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

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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

Syllabi Spring 2015: Communication Research and Writing Across Platforms classes

The semester is underway!

I have shared select syllabi every semester since I started this blog. A lot of people contact me asking me for my syllabi and for class assignments. And thus I am happy to continue the trend. You can find all past syllabi from the menu on the left! I’m so glad that folks enjoy these and find them useful!

This semester, two classes I will discuss are my Writing Across Platforms and my applied Communication Research class. I’ve talked about assignments, activities, and perspectives on both in the past (see posts about them under the menu on the left. Blog Topics->Teaching Social Media->Classes).

I have not changed each class all that much since last teaching them. So I’ll spare reviewing each in depth. But here are a few changes or little things worth mentioning:

Writing Across Platforms

Facebook – In the last post I wrote about my decision to continue to teach Facebook in this class.

– Mobile – This is a packed class and it is hard to add without taking something else away. I’ve squeezed in a little time to focus on mobile and writing for mobile. I have an exercise planned where I will bring in our department iPads and have students explore the look and feel of their writing as read from mobile devices. As more and more people rely on mobile devices to read, it is important that we emphasize the medium, its affordances, and its limitations.

– Concise Writing – I am placing more emphasize on conciseness in writing. This is something we all struggle with. I know I do. While it has always been important, shorter attention spans, mobile and digital platforms, and the high-stakes competition for reader attention necessitate saying more with less. We’ll do exercises where students help one-another find the shortest, most powerful way to communicate. There’s also a fun website I am incorporating that can help with writing. I will give it its own post in the future.

– PitchEngine – I used PitchEngine the past two years for my social news release. I haven’t blogged about PitchEngine much. But I’ll be sure to do so this semester. I always try to bring in industry software when possible. And the awesome people at PitchEngine have been very helpful. I’m excited we’ll be using PitchEngine again this year. PitchEngine has undergone exciting changes since last year. And I’ll be adapting my social news release assignment accordingly. Note: Dr. Gallicano and Dr. Sweetser have a great guideline for teaching the social media release.

Communication Research

I made some minor tweaks and improvements to how I’ll present content, and streamlined a few assignments. In a tough class like this, I provide a lot of handouts – such as for how to structure a literature review, methods, results, and discussion section. I worked hard to simplify and clarify those.

I’ve been chatting with colleagues about changes and advancement in social data analysis. I’m hoping to incorporate them into this class in a future semester. To do so, I will need time to dedicate to exploring these options this semester. Thus, I’m presently sticking with my same 3-project model I wrote about last year. Hopefully I’ll have a brand new social media analysis assignment for Spring 2016.

This semester I promise to do something I failed to do last year – blog about our final project in the Comm Research class where students use iPads to collect survey data around campus. I love this project and hope you do too.

Below are the syllabi. A happy start to the semester to all! – Matt

Writing Across Platforms:

Communication Research

Why I’m Still Teaching My Students to Write For Facebook… Despite Everything

There has been a lot of talk in recent months about the decline of Facebook’s popularity, particularly among teens and young adults. Coupled with that, Facebook announced that there will be a sharp decline in brand page content showing up in News Feeds starting January 2015.This begs the question, should we still teach students to write for Facebook?

A recent article on Bloomberg explores a dip in use by teens. Here’s The Next Web’s take on the purported exodus. Zuck has argued against this in the past when the issue has come up, essentially stating that there isn’t growth in the platform among young people because that market is already saturated. And, while the headlines might be attention grabbing – the reported dip is to 88% usage among teens (down from 94 in 2013).

But there does seem to be something to the declining popularity of Facebook. The students in my classes express growing disinterest in Facebook. They never cite it as their “go to” social media platform. Several this past semester and the one before it cited concerns of privacy in posting too much about oneself online. When it comes to our students, it does feel like we are getting less engagement on our department Facebook page than we did in recent years.

Then there are articles like “Why I would Give Up Facebook in a Heartbeat” by Mandy Edwards who discusses how she finds the site content-boring, overwrought, filled with annoying posts and requests for group games, among other things.

