorial control over what we publish. And because there is no client involved, managing this process and channels of communication will be much more simplified.

This also ties into our goals as a department. Our department here at Shepherd University is small. And we don’t have a lot in terms of a social media presence at the moment. We decided as a department that we ought to change this and discussed a number of ways to get students involved in the process like capstone projects, a club, etc. We recognize the importance of social media in connecting with alumni, attracting new students, and keeping our current students engaged and excited for what we offer. And so I decided, what better opportunity to help my students learn by doing than to empower them to help us build this social media presence that I can manage.

And I know you are thinking there are a number of risks involved in this, like, what if the students create poor quality content? What if the content isn’t appropriate? I’ve built in a number of incentives and checkpoints (e.g., I’m the gatekeeper of what gets posted, and students and myself decide collectively what the best content is – I’ll try and discuss how that will work in a future post) But, I think we need to encourage our students to take risks and I think as professors we need to take risks. If we don’t push and try new things, then how can we expect to cultivate students who are innovators? If we don’t let them take control and learn by doing, how will they be able to do it when they get out in the work force and suddenly the responsibility of, say, Tweeting for this non profit or that brand (See: the interns take the blame for social media slips)?

I look at my classroom as a laboratory for experimenting and trying new things. Perhaps this model will work excellently or perhaps I’ll find that the classroom isn’t the best place for this and a social media club is a better solution. But I’m so excited to see how it goes and I think students are going to feel empowered and thrilled to be the ones communicating with and building a relationship with their peers! In fact, this is a major benefit – students understand and relate to their peers better than I can. They, in theory at least, should be able to come up with content that more closely matches what will be attractive to their peers.

So in quick summary, here’s how it will work: A former student put together a strategic plan for our department’s social media for his capstone project. Students will take the foundation of and build off of his plan – SWOT, goals, objectives, messages, social media channel purpose statement, etc – and do their own planning, such as original audience research, build strategies and tactics, etc.

Each team will be in charge of a different social channel – e.g., Instagram, Twitter. They’ll work over a series of weeks to build content that they’ll present to the class. We’ll decide as a class what content will be posted – only the best, and only content that is consistent with our plan. They must demonstrate how the content they are proposing is consistent with our class plan. We’ll then schedule the content out. And they’ll begin creating more content, that they’ll present, we’ll vote on. The cycle continues.

I hope this provides students a focused, strategic, and hands on learning opportunity where the results are tangible and something they can take pride in.

I’ve spent a lot of time planning this out, and all the accompanying in class activities and assignments. I will write more about these activities and assignments this semester and expand on how this is all planned to work. Right now, students are in the planning stages and I am trying to teach them about the stages of audience research and planning content that meets objectives, is consistent with our messages, fits consistently platforms, and meets our project theme – that the Communication Department at Shepherd University is “the best kept secret on campus.”

What do think? Is this a good idea for a class project? Why/Why not? What recommendations or thoughts do you have? Would you do something like this in your department? Why/Why not?

 

  • Cheers!
  • Matt

graphic: CC Sean MacEntee

The Social Media Class Blog Assignment In Review

It is finals week! We’ve had a good amount of snow here, as Scout can attest, and I’ve been busy catching up on grading. With a few minutes of down time before the next batch of final projects are due, I thought I’d begin reflecting on this past semester.

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Every semester that I’ve taught a Social Media course, I’ve done things a bit differently.

This semester (see syllabus), the major project that ran the length of the semester was a team-run niche blog. I talked about why I chose to do this assignment on a post from before the semester, “What’s Changing? Plans for My Social Media Fall 2013 Class

This proved to be a very involved project that many students found challenging. While there were some grumbles on account of how involved it was, it also provided a great opportunity for hands-on learning. We can talk about a lot of concepts, such as metrics, but to me there is a much greater learning impact when one sets their metric goals, tracks them while seeking to drive traffic to their site, and has an opportunity to reflect on whether they met their goals and why.

I enjoyed this project. There is a lot I liked about it. But there are a few things I wasn’t completely satisfied with. Here are a few general reactions / things I took away:

Tumblr was a bad choice – I wanted my students to use the industry standard Google Analytics to learn metrics. Most job postings discussing metrics, mention GA. I wanted my students to use a free blogging platform. WordPress unfortunately does not enable GA at the free level. So I went with Tumblr. But the Tumblr culture just didn’t fit our project. I think we’d have had more success if we’d used Blogger.

