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

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

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

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

Background: About the Class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Project 1: The Set Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Data Collection

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

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

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

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

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

Data Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Project Write Up

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

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

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

Some Limitations

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

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

A Thought About the Key Messages Portion of the Coding Sheet

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

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

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

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


– 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!


– 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!







Using Meltwater for a Social Media Audit Assignment in Social Media Class

In my previous post I talked about how my social media class will be participating in the Meltwater university program this fall. If you missed that post, check it out. It contains more info about the program and the Meltwater software.

In the below post, I will discuss my current plans to use the Meltwater media intelligence software in a 300-level strategic social media course.

First, some background:

Most of my students have searched social media sites for their own personal uses. But, before taking my class, few have had to put themselves in the seat of an organization that wants to see who is talking about them.

So, to get students thinking about why an organization would want to monitor the conversation about its brand and the sort of things the organization would want to monitor, I start students out with a brief lecture an a simple in-class exercise.

In the past, my social media students have used a slew of free tools to complete some of the early social media listening activities that I like to assign to get students thinking about the value of social listening.

This semester, students will use some of those tools. But, we’ll be adding Meltwater to really round out these activities.

Using free tools is fraught with dangers. The two biggest dangers are 1) the possibility that the free tool will be here today and gone tomorrow (think topsy.com) and 2) that they tend to be limiting. It can also be frustrating when using free tools because each free tool only provides so much.

So the chance to use real, industry software in my class this year for these activities is a huge leap up.

The Set Up

After the awesome training that Carol Ann Vance provided our students last Thursday, my students were given the following homework: Watch the training videos on the Meltwater platform (see image below) and to create a new dashboard for a social media search of interest to them.

The Activity

Now that the students have played with Meltwater a little, I then provide them with a more structured activity using the software.

After a lecture on the importance of social listening along with some tips, the plan is to get the students using Meltwater for an in-class activity.

The in-class activity asks students to do some basic social listening for a brand. I choose Burt’s Bees because its a brand many students are familiar with that meets a specific niche: environmentally-conscious health and beauty products. Many people love Burt’s Bees, health & beauty blogs and YouTube channels are a big thing and Burt’s Bees is sometimes featured in videos by influencers in this space, and Burt’s Bees makes a variety of products. I also choose Burt’s Bees because some people have complained about allergic reactions to their products and because I know that they have received some backlash when they were bought out by Clorox several years back( the company was seen by some as selling out to their antithesis, a company that creates products using harsher, less environmentally-conscious chemicals). Of course, you could do this exercise with any brand.

I’m hoping that the students will uncover a diversity of sentiments about the company by doing this activity. And often times, the students aren’t aware of the negative feelings people have towards the company until they do this exercise. So it’s eye opening for the students to see how much they can learn with some basic social listening.

The activity takes about 15-20 minutes to complete. During the activity, I go around the room and help students use the software and make sure everyone has a grip on it. Afterwards, we discuss what the students found and look for themes.

You can access the activity through the following Google Doc. Feel free to make a copy and save it to your own Google Drive account.


What comes next? Social Media Audit & Meltwater

The activity is not too complicated and fairly easy for the students to pick up. But it is a great way of getting students’ feet wet. Using analytics software can feel intimidating at first. So this is a nice, comfortable experience for the students.

The students are now prepared for the social media audit assignment. In that assignment, the students use Meltwater and free tools to conduct a social media audit of their client as well as 2 of their client’s competitors. Dr. Gallicano has some great examples of social media audits completed by students on her blog here. You can see a few of them cited in my social media audit assignment below. The students compare and contrast the client to the competitors and look for recommendations to the client on how they can improve their social media. The client in my social media class is our department’s social media, but you could apply this to any industry. (Read more about how I set up our department’s social media as the class client). The assignment is a group assignment with some time given to students work in class.

The assignment is the first major assignment students do in my class and is the foundation for creating the strategic briefs the students create after that.

You can see a copy of the social media audit assignment below or on my SlideShare.net account. Specifically, you can download the social media audit assignment here. In the next post, I will discuss using Meltwater to do social listening about a class client over the course of many weeks during the semester.













What’s Changing? Bringing Meltwater Social Media Listening Software into the Social Media Class

Today is the first day of the fall 2017 semester.

As many of you know, this past summer was an especially exciting and busy one for me with the birth of my daughter!

Since becoming a dad, I’ve learned a ton about time management and still have a ton more to learn. I know it is going to be a bit more of a challenge to keep up with this blog in the semester ahead. But I am going to work hard to keep the posts coming. I have a lot of ideas for posts that I didn’t get to last semester, including discussing Ketchum’s Mindfire program, a personal branding assignment based on Karen Freberg’s book “A Roadmap to Teaching Social Media,” an exercise I did about Katy Perry and influencers, and the new message map activity my campaigns students did last year.

For now, I’d like to stick with a tradition on this blog by provide a brief overview of some new plans for the upcoming semester. Here’s a look at my social media class [all blog posts about that class] for fall 2017.

Meltwater social media listening software

The big change that I am very excited about this year is that we’ll be adding Meltwater to my class. If you’re not familiar, Meltwater is a media intelligence software platform. While the software offers media relations tools, we’ll be focusing on its social media listening capabilities.

Meltwater has recently launched a university program providing educators and their students free access to their software in PR, social media and marketing programs. I’m excited and thankful that my students at Shepherd University will be among the first universities to be participating in this program. Programs like these are important for our students to gain hands-on experience with leading industry tools.

I had a tour of Meltwater this past summer and immediately had several ideas on how it could be very valuable to my classes. But, with so much going on, I’m going to start this semester with using it only in my social media class.

Inside the Meltwater software, one can find a slew of training videos to quickly learn how to use the software. I personally found it pretty easy to pick up as much of it is self-explanatory.

Participation in the Meltwater university program provides access to training videos, an assignments portal and in-class training via video lecture.

Carol Ann (Funkhouser) Vance, director of university relations for Meltwater, will be Skyping in with my class on Thursday to give us an intro to the software and provide training to students.

In the next post I will discuss how we’ll use Meltwater in my social media class.

Before I provide the syllabus to my social media class, I’d like to mention a few more quick notes about the syllabus. I am very happy with the book choices from last year. I will be sticking with them. Students will be reading:

Social Media Campaigns: Strategies for Public Relations and Marketing” by Carolyn Mae Kim and “Likeable Social Media” by David Kerpen.

Also, we will be continuing to participate in the Hootsuite university program, which is now part of Hootsuite Academy.

I’ll be offering extra credit to my students who choose to complete a Facebook Blueprint assignment I created. In short, this assignment asks students to complete several but not all of the Facebook Blueprint lectures. I do not ask students to complete all of the lectures or to complete the certification as it is rather expensive. With paid being an important part of the social media mix, it is important for us to offer our students more experience.

I offered Facebook Blueprint as an assignment in my writing across platforms class last semester. But I’ve decided that this year, I’m going to go in another direction. So, I want to provide students an incentive still to get this education.

Okay. Here’s my social media class syllabus.

I hope everyone has a wonderful semester!


Meltwater logo is copyright of Meltwater.