This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for details.
Summer is a great time for finding new resources to share with students in the classroom. And with that in mind, I want to share a few readings and resources you may find useful to use this fall in your classes, or just may want to stay on top of.
New Google Labs Could Help Content Marketers from PR Daily – This is something to keep your eye on! Google just launched Google News Lab, a collaborative tool for working with journalists. The tool appears to enable journalists, and content creators more broadly, to harness Google’s data and resources in content. I’ll be interested to see how it is used in the months ahead. The PR Daily article offers some ideas for how content creators could harness the tool. I’m also excited to see if and how journalism professors explore this resource. p.s. Love the clips in the video of what looks like the Newseam in DC.
A PR Pro’s guide to link building from PR Daily – Link building is something I discuss in both my Writing Across Platforms and Social Media classes. The idea makes sense to students but this article provides an explanation of how to go about gaining links from authoritative sites . p.s. In explaining link building to my classes, I like to use the analogy of a student’s reputation in school. If lots of people are talking about you (linking to you), there must be something important and noteworthy about you (credibility). If the really cool people (authoritative websites) are talking (linking) about you, you must be really cool (higher credibility; authority). But if you associate with troublemakers (spammy websites) and they’re talking about you (linking), you’ll lose some of that ever-important credibility (with Google). Kind of silly, but it helps the students easily understand the importance of inbound links.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for details.
In my Writing Across Platforms class, students write a news release for the social web. We have used PitchEngine to help students learn the web features that can bolster a news release.
So let’s talk about PitchEngine, why it is awesome, and why I love it for this assignment.
What is PitchEngine?
PitchEngine is a service for creating, hosting, and getting the word out about your organization’s news. It is an effective, visually appealing, and easy to use storytelling tool for reaching media – traditional and new – as well as brand fans. I say storytelling because, while a news release is one way PitchEngine can be used, it certainly isn’t the only way. Think of it as a platform for sharing your brand’s story.
In other words, news releases aren’t simply pushed out like the old days – but they are hosted on branded space. This was an innovation that PitchEngine helped introduce. PitchEngine helped bring about the social media news release and so it is fitting that students learn the social media release using their service. PitchEngine CEO/Founder Jason Kintzler has been a leading voice for technology and change in the PR industry.
PitchEngine includes custom layouts, multimedia utilities, and analytics features.
Brands have their own page where all of their pitches are aggregated, such as the A&M Entertainment brand page. Media can follow these pages to get updates when a new pitch is posted.
You can see a host of creative PitchEngine pitches on Pinterest.
How have I used it in this assignment?
When I give out the assignment, I discuss several important features about web writing – whether it be a news release format or a blog post.
We talk about SEO, inbound links, and the role of search and sharing in helping people find your content.
As part of that, we spend a good amount of time searching keywords on Google Keyword Estimator and Google Trends – things I’ve written before about here, and here.
And we talk a little about readability and writing for the web – something I come back to later in the semester with more detail.
After students write their initial news release draft with an emphasis on web writing, students put their pitches into PitchEngine. This is a great experience for getting to get a sense of how writing functions in the web world.
Here are two of the several elements of web pitches I emphasize.
PitchEngine emphasizes the visual element of the pitch. A look over their website shows that they take style seriously. This is no accident. They have easy-to-use, one-click templates for pitch layout. Here’s a great pitch from Keen that harnessing photos to show off their cool new shoes.
In corresponding with Kintzler, he emphasized the value of shooting and composing great photos and visuals for pitch effectiveness. You can see the emphasis on visuals in a PitchEngine pitch, such as this.
I try to impress this upon my students – requiring them to identify key visuals to bolster their pitches. After creating their pitches, they choose a template style that they find most appropriate to their pitch. Note: None of my student’s posts are public because that would mean they were… public, and since we write about real brands with mock situations that would cause a problem. So I won’t share them. But, take my word for it, they look great!
As I note below, PitchEngine has changed over the last few years. They used to have a feature where you typed in ‘quick facts’ that readers can click and Tweet. That appears to have been replaced with a new, also awesome feature – Tweetables.
Tweetables are parts of written text that make for good Tweets. That is, it is a section of a sentence that a reader can click on and Tweet. So, you want it to emphasize a key fact, stat, or point in your pitch that users would find interesting. It should align with your message strategies. I wrote about this concept a while back when I noticed Pew using this same feature to facilitate easy sharing of content from web articles to Twitter.
I noticed that several students struggled with the Tweetable concept this semester. I think I didn’t explain it very well this semester, or show effective examples.
Here’s an example of a Tweetable from a student release (company name redacted). Simply click the link, and Tweet!
More On PitchEngine
The folks at PitchEngine, including Jason, have been so generous and kind in all of my communications with them. They have generously allowed our students to use their tool for the 3 semesters over the past few years that I have taught this class. In that time period, PitchEngine has changed their features and pricing model. But they’ve always been happy to let our students used advanced, paid features – such as templates – for learning purposes; that includes now, that PitchEngine no longer offers free accounts. A big thanks to PitchEngine!
I would love for PitchEngine to build a university program that can help students learn a bit more about the features, suggested strategies for maximizing pitch effectiveness on the platform, analytics, and ‘under the hood’ how it works, of PitchEngine. I think this would make for a great opportunity for more universities and for our students to get the very most out of the tool.
And, since I like to talk about cool tools for both in the classroom and for productivity for professors, here is a great list of 14 Google tools you may not know existed. While I knew a many of them, I found some cool new tools from this list, some of which are useful in the classroom – like Google’s NGram viewer that would be great for infographics! Btw, I’ve got a few more productivity post tips in the works.
