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April 19, 2010
MARYVILLE, Mo.- Most teachers hate it when students text or surf the Internet during their classes, but Dr. Jody Strauch is encouraging her students to text, tweet and chat on the Internet as part of a new mass communications course at Northwest this trimester.
Strauch has incorporated e-companion links, social media Web sites and actual social media plans from industry insiders to create the innovative elective, social media strategies, which is unlike anything being offered at another university.
"The objective was really to make it as professional and business-oriented as possible because I do know that there is a perception of a lot of people that social media is just about fun," said Strauch, assistant professor of mass communications. "There's a lot going on there for business, more so than I think people realize."
Each of the 28 students taking the course are required to host a blog about a topic of their choice. They also must have Facebook and Twitter accounts. At the heart of the course is a trimester-long project that has the students linked with real-world business clients to develop marketing plans that incorporate blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools. The course culminates this week with students presenting their plans to the clients.
"Social media's such a new area and it's so right on the edge of things," said Katelin Meyer, a senior interactive digital media-new media major from Lone Jack, Mo. "It's nice to have a class that breaks it down and helps the students learn what to do."
Said Ashley Hartford, a senior broadcast major from Lenox, Iowa, "It's a lot more in-depth than people expect. When you look into the analytics of it, you really find how the networks are connecting and how information is being spread virally. It's just really fast-paced."
For their projects, students were divided into six groups, and each group was assigned to one of three clients - Team Office, the Arthritis Foundation's Kansas City Chapter and the American Angus Association.
Designing a social media plan was more challenging for some clients than for others, students said. One group is aiming to enhance the Arthritis Foundation's existing social media by creating awareness, in addition to previewing and promoting events with photo uploads. Students have looked at enhancing the American Angus Association's presence on YouTube. To market Team Office, an office furniture seller that has no social media presence, students had to get more creative.
"We're trying to focus on other things than office furniture, topics such as ergonomics and going green," said Lacey Stoll, an interactive digital media-computer science major from Stanberry, Mo. "There's so many health benefits and costs savings for another business that if his audience on Facebook and Twitter sees these things, they might be more apt to work with him, and that's one of our goals."
With project binders in tow, the groups added new aspects to their plans each week based on strategies they were discussing in class. Students learned how to track online discussions about their companies and prepared sample messages for Facebook and Twitter.
Some created Yahoo or Google groups to collaborate on their projects. Strauch said students have even contributed to classroom discussions by sending her Tweets and using Facebook chat while she's lecturing.
"Companies are still trying to figure out what this is," said Caryl Terry, a senior interactive digital media-new media major from Omaha. "So if you can come into a company that has no platform at all and just help them out, it increases profit for them and awareness of the company brand."
Strauch has long been interested in social media, but the concept for the course grew as she discovered businesses were using social media more frequently for marketing and advertising. Strauch partnered the students with business clients, using a template from Jacquie Lamer's advanced advertising strategies class.
"I wanted them to have the real world experience where they weren't just reading about social media and case studies, but they were actually creating a plan," Strauch said, adding that a couple students in the course already have acquired social media internships. "They're networking too."
The course has motivated some students to search for social media careers. Said Terry, "It's constantly changing, and not a lot of people know what to do with it. I'm graduating in May, so this (course) made me think this is a career I might want to pursue."
With social media becoming an increasingly important skill, Strauch said it could soon have a larger place in the mass communication department's curriculum.
"There's some real talk in the industry and within our department that we need to have it somewhere," Strauch said. "How we have it, we're not sure yet. But I think everybody's committed to somewhere down the road, getting it as its own course or as a part of another course."
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
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