(April 30, 2020) -- How does a PR and Social Media class manage to run a multi-faceted, team-based project amidst the last-minute transition to online teaching during the pandemic?
“Sensitively and strategically,” answers Professor Suzanne Lowery Mims. Her 30 students were expecting to dig into their social media campaign assignment after spring break. The issues had been chosen and teams established. The next step was for the groups to collaborate on the necessary research and develop a working plan, but the context of the pandemic called for major changes.
“Agility is a requisite for anyone working in social media,” Mims said. “Students immediately adapted their campaign proposals to the context of the pandemic.”
“Help our Heroes,” was created to raise awareness and support for frontline health care workers. The #VAH20 campaign included original visual and video content across all platforms, raised over $300, and was liked, shared and reshared by Dove, Virginia Hospital Center, and a dozen of Mason clubs and organizations. “Originally, we wanted to focus on promoting greater civility and inclusivity among the Mason community. We saw helping Virginia’s frontline health workers as an opportunity to really use social media for social good, so we quickly revamped our efforts,” said senior Janae Dixon.
The team that focused on fake news awareness directed their messages and content specifically to fake news surrounding COVID-19. “#Think.Like.Share” offered practical tips, tools, and resources to verify sources. Tactics included a quiz which garnered high levels of engagement with more than 350 takers. “It was so clear that misinformation about the coronavirus was a serious problem. We’re proud that we’ve been able to play a role in fighting that,” said junior Caroline Winter Taylor.
Another team originally planned to focus on the need for social media wellness and possibly “digital detox.” “We chose instead to start a conversation about using social media more constructively,” said senior Olivia Vermane. “Our goal was to encourage members of the Mason community to use social media as a means of connection, rather than distraction." Content encouraged students to #FaceTimeAFriend and reassured the community that they may be #homebutnotalone. The team also used #GoodNews content to lighten spirits amidst unrelenting pandemic news.
Two teams reluctantly chose not to go live with their social issue campaign. “We wanted to address misuse and abuse of alcohol but now, students are so worried about completing their courses, graduating, getting a job, and not getting sick. It just wasn’t the right time to launch this message,” said senior Kenneth Light.
Another team, focusing on the environmental impact of “fast fashion,” also chose not to launch the campaign at this time. Junior Dominque Bernardino explained, “Fast fashion is often less expensive than sustainable fashion. Students are experiencing so much financial pressure right now that we felt our message may not be fully appreciated.”
The PR and Social Media course (COMM 384) has been offered as a face-to-face course since 2014. Transitioning to online mid-semester was a challenge for everyone, Mims said, but was especially challenging in a course that is hands-on and team-based, featuring student oral presentations at every session. “The credit goes to the students who simply rolled with the punches and gamely did everything I asked of them. I couldn’t have had a better group of students with whom to share this experience.”
The course uses “Contagious: why things catch on” by Wharton Professor Jonah Berger to help prepare students to create content that will garner engagement. To gain experience in social media management, student teams ran a campaign to support “Safe Spring Break Awareness Week” for the Office of Student Support and Counseling. Students also participate in a semester-long assignment to establish their personal brand and enhance their online presence. Over the 15 weeks, Mims said students begin as social media scientists and examine content, then become social media managers, and end the course as social media strategists with their Social Media for Social Good campaigns.
May 14, 2020