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7 Lessons on Teaching Social to Digital Natives: a Hootsuite Higher Education Webinar

A common assumption is that students are experts in social media, and education on the subject is not needed. After all, young people spend their spare time posting on Facebook walls, tweeting the latest news, and adding hashtags to Instagram posts. What more can you teach an audience that integrates social media in their lives so effortlessly?

To answer this question, Hootsuite hosted a webinar called #TeachSocial: Lessons from Top Social Media Professors.

Moderated by Hootsuite and Syracuse University’s Dr. William J. Ward, this panel brought together professors Alfred Hermida (UBC), Paula T. Morris (Salisbury University), and Dr. Natalie Petouhoff (UCLA), to discuss different challenges and tactics of teaching social media education. As an educator himself, Dr. Ward says “the biggest challenge of teaching social media is helping students understand how their personal social media use impacts their current and future business opportunities.” This webinar offers tools and tips (including assignments) educators can use to help the students understand the professional opportunities presented by gaining business-oriented social media skills.

Hootsuite’s growing Higher Education Program shows that there is, in fact, a lot more students need to learn about social media. Educators still need to have a pivotal role, and the panel shared some key lessons for their peers when teaching on this subject. Here are some ideas that were discussed in the #TeachSocial webinar:

7 Lessons on how to better teach social to digital natives

Lesson #1: Don’t be scared to mix it up

Alfred Hermida of UBC brings together journalism and business students, and has them work together to develop a social media strategic plan for local media partners. Mixing different disciplines not only brings about new ways of approaching social media issues and solutions, but also gives students a reality-check that they will not always have the luxury of working with like-minded team members.

Lesson #2: “Just because you can tweet, doesn’t mean you understand how Twitter works.”

Professors sometimes have the assumption they are not fit to teach social media because students are far more entrenched in the technology in their personal lives than educators themselves. But the ability to use the technology doesn’t mean it is understood; teaching the why is just as important as knowing the how. Have students look at the aims of an organization, identify their social media challenges, and think about which social media tools and strategies would make the best fit. This helps students understand the business opportunities offered by social media, instead of just using it for personal reasons.

Lesson #3: Make assignments real and relevant

Paula T. Morris from Salisbury University has students Google themselves, print out the search results, and bring them to class. Students give her feedback like “I can’t find myself” or “I don’t want to share that information with you.” But this opens conversations about SEO, and teaches how students can optimize (and de-optimize) their documented online activities. This exercise encourages students to make conscious choices and have honest conversations about the personal brand they’re putting out into the real world.

Lesson #4: Have students turn their toys into tools

Encourage students to think about social media as a tool instead of a toy. Paula T. Morris gets students to do this by challenging them to grow and manage their own personal brand; a brand that potential employers will see. Students are tasked with identifying challenges, setting objectives, and implementing strategies. They finish the project with a better understanding of using social media to achieve certain milestones, and a stronger online presence to help them stay competitive when entering the job market.

Lesson #5: Use familiar frameworks to generate new insights

Sometimes when trying to teach something new like social media, using a familiar framework helps generate better understanding. Dr. Natalie Petouhoff uses the 4 actions framework from Blue Ocean Strategy to reframe the use of social media as a strategic business tool. Using this framework, students can see how social media gives insight into generating a new value curve for companies.

Lesson #6: Listen first

Often, students (and companies) want to jump into a social media by picking a channel and interacting right away. But remember to emphasize in your lessons that it is important to first have a good grasp of the social media network to understand the environment and situation. Only with this intelligence can effective and thoughtful decisions be made.

Lesson #7: Highlight professional impact and practical skills

Ensure that students understand the difference between personal and professional use of social media. All three panelists reiterated that a different approach is required when approaching social media from a business perspective; purposeful thought, strategy, and implementation is needed. An effective way to prove this point is to assign students projects that require them to use a social media tool, such as Hootsuite, in a professional way – for real-world listening, monitoring, and engagement.

Missed the webinar? Not to worry, it’s available on-demand to watch at your convenience. 

Watch It Now

Hootsuite’s Higher Education Program provides professors with many ways to teach social media skills, in and outside of the classroom. This program is free for educators and provides access to courseware, lecture videos, webinars and tools—everything needed to teach social media effectively.