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Why Teach Students About Social Media Influencers
Last year I got the opportunity to present at the Accepted Student Day event at Shepherd University. This event offers students who have been accepted to the university an opportunity to visit our campus and get to know us better. As part of that, faculty give presentations on their area of expertise. Students and their parents attend the presentation that interest them.
My task was to inform the audience about some of the things we do in the communication department and give them a preview of what they can learn. Naturally, I talked about professional communication and social media. Because the presentation needed to appeal to a wide audience, I presented on the broad steps anyone can use to build a brand on social media.
To get the students up and moving and to make the concepts come to life, I thought of an interesting and interactive activity that I’ll share below.
The purpose of the activity was to help someone who was not familiar to quickly become familiar with the concepts of 1) a digital influencer (aka, social media influencer) to see why influencers are an important part of any strategy, and 2) how information can spread via a social network based on ties.
Social Media Influencer Class Activity
Before the presentation, I had 4 pieces of paper. Each piece had the name of a different pop artist on it. I secretly gave them to 4 different people in the audience and told them not to tell anyone that they had them.
When it came time to talk about influencers, here’s what I did.
I had a slide with the photos of each of the pop artists I had chosen. Above their photos was the question: “Which artist is the best?”
On the next slide, I introduced the set up for the activity, which was:
4 people have been secretly chosen to be “superfans” for each of these pop artists.
The purpose of the activity is to see which pop artist will become the most popular in the room in 30 seconds.
Then, on the next slide I showed the rules:
First, I told the audience to think of their network as consisting of anyone in the room with the same color on their shirt (Note: As long as they had the same color on some part of their shirt, they were in their network and thus people could be in multiple networks).
I told them to think of their network in this activity in the same way they think of their friend network online.
Audience members could only talk to people in their network.
Then, I explained the instructions:
Talk to up to 8 people in the 30 seconds, once the timer started. The goal is to become a fan of as many artists as you can.
Here’s how: Go around the room and ask people ‘who makes the best music?’
If a superfan is asked, she tells the person who asked her and the asking people become a fan. Once fans are asked, they too tell others.
If someone is asked who is not a superfan or who has not yet become a fan, they say “I don’t know.”
Non-superfans could become fans of multiple artists. So, once they became a fan, they could continue to try and collect more artists to be fans of.
Then, I started the clock and mayhem began.
Students As Influencers Exercise: Help Students Understand Social Networks
What happened was, the more gregarious students who had been chosen as superfans were actively engaging with others in their network, spreading the information and becoming influencers. Also, networks that had more gregarious non-fans quickly became influencers, collecting artists to be fans of and spreading the information far in their quest to collect more artists. Thus, these non-fan opinion leaders tended to amass the most artists to be fans of.
Larger networks (shirt colors with more people wearing them) had an advantage, as well. This symbolized the idea that the superfan had a large online network.
Because the activity was only 30 seconds, the information stopped spreading. And, we were able to find out which was the most popular artist and trace it back to which superfan. We asked how many people became a fan by talking to that superfan. We also were able to see who collected the most artists. We then were able to ask these people who they talked to that made them a fan. We also looked at who never became a fan.
There was a good bit of diversity in terms of which artists became very popular and which did not, as well as who collected multiple artists and who did not.
The conversation could go on from there, and we could have discussed many concepts. But, this was just a quick activity as part of a larger presentation.
I told the students that, while this activity is a little simple and not a perfect illustration of the concepts, I asked them to think about why some artists spread a lot, and others did not.
Generally, now that the audience knew who the superfans were, the audience members would say things like: “The superfan for artist X was talking to a lot of people” or “the superfan was wearing the most common color, so she had the biggest network, that she could spread her info to.” Similar feedback came for those people who collected more artists by way of having multiple colors on their shirts (bridging social ties across networks) and/or who were more gregarious.
After the conversation, I reinforced some of the things we had discovered by bringing up a few concepts on the board. Also, I showed a simple network map to illustrate some of the things we saw.
Influencer Class Activity Conclusion
This was a fun, simple, and interactive way to quickly introduce new concepts to a medium-sized audience (there was about 45 people, if I recall). An activity like this could be used as an introduction to build upon more nuanced concepts, such as in an introductory course. In this case, the prospective students seemed to enjoy it and I bet it stuck with them. We had an interesting discussion, and the presentation overall went very well.
If you wanted to try this with a smaller audience, you could reduce the number of superfans and the amount of time they had.
Give it a try and let me know what you think. There are lots of ways that this activity could be tweaked and built upon. If you come up with any, please share them with readers.
Next Steps: Learn More About Social Media Influencers
Personal Branding and Teach Social Media Book
My book Teach Social Media: A Plan for Creating a Course Your Students Will Love provides activities for students to learn about identifying social media influencers using social media listening software and other tools. It also contains an assignment on personal branding.
More Blog Posts About Personal Branding and Social Media Influencers:
- Teaching Students to Create an Online Personal Branding Strategy: Personal Brand Exercise for Students
- A Quick, Interactive Activity for Introducing the Concept of Social Media Influencers
Recommended Reading about Professional Online Identities:
- Known: The handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age. Read Ai Addison Zang’s review of Known.