Social Media Class Fall 2014: Class Project Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

  • Cheers!
  • Matt

graphic: CC Sean MacEntee

Advertisements

Sentiment Analysis using Content Analysis Software: Project Assignment

In the last two posts, I’ve been discussing the Yoshikoder sentiment analysis project in my Communication Research class here at Shepherd University.

My first post looked at the project in general. And the second, most recent post, looked at how to teach computer-assisted content analysis using the Yoshikoder computer-assisted content analysis software and the activities I provide my students to prepare them for the project.

I encourage you to check out those posts for background and set up! Ok, now on to sharing the assignment itself and providing a brief overview of it.

As I’ve stated elsewhere, the purpose of this assignment is to

1) give students a hands-on look under the hood of sentiment analysis – that is, to understand HOW it works and its flaws.

2) To teach students via hands=on experience about quantitative content analysis, particularly computer-assisted content analysis

3) To teach them how to conduct a computer-assisted content analysis using software (Yoshikoder)

So here’s the set up to the assignment (which you can see below). This hands-on learning project is based on a real brand and a realistic but made up scenario. I do this with both this assignment, and my first project in this class.  Specifically, I provide The Situation or Problem / Campaign goals and objectives (of an imaginary campaign that is ongoing or happened) / benchmarks / KPIs.

In this case, the situation had to do with a popular online retail brand and rising customer complains and dissatisfaction as the brand has grown beyond its core base of loyal customers in recent years.I’ve redacted the brand and the situation from the below assignment. But you can fill in your own.

I rely on Stacks (2011) model for writing the problem, goals, objectives.  While I provide the research objective(s) in my first project, in this project students must come up with the research objective(s) and RQ(s).

I then provide some benchmarks. In this scenario, at a certain point in time sentiment was strong (let’s say, 70% positive). And then after the hypothetical situation, it dropped (say, to 50%). The students have been recently introduced to the concepts of benchmarks and KPIs via a brief lecture, so this is their first experience with these concepts. They are given 1 KPI (let’s say 65% positive sentiment) against which to measure their success. Keep in mind that the situation assumes that a campaign already took place aimed at addressing decreased customer satisfaction and negative comments on Twitter addressed at the brand of choice. We are now seeking to assess whether this campaign that happened successfully increased sentiment towards the brand (at a deeper level, repaired relationships and the image of the brand among the online community).

There are other important considerations students must make:

1) Since we’ve discussed sentiment and its flaws, they need to think about the valence of sentiment (The AFINN dictionary scores terms from -5 to +5), and they need to research and understand how AFINN was designed and works (I provide some sources to get them started). If you’re not familiar with the AFINN dictionary, it was designed for sentiment analysis of microblogs.It is a free sentiment dictionary of terms you can download and use in Yoshikoder. 

For more details on the assignment, check out the assignment embedded below and the requirements for what must be turned in.

As I’ve noted in a previous post, this project isn’t perfect. But it is a fairly straightforward and accessible learning experience for students who are in their first semester of experiencing how research can be conducted. It covers a wide array of experiences and learning opportunities – from discussion of what sentiment is, to understanding its flaws, to understanding the flaws of quantitative content analysis, to learning to apply a number of key research terms, as well as providing exposure to how to write research reports. The project itself is bolstered by several lectures, it comes about 1/2 way through the semester, and takes several days in the classroom of hands on learning. Students of course finish the writing up outside of class. But we do the analysis all in class to ensure students are getting my help as the “guide on the side.”

My previous post covers some activities we do to build up to this assignment.

So that’s all for now! Please feel to use this assignment, to modify it, and improve it. If you do, come back and share how you have or how you would improve upon it and modify it in the comments below!

If you want to know more about my Communication Research class, please see this post which includes the syllabus.

Teaching Computer-Assisted Content Analysis with Yoshikoder

Last blog post I discussed the second project in my applied research class, a sentiment analysis of Tweets using Yoshikoder – a free computer-assisted content analysis program from Harvard.

As promised, I want to share my assignment, and my handout for students that teaches them how to use Yoshikoder. Before we do the project, however, I do a brief in class activity to get students learning how to use Yoshikoder. So let’s start there for today’s post. And next post, I’ll share the assignment itself.