How Social Media Killed iGoogle – Do you remember the customizable landing page? I do. I never got into it. This post helps me understand why – information gathering via social media, including incidental exposure, has killed the personalized portal.
Recently, another faculty member and I secured funding to get 10 iPads for our department (6 minis and 4 retinas). While we have some great plans on what we’d like to do with the iPads, I’d love any ideas and suggestions you have on how we can maximize our use of the iPads for learning. What creative ideas and suggestions do you have for using iPads in the classroom? If you’re using iPads in your classes, how are you using them? What has your experience been like? Please share your comments below, via Twitter, or G+. Thanks so much!
Lastly, a quick update for the Scout fans! Scout is growing up so very quickly! I have lost count of how many weeks old she is now, but she’s 27 pounds (she was 14 when we first brought her to the vet a few weeks after we got her).
We’ve spent a lot of time training her (I highly recommend The Power of Positive Dog Training) and taking her to a “puppy kindergarten” class. She recently passed her first puppy class, and we are hoping to enroll her in the next stage. She has been a joy and I have learned a lot – it has been a growing and learning experience for me! A few weeks ago, we traveled to Pittsburg for a work function for Kelin. During that time, Scout got a chance to visit the breeder where she came from. She got to see her mother and sister. You can follow Scout on Instagram! Scout was confused by her first Halloween, barking at the children! But she soon settled in. Thanksgiving will be fun!
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for details.
Snickers used search engines to target customers who were making misspellings during search. This cost-effective campaign reached over 500,000 people in 2 days.
How did it work? As explained on a Google article, “Each time someone misspelled a word, they were given a tailored message to “Grab yourself a Snikkers” as “Yu cant spel properlie wen hungrie.” Clicking the ad brought the customer to YoureNotYouWhenYoureHungry.com.
This is the most brilliant example of search engine marketing I’ve seen in quite a while. And the lessons here extend beyond search engine marketing to search generally, and understanding audience and opportunity. What makes this campaign so great?
Integration across mediums – Integrated Marketing is not new, but this is clever integration of an offline campaign that many of us already know to the online world: Snickers’ “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry.” You’ve probably seen the “diva” commercials of someone being hungry and acting moody, then returning to themselves after being given a Snickers. With that familiarity, I know what Snickers is referring to when the campaign ad comes up in search.
Seizing Opportunity– This year, a big trend has been ‘real-time marketing‘ on Twitter. We saw it with Oreo and Audi in the Super Bowl when the lights went out.This week, we saw it with the birth of the royal baby. What is real-time marketing other than taking advantage of an OPPORTUNITY to reach out to an audience and connect with them on a common event or cultural experience? Of course, this type of strategy has been around for ages. Find someone when they’re in need of your product and they’re more likely to buy. But this is a particularly clever way of engaging an audience in that situation and frame of mind.
The search campaign here comes off as an almost secret finding for the searcher, like a treasure hunt they didn’t know they were a part of. There you are browsing for something – like business -, you make a misspelling, are probably frustrated by it, and out of left field comes this funny little find. Hence, an OPPORTUNITY for the target audience to interact with Snickers is created. Who wouldn’t chuckle at someone joking that “Yu cant spel properlie wen hungrie.” at a time like this? It feels like the ad was targeted specifically to you. That’s what I mean when I mention the ‘situation’ and ‘frame of mind’ below.
The video below quickly gives a sense of how Snickers identified an opportunity to target an audience (in this case, young adults who are likely bored, hungry for a snack, and appreciate creativity and humor from a brand), and used search as a creative way of connecting. Though I’m not sure what level of competition they had for the misspelled words, I imagine it wasn’t too great when compared to trying to bid on real spellings for a targeted keyword.
Understanding search behavior – Snickers identified common misspellings of key words. As the video claims, people ‘make spelling mistakes when they’re hungry.’ Though I don’t know about the research on that, I can say that people make spelling mistakes all the time in search. And aren’t we all always hungry for a snack, particularly something sweet?
Meeting Your target demographic on their turf – Snickers targets their audience WHERE their audience is, in the situation and frame of mind that makes them ready to purchase. Let me explain. Who eats Snickers? Well, just about everybody (though I’m a Charleston Chew guy myself). But the campaign uses an odd sense of humor to appeal to younger folks and that busy lifestyle we all experience that makes quick snacks like candy bars an easy option. The video indicates the real target is the bored person at work who is stuck at a computer. And what office doesn’t have a vending machine nearby, or a convenient store around the corner? We’ve seen this sort of targeting in other chocolate bar ads, a la “Gimmie a break” indicating the snack as a quick escape from the drudgery of everyday life.
The resulting experience for the searcher? I didn’t mean to show up at this misspelled search result but, behold, I’m not here alone… Snickers is here too, they’ve made this mistake, and they understand WHY I’m here.
Bringing this all together, I love this example because it shows how one brand cleverly reached an audience on a small budget using something we often talk about, search engines, but don’t always quite realize their full potential.
This is a great example I plan to show in my class to emphasize the importance of search engines, and how they can be used to target audiences (I introduce targeting via search in Writing Across Platforms). I’m sure it will spark discussion and some creativity!
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for details.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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!
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?
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?
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.
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:
Imagine you work for a client who wants to promote a new gym. What do people seem to be most interested in?
Look specifically at Maryland. What do they search for in Maryland?
How could you apply this knowledge to target user interest?
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.
This brief activity is followed by discussion of what they found, and their thoughts on how this information could be used.
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!
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.
A Social Media Education Blog by Matthew J. Kushin, Ph.D.
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