Learning metrics was challenging, and so was teaching it – More and more jobs are requiring interns and employees to understand and know how to track and report web and social metrics. While I’ve long been interested in analytics, and did my GA certification a few years ago, I hadn’t previously taught how to use metrics. I had discussed them, their importance, etc. But never had students actually tracking metrics. I modified a great spreadsheet from a fellow social media educator, Jeremy Floyd, and required students to use it to report, and thus track their metrics from Google Analytics. But, between all the other things we were doing in the class, and teaching students with no prior metrics experience how to interpret Google Analytics, how to choose appropriate metrics, and getting them to report an array of metrics on a consistent basis, It proved overwhelming. I simply made it too complicated. I should have simplified the spreadsheet, and focused on a better understanding of a few important concepts as opposed to spreading it too broad, and thus too thin. I think students would have gotten more out of it. So next time, I’ll simplify the spreadsheet and focus the students attention on a few metrics.

I’m still glad I taught them metrics – A number of students said that, prior to taking my class, they were not aware of metrics, their importance, and how to track and interpret them. And while I think the way I approached it made it difficult, I’m glad the students learned these things. They have basic knowledge of Google Analytics and experience with tracking, interpreting, and reporting metrics. And as I said above, this is an important skill set to be developing in college.

Students are incredibly creative – This isn’t something new I learned. But it was something I again was happily reminded of. Students came up with great blog topics, and created a ton of great posts!

“I got a lot out of the class” – a quote from a student during his final presentation – Call me biased, but I agree with this student and believe students got a lot out of this project, whether their blog was the “success” they hoped it would be or not. Students had to identify and study a specific niche, create a plan for meeting the needs and interest of the niche via a blog including objectives, audience persona, content calendar, and then go out into the community to gather the info they needed to create content, then deliver it throughout content throughout the semester for their audience. Meanwhile, they had to track blog traffic metrics and social media. That’s a lot to ask. For many, this was their first experience executing these concepts. And I’m proud of what they accomplished!

“Blogging is a lot more work than I thought it was going to be” – quote from a few students during their final blog presentations – This relates directly to the above. I’m glad students got the opportunity to realize this as a first-person experience. Because many of our students will go on to create content, lots of it – whether for blogs, social, or other means. And there is no better learning experience than to be responsible for planning, creating, and sustaining an entirely novel content plan – its like building a mini brand. If you can do it here, you will be able to do it for the company that hires you! When we don’t have first person experience with something, I think we often underestimate what all goes into it. Students were able to see how much planning and continuous effort went into creating and sustaining engaging social content.

With all these things said, it is my hope that all of the students feel a sense of accomplishment for what they did, and truly understand what all they learned. This was not the only assignment in the class by any means. Much else was asked of them. And I’m sure they’re relieved for the class to be done. I hope they all realize what they learned and accomplished.

As I often find myself doing, the niche blog wasn’t one assignment, but a series of related assignments. In the upcoming post, I’ll explain each assignment, and how the assignments built on one another.

In the meantime, here are their blogs!

BeYOUtiful – a live positively blog for young people. Lots of great advice and motivation!

The Beastern Panhandle – A great Going Out guide to our rural Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.

LevelUp – An RPG video game fan blog, with lots of great analysis on the RPG game genre.

The Triple Play – College students talking sports, music, and movies!

The Reenactor – A blog for people in the reenacting community, focusing on men’s fashion from the early to mid 20th century.

The Starving Student – a video blog following one college student’s goal to start eating healthy while facing the poor food choices all around him.

DoItYourself Natural Products – A do it yourself personal care website, based on frugal, environmentally friendly personal care.

Baking It Simple – simple recipes for college students and young professionals on a budget.

What are some assignments and projects you taught in your social media classes this semester? I’d love to hear. I’m always looking for new ideas to try out!

Hope the end of your semester is not too stressful! – Cheers, Matt

Born to Blog author talks social media challenges, opportunities, and more!

I always learn so much from our guest speakers! This week we were very fortunate to have the author of our class text, Born to Blog, Mark Schaefer (@markwschaefer) Skype with our class.


If you aren’t familiar with Mark, he is a very well-known name in the social media field, author of the popular Grow blog, a sought after consultant, and the author of Born to Blog (a book I’ve reviewed on this site and which inspired me to start this blog), and another great book I’ve read Tao of Twitter. I haven’t read his 2nd book, Return on Influence, but I hope to soon.

Here are some highlights from his presentation to this semester’s Comm 322 Social Media class.

Challenges and Opportunities in Social Media – Mark said that a major challenge today is information density. Today, we have so much information that people are reaching information paralysis. How do companies adapt and thrive in this space, with so much competing for our attention? Though not specifically about information density, the article “How the physics of social media could kill your marketing strategy” offers what I believe is a good look at the general issue.

Why do some businesses succeed on social media and others fail? Mark said it really boils down to corporate culture. Questions that come to mind after hearing Mark discuss this topic are: Does the company understand and embrace the social space? Are they agile and responsive? Do they want to adapt?

What Metrics Matter?: Since I’ve been seeking to teach my students basics of Google Analytics, the importance of, and how to track metrics, I ask guest bloggers what metrics matter to them. When asked what the key metrics he tracks are, Mark said there was one that matters: returning visitors. Are they coming back? If people come back, eventually they’ll bring their friends. Traffic doesn’t create business benefits. Returning visitors do.

