In November 2020, Twitter and Instagram saw a burst of new content and hashtags by Mason Communication students aimed at helping all students in the Mason Nation. Teams in fall semester’s PR and Social Media course (COMM 384) decided to use social media to help each other through the challenges imposed by the global pandemic and the online, virtual class environment.
“Any conversation on social has to be mindful of context,” explained Professor Suzanne Lowery Mims. “Within the context of the deadly virus, the context of virtual learning, and the context of limited face-to-face interaction on a near-empty campus