Tag Archives: teaching social media

Getting students to think about smartphone addiction (Classroom activity)

“Cell phone addiction” is a strong term that may or may not be appropriate to describe our current obsessions with our phones. But, now that I have your attention, I think it is important to bring into the classroom a discussion of the wider, perhaps unseen and perhaps deleterious, implications of cell phone culture in today’s society.

Indeed, there has been a lot of chatter lately on the potential negative ramifications of social media use in our society. For example, I recently shared on article on Pocket and Twitter that I came across from the New York Times titled: “Early Facebook and Google Employees Form Coalition to Fight What They Built.”

While I am not an expert in many of these areas of concern (such as mental health, physical health, what constitutes cell phone addiction, etc.), I do think these broader questions are things we cannot ignore as social media educators. We are in a unique position to bring attention to the broader relationship between social media and life in today’s society.

With that in mind, I am doing a brief 2-part series on ways I have sought to bring the topic of social media concerns into my teaching.

In the first post, we’ll talk about an activity. In a future post, I will talk about smartphone distraction in the classroom.

Okay, let’s get into it!

I want to share a quick activity I did last semester with my social media class. The activity brought forward a great deal of discussion in the class. It was great to have students sharing the challenges and concerns that they have with their phones and social media.  I was surprised and inspired by the candid nature in which students took on this topic. It was one of the best discussions I felt we had all semester.

Here’s how it worked:

First, I threw up this statement on the board and asked students if they agreed or disagreed and why:

“You’re only as good as your next post.”

Then, we discussed this statement:

“Your phone is like your life.
You either control it, or it controls you.”

Infographic: Next, as a class, we took a look at some of the reported benefits and drawbacks of social media While there are a number of sources for such info, here is one infographic that is easy to show in class.

Pre-Test: Next, I had students do a little ‘pre-test.’ The questions are below

  1. Do you think you’re addicted to your smartphone and/or social media?
  2. What are the 3 primary benefits you get out of using your smart phone?
  3. What are the 3 ways in which your smartphone has a negative effect on you?

Video Prompts: After students completed this, I gave them the following prompt that led to a discussion after the videos. Note, I will share the videos mentioned in the prompt below:

  1. What are the most compelling argument(s) or stats presented in these videos?
  2. What do you disagree with?
  3. How much control do you think you have over your smartphone use?

Cell Phone Habit (or addiction) ‘Experiment:’– But, before I showed the videos, I also set up a little ‘experiment.’ I asked the students to do the following:

  1. Pick up your phone.
    Look at the last few posts you made, and check the stats.
    Write down the emotions you feel.

I asked them to share some of these emotions. Answers include: excitement, anxiety, boredom, etc. I then told the student:

  1. Turn your smartphone off and put it in your bag.
    Log off the computer (we were in the computer lab).
    Get out a scrap paper.
  2. We’re going to watch 3 videos.
    1. Every time you find yourself wanting to check your phone/ reaching for it:
    2. Stop. Make a check on the paper. Write down the emotion you feel.

So, the students were both analyzing the videos (the video prompts above) and paying attention to their habit of wanting to reach for their phones.

After each video, we stopped and went around the room and had students share how many checks they had on their paper, and how they felt about how things were going. After all 3 videos played, we discussed the merits of each video, how the students felt, etc.

The videos were hard to choose. There are so many great Ted Talks and other videos discussing some of the pitfalls of social media. Here are 3 videos I settled on. I chose these because each touches on a different argument related to smartphones and social media.

  1. Dopamine and smart phones
  2. Cal Newport’s “Quit Social Media” TED talk.
  3. This Panda is Dancing – Time Well Spent

Note, there is an engrossing TED talk by Tristan Harris that I also recommend showing. I show part of it in my Communication & New Media course, however. So I did not want to repeat it in my social media class. Tristan Harris is mentioned in the New York Times article above, and his foundation created the “This Panda is Dancing” video.

After this, I asked students to look back at their pre-test results and their prediction of how much control they felt they had over their cell phone use. In other words, how aware are people of how much they use their phone? Were they surprised at the frequency with which they found themselves wanting to reach for their phone during the videos?

