Using Social Media to Connect Content and Develop Individual Responsibility

By Serena Carpenter, Arizona State University, Assistant Professor, @drcarp

I design and teach Online Media, which is the required foundation skills online/Web reporting class for journalism and public relations students at the Cronkite School. I focus my social media efforts on helping them understand how to connect content to online users and build their online reputation. To accomplish this goal, I weave social media throughout my assignments and lectures. I have highlighted my major social media exercises for my class.

My classroom material designed to challenge students’ beliefs about online communication and content creation. Students bring their biases to the classroom, and it is my job to confront those biases to prepare students for the working world. I face the most resistance from students on the subject of blogging.

I address this resistance by first educating them about the blogging culture. Many active bloggers are educated, middle-aged, and financial stable people who share their in-depth knowledge or interests with other Internet users.

Instructors can influence the attitude of many students by encouraging them to engage with other bloggers. In my class, students are required to blog about a topic of their choice. However, I have found that the act of blogging is not enough to adequately demonstrate the impact of blogging. Students must also:
  1. Create a blogroll: They identify people considered experts in their chosen blogging area and add them to their blog site. This search process helps them learn that many bloggers produce information for the benefit of other internet users.
  2. Comment on blogs related to their topic. Comments drive traffic to their blog, which builds community. The commenting assignment helps them more quickly understand the norms of the blogging community. Their comments must add informational value to the other bloggers’ posts. Comments should not say “nice post” or “good job.” On the date that each blog post is due, students email me: 1) the commented blog post URL and 2) their actual comment.
  3. Measure traffic: Students are required to sign up for Sitemeter to measure traffic to their blog. This step helps them more precisely learn the makeup of their readers, including how people find them.
To use Twitter, a microblogging application, students must do more than sign up for an account. The norms of Twitter such as unique language used among Twitter users leads many new visitors to abandon their account after their first tweet. Thus, educators must demonstrate the informational value of Twitter. I have students:
  1. Post informational tweets and links. They first have to develop themselves as an informational resource before they should follow other Twitter users. They are taught that many people will not follow them unless they have something to contribute to the Twittersphere.
  2. Promote their blog posts on Twitter. Traffic to their blog can increase if enough people share or retweet their blog post URL.
  3. Live-tweet with hashtags. I arrange speakers via videoconference (Skype) from other geographic locations to speak to my class. They direct questions to the speaker by posting their questions along with a class hashtag (#305s) on Twitter.
  4. Post photos to Twitpic. In a photography exercise, students share their photo work with each other by posting their Twitpic pictures on their Twitter account with the class hashtag.
Final Reporting Projects
I encourage students to add “social media share” buttons (e.g, to their online articles to encourage visitors to share students’ work with their friends. On their final reporting projects, I also have students create a contact page where they post their URLs from their social media accounts to encourage journalistic transparency.

Final Social Media Assignment (Instructions/Tips provided to my students).
Students are given two months to complete assignment.
Step 1 – Identify your goals
  1. Think about whether reach, reputation or engagement is your goal. Write down specific objectives related to your social media efforts. For example, a goal could be to get more social media mentions of your blog, find sources, increase readership, build reputation, find new story angles, etc. Goals encourage you to be efficient and focused with your social media efforts. Goals will change or expand over time. Understand that each social media application serves different functions dependent upon community members.
  2. Be tuned into your online presence.

    a. Google your name, company, etc. in quotes (e.g., “Jane Doe”) and screen capture a .jpg of your Google results. Screen-capture your web presence by pressing command+shift+4 (Mac) to create .jpg of a section. You can capture multiple sections of your results. You can also use or to capture the entire page. You will capture the results again when you hand in the social media assignment.

    b. Set up Google alerts for your name (e.g., “Jane Doe”; “Doe, Jane”), company name, employees, etc. PR Sarah Evans suggested other useful tools to monitor your online presence that are not required for this assignment: 1) BlogPulse Conversation Tracker feed to monitor blog comments, conversation, 2) mentions in video, 3) monitor discussions, and 4) view your reputation with

