How can instructors equip students with the skills and knowledge to become effective social media professionals? Three years ago, I left my position as a social media director and transitioned back to academia to focus on this critical question. Since then I have experimented with a variety of pedagogical approaches. Here are a few tips that I have found to be consistently helpful in the classroom.
1. Cover key social media trends on a weekly basis
One of my favorite parts of teaching a social media course is tracking platform trends throughout the semester. This spring a dominant storyline was Facebook’s relentless copying of Snapchat’s core features. Of course, next year will be a different story. To keep up with the constant change, I send an email every week with four or five news articles and then allocate a small amount of time for class discussion. This tactic not only keeps your course relevant but it also instills in your students a critical routine in effective social media management: staying on top of current trends.
2. Bring in real-time cases for analysis
The social media world is not short on compelling cases, so discuss them in your classes as they are happening. This year Wendy’s #NuggsforCarter and United Airlines’ crises of #Leggingsgate and the “re-accommodation” of passenger Dr. David Dao were ripe materials for analyzing the promise and peril of social media in the business context. To be sure, “historical” cases (and I use that term liberally in social media) still have merit as an educational tool and should not be eliminated from your curriculum. But when the next meme and/or crisis hits, be prepared to change course for a few minutes, surface the case in class, and ask students how they would manage the situation if they were in charge of the company’s social media platforms.
3. Assign projects with strategic and creative components
It can be easy in the business world to create a strategy deck and present it. Bringing that strategy to life through content is another matter. For my course’s final project, I have students work with an external organization (an established firm, non-profit, startup, etc.) to develop not only a social media strategy but also create content that delivers on that strategy. Students that may have strengths in content creation can see and understand why the strategy piece is so crucial. And students who are sound strategically can gain an appreciation for the content creation process. I believe that understanding both strategy and content is essential for social media professionals; this project is designed to drive that home.
4. Encourage consistent content creation
Like most subjects, students learn best by doing. Regardless of having a social media novice or a former social media manager in your class, they benefit from a structured approach to creating content. My preferred vehicle for teaching content creation is through my students’ own social media presence. It forces them to think strategically about how they are perceived online, how their online presence fits in with their career strategy, and the type of voice that they’re seeking to develop. Many times they are actively engaging in social media anyway. This project assignment teaches them to be more purposeful in their use of these platforms.
5. Teach fundamental management and communication concepts Any social media course needs grounding in a common conceptual foundation. Without it, all you have are platform trends and recent examples. The bottom line: the platforms will continue to change, but the underlying strategic principles of goals, audiences, platform choice, brand voice, content creation, distribution, and measurement are essential components to any social media management strategy. Giving students this toolkit and helping them apply and refine it is part of the value we can add to their educational experience.
These are just a few educational strategies and tactics that I’ve found most useful. I have no question there are many other possibilities. What have you found as successful in teaching social media?
Featured image credit: social media apps by PixelKult. Public domain via Pixabay.