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For Ad Majors: Give a Local Business a Much-Needed Social Media Upgrade

Ad majors think they know all about social media. James Hodgins, MA, fills in the hidden gaps, then has them help businesses with a weak online presence.

Educator

James Hodgins, MA

Instructor of Advertising, Texas Tech University, Lubbock

MA in Communication and Media Studies; BA in Electronic Media and Communications, English

While many professors are seeking strategies to get students’ noses out of social media, James Hodgins, MA, has the opposite goal in his Internet and New Media Advertising course at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Although his students are practically pros at posting to Instagram and Twitter, they do not typically have experience using social media management tools such as Hootsuite, social search engines such as Social Search, customer relationship management sites like HubSpot, online advertising tools such as Google Ads, and sites that provide free online advertising trainings like Facebook Blueprint.

Having begun his own career as an award-winning copywriter and director of social media for The Price Group Advertising Agency in Lubbock, Texas, Hodgins knows the importance of entering the workforce with not only conceptual knowledge but technical savvy as well. So today in his classroom, he helps contextualize student learnings of social media terminology, marketing approaches, and software tools with a project that requires them to select a local business with a minimal social media presence, then spend the semester developing a campaign and strategy to improve it. The project culminates in a carefully strategized weeklong social media campaign, which has been shared with some businesses and has resulted in a job offer for more than one of his students.

Here, Hodgins shares some tips for educators interested in working with local merchants to help motivate and educate students in a manner that mimics reality.

Challenge

Students only know the “face” of social media

Advertising students need real-world experience and technical savvy in the online world of digital social media advertising to enhance their job prospects. However, even those who have been involved in posting for a college club or friend’s band typically lack experience using the tools of social media professionals.

Innovation

Introduce advertising tools in a real-world project

Instead of focusing solely on “creative” (visuals and copy) as he has done in years past, Hodgins introduces students to tools of the trade: social media management and monitoring sites, for example. Then students select a local business that could benefit from a stronger social media presence. The final assignment is a one-week content calendar for the company that brings together all the nuts and bolts of a basic social media campaign, including analytics from research, creative mock-ups, and details on implementation of the proposed plan.

Context

“Students know all the rules of attending the social media party, but this class teaches them how to plan and organize a party of their own to throw for a real business.”

— James Hodgins, MA

Course: ADV 3340 Internet and New Media Advertising

Description: This course explores internet and new media advertising issues and techniques. It includes evaluating and creating advertising campaigns.

See resources shared by James Hodgins, MA

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Hodgins’ Digital and Social Media Campaign Assignment

When Hodgins introduces this assignment at the start of the semester, he explains that the goal is for students to “learn and practice with social media monitoring and management tools” and “learn best practices in digital and social media advertising.”

After learning social media best practices by monitoring and auditing brands across multiple platforms, each group is tasked with choosing a small local business with a struggling social media presence. From there, students work together to build out a strategy and campaign.

Below is an overview of how Hodgins guides students through to the completion of this assignment.

Assign groups to ensure a balance of skills

The best way to mimic a real-world advertising experience is to set up a mini creative studio, so Hodgins splits his students into teams of four or five, based on skills and experience. (The average class size is 55, so there are usually 11 or 12 teams.) “Each team has a media lead, a technical development lead, an account supervisor, a creative/design lead, and a strategic lead,” he explains. “I base the groups on real-world teams in the advertising industry: These are typically the roles that work together in a business setting to work on a social media campaign for a client.”

Students learn about their assigned area and about working together, he says. “While each student is primarily responsible for their part of the project, they also must work together on every step to ensure the whole campaign is consistent and cohesive.”

Hodgins knows many of the students already (most are seniors), which helps him form strong groups. “I also spend some time in class discussing group dynamics and how best to work as a team,” he adds.

Hodgins’ Penchant for Reinvention

James Hodgins began his working life as a copywriter, but he soon realized that the world of advertising had changed. That didn’t faze him. He launched a digital advertising department.