As we began wrapping up, I asked the students to jot down:

  • What is 1 thing you could do between now and next class to curb your smartphone use, as it relates to the negative effects you identified
  • Between now and next class, I want you to try and do that 1 thing.
  • How likely do you think you’ll succeed at that one thing? (Scale of 1 to 7 from Not at all – very likely)

Then, I gave the students some tools and tips to try and help them.

I encouraged students to download a free phone usage tracking app. Here are a few:

  • Moment (Apple)
  • MyAddictometer(Android)

For the following class, I asked them to provide the stats on their usage. Specifically, I was interested to know: how much time they used their phone each day, the number of times they checked their phone each day, and the top 2-3 apps they used.

Lastly, I provided some additional tips for helping take back control over cell phone usage that are provided in the Time Well Spent website Harris helps run. Note: The organization has since changed its name to HumanTech.

Conclusion

This exercise was a thought-provoking activity for my students and for me. I don’t expect that it is going to have long-term effects on cell phone use behavior by my students. But, I think it brought the issue in front of them and I am hopeful that it nudged them to be a little more mindful of just how engrossing our phones are.

Our discussion really brought out the struggle we all have between our hopes that we had a little more control and our love for the convenience and experiences our phones give us.

I left the students to wonder about whether they used their devices intentionally and were thus in control, or whether they allowed their devices to dictate the terms.

For the experiment, I went along with the students by monitoring my phone usage. I was appalled at how many times I go to use my phone. Seeing the statistic pop up when I first went to use the phone, helped me curb my usage some. I thought I only used my phone 45 minutes to an hour a day. Turns out, I was quite wrong.

Each year, I try to have a few goals and a theme. One thing I’ve been working on, is trying to be more mindful of how I spend time. I’ve never been one to waste too much time, or so I thought. I’ve learned there are many ways in which distractions are ‘scheduled into our lives,’ as Harris puts it.

I think many of us struggle with control over our time. Yet, time is all we have in life.

I was listening to a great interview on NRP with Tim Wu about a book I hope to find the time to read some day, Attention Merchants by Tim Wu. In it, citing William James, Tim said the following:

“… we must reflect that, when we reach the end of our days, our life experience will equal what we have paid attention to, whether by choice or by default. We are at risk, without quite fully realizing it, of living lives that are less our own than we imagine.”

I think he’s  profoundly right. I printed this quote and put it above my desk to help me remain mindful of how I’m spending my attention.

– Cheers!
Matt

p.s. If you’d like some additional content related to the above blog post, check out:

above photo is a free stock photo from pexels.com

A Roadmap for Teaching Social Media by Karen Freberg (Book Review)

As many readers of this blog know, I’m a major fan of Dr. Karen Freberg and her leadership and work in the field of social media education.

Last year, Dr. Freberg published A Roadmap for Teaching Social Media: All the assignments, rubrics, and feedback you’ll need to present a strategic social media course. So, of course, when this book came out, I had to get my hands on it.

This book is unlike any other book in the social media space that I know of presently. It is not a book that you assign to your students to learn about social media. It is a one-stop guide for professors with just about everything you would need to know to build a social media class from the ground up. And it is awesome.

Freberg covers key considerations that I’ll break down into 2 parts. The first part of the book deals primarily with publicity and public interaction surrounding your class, and the second half of the book focuses on assignments and rubrics that you can use in the class.

In the first part of the book, Dr. Freberg reminds us: “First, build self-confidence and project that you KNOW what you are doing. If you walk into the class with any self-doubts, the students will be able to read that in a hearbeat” (p. 11).

I like how Dr. Freberg gets the reader thinking of the important but often overlooked consideration of branding your class. After all, if you’re teaching a social media class, your students may be engaging with the public online. She touches on tips for building a hashtag for your classes (something I’ve honestly not done a good job of remaining consistent at) to foster interaction between yourself, your students, and thought leaders. Even if you have your social media class built and feel you don’t need any additional tips or assignments to enhance it, the book is valuable for the wider lessons in here for personal branding for professors. That is, in branding your class, you are branding yourself as a professor. And doing so can open many opportunities for you (e.g., networking opportunities, requests to speak, etc) as well your students (e.g., guest lecturers). There are also great time management tips that will help any professor dealing with the flood of information and the rapid pace of change that social media professors deal with on a day to bay basis. This section of the book then goes on to discuss social media etiquette for students and tips for inviting and working with guest lecturers.

