Friday, December 16

Teaching Social Media: The Real World Test

While I was walking down the long narrow hallway toward the computer lab where I was scheduled to teach a social media class, I had a revelation. I was marketing myself all wrong offline.

What I really needed to do is use "proven online social media strategies" offline. You know, all those proven strategies, not by the people who know something about communication and marketing but by the people that we know all about. Right, you know who they are. I don't even have to tell you. That's the point. We all owe them a debt of gratitude.

Social Media In The Real World.

I. Increase Followers. 

As I said, I was walking down the narrow hallway, and I started to think about how important the number of followers is in social media. Apparently, it's important. The more people, the better. 

I stopped dead in my tracks. I needed to know how many students were in the class.

I looked rather clumsy, standing there, juggling two water bottles in my left hand, the satchel slipping off my shoulder, and handouts spilling out as I tugged at the flap with my right hand. But I didn't care. Numbers are too important.

It took a little more fumbling, but I found it: The student roster. One ... two ... three ... I stopped, mouth agape. I counted them again. Eight. And then I counted again. Still eight.

Eight isn't so good. The class usually pulls in 20. In truth, I wasn't surprised. The former program director had scheduled the class the weekend between Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. Right. I was a prime time network show being moved to Friday in the hope we could win a weak night. It never works.

So I retraced my steps and started peeking inside the other classrooms to see how many students they had. Six ... five ... seven ... twelve ... hmmm ... now that was more like it. I walked in, and put my satchel on the desk in the front of the room. The other professor looked at me, crinkling her brow. 

II. Troll Management. 

"Can I help you," she said, hands on hips, looking like a sad sack. 

"No, you can go now," I said, feeling better because I had increased my followers from eight to 12. 

She stood there for a minute, obviously shaken, and then made some sort of spitting noise. I was going to ignore her, but she was making the students in the class uncomfortable. So I gave her something to do.

"You know, you can report me to the office if you like," I said. "And while you're there, can you tell them to make me more handouts? I need more. A lot more."

III. Crowd-sourcing. 

I pulled down the overhead screen in front of the white board. It took a few tries, but eventually it stuck. I turned to face the class, and smiled. 

"Today, we're going to talk about social media." 

"Um, this is supposed to be an accounting class," one of the students said. 

"Um, no, this used to be an accounting class," I said, raising my hands to encourage them to show a preference. "Today, it's student choice. Facebook and Twitter or assets and liabilities."

I counted the hands. Five for accounting. Six for social media. One abstained. 

"No hand raised doesn't count," I scolded. "Engagement matters. What do you want to talk about?"


The class groaned. Accounting was now social media. 

IV. Sharing. 

After establishing that this was now social media, I shared a little bit of my background and then looked  out over the class blankly. And they looked back at me, blankly. So I tried to prod them along. 


"You haven't told us anything yet," muttered the Twilight kid. 

"Social media doesn't work that way, Mr. Cullen," I countered, almost glib in my excitement to show I was a real guru. "You can only share information at a rate of one to eight. That means eight of you have to say something first or one of you can say something eight times. I don't care, either way."

"He doesn't care, either way," beamed one of the students. 

"He doesn't care, either way," said another. 

"He doesn't care, either way," added a third.

There's always one or three in every crowd. I squinted my eyes at them. 

"I'd appreciate it if you would wait for us to cover retweets before doing that," I said. "Moving on ..."

V. Quantity. 

Before I could continue, the troll I booted out earlier had come back. She brought some gangling looking office assistant who stood at least a foot taller then me. That's pretty tall. I'm 6 foot.

"Oh good, did you bring the handouts?"

"Handouts?" he said, as if it that was the first he'd ever heard of it. 

"Yes, I specifically asked her to make copies," I said, motioning my hand up like a conductor to the class.

"He did ask for handouts," said one of the students. 

"Yes, she was going to get handouts," said another, grinning, chin in both palms. 

Good, I thought. I was making real progress here. 

"Yes, I need lots of handouts," I said, a few of the students casting the office assistant glances. "It doesn't matter what you bring. Just bring them, lots of them."

Handouts are important. It's what sets most content creators apart from conversationalists. The general concept is simple enough. If you barrage everyone with enough content, they'll be too dazed to notice that you haven't given them anything useful. 