Today, he’s an advertising instructor and the director of the Ideation Lab Think Tank at Texas Tech’s College of Media and Communication in Lubbock. It’s a collaborative space designed to help students find “bigger, better, and deeper ideas,” something Hodgins has been doing his entire career. He is also in charge of the Outpost Social Media Lab at Texas Tech, where students train on how to use and get certified in the platforms he teaches.

The digital world is always changing, so Hodgins reinvents his Internet and New Media course every year. “I’ve never taught it the same way twice,” he says. “The trends and actual application of Internet advertising change every 12 months, so I have to redevelop what we’re doing.”

Reinvention comes naturally to Hodgins. He left his advertising job to work in public relations at Texas Tech, and he eventually began teaching there full-time. “I jumped in with no teaching training whatsoever and honestly just fell in love with it,” he says.

Consider parameters for selecting a business

Some of the industries selected to date include a local fashion brand, a church, and a supplier of outdoor gear. Hodgins does not allow groups to target medical centers or doctor’s offices, because these types of businesses often carry extensive social media regulations and restrictions. Also, the owner must be amenable to allowing the students to gather information and visuals (logos, photos, video) that are needed to create a successful campaign.

Some students have worked directly for the businesses, which gives them firsthand experience with the owners and customers. But that is not a requirement, Hodgins says: “Sometimes they just really like the store and want to do it for them.”

Teach them how to conduct an audit

Hodgins’ assignment notes that “the goal is to create a new campaign, not build on the current efforts of a successful brand.” However, looking at a successful brand can be helpful in providing a starting point for idea generation. So he has each group select a business related to their chosen “client”—in terms of product, service, audience, etc.—that is noticeably successful in social media. “Search for keywords on Hootsuite and use social search tools such as Talkwalker and Social Search for data and analytics,” he instructs. They must then look at a week’s worth of postings for that business, including their profile, frequency and timing of posts, quality of content, and customer engagement (number and type of back-and-forth, such as comments, likes, and shares). This is used to generate a document of analytics that they use to write up takeaways and lessons learned, which can help them craft their own strategy.

He also encourages them to look at award-winning campaigns, such as those that have won Webby Awards, Shorty Awards, D&AD Awards, and recognition from The One Show.

Use free training tools from digital giants

Social media platforms change constantly, sometimes requiring hours of workshops and lessons to stay on top of the updates. Rather than reinventing the wheel, Hodgins introduces students to trainings that already exist, such as HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing and Social Media Marketing classes, Facebook Blueprint (for information on social media content and advertising), and Google Ads (for search and display advertising).

This allows his students to more fully flesh out their project and gain valuable knowledge and skills using tools that professionals use (but that the typical business owner may never have heard about). To increase students’ knowledge and marketability even more, Hodgins is considering including basic certifications in future iterations of the course, such as those from Google Digital Garage and Hootsuite Academy.

Break the info into bite-size chunks

Hodgins tries to synthesize the key points for students and create a mix of lecture and practical-based classroom time. “It’s always a challenge to explain it so that students can grasp and understand it in one or two lectures,” he says. “Students get lost or confused or mix up the platforms, because it does end up getting pretty complicated.” He tries not to cover too many tools or topics at once, and he has students practice during class time. He also provides links and access to online trainings so students can review later—even after graduation.

Encourage them to share their work with the client

Most of the student teams have chosen to present their proposed campaign to the owner of the business they studied, and approximately 20% of students deliver their entire work product for consideration—meaning their detailed content calendar as well as overall campaign strategy. They often wait to present until the end of the semester, when the campaign has been critiqued and graded, but some some students who are employed by the business will share campaign ideas over time, as they are developing.

As a direct result of this project, multiple students have obtained internships or part-time or full-time positions from the companies they highlighted in their assignment. For example, one of Hodgins’ groups created a campaign for a local jewelry company, and the business offered to hire the team to come in and implement it. Another student recently started a full-time job at the church for which she developed a campaign.

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