In the latter half of the book, Dr. Freberg provides an in depth look at several valuable assignments that you can incorporate into your social media class. This includes an online reputation assignment, a social media strategy assignment, and more. A sample social media class syllabus is provided as well. The assignments include detailed explanations, instructions and rubrics.

There is much in this book that I found useful and am in the process of putting into practice. For example, I adopted the assignment and tips on personal branding from this book for my public relations principles class. I want to get my students thinking about personal branding early on, and this book and a panel I attended last fall at the PRSA Educators Academy Super Saturday inspired me to take the leap.

Altogether, a big congratulations and thanks to Dr. Freberg for creating this helpful resource.

I hope you found this post helpful. If you did, please share it. It means a lot.

-Cheers!

Matt

How to use Microsoft Social Engagement software to teach social media listening (Post 2 of 2)

This post is part 2 in a two-part series on how I currently teach social media metrics and social listening. You can see the previous post, which provided a spreadsheet that I use to empower students to track metrics for the social media accounts they manage in my social media class (2016 syllabus; and all articles about this class).

We’ll be using that same spreadsheet, though a different section of it, in this blog post. You can access it here.

In this post, we’ll discuss Microsoft Social Engagement and how I integrate it into the the social media class so students can engage in social listening.

About Microsoft Social Engagement

Microsoft Social Engagement, sometimes also called Microsoft Social Listening, is part of the Microsoft Dynamics Academic Alliance program via the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software package. In short, Microsoft Social Engagement is one of the pieces of software bundled into the full CRM. It appears the Microsoft Academic Alliance program has recently gone through some changes since when I signed up last spring.  The website itself is quite different. However, I’m not personally familiar with the nature of any changes to the program.  The language on the website aimed at educators reads: “Demonstrate thought leadership and differentiate your institution by integrating Microsoft Dynamics CRM and ERP solutions into your curriculum. DynAA helps you innovate and remain relevant when working with prospective students, current students, and potential employers interested in hiring new graduates. Your free DynAA membership provides access to software, support, resources, and community-building opportunities that will prepare your students for exciting careers. ”

Through the Microsoft Academic Alliance program, I have been very fortunate to get my students access to the Microsoft Social Engagement software.

So what is Microsoft Social Engagement? In short, it is a social listening tool that enables users to track metrics for public social media accounts or posts (e.g., keywords or hashtags) such as posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  You can also track mentions forums and blog.

You do this by programming different ‘analysis focuses.’ That is, I can have 1 that searches one or a set of topics, keywords, social media accounts – say, my brand – and I can have another analysis focus that focuses on my competitors accounts, keywords, etc. From what I can tell, you can have as many as you want so long as you don’t go over your monthly quota of social data units.

For example, in the social media class we follow our social media accounts and mentions of them, and specific keywords surrounding our department’s brand, such as our hashtag.

The software enables you to quickly visualize several things such as key phrases, sentiment, social platforms or accounts that posts are coming from and their sentiment, posts across time, sentiment across time, geo-location, and geo-location across time. Below is a quick look at the main hub you see when logging into Social Engagement. In it, you can see sentiment in the top left. You can see the sentiment for each platform below that. In the center, you see the volume of posts across time for the keywords we are tracking. In the top right you can see the phrases being used related to those keywords. And in the bottom right, you can see the proportion of the posts that are being analyzed in this instance from each platform.

Click to enlarge.

There  are 4 main sections of the software: Overview (the page shown above), conversations, sentiment, location and sources. They are pretty self explanatory.

When you click on a pie chart or graph or keyword, it is interactive. What I mean by that is, it creates a filter in the app.

So, if I click a specific keyword in the phrases word cloud, I am filtering for only those posts that used that keyword.

For example, in the below GIF I am in the Conversations section of the software. I see all of the phrases surrounding our department’s social media accounts and blogs in the last month. That is, every post that mentioned 1 of our social accounts, our hashtag or our blog (Note: This is what I’ve selected for this analysis focus). I then click on the #shepcomm hashtag which filters for only those posts that contain that hashtag. So, I can see the other phrases that are in posts containing #shepcomm. You’ll see that the blog source gets filtered out because the 1 blog post does not contain the hashtag. Next, I click Twitter. Thus, only posts containing the hashtag and Twitter are being shown.  Lastly, I click on the neutral (gray) sentiment and we filter down to the 1 Twitter post that has neutral sentiment containing the #shepcomm hashtag. While not shown in the below GIF, in order to see what the 1 post was, I could click on the “posts” tab in the right-hand side of my screen to see the original Twitter post.

