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What would your Social Media 101 syllabus look like?


A friend of mine who’s teaching a social media course at a local university emailed me (and a few others) a while back. His question: What would you include in a social media class? Actually, he sent us his idea for a syllabus and asked us to weigh in, but that doesn’t work as well for a post like this 😉

The more I thought about it, the more interested I became in the topic. Partly because I work in the field. But, partly because I have a big interest in teaching at the college level some day myself.

So, if I was building a social media-type class for a college-level course, what would a syllabus look like? What would be the core areas of focus? Who would I bring in as guest speakers? Here’s my first shot at a start to such a class:


First, we’d need a few textbooks to get things going. Keep in mind, I’d probably tend to go a bit non-traditional here and select textbooks that aren’t written by the social media elite. Here are a few that I’d put on a syllabus (to be clear, I’m not getting paid for any of the links to the books below–for informational purposes only):

* Content Strategy for the Web, Kristina Halvorson (heavy focus on content in my class)

* The Facebook Effect, David Kirkpatrick (definitely not a how-to book–or a traditional textbook, but I think students would learn a lot about the psychology of social networks by reading this one)

* The NOW Revolution, Jay Baer and Amber Naslund (this one’s the exception to my rule–I really liked this book, especially for the big brand corporate marketer/communicator)

Groundswell – Charlene Li & Josh Bernoff

Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky

Cluetrain Manifesto – Rick Levine, Chris Locke, Doc Searles, Dave Weinberger


Key sections/lessons

The more I thought about how I’d break down the class, the more I kept coming back to the four-step PR planning process. Here’s how I’d break it out:

* Research. I’d devote at least one class entirely to research. We’d talk about social media audits–how to conduct them. What tools to use (including mostly free tools). What insights to pull out (and HOW to pull those insights out). We’d also talk about how to use some of the bigger-scale social media monitoring tools (Radian6, etc). I would probably put a decent amount of focus on this area, since it still gets skipped so often by folks in the field today.

* Planning. Again, probably at least a full class for planning. We’d talk about the essential elements of a PR/social media plan. The thinking that goes into developing a social media/PR plan. The key principles behind planning.

* Implementation. I’d probably keep this section fairly light, as I’d save most of it for “tools” and “content” sections yet to come.

* Measurement. We’d probably spend a good chunk of time talking about all the ways to measure social media campaigns and programs. We’d talk about paid tools (again, Radian6, Sysomos, etc.). And, we’d talk about plenty of free tools (Google Analytics, Tweetreach, etc.). But, in the end, the focus wouldn’t be on the tools–it’d be on how to use paid or free tools to measure results (and, the right results) for the business you’re working for/with.

A few other sections/key areas I’d include in the syllabus:

* Psychology of social media. Might be a little much for a 101-level class, but I think this is fascinating. And it’s an area most people don’t think about enough. What inspires people to read on a blog post? What motivates people to RT? Why do people use certain social media tools–and not others? What motivates certain consumer behaviors? We’d cover it all.

* The tools. Obviously, we’d spend some time here talking about Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. We’d also go over the multitude of blogging platforms and the pros/cons of each. And, we’d dive into some of the emerging niche networks (Pinterest, Instagram, Path right now, for example) and explore the possibilities for brands with such networks.

* Content development. Even though this could be a whole separate class, I’d probably spend a good chunk of time around social content creation. What makes a good blog post? What makes a good headline? Tweet? Facebook update? How do you write effective Facebook ads? It’s a long list, but one worth covering in depth since this is where students will most likely spend a great deal of time upon graduation.

* Community management. Another area of focus since students will most likely fall into these roles upon graduation or soon after. What are the basic principles of effective community management? What are the traits of a good community manager? We’d also examine some real-world situations. Might even do some real-time work.



This is where it would get fun. Assignments in my class would be heavy on writing, of course, since that’s such a big piece of success in the online world. I’d ask students to write blog posts tackling current events–this would force students to form cohesive and rational opinions, a skill that’s still very much lacking in our industry. I’d also ask students to edit an existing post–something I’m sure they’d be asked to do in their first “real world” job.” And, I’d ask them to write social headlines and content–everything from Facebook updates to Twitter posts to Instagram descriptions. We might even get into video and photo basics.

Since I also LOVE case studies (especially in the classroom), I’d most likely feature relevant and timely case studies from the online world. This would be really fun as I would probably bring in real-time events and happenings–just a few days after they occur. After all, isn’t that the beauty of teaching a class about digital marketing? I know it’d mean more work for me, but it would also be a heckuva lot of fun. For example, this last semester, I could have talked about: SOPA, McDonalds and the recent Walgreens campaign (more on that next week).



Since any class I taught would most likely be here in the Twin Cities, I’d have to limit my list to local folks. Given that, and if I were to teach a class in the next year or so, here’s a short list of potential local people I’d probably bring in based on their real-world experience:

* Greg Swan, Weber Shandwick. I’d bring Greg in to talk case studies–in his case, his work on the U.S. Army account, which continues to be a piece of work that interests me. As one of those guy’s who’s been “doing the work” the last few years, Greg has a great deal of credibility here. I might also ask him to talk blogger outreach since he sits on both sides of that desk (he blogs at Perfect Porridge and obviously consults with clients during the day)

* Julio Ojeda-Zapata, Pioneer Press. I’d bring Julio in to talk about blogging and/or how media use social media tools to source and build stories.

* Kevin Hunt, General Mills. I’d bring Kevin in to talk about corporate blogging (including the Taste of General Mills blog) and how large organizations are using social tools to monitor what their customers are talking about on a day-in, day-out basis.

* Gabby Nelson/SarahPanus, Sleep Number. I’d bring Gabby and Sarah in (clients) to talk measurement and how companies are looking at online data and how it connects with company-wide goals and objectives (and sales).

* Jillian Froehlich, Target. Jillian plays a lead role in social media for Target Canada these days. Whip smart and someone who could give students a first-hand look into what it’s like to work in social for a Fortune 100 brand.

* Kelly Groehler, Best Buy. Doesn’t technically work on Best Buy’s social team, but as one of the lead PR folks at BBY, I think the lines get pretty blurry pretty quickly. Anyway, I’d bring Kelly in more for her holistic approach, and for the fact that she doesn’t have “social media” in her job description. She would give students a great glimpse at what it’s like to manage issues and crisis for a company the size of Best Buy on the online side.

* Kasey Skala, Great Clips. Another big brand–but this one has franchises. I think it would be interesting for the kids to hear how that’s managed. Great Clips also has a number of sponsorships (specifically via NASCAR)–how do those play out in the social realm? Kasey could cover a lot of ground here.

* Jennifer Kane/Kary Delaria. Sharp focus on measurement–I know the class would benefit by hearing from these two. Plus, Jen is one of the better public speakers in PR/marketing in the Twin Cities. Every time I hear her speak, I always come away impressed–so kids could learn from her on that front, too.

So, that’s my syllabus–just waiting for an opportunity to teach it now 🙂 What would you add to your social media 101 class syllabus?

Note: Photo courtesy of James Sarmiento via FlickR Creative Commons. 



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