Worse still, and perhaps the most important, is news regarding the decline in reach brands receive on account of their content not showing up in the News Feed of persons who have liked their brand page. Concerns over this issue has been going on since 2013, to my understanding. This article in the Guardian chronicles the decline and asks whether Facebook is trying to force brands to pay to play.

And despite all of this, I’m going to teach my students to write for Facebook in my Writing Across Platforms class this spring semester like I did when I taught it last spring.

When I was considering course adjustments to work on over the winter break, I originally thought about dropping teaching the platform from the social media writing portion of my Writing Across Platforms course.  In the past, I’ve taught Facebook and Twitter in this section. But an email conversation with a colleague made me realize that doing so would be a bit preemptive.

Yes, Facebook maybe isn’t what it was a few years ago. But that doesn’t mean we should jump ship. There’s a lot students can learn from learning to write for different platforms. These are a few of the reasons I’m sticking with teaching professional writing for brands on Facebook (for now).

1) A LOT of people still use Facebook. 88% of young people using Facebook is a lot.  And what about us old people? 🙂 There are 1.35 billion active users, according to Facebook.

2) Over a billion people went to Facebook brand pages in October 2014, according to Facebook

3) There are over 50 million business pages, according to Edwards.

4) Employers are still seeking employees to create content for Facebook.  So students still need to be trained to do write for it. Even among threatening to leave FB, Edwards herself, who owns a social media marketing business, states the value it brings to her clients.

5) The platform isn’t everything – We are training students to be adaptable. So the way I structure my lecture, I’m teaching skills. Facebook is just the platform they are writing for. But the content planning and writing techniques behind them are transferable to… (insert social media platform of tomorrow). In fact, in my assignment, students create a content plan for Facebook and Twitter along with blog posts. They plan and write content across these platforms. We discuss the differences between the platforms, what they afford, and potential audience demographic differences. Which ties into…

6) As a platform to teach, I like the variety it gives as a counter to 140 character constraints of Twitter. I find Facebook to be a good counter-balance to the limits of Twitter in my assignment.

So where will things go in the future? I’m not sure. Maybe I won’t be teaching Facebook writing in a year. But I wont’ be surprised if I am.

So what’s the #1 thing I considered replacing writing for Facebook brand posts for? Well, I was leaning towards teaching writing for Facebook ads to bolster my students’ experience in the Paid side of the PESO model (I’ve taught Paid Owned Earned in the past, but liking the way this model is presented and differentiates content).

Things certainly are moving towards more Paid as part of the mix. Sponsored Tweets and Instagram posts. And now Facebook’s cornering brands into buying ads. Then you’ve got native advertising trends (something I’m going to explore in my Principles of PR this semester). And it seems an area I could do a stronger job in, is covering Paid. But alas, it often feels like teaching is a zero-sum – there are only so many topics and so much time it can be hard to pick and choose.

What changes are you making to what you’re teaching this upcoming semester? Do you agree with my decision to stick with Facebook – Why? What do you recommend? Do you teach paid, and if so, how?

I’d love to chat!

– Cheers!

Matt

graphic: Wikimedia Commons

You Can Tweet a Quote Directly From a Pew Report

I teach Comm 335 Writing Across Platforms (see syllabus), a class that in part looks at writing news releases and other content for the web. One tactic we talk about is creating Tweetable content for our social media releases assignment. PitchEngine – the social news release website we use for this assignment – enables users to write ‘quick facts’ that readers can Tweet.

So when I saw today a similar, more streamlined approach used by the Pew Internet project in their reports, I had to make a quick blog post about it. I was reading the Cell Phones, Social media, and Campaign 2014 report when I stumbled across this.

See screen grab below:

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

I love this tactic – and wish I had thought of it to teach to my students. 🙂 I may just integrate this into my lecture next semester. I wish I had access to stats from Pew to know how effective these are.

Have you seen this before elsewhere? What do you think?  Is this effective – do people want to share pre-written Tweetable quotes, or do they want to be able to put it into their own words?