Click to enlarge.

For the sake of keeping this post length manageable, I will stop there. Suffice it to say, I am just touching the tip of the iceberg on how you can use this software. I will go into 5 key ways that we use the software in my class below which will further demonstrate its utility. And, you will get instructions on how to use the software for those 4 ways in the lab guide I provide my students which I will link to below.

Before doing that, a few notes: The reality is, there is a lot more than can be done with Social Engagement by linking it to other software within the Dynamics CRM. For example, as I understand it, it can be linked with other software for social media customer relations management. But I have not gone down that path yet.

One limitation of the software is that you have to program in what you want it to track ahead of time. Then, it begins tracking. For example, it isn’t like a Twitter search where you can go in and look into past 2,500 posts on a topic after the fact. If I know I’m going to want to track a hashtag or social media account, I have to program it and then I’ll get the data going forward from the time I programmed it. A second limitation is that it is not real time meaning that while you are looking at the software you don’t see the data changing if new Tweets are coming in.

How I integrated Microsoft Social Engagement into the social media class

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

As noted previously, students in my social media class are divided into teams and each team is in charge of running a social media platform for our department’s social media.

As I mentioned above and went over in depth in the prior post in this series, the students use a spreadsheet to track metrics for the social media content they create and post. Here is a copy of that spreadsheet as it was distributed in my Fall 2016 class.

Social Engagement is used to work on the “social listening” tab of that spreadsheet. In short, the other tabs in the spreadsheet are about tracking our own performance. The social listening tab is about, well, social listening – seeing what is being said about our brand. The spreadsheet asks the students to answer 5 questions each week. You can see them below. A hint is provided to students on where to look to find this answer by mousing over each question.

Click to enlarge

To help students learn how to answer each of these questions, I developed a lab guide (about lab guides). The lab guide teaches students how to use the software.

That lab guide can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/FSM_microsoftsociallistening

You will find that reading through it can teach you a bit more on how the software works and how it can be used to answer the above 5 questions.

In summary, these posts have provided an overview of how I taught social media metrics and listening my fall 2016 social media class. In my research class this spring we will be diving deeper into Microsoft Social Engagement and a few other tools for learning about social data. I am always looking to improve. I’m also looking to find new, cost-effective software solutions to expand social media measurement learning opportunities. If you have any suggestions, leads, or want to chat or collaborate, please Tweet me.

I hope you found this post helpful. If you did, please share it. It helps a lot.

– Cheers!
Matt

An Assignment and Spreadsheet for Teaching Students to Track Social Media Metrics in my Social Media Class (Post 1 of 2)

In the social media education community, there has been a lot of discussion about teaching social media metrics and analytics to students. This has been a challenge and frustration for myself and many others. Access to industry tools is cost prohibitive for many universities, making it difficult for us as educators to prepare our students for this aspect of their careers.

I’ve worked hard over the last few years to try and enhance how I’m teaching these concepts. And I’m not where I want to be. But I know there are many fellow educators also on this journey with me. So, I’d like to share how I teach students to track social media metrics as part of a semester long assignment and a few modifications I have recently made to enhance that aspect of my teaching.

I’ve split this topic into two blog posts for length purposes. In both of these posts, we’ll focus on my social media class (2016 syllabus; and all articles about this class). In this post, we’ll talk about the spreadsheet for tracking metrics. In the follow up post, we’ll discuss Microsoft Social Engagement and how I integrate it into the metrics assignment portion of the class.

Update: The follow up post on Microsoft Social Engagement is now available.

My aim in my social media class is to introduce metrics to students both in lecture & discuss (which I’ve been doing for some years) as well as by use of software. Then, when students get into the Communication Research class (2015 syllabus; articles about this class), they will get more in-depth learning about analytics. I’ve increased/improved my focus on this area in that class for next spring. And my long term hope is to really build that part of the class out. During the upcoming spring semester, I will write a blog post about what we will be doing with analytics. And, at that time, I will share all of my assignments and handouts.

Okay, back to my social media class. In past years we’ve used Twitter Analytics – which has been the best, free tool. Unfortunately, other platforms have been limited in their analytics. We’ve used a slew of free tools that have been here today, gone tomorrow.