VI. Mob Rules.

The office assistant's phone buzzed. It was his girlfriend. She confirmed it. I needed handouts. 

"And take Debbie downer with you," I said. "I'm trying to teach here."

Two of the students stood up, acting as if they were ready to usher them out. I was impressed. We hadn't covered mob rules, but these kids took to it like coke heads with Pixie Stix. 

"It's cool," he stammered. "I mean, yes sir."

And off they went.

Since I didn't really have anything to hand out yet, I suggested a break. Who knows? The students might even have enough time to come up with the rest of the class content if I waited long enough. But in retrospect, I wish I hadn't told them to take a break. I didn't really need a break. I was on a roll.

VII. Adding Value.

I decided to maximize my time instead. I revisited all the classrooms I passed by earlier and poked my head in to listen in. Eventually, the other professors would sense my presence and invite me into their conversations. It was easy, like playing Farmville on Facebook.

"No, no," I would shake my head. "Except, you know, that one point you made..."


"It's all very wrong," I would pounce, and then launch into a counter argument.

It didn't even matter so much what I was saying. All that mattered is that I offered some semblance of initiative understanding. That was enough. And, of course, it helped when one of the students who was following me everywhere would chime in.

"He's right, you know."

"I'm teaching social media instead of history or whatever this guy is teaching," I concluded. "You're welcome to join me. I'll even cover whatever this subject is when we get to Wikipedia."

VIII. Perks. 

I'm not going to lie and say it worked every time, but it worked well enough. I'd capture or two or sometimes half of their students before pied piper-ring away to the next room. It took 15 minutes.

The results were breathtaking. Even I was surprised when I did a post-break head count. I had 32 students in my class. It wasn't a record by any stretch, but 32 is better than 12 and a million times better than eight, which was the class size I would have had if I was playing by established rules.

"I think I have enough students now to tell you something important," I said.

They all leaned in closer to hear.

"There is a special at Starbucks today," I said. "Right after class. You can join me or go on your own, it doesn't really matter to me as long as you use this code."

I wrote it down on the white board, amused by how low tech teaching can be. Schools need QR codes for this stuff.

"What does that have to do with social media?"

"What does that have to do with social media?" I asked back, but didn't wait for an answer before continuing. "It has everything to do with it. If even ten of you use the code, I get a free T-shirt."

"Free T-shirt," half them chanted, circling the newbie who asked the question like tribes people. It looked like a scene from Lord Of The Flies.


How do I know it was a newbie? It's always the newbie who asks a stupid question like that. What do people think social media experts do, work for free? No. We don't pay for coffee either.

In fact, I was just planning to cover this advanced subject matter when the gangly office assistant showed up again. He had the troll with him and some new guy.

"Did you bring the handouts?" I asked.

"Mr. Clark wanted to speak to you first," he said.

"Yes, I told Burt to hold off until we had a chance to chat," said Mr. Clark.

"Okay," I said, reaching down to my side to feel for a pistol. It sounded like a showdown, and it wasn't even a western.

"Well, if you take the registration of the original either students in your class, minus the cost of all these handouts for 32 students, then you're providing the university a negative return on investment," he said. "What's worse is you never even showed up at the computer lab, so we'll have to issue those students a refund. And all these students will probably want refunds for the classes they left too."

At first, I thought it was because he was standing next to Burt, but Clark was a very little man.

"You're talking about ROI," I said.

"Yes, yes I am," he said.

At first I was going to dazzle him with outcomes, like how many times the class parroted me, but no one said a word. It was quiet. Too quiet. So I let him have it.

"You silly little man," I chuckled. "There's no ROI in social media for you, but there is for them. And me too. Because I ... well, I'm getting that T-shirt today and there is nothing you can do about it."

As the room burst into applause and students chanted "you silly little man" over and over again, I uploaded the entire confrontation on YouTube. I could already feel it in my bones. The book deal was clinched.

Of course there is an ROI, I mused silently. The only real question is: Who gets it?


Social media can be an extremely powerful component of a communication plan, assuming it remains grounded in communication. And the easiest way for anyone to test a social media program is to imagine how all those tactics, strategies, and secret formulas might look if someone applied them to offline communication. If you do and it sounds silly, it probably is silly. Have a nice weekend.
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