How I Teach Social Media in My University Classroom

By Karen Freberg

Social

Social media is one of my favorite classes to teach at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. It’s inspiring to see so many students who want to pursue a career in the fast-changing field. But social media is one of the most demanding, time-consuming, and challenging courses to teach and take at the university level right now.

The social media landscape is always changing, and so too do the assignments, lessons, and syllabi. Professors and students alike have to work twice as hard (maybe even three times as hard) compared to other classes just to keep up with the industry.

There are many ways to set up a social media class, but there are a few steps I take before each semester. First, I determine the focus of the class and what I want to cover. Is this going to be an introduction course or an advanced strategy course?

Next, I break the semester down into different modules of areas to cover, such as introducing social media and ending the semester with future implications and trends. The last thing I do is add the specific assignments and tie in the relevant articles, resources, and videos I want the students to consume. There is a structure to the class with some room to adapt and change due to the evolution of social media trends.

Types of classroom exercises I do

The class I teach at the University of Louisville is framed more like a strategic communications capstone class. We work with real clients in Louisville and the students have a semester-long group project creating a social media proposal. However, there are some individual assignments that capture the students’ own interests and relate to social media. Here are some of the exercises I incorporate into my classroom:

Online reputation audit

Knowing how to evaluate your brand on social is just as important as having one. I have my students work on doing not just an audit of their own personal brand, but have them compare it to professionals they would want to work with at an agency, startup, or major brand. The audit I have my students conduct was inspired by the assignment Keith Quesenberry created for doing a brand social media audit.

Hootsuite’s Student Program

I was first introduced to the Hootsuite Student Program a few years ago by William Ward and have been a fan ever since—the program is taught in my class each semester. It’s a wonderful opportunity for students to learn more about how to use the Hootsuite dashboard. While in the program, the students are able to practice writing updates, creating their own reports and lists, and monitoring hashtags, as well as view lessons on current topics from leading experts in the social media industry. At the end of the program, students are able to complete an exam and receive their Hootsuite Platform Certification.

Student workshops

With a fast-changing landscape like social media, oftentimes the students have something to teach the professor. Last semester one of my students, Danielle Henson—who was our resident class expert on Snapchat—conducted a class workshop on how to design and create your own branded Snapchat filter.

She created a brief presentation for the class, and then opened up Photoshop and walked through the process of how to create a filter.

Social media etiquette and class participation

In order to teach social media, you have to use social media. What better way than to set up a community on a platform like Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, or even one designated specifically for a class? I am a fan of Twitter, so this is the platform I use. But if you are going to be using any platform for class, you want to share your own email and social media etiquette policy with the students so they know your expectations for the class discussion.

This is a brief guideline of what you expect from the students from their online correspondence and interaction with you, their fellow classmates, and the online community. Similar to what you see from a social media policy for brands and other organizations, this provides a framework of communication and online expectations for proper conduct you have for the class.

Strategy briefs using social media

This assignment helps students think strategically about how to use social media for local businesses, non-profits, or clients. This is one from my class that focused on Snapchat.

The point of the strategic brief is to outline key objectives (what do you want to accomplish with Snapchat, for example), and your target audience. The next part is coming up with strategies and tactics for the platform, such as building brand awareness, hosting social media takeovers, and running ads and contests. The last part of the lesson outlines how you will evaluate success—new followers, click-throughs, and engagement, for example.

How and where I find new teaching topics

As noted, social media is a constantly-evolving space, and coming up with new and innovative assignments for students is a challenge. Luckily I have many different ways to generate new ideas.

I participate in Twitter chats

There are many chats that are beneficial for both the students and the professor: #Hootchat, #HESM, #SMSports (for social media and sports), #PRprofs (for PR professors), #SMSsportschat (for sports business and PR), #ChatSnap (all about Snapchat) are some of the ones I follow on a regular basis.

I keep in touch with alumni who are working in social media

I do this primarily on Twitter and there is a class alumni hashtag that former students are encouraged to use to share social media advice and tips with current students.

I follow other social media professors

The community of fellow professors who are teaching social media is truly wonderful. It provides a great opportunity for collaboration, brainstorming, and sharing of ideas and exercises. For example, Emily Kinsky wrote about how she set up an exercise for students to live-tweet a class session and the learning benefits this had for the class. Matt Kushin explored an assignment for his class where he had students write BuzzFeed articles for class. Ai Zhang shared on Brian Fanzo’s website how she uses Snapchat for her classes. Each professor has inspired me to try out some of these activities in my own classes with great results.

I share my course plan with social media professionals

My syllabi needs to be updated every time I teach the class, and I work on it at least two months before the start of the semester. Once I have the first draft, I send it out to my network of social media professionals to get their input. I want to know if I’m covering material that’s relevant to the current state of the industry, and if there’s anything else I should be including.

I invite guest speakers to my class

Whether it is in-person or virtually, bringing in professionals to share their stories, expertise, and insights about what is happening in the industry is always helpful and interesting to my students.

What I learned teaching social media in the classroom

When it comes to teaching social media in the classroom, I’ve learned that you can’t try to do everything. It’s important to have a focus—what is the goal of the class, is it an introduction course? Or is it a data and analytics course for students to take after a research methods course?

I’ve also learned how important it is to stay flexible, as social media is always changing. I book at at least two weeks in my syllabus for “Future Developments and Trends,” so I can determine what is new and relevant for my students.

While teaching social media is intense and a lot of work, it’s also one of the most rewarding classes I have taught in my career as a professor. I teach social media for the opportunity to be inspired by my students’ interest. Expertise in social media grows over time. Helping future generation of professionals learn from the current ones is why I love teaching social media.

Do you teach social media at a college or university? Integrate Hootsuite into your classroom with Hootsuite’s Student Program.

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