PART 1: THE SET UP

What I like to do, is present the problem to the students via the project assignment. Then, we go back and start learning what we’d need to do to solve the problem. So, after lecturing about what sentiment analysis is and why it is important, I get students introduced first to the idea of constructing a coding sheet for keywords by taking a list of keywords and adding them to categories.

First, we talk about the idea in class, and I show them some simple examples, like: If I wanted to code a sample for the presence of “sunshine” – what words would I need? Students brainstorm things like  start, sun, sunny, sunshine, etc., etc.

We discuss the importance of mutual exclusivity, being exhaustive, etc.

I show an example from my dissertation which looked at agenda setting topics on Twitter.

On the class day before I introduce Yoshikoder to the class, students do a practice assignment where I give them a list of random terms related to politics and elections. They then have to create “positive” and “negative” content categories using the terms. The terms aren’t necessarily well fit for this exercise, which gets them thinking a bit… They then hand code a sample of Tweets I provide about two different politicians. I tend to use the most recent election. So, in this case Obama and Romney. They are frustrated by having to hand code these Tweets – but a little trick is to do a search for the exact phrases in the Tweet files on the computer and they are done fairly quickly. Ok, so on the next class period:

1) Practice with Yoshikoder We do the same basic task, but this time they learn to program their “positive” and “negative” categories into Yoshikoder. They then load the Tweets (which I have saved as a txt file) and analyze them for the presence of their positive and negative content categories. This is a great point to stop and have students assess the reliability between what they hand coded and what the computer coded. Often, there will be discrepancies. And this makes for a great opportunity for discussion.

Here is the activity that I use in class. I also provide Tweets that I’ve downloaded using the search terms for the politician/candidate I’m using in the activity (e.g., Obama; Romney) in plain text format so Yoshikoder can read it. Also, see the below handout which I provide students to show them how to use Yoshikoder and how to program, and run the analyses I just described.

As I mentioned above, I create a handout that I like to give students that explains the different functionalities of Yoshikoder and how to run the analyses. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, I like to provide handouts. And the one below isn’t one of my more elaborate handouts. But it provides a quick overview with some screen shots to show what buttons need to be clicked. This is super helpful if you are trying to learn Yoshikoder, or want to use it alongside the activity (discussed in this post or the project discussed in my last post, and which I will provide in my next blog post).


Enjoy! .

EDIT: The assignment is now up. See the post.

If you’d like to learn more about using Yoshikoder, I found this great tutorial:

– Cheers! Matt

What is The Future of Content Marketing in 2014?

As I discussed on this blog, 2013 was to be the year of content marketing. (Here are all my posts on content marketing)

Recently, Gary Shirr (@ProfessorGary) brought up an interesting point in a discussion post he made to the Teaching Social Media Marketing LinkedIn group I’m a part of. It got me thinking quite a bit.

In essence, he asked what the impact of Facebook shutting down the “Like economy” last December will have on organic social media marketing? (And what the proper mix of paid and organic should be)

Gary (whose blog I highly recommend) also alluded to the problem of a saturated content environment, (What Mark Schaefer calls ‘content shock‘).

While I don’t pretend to have the answers to these questions, I wanted to share the problem here on the blog and put out a few related articles that you may enjoy reading. I hope it helps you jump into the conversation (see the great thread of comments on Gary’s post – cited below)!

So what happened?

Facebook made a change to its newsfeed algorithm resulting in a large decline in visibility of branded Facebook posts in an individual’s news feed.

The impact? Anecdotally, my wife, who runs the Facebook page for an international non-profit, said the change has resulted in a recent decline in her organization’s Facebook page stats.

What’s the Effect?

Gary argues in his post that it is the result of an effort by Facebook to drive more paid advertising (read his post for explanation). As a result, he says, organic won’t be enough to sustain a brand on Facebook.

Mark Schaefer posted a comment in Gary’s blog post that adds further clarity to the issue. In it, Mark is quoting a Facebook exec writing about the change: “On a given day, when the average person visits their News Feed, there are an average of 1,500 possible stories we can show. As a result, competition for each News Feed story is increasing. Pages will likely see changes in distribution resulting in a decline in organic reach.”

