In the real world, it’s important for graduates in the fields of public relations and advertising to be able “to apply current tools and technologies appropriate for the communications professions in which they work, and understand the digital world,” according to the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. In a recent essay, Courtney C. Childers of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), and Abbey B. Levenshus of Butler University present a case study of a semester-long activity at UTK that helped students participate in social media via a partnership with the university communications office. Over the course of the semester, students developed research-based traditional media and social media digital campaigns in five phases. The authors offered recommendations for how other communication professors could carry out a similar campaign with their university communications team.
The instructor and the university communications team should first meet to discuss an appropriate “case” that the students can work on. AT UTK, the Social Media and Advanced PR Writing classes developed research-based campaigns and deliverables to help counter the university’s reputation as an “ugly” campus.
The instructors should secure a commitment from the university communications office to provide students with necessary access, information, and time. For example, at UTK, the communications office provided a written case overview, brand books, and excerpts from relevant research reports and analytics to inform students’ understanding of the campus’s “beauty” reputation. The communications team agreed to attend five class sessions to help guide students in the process of creating the campaign.
Students should then conduct secondary research about the issue to analyze traditional media coverage and online mentions. Using CisionPoint media monitoring software, the UTK students analyzed past media coverage of the issue, conducted research on potential media targets, and made recommendations for improving future coverage (such as highlighting the campus beautification plan). Students created reports based on their analysis.
Students also enrolled in Hootsuite Academy and accessed HootsuitePro to monitor current conversations and visual representations of UTK’s campus. They identified possible social media influencers who could impact the online campus beauty dialogue. Other teams surveyed students on campus to gather their perceptions of UTK’s campus “beauty.” The Social Media and Advanced PR Writing students presented their midpoint findings to members of the university communications team, which increased their confidence when they created their formal strategic campaign.
Students should then develop research-based strategic social/digital communication objectives and plans to help the communications team understand the importance of engaging with students or other publics for their particular campaign. At UTK, students were asked to focus their campaign specifically on other students on their campus. The themed campaigns used creative strategies and recommendations that emerged from the social media teams’ mid-semester insights and influencer reports. Writing teams focused on influencing traditional media coverage of UTK campus beauty. All students were able to incorporate one another’s research findings into their campaign plans.
In phase 4, students should present their final research-based social media plans to the communications team. Students in this case study presented their findings to UTK’s media team. They presented recommended strategies for specific social platforms. Students also offered themed campaigns that reached across platforms. Students later reported feeling empowered by the knowledge they brought to the “client.” In addition, after seeing how students from various Communication areas contributed to the project, they gained a clearer understanding of the overlaps and distinctions among advertising, public relations, and marketing. They participated in a question-and-answer session that evolved into an interactive conversation between students and the media team. Strategies and tactics suggested by students were implemented on all UTK social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Snapchat, and Twitter.
Students should engage in the complete cycle of creating campaigns, including evaluation. In phase 5, UTK students had the opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of their recommended campaigns. Specifically, students conducted additional research to discover whether conversations about UTK’s “beauty” had shifted. The instructors also asked students to evaluate and comment on the activity at the end of the semester.
This project gives students the opportunity to understand how to engage with “clients.” It also provides a chance for students to practice implementing research-based campaigns in the real world.