This year, we still faced the challenges of relying on Twitter Analytics and whatever free tools we could find. But I also added a brief introduction to Microsoft Social Engagement (which will be discussed in the next post in this series).

But first, let’s discuss how I teach students to track performance metrics in my social media class.

In my social media class, students are divided into teams. Each team is in charge of running a social media platform for our department’s social media. In the past, I had my students use a spreadsheet developed by Jeremy Floyd to track metrics. At the time, I modified the spreadsheet for our purposes. At the start of this semester I modified the spreadsheet further simplify it and to add a section on Microsoft Social Engagementƒ (again, which I will discuss in the next blog post).

Here is a copy of the spreadsheet as it was distributed in my Fall 2016 class which you can use in following along with the below post. You can also download a copy for yourself to modify and use as you prefer. Again, credit goes to Jeremy Floyd for the original incarnation of this spreadsheet.

In lecture, I teach students about the activity, engagement and performance metrics discussed in Kim’s book, Social Media Campaigns: Strategies for Public Relations and Marketing. I also emphasize the importance of choosing metrics that are tied to goals. (You’ll see a tab in the spreadsheet discussed below, where students are to determine their objectives and what metrics would be important to those objectives).

Student teams begin with the planning tab, then they establish their metrics goals to use the spreadsheet to establish benchmarks and KPIs for their platform and track metrics over the semester. They then move over to reporting tab to track weekly metrics.

Tip. You can see tips by mousing over the small triangles in the upper right corner of some cells, as shown below. I’ve created these to help students when working on their spreadsheets in groups.

In the image below, you can see the ‘reporting’ tab of this spreadsheet. We start tracking in week 9 of the semester, but you can modify this as you like. After each week, you’ll see the percentage change. Of course, you can also modify what you are tracking. I throw in a number of potential metrics to track for different platforms. But, students can delete all the rows they don’t need and modify the individual metrics for that platform as needed. The metrics identified in the spreadsheet are just a guide.

I’ve also divided the spreadsheet up into different platforms so each team can pick their platform (as shown in image below) for tracking the success of their posts. The idea here, is that by tracking these posts across time, students can begin to analyze these metrics for trends (though, I don’t have any ways to quickly analyze and visualize this data at this time). This could help them learn when the best time to post is. However, you could also add variables about the post that can help them identify which is the type of content that is most successful. Other spreadsheets I’ve seen track variables such as whether an image was used, what hashtags are used, if links are used, etc. So, again, you can modify the optimization section as you see fit. I discuss other variables to track, but focus on the ones in this spreadsheet so as to not overwhelm students. I’ve found if I ask students to track too many things, nothing gets tracked as they get overwhelmed. So choose what you want them to track, and stick with it.

I’ve relied on Kim’s metrics categories for metrics students can track. Also, please know the metrics I have identified isn’t perfect and modification of what I’ve identified may be needed – some of my initial metrics may not work, or changes have occurred.

Integrating The Metrics Into the Semester-Long Assignment

As noted above,  across the entire semester of my social media class, students are strategizing, building and executing social media for my class. As a part of that, they present their content to the class for approval at intervals throughout the semester.  In the latter half of the semester, the students present their current metrics to the class alongside the content they are proposing for the next content time period. At the end of the semester, we discuss their metrics, whether they met their KPIs and during what week they did, and what they learned from them.

While the above enables us to track interaction with our social content and extract some insights, it doesn’t account for listening to competitors, following trends, etc. It also doesn’t take deeper analytics and the extraction of insights into consideration. We don’t do anything to plot or discern specific insights – I am saving that for the Communication Research class this spring. Said another way, the assignment and use of this spreadsheet in my social media class, as I executed it in Fall 2016, was really more about tracking metrics, following change and teaching students  to see the impact (outcome) of their efforts on social media, while connecting those back to objectives and KPIs.

In the next blog post, I go into the “social listening” tab of the spreadsheet and discuss how students got a little hands on use with Microsoft Social Engagement in my social media class during fall 2016.

In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or suggestions or resources you’d like to share about teaching metrics to students, please share them with me and the readers via a comment in the post or Tweet me. This is an important journey for all of us as we work to enhance hands-on metrics learning for our students.

I hope you found this post helpful. If you did, please share it. It helps a lot.

