Teaching Digital and Social Media

  • Sumo

Teaching a class on digital and social media, let alone a graduate level class, was not on my to-do list. The more I try to distance myself from social media, it seems, the more its claws dig deep, puncturing skin, muscles and tissue fibers so all that is left is submission.

I am not the submissive type. I often fail to yield, resulting in collisions of various types. I was reminded of this over the weekend during back-to-back soccer games. I play the ball, not the feet or the person, but the laws of physics and objects in motion apply to anything that is moving. When it is a 6’2 guy, and me, collisions result. At least I have practice taking charges, and will be better prepared for basketball season.

Anyway. I am not the submissive type, and the last six weeks I have found myself standing at the front of a classroom, teaching students older than myself, the generalities and finer points of social media.

Wait. Check that.

Digital and social media is so fluid, by the time we have class something has changed, be it a new network (Ello, anyone?), updates to privacy policies or an addition to an existing network (SnapCash). Sometimes it’s an obvious game-changer, sometimes you have to wait and see, at which point the quarter may have ended and you’ve learned….what, exactly?

Teaching this graduate class, then, forced me to re-evaluate digital and social media. I had to approach it from a different, broader perspective, beyond the legal and legal technology spheres. If I am to prepare them to market using digital and social media, what can I share that goes beyond choosing platforms or networks?

It came down to one thing: storytelling.

Regardless of the network, the goal is to tell a story. That positions digital and social media as a vehicle, not a destination. A social network may close, become less popular or whatever, and new ones pop-up often, but the story you tell remains. The trick is to adjust the story to reach your audience on whatever network, or networks, they inhabit.

I think of one of the first things I learned in my beginning drum set course in college: adjust the drum kit to you, not yourself to the drum kit. It also applies to social and digital media: adjust the story to the network, not the network to the story. For example, if your story is generally text-heavy, extolling the virtues of widgets and explaining how they function in various settings, that is perfect for blogging. If you find your audience is moving to Pinterest, and paying less attention to your blog, then adjust the story to be more image-friendly. Instead of describing how widgets function in various settings, use images or video of widgets in action. Pin them in a series, providing, in a way, a visual illustration of widgets functioning in the wild. The story is the same: widgets functioning in various settings, and it has been adjusted to fit the network.

The end of class, everyone gave a presentation. They had picked a business, evaluated its current social media use and that of competitors, and offered suggestions on how to improve and what to expect within 60-90 days. It was pretty fantastic to see what they did. Some used their own companies, and had implemented some changes throughout class that showed results. That was cool.

The presentations also demonstrated a gigantic hole. There are few companies that are leveraging digital and social media successfully. Most are on networks simply to say they are on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the rest. In discussions, it also became clear that executives don’t grasp the business uses of social media. Working with lawyers, that didn’t surprise me, but I can identify with the frustration of my students charged with being an #armyofone. Establishing a company on social media is no easy feat, and maintaining it takes more work than most realize. Toss a blog (or two) into the mix and most struggle if not give up.

I gave them the benefit of my experience, if they go the blog route, suggesting they start with low hanging fruit, like this post on social media. I’m still shocked at its popularity, and 173 shares on LinkedIn. No topic is too simple, or exhausted, apparently.

A couple laid out plans for a blog, or the re-vitalization of a current blog as a way to augment social media efforts. There is a wealth of information at some of these places, stories to tell, and they were all excited at the prospect of being able to tell those stories. There was an enthusiasm around digital and social media I hadn’t experienced since my first Social Media Club Chicago meetup, years ago, pre-Vancouver move. It’s infectious.

Next challenge: teaching the same class, but online only.

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