Twitter tools for journalism and strategic communication students

An online live video guest lecture with real-life examples and immediate applicability

On July 19, refractionist last Monday that is, I had the opportunity to speak to yet another group of Missouri School of Journalism students found in London for the summer for an exchange program. I say yet again because I have delivered numerous presentations to the students of the University of Missouri-Columbia and two in particular to their London exchange students, one in April this year on social media strategies and one in March 2009 on using the web to start a freelancing career. These  repeat invitations give me a lot of joy since I perceive them as the best proof of having done a good job in providing the students with an engaging lecture that tackles up-to-date topics in an easy-to-understand format while also challenging them to come up with their own examples and solutions.

Due to busy schedules on both sides, the best solution for all was to meet online CAPA London ensuring they had everything they needed at their end. Since Suzette Heiman wanted me to talk about new media research (one of my favorite topics) we have agreed to turn the online meeting into a discussion based on a Twitter analysis project given to students to work in teams. The companies to be assessed were chosen from the placement list of the students, thus providing case studies much closer to their experience.

The objectives of the exercise were:

  1. role play: to posit students initially as consumers/clients and define their expectations for strategy and communication from the companies studied and finally to have them assume the role of the public relations consultant and make suggestions towards improving the online presence of the given companies; the role of journalist was also played as students were asked on several occasions to think of what that data tells them and how they would report it/want it reported;
  2. to assess if possible the online communication strategy of the chosen companies;
  3. to describe the company online profile, image, behavior and social media policy based on the information obtained from the tools used;
  4. to learn by experimenting (no additional information on the platforms used, their application, use, metrics and data analytics methods were given apart from the instructions below);
  5. to have students question the relevance of the tools used (and preferably research alternatives)

The exercise was structured as follows:

  1. Analyze overall web presence (look at page and find customer interaction point of contact – are they static – contact page, blog – or dynamic – twitter, facebook…). Make notes on clarity, easiness of use, reflection on company values/mission in design)
  2. Find twitter account (how easy is it to spot?).
  3. Go to http://www.wordle.net/create and generate word cloud for the website of the company and their twitter account. Copy paste URL of company site and then URL of twitter account.
  4. Think of what the company would want to achieve with its Twitter presence.
  5. Visit twitter account (describe activity – broadcast/conversational; look at company bio, number of followers vs people the account follows, check lists)
  6. Go to http://tweetstats.com/ and input company twitter ID (analyze their tweeting patterns; what do they tell about the company?)
  7. Go to http://twitteranalyzer.com/ and input twitter company ID (check: user-reach, subjects; friends – check all; mentions – all)
  8. Go to http://klout.com/ and input twitter company ID (what is the company’s score?, how is it described)
  9. Go to http://your.flowingdata.com/mentionmap/ and check network of twitter account (log in in with your twitter account might be needed; if so log in, then go to explore, scroll down until you find mentionmap) – how does the network look (limited, centered, connected…) – what does this tell about the company account and their twitter presence so far?
  10. Think of key words relevant to the company activity. Go to http://wefollow.com/. Check out list. Go back to Flowing Data Mentionmap and compare network map of 1st most influential account.

How we’ve done it: Skype, CamTwist, teams of 3 and open discussion

J School students in London (capture taken from Skype)

The students and I connected using Skype since there was only one video source in their room (TokBox or Zorap allow up to 50 people to be simultaneously connected with video). They were split in 3 teams, each team having analyzed one company. While students shared their results and talked about their experience with the tools, including frustrations and difficulties of obtaining data, I could share my desktop using CamTwist and therefore provide the entire group in the classroom with a visualization and comment of the results. This was the time when students learned what the platforms they used were supposed to do and how each step of the exercise supported their next one.

Learning points

At the end of the class, I wanted students not necessarily to remember the tools and platforms we used but the way they experienced working with them. I wanted them to realize that mastering social media requires attention to detail as well as creative yet critical thinking. I also wanted them to realize that when online they assume different personalities (the consumer, the producer, the researcher, the journalist, the student) and that the way they perceive the companies and interpret the data they obtain about them changes depending on their objectives. Moreover, I wanted students to understand that social media is about communication and that therefore social media activities know no common 9am-5pm working pattern. Additionally, I wanted to stress that analysis without objectives and insight without context are useless and pointless. At the end of the day, I wish students left the class thinking more about:

  1. the way they use social media
  2. the role/impact of social media on their jobs
  3. the way the companies they work for interact/use social media (questions about policy should be included here)
  4. methods of understanding/researching social media (how accurate are they, who needs them and how should they be used)

From the immediate feedback as well as later correspondence with the students I believe to have met most of these goals. Some students indicated that they had mixed feelings about the exercise since the companies they had to analyze were very little involved with social media and/or they didn’t immediately figure out what each tool and platform was designed to do. While the exercise was meant to exploratory and therefore left the discovery of the purpose and functions of each platform to the students the fact that the companies studied didn’t provide rich results was a result in itself. It, in effect, supported my learning points for the class by providing a negative example. Sometimes, these are the best and have the highest incentives for those who aim to achieve excellence.

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