-Cheers!
Matt

Hootsuite University and social media education research to be presented at #AEJMC15

#AEJMC15 is just around the corner! This year I am truly thrilled to be traveling to San Francisco to co-present a study about social media education in the college classroom.

sanfran

Our study, titled “Hootsuite University: Equipping Academics and Future PR Professionals for Social Media Success”, investigated perceptions among students, faculty, and professionals of the social media certification higher education program, Hootsuite University, as part of a college social media course (I’ve written a bit about my own use of Hootsuite University in my social media class in the past).

The paper will be presented at the Top Teaching Papers session @ 9:15am, Sunday August 9 in Salon 15 (Conference program).

On this project, I had the pleasure of working with some truly awesome social media professors (Emily Kinsky, Karen Freberg, Carolyn Mae Kim, and William Ward). If you do not follow these folks, I strongly recommend it. They are great educators and inspiring resources for social media education.

Come see our presentation to learn more about our study and our findings. Tweet at me @mjkushin and please come say hello in person. I always love to meet friends and colleagues from the web.

Also, this year I’m excited to have been recruited to join the Public Relations Division Social Media Team. I’ve always loved the social media sharing the PRD does and their yearly coverage of the AEJMC conference leads the field. I’m looking forward to meeting the fellow team members and helping plan some great content for the upcoming year.

Hope to see you @ #AEJMC15!

-Matt

photo: CC

Web Round Up: Social Media Education Videos, Google News Labs, and Link Building

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.

Social Media Education Videos – Online @UCF has a series of awesome social media videos called “The New Social” that appear to be produced by UCF’s Center for Distributed Learning. These brief videos cover a range of topics and you may find them very helpful to incorporate into class lecture or to assign students to watch at home. Here is Dr. Melissa Dodd’s list of “The New Social” videos on Vimeo.

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.

Hope your summer is going great!

– Cheers!

Matt

Why PitchEngine is Great For Teaching the Social Media News Release

pitchenginelogo

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.

Visuals

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!

Tweetables

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!

PitchEngine-Tweetable

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.

More Details About the Assignment

As I’ve mentioned previously, here is my original social news release assignment (I’ve since modified it to reflect recent changes to PitchEngine).

Dr. Gallicano and Dr. Sweetser have a great guideline for teaching the social media release (Note: PitchEngine is mentioned). I’ve adapted parts of their recommendations to improve my assignment.

Has your class used PitchEngine? If so, how? What recommendations do you have for integrating it into assignments?

Have you check out their, fairly new TinyPitch website? I need to find more time to explore this cool, new tool.

Hope you are enjoying spring break! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Matt

top graphic: PitchEngine Logo is property of PitchEngine

Teaching College Writing Using the Hemingway App

If he were alive today, would Ernest Hemingway be great at writing Tweets?

I like to think that he would. After all, he is attributed with writing the famous 6-word novel: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” (though his authorship of the story is speculation).

ErnestHemingway

We’ve all been assigned one or more Ernest Hemingway novels in school. It is there we were introduced to his minimalistic style of writing, known as the ‘iceberg theory’ of writing. The iceberg theory, or theory of omission, can be summed up with the following quote (which I share with my students) from Death in the Afternoon:

“If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.  The dignity of movement of the iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

Hemingway, there’s an app for that:

My Writing Across Platforms class (syllabus) teaches students to write news releases, for social media, content marketing blogging, and white papers. As stated in my Spring 2015 overview of the course, it is my goal to help my students focus on writing concise, specific, clear, powerful text across their assignments.

Enter, the HemingwayApp. This free online tool helps “make your writing bold and clear” (There is a paid desktop version, too). The app is easy to use.

Type or paste your text into the website and click “edit.”

The app highlights the following:

  • Wordy or convoluted writing.
  • Unnecessary adverbs
  • Unnecessarily complex terms
  • Passive voice

HemingwayApp

A readability score is assigned based on the above.  The app assigns a readability score (thanks Hemingway app!)

The app is great. You can see the improvements to your score based on changes you’ve made, allowing for quick feedback and improvement throughout the writing and editing process.