In a follow-up post, Gary discusses his recommendations to how businesses should adjust given the change to the Facebook algorithm.

Other Challenges to Content Marketing in 2014

As noted above, Mark Schaefer (@markwschaefer) recently posted about “Content Shock,” his term for the saturated marketplace of content marketing. In essence, he argues that as more people enter the content marketplace, competition for attention increases, and attention becomes increasingly fragmented. This makes sense! But this content is free. So how do you compete with the limitless supply of competition also creating free content? Mark argues that this flood favors those entities with big budgets, and that the cost of social media is rising. Read his post to get the details and more on the why.

Lastly, in a related vein I recently read an article on Shift titled “How Content Marketing Could Kill PR.” In essence, the piece argues that due to the flood of content being created, PR folks are being asked to pitch cruddy content. This may result in a loss of credibility, as those on the receiving end of the pitch are dealt sub par content. In their words, “What could kill public relations is not the content marketing itself, but increasing pressure from brands to pitch mediocre or bad content.”  It is a really interesting read and one I recommend.  So what to do? The simple solution may be “Create Great Content.” But will that really work? Will there be increasing need for PR professionals to help organizations break through this content shocked ocean of content and reach a targeted public?

What do you think? What is the future of content marketing? Is the “market saturated”? And if so, what will the effect be in 2014? How will organizations respond? Is the playing field no longer level for “the little guy?” Will the cost of social media become prohibitive?

Just some thoughts and questions for your Thursday! I hope you have a great one!

-Cheers! Matt

photo CC by Sean MacEntee

 

Here Are My Spring 2014 Syllabi: Writing and Research

The snow is coming down here in West Virginia! Classes are canceled today so I will be catching up on research and some other things. But let’s talk classes and syllabi!

In addition to the applied Communication Research class I am teaching this semester (discussed in the previous post) I’m also teaching a few other classes. 🙂 I want to quickly share some of my syllabi for the semester. I’ve uploaded syllabi for these classes to my Scribd account, which is where I host past syllabi and class assignments. Click the link below to see the syllabus. (You can also see all the below-described syllabi as well as past syllabi via the menu on the left, by mousing over “syllabi.”)

Comm 435: Communication Research – This class is discussed in depth in my previous post. Please read it to learn more about that class.

Comm 335: Writing Across Platforms – Changes from Fall 13 include: A lab day for greater access to press release examples and working with peers on the first press release assignment, I’ve re-organized and updated the related social media and blog writing assignments, and have shifted a few lectures around to more effectively deliver material. Other minor changes to make sure content is up to date. I’m also super excited that for our PitchEngine assignment this semester, all of our students will be temporarily upgraded from the free version of PitchEngine to the paid level thanks to the awesome people at PitchEngine! So, students will get experience with advanced functionality.

Hope you find these new syllabi helpful! If you share your syllabi online, please share in the comments below!

Teaching The Applied Communication Research Class

Metrics, Metrics, Metrics! I hear it everywhere I turn. 🙂 More than ever, we need to be teaching our students research skills.

This Spring 2014 semester I am really excited to be teaching an applied Communication Research class!

For two years at Utah Valley University, I taught communication research with an emphasis on academic research. You can see the syllabus for that class. In that class, student groups planned, wrote up, and executed a semester long academic research study. Though many professors don’t prefer to teach this class, research is one of my favorite classes to teach. I’ve had numerous undergraduate students present their research at undergraduate research conferences and earn travel grants to do so. This is a super valuable experience for those considering grad school. Though it is very time demanding, and some feel teaching others how to conduct research is tedious, I didn’t find it that way at all. Seeing students get that “aha” moment in research and seeing them succeed makes teaching the class very rewarding.

This semester, I’ll be focusing on the more practical uses of research with an emphasis on using research for strategic purposes. This class emphasizes research across new media, legacy media, and interpersonal and online environments. Students will learn both quantitative and qualitative methods.