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!

What’s Changing? Plans for My Social Media Fall 2013 Class

Neon_sign,_-CHANGE-

I often find myself at the end of the semester saying “I wish we’d had time to talk about X!” Or, “when I planned this class, Y wasn’t even on the map!”

The great thing is, the relative shortness of a semester enables constant innovation.

Having taught social media for a number of years as a standalone course, there are a few things I plan to change for this upcoming semester.

When I first taught a social media class, I taught it as a hybrid class, half in person and half online. Our major project that semester was the #UVUSOCIAL speaker event featuring Cory Edwards of Dell. Last fall I taught the class based on the team-based learning teaching model (Here’s the syllabus). Students completed in class modules and at the end of each modules completed in in class project designed to put to test the various things they learned during the module. The projects were applied scenarios and students were forced to analyze situations and solve problems over the course of two class periods. While this approach had many benefits, I felt somewhat limited by it.

So what am I planning on doing differently this fall? Here are the major changes that are in the works:

UPDATE: A copy of the syllabus for this social media class is now available as 1 of the resources on this blog!

  • Hootsuite University program & Certification – We’re participating in the Hootsuite University Higher Education program, and students will get “Hoostuite Certified” via their exam certification process. Last semester we used Hootsuite in the class, but weren’t part of the program. t love Hootsuite and am super excited to be a part of this awesome program! It will be a great resume builder for the students.
  • Semester-long blogging project – I’ve wanted students to get hands-on experience with social media. The trouble is, often organizations are a bit wary of turning over the keys to Twitter or Facebook to a professor and his college students. And I completely understand. Unfortunately, to know social media students need to use social media. So much of learning social media is through planning and audience analysis, trying out engagement strategies, building relationships, monitoring, metrics, and evaluation. One way I’ve gotten around this in the past is to host our own social media event. This year, I realized another way to get around this issue was to have students author a niche-based blog on a topic they’re passionate about related to their career interests. I consulted a number of people on who have done this project before, and heard many professors found it to be very successful (I got lots of great feedback from the Teaching Social Media Marketing Linkedin group – Thanks!)
  • Metrics – While we touched on metrics last semester, this semester students will get a chance to set real goals, monitor their very own traffic (as opposed to hypothetical scenarios), etc.
  • Optimization of Posts: Days and Times – Last semester I talked about this quite a bit. Students even read Zarella’s Hierarchy of Human ContagiousnessThis semester, students we will discuss the topic and provide some examples. But instead of doing exercises, students will use a modified version of Professor Jeremy Floyd’s social media metrics spreadsheet to track their posting schedules and see what days and times are most effective. Thanks to Jeremy for sharing this awesome tool!
  • Social Media Audit – Last semester my Politics of Social Media class did an in-class social media audit activity of an organization we were working with. I was also planning on having them complete a full social media audit. However, due to how busy we were working on our #ACFF12 campaign, that never happened. So this semester in Comm 322 Social Media, students will complete a social media audit on a brand of their choosing.
  • Infographics – More and more it seems that visual storytelling is what’s winning on social media. I was considering integrating infographics into the Writing Across Platforms class I’ll be teaching next semester. Unfortunately, there is just too much to cover into writing class. I’m going to have to do the project in the social media class instead.
  • Lastly, A New Book – I’m dropping Zarella’s Hierarchy of Human Contagiousness, and adding Born to Blog by Mark W. Schaefer, a great companion for the blog project and 1 of the books from my social media book summer reading list.

What do you think? What recommendations do you have? I hope to finish up planning for the class this week and to get a copy of the syllabus up sometime soon. I also plan to offer some more in depth explanation of some of the projects and topics I’ve mentioned in this post.

If you are teaching a class on social media, what are you planning to cover this year? Are you making changes from previous semesters? If so, what? Drop a comment in the comments below or shoot me a Tweet (textbox on the right)!

I’d love to know!

photo CC By Felix Burton (Flickr), via Wikimedia Commons