How I’m using The App and emphasizing concise communication:

In my writing class, I talk on the first day about the power and importance of each word. I use a blind date or another situation where first impressions count. I have students write the first 2 sentences they’d say in the situation, providing a specific goal they want to achieve – e.g., make a positive first impression to set the tone for the date. This fun exercise gets them thinking about goal-driven writing and what all they need to communicate – overt and subtle – with only a handful of words.

We then discuss how this applies to other forms of writing – from news releases to Tweets – where first impressions mean everything and failure to grab attention means failure, every word counts.

I have students write 3-4 sentences about where they’d go if they had a car full of gas, but no money.

Then, I provide a quote that we discuss including writing tips to achieve this:

The quote (from the Elements of Style – a great read) is: “If your every sentence admits a doubt, your writing will lack authority.”

Tips, derived largely from Elements of Style, include:

  • Active Voice – subject performs action.
  • Rewrite/reorganize whenever possible to convey the message with fewer words.
    • “ought to” = “should”; “It would be good if you” or “I was wondering” = “Will you”
  • Clarify the vague .
  • Replace adjectives with precise verbs.
  • Specific examples should replace vague or unspecific nouns.
  • Replace vague pronouns.
  • Remove NEGATIVE writing – when they say ‘not’ put it into the positive.
    • Example: “Not good.” replace with “bad”; “not present” replace with “absent”

Students switch their writing with a partner. Their goal is to use the writing tips I provide to remove any unnecessary word and strengthen sentences. We talk about how much they were able to cut from their partner’s writing. (Note: Sometimes they cut too much – which ties to the Hemingway quote below, and can be discussed with the quote).

In a follow-up class, I introduce the Iceberg theory and we chat a little about Hemingway’s style, as most students have read his work. I provide the quote above, and point out the below part of the quote I omitted when I first introduced the quote above, and we discuss this critical point and the trouble of knowing what to omit, from the exercise above:

“The writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.”

After this, I have students implement the Hemingway App in their writing exercises in class. I provide strict word limits, such as for a news release exercise we did in class last Tuesday.

So far, we’ve just started using the app. And already I see students tinkering to strengthen their writing. It is my sense that the app will be a great help as they move along, so long as they commit to using it.

I plan to continue to remind them of the goal for concise, clear, powerful writing with new angles or tips during writing exercises throughout the semester.

I plan to continue to use the app for my own writing, too. I tell my students that becoming a great writer is a lifelong journey we all must be on.

Have you used the Hemingway app to teach writing? How have you found it? What tips do you have?

Fiction Aside:

So what’s my favorite Hemingway novel? If you’ve read my bio, you know I prefer Fitzgerald (a great book on their friendship turned sour is Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald). But I loved the autobiographical A Moveable Feast – perhaps because there is a section on his adventures with Fitzgerald! 😛

What’s your favorite Hemingway story?

photo of Hemingway in public domain; screen grab of Hemingway app

My Fall 2014 Social Media Class Project In Review

shepherdcommunication-socialmedia
Typo! What happens when I Tweet from my phone while in a rush. 😛

In the last few posts, I’ve been writing about my Social Media class and the semester project we’ve been doing. To recap, students create a social media content strategy for our department’s social media (the details of the assignment are on the previous post). They then use this plan to create content for the department. They create content 3  times, each time they are creating content for a certain time period. The content is presented to the class and then goes through an editorial process (i.e.., I grade them and make any needed mods) if needed before being published.

With the semester winding down, I want to share some of the work the students have been doing!

Students have done a great job across the semester and have worked hard to try to create content that will resonate with students while also targeting our goals and conveying our key messages. Running an account for a small university department is a unique challenge. Although as professors we are exhilarated by what we teach and have a love and passion for school, it is a bit tougher to get students excited about, well, that part of the college experience responsible for all the work they have to do. 🙂 Believe it or not, school is the last thing some students want to be thinking about when they aren’t in class. 🙂 And I think having to try to overcome the challenge of promoting school is a great experience for students. I’m very pleased with how the students have done in the face of these challenges. The semester began with very little content on our accounts, and few followers.

Students have done a particularly strong job working between groups to create content that works across platforms. For example, you’ll see how some of our blog posts tie into our Instagram and Twitter in regard to profiles of students and faculty.