We’re All Students – the media landscape shifts so rapidly, it is difficult to be an expert. We all are students. And we should strive to keep learning and adapting. As a professor, I loved hearing this reminder. I am always looking to learn, change, grow, and adapt and it is great to hear someone with as much experience as Mark talking about the importance of being a lifelong learner!

Tips and Advice for Students

The Power of Blogging for Students – Mark echoed another class guest, Nate Bagley, when he encouraged students to blog, build an audience, and create meaningful content. He said that it was a valuable tool to show potential employers that you can build and sustain an audience. He said that often times he finds students or grad students are not blogging, and was glad to see students in our class were blogging as a semester long project. I was, of course, very happy to hear this. 🙂 So students, if you’re reading this, keep blogging!

Know Stats – Mark said education in stats is important. Increasingly, data and numbers are driving online business. You don’t have to be an expert, but you need to be able to ask questions and the ability to think critically, and choose the statistical analysis needed to answer those questions. While many students were probably grumpy to hear this, I agree completely. Stats and research methods are more important than ever.

It is not often that students get to speak directly with the author of a class text, and it meant a lot to me for students to get this wonderful opportunity. So thank you so much to Mark for being so generous with his time and knowledge!

-Cheers!

Matt

Guest Speaker: Using social media to share the search for true love

Happy Monday!

Last week, my social media class had the wonderful opportunity of having Nate Bagley as our guest.

Who is Nate Bagley (@bigbags)? Nate currently runs the Loveumentary Podcast (and blog!), a podcast that believes “True Love exists… you just need to listen.” The Loveumentary, which seeks to understand true love through interviews with married couples who have found lasting love, has been featured on The Good Men Project, ABC News, Fast Company, and more. Prior to leaving the security of employment to pursue his passion and share it via social media, Nate worked in web, SEO / SEM, and related areas.

I want to share a few highlights that stick out in my mind from his Skype with our class.

  1. People and brands shouldn’t be afraid to take risk, be vulnerable, and to open up about who they are – Nate said that he learned through his experience building the Loveumentary, that his audience began to really grow when he opened up and was vulnerable and honest about his true feelings and concerns when it came to love. People can relate, they  have the same concerns or face the same problems. And that has helped him connect with his audience and build engagement in ways he wasn’t previously able to.
  2. Use Metrics to be Responsive to Your Audience – This ties in to #1: When I asked Nate about what metrics are most important to him, he reminded students it depends on your goals. One thing Nate tracks closely on his blog is “time on page.” He wants to make sure people are enjoying his content, and sticking around to read it. He knows that if people aren’t sticking around, his content isn’t appealing to them. If they are sticking around, it is. He can use this knowledge to find out what resonates with his audience, so he can produce more of what works.
  3. Find your passion and find a need that you have – chances are others have it too. And if you are passionate about that topic, your chances of success go way up!
  4. Students today should be blogging, getting their name out there, and interacting with their field WHILE IN SCHOOL – Nate reminded our class that networking and building connections can be invaluable for the soon-to-be graduate. Students should be blogging, and building themselves on social media he said. In fact, he said he wished his professors had made him blog.

We learned a lot from Nate, and greatly appreciated his insight and passion. The Loveumentary is a great project and a great example of using social media to reach people, share a passion, and build an audience by helping others and providing a valuable service.

If you’re interested in checking out the Loveumentary (@loveumentary), you can find it on iTunes, and all other major podcast streams, or listen at Loveumentary.com.

Best of Luck to Nate and the Loveumentary!

Books I am Using This Fall for Social Media and Writing Across Platforms

Happy Friday! We are wrapping up our first week of classes here at Shepherd University!

This semester I am teaching 2 classes related to social media and strategic comm: Social Media (syllabus), and Writing Across Platforms (syllabus).

I find myself using textbooks less and less. Perhaps this is because i am not finding what I am looking for, or maybe I am just not looking in the right places. Here are the books I am using in each class.

Social Media Class

1) Born to Blog by Schaefer & Smith

(I wrote a review of this awesome book a few months ago).

2) Likeable Social Media by Dave Kerpen

Recommended: Toa of Twitter by Mark Schaefer

Writing Across Platforms Class

Required:

Content Rules: How to create killer blogs, podcasts, videos, ebooks, webinars and more that engage customers and ignite your business by Ann Handley & CC Chapman

Recommended: 1) AP Stylebook, and 2) Public Relations Writing: Form & Style (10th edition) by Newsom & Haynes

I have only used Likeable Social Media before so am excited to see how they others go!: What books are you using? What would you recommend?

(Note, I put the Amazon links in here but this is not an endorsement of Amazon nor are these affiliate links).

Cheers!

-Matt

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

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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