Step 2 – Establish your credibility
  1. Complete your bio on numerous sites. This includes the same picture, credentials, and URLs on every site. Hand in your URLs on the due dates. Sites can include LinkedIn, BrightFuse, Twitter, Flickr, MediaGeeks, YouTube, Vimeo, Google Profile, SlideShare, Delicious, FriendFeed, FaceBook, MySpace, Digg, Reddit, Favstar, OpenSalon, NewsVine, Twtjobs, etc. FB, YouTube and Twitter are the top three (right now).
  2. Find influentials. There are several ways to find thought leaders:,,,,,, and through blogrolls.
  3. Listen. Each topic and application has its own culture. You must observe before participating.
  4. Share useful information before seeking friends or contacts. People will evaluate you based on your content and bio. You must participate regularly and thoughtfully to see a return-of-investment (ROI). People like frequent and shorter form content.
  5. Interact with other users, ask them to share their stories, submit photos, design and create videos, logos, etc., ask and answer questions, acknowledge other members’ contributions to the group, and comment on other blogs. Focus on becoming part of the read-write web culture.
Step 3 – Set up FREE metric tools. (Top three most important for this class.)
  1. (Monitor link traffic)
    Shorten your links in to track clicks and how your links are shared.
    a. Provide the most frequently clicked 10 links including the number of clicks.

  2. TweetStats. Provide your average tweets per day
  3. Sitemeter (Traffic analyzer)
    Track your blog site traffic. Useful site to see the location of users and how they found your site, including keywords.
    a. Select previous 12 months and provide the visits and page views for each month.

  4. Google Analytics (Traffic analyzer)
    a. On the Dashboard, select a date range for each month. Provide the visit number for each month.
    b. On the Traffic Sources Overview, place the top three keyword search terms used to find your site. Most users use 1-3 terms

  5. YouTube Insight (Traffic analyzer)
    Tracks how people get to your site, the content clicked on, average pages per visit, etc. for your Web site.

  6. Feedburner (Subscribers)
    a. Provide the number of people who subscribe to your blog via RSS.

  7. FriendFeed (Subscribers)
    Subscribe to multiple feeds
    related to one individual.
    a. Provide the number of subscribers.

  8. Google Alerts and Tweet Beep (Monitor brand and conversations)
    a. Set up an alert for your name, company, or blog in quotes.

  9. SocialMention (Monitor brand and conversations)
  10. Tracks mentions related to your name.
    a. Enter your Twitter ID and/or name in quotes. Select to search “all.”
    b. Provide your strength, sentiment, passion, and reach numbers from Social Mention.

Step 4 – Measure your efforts. In tables, record your numbers. Numbers are only one measure of influence. It is also important to see whether mentions are positive and negative. This can be referred to as sentiment analysis or opinion mining. You could also do a thematic qualitative analysis based on comments related to your company; however, this is not required for this class. Under themes such as negative, positive, satisfaction, and useful, place comments under each heading to identify your strengths and weaknesses.

Step 5 – Identify trends and readjust social media efforts. Which applications do you most enjoy? Which applications serve your goals best? Is traffic up after posting? Where are your customers? Think about how much time you put into connecting and how often you are mentioned within each culture.

Reflection Paper. Write a double-spaced four-page paper on lessons learned. I do not want you to simply list what you did, rather focus on what you have learned and your understanding of online communication and relationship building. Think about how this knowledge influences how you will create content in the future. How does this influence your field? How will this knowledge influence your future? How is online content different than offline? What were your perceptions before and after this assignment? What will you keep up following this assignment and why? These items are not included in the four pages: 1) list of your URLs, 2) tables displaying traffic data, and 3) before and after screen grabs.


Unknown said...

Succinct and easy to follow, yet full of new nuggets (for me) this was an excellent summary and wonderful teaching unit! Thanks Serena!

Delaney Kirk said...

I'll be teaching a class on social media for the first time next year. Thanks. I especially like the suggestion of having the students google themselves-great idea!

DebW said...

Excellent post, Serena. We just did an interesting class exercise where we used TwitterLocal to find the folks with the most followers in various nearby communities. For instance, a local Oxford "foodie" has more than 21,000 followers. We tried to analyze what about his tweets made him so popular and one student is now interviewing him for a story about his Twitter success.