Our class was divided into 3 groups:

Twitter – Prior to the class starting, we had a Twitter account but it was rarely posted to. Now, we have a variety of content from the informative to reminders of important dates to community-building memes and humorous posts students in our department can relate to.
Blog – The blog is brand new and our department hasn’t done much to publicize it yet. But students have done a great job getting it going. We’ve had highlights of students and insights into classes and events students are apart of. Note: Part of the reason it hasn’t been publicized, is the university is in a tradition stage with its website. And we are waiting to see how that will impact our online presence.
Instagram – Similar to Twitter, Instagram was something we had set up. But hadn’t done much with before the semester. Our Instagram team  began creating videos to highlight professors and students (we’ve had a few sound issues, but are working them out). These videos are accompanied by photos of the individual “behind the scenes.” There are also other photos of other events.

Students have one more round of content they will be turning in this week. And that content will be scheduled to carry us through the winter break.

Altogether, I’m very pleased with how students have worked to help humanize our department and enable current students to connect with one another and perspective students to get a look at who we are and what we do.  I feel we are moving in the right direction.  In the last few days, interest in our content has really taken off as students have reached out and begun highlighting the work their fellow students are doing. I am excited to see how the department’s social media grows and advances in time.

Is this a project I would do again? Absolutely. Students really bought into this project and worked hard to see it through. They expressed to me that they learned a lot from the class and doing this project. And, they said they enjoyed the opportunity to get hands-on experience. It was a very fun semester! I had a great bunch of students and I am very proud of all of them! I plan to continue with this assignment next year.

I’m not teaching Social Media next semester. So where will the department’s social media content for Spring 2014 come from? I’m not entirely sure yet. But I’ve got some ideas in the works and a strong foundation to build upon!

Thoughts? Questions? Recommendations for this project? Would love your comments and feedback below or send me a Tweet.
– Cheers!
Matt

A Look at My Social Media Content Strategy Assignment

Several weeks ago I mentioned that a big change in my Comm 322 Social Media class this semester (syllabus), is that students will be working to create the social media for our department’s Twitter, Instagram, and a brand new blog.

getexcitedI want to share a little about the first assignment students do towards this project. My goal with this project is to provide students opportunities to apply what they are learning in class to planning and executing social media content plans for an organization.

One of my main emphases is getting them intermediate experience planning and thinking strategically about social media content strategy. They get advanced experience with these things in the campaigns class. So social media class is a great stepping stone.

So here’s what I did. I assigned a strategy plan assignment that students complete as the first step in the class. This gets them creating a plan for the type of content they want to produce, and how that content will align with our target audience, theme, and key messages, which I provide for them and emphasize repeatedly. The purpose is for them to learn to align their content plans with the overarching framework for our content – where we want to go.

For example: One of our key messages for the Comm Department’s social media is: “Department classes are exciting, dynamic, relevant and innovative”

(As a note: A senior completed an original plan for our department social media for a capstone project in a previous semester. I worked with that student to create some of this background planning, and some of it I created or modified)

They then produce goals and objectives (or adapt from the goals & objectives a student created in a project he completed), create a channel purpose statement, and create a team workflow for how they plan to get their work done. I provide a series of roles for this, which you can see in the assignment below.

To go along with their plan, they present to the class some sample content that aligns with their strategy plan and that they would like to see posted to our department social media. Other classmates complete an evaluation sheet of their peers, assessing in part whether the content is consistent with our class-wide goals, theme, audience, and messages. They also provide feedback on what content should be posted or not. And we only post the best content that aligns with our theme, messages, and hits our target audience.

So, for example, does the content your team is proposing creating align with our key messages such as the one I’ve shared above?

From there, I give students feedback on any adjustments to their plans or the type of content they want to create. And from there, they begin working on creating content that aligns with their plan – which they do 3 more times during the semester (creating the content, not redoing the plan). They present the content they created for a given time period class their content several weeks later.

So far I am really enjoying this project. I truly believe students are getting to think through what they are learning and apply it. This way, they can see it put to practice, learn about the roadblocks and challenges, and get the benefit of the successes. Students have done a great job collaborating across teams to ensure consistency across different social channels, which is something else I emphasize in the class – the importance of consistent messaging and content experiences across multiple screens, which Brito talks about in Your Brand: The Next Media Company (one of our course books – thanks to Karen Freberg for recommending this text!). I’ll talk a little bit more about how the teams are organized, and share the content they’ve created in an upcoming post!

Here is the assignment! Let me know if you have any questions, or thoughts on how i can modify or improve it!