Our textbook is Paine’s “Measure what Matters: Online Tools for Understanding Customers, Social Media, Engagement, and Key Relationships.” I considered the Stacks book as well, but liked the emphasis on new media in Paine and felt her book may be more accessible to students, as students can be intimidated by a research class.

This hands on class will emphasize the following research skill sets:

  • How to conduct content analysis using a coding sheet.
  • How to conduct a computer-assisted content analysis
  • How to conduct interviews and focus groups
  • How to conduct quantitative electronic surveys using iPads

Students will work in teams to conduct 3 applied projects. The first 2 projects are real-world problems I set up and the students have to solve, and in the 3rd project they have to identify a problem, write a proposal, and execute:

  • Media placement evaluation – Answering questions such as, placement, share of voice, and whether key messages are included in media coverage and to what extent. Done via content analysis of media clippings.
  • Sentiment analysis of social media content – What are people saying about your brand on social media, and what is sentiment towards it? Done via computer-assisted content analysis of Twitter posts.
  • Audience Research – Focuses on 1 of the 5 key PR variables discussed by Stacks (2011): Confidence, credibility, relationship, reputation (which may include awareness), or trust. Students will choose 2 of the following: interviews, focus groups, and surveys.

Students will be introduced to the following software:

  • Computer-assisted content analysis (Yoshikoder will be used as it is free and easy to learn)
  • Digital Survey programming with XLS Forms
  • Open Data Kit Collector – field data survey collection software (we will be using this with the XLS forms on the free FormHub.com online form tool).
  • SPSS – We won’t get too far into SPSS due the other demands on the students time, but students will learn data entry, descriptive statistics, and correlation analysis.

I’ll be posting the syllabus for the class soon! As the semester goes along, I hope to get up a number of blog posts expanding on the class, assignments, and so forth. So check back!

Have you taught research – what do you emphasize in your class? How can I improve my class? What key skill sets should we be teaching  future practitioners?

-Cheers!

-Matt

– top photo CC by IntelFreePress

3 Great Benefits of the Hootsuite University Higher Ed Program

What tools are you teaching your students in your social media class?

Recognizing the need to teach students how to use social media dashboards, I began teaching Hootsuite in the classroom a few years ago.  However, I was disappointed in the limited amount of time I was able to spend teaching students social media dashboards. I felt I was underserving my students. I felt students weren’t getting a true sense of how the industry uses social media dashboards. But there were so many other topics that needed to be covered in the semester.

That’s why this semester I’m really excited that my Comm 322 Social Media class here at Shepherd is participating in the Hootsuite University program for Higher Education.

The Hootsuite University program offers students three very cool things:

1) Hootsuite University Education – Students get to learn how to use Hootsuite via this repository of online video materials, thus freeing up class time to focus on other topics. The education materials span from the basics of using social media on through the advanced features of using the Hootsuite Dashboard. The resource also includes advanced courseware including insightful lectures from industry leaders and useful case studies. Personally, I’ve truly enjoyed these lectures and case studies.

2) Hootsuite Certification – A major benefit to the students is the ability to take the Hootsuite Certification test and become “Hootsuite Certified.” This is a unique resume building benefit. Before taking the certification exam, students complete several courses that teach them the ins and outs of Hoostuite far beyond the basic skills that your casual user will know. The certification demonstrates to employers that one is proficient in Hootsuite and certified professionals have the option of being listed in a public database that potential employers could browse (DId I mention there is a cool badge that certified professionals can put on their blogs or websites?).

3) Hootsuite Pro – As part of the program, students get free access for 3 months to Hootsuite Pro, which includes advanced features such as analytics and the ability to add an unlimited number of accounts to one profile. Pro access normally costs $9.99/mo (list of benefits for Hootsuite Pro)

Some of the great social media educators I follow and admire participate in this program. It is a truly great program and If you are teaching social media in some capacity, I encourage you to check it out!

I’m looking forward to hopefully getting to continue participating in the program future semesters.

Want to learn more? Here’s a great article about Karen Freberg’s use of the program at the University of Louisville titled: “How University of Louisville is Teaching Social Media to Communications Students

Have a great week!

-Cheers!

Matt

Hootsuite images are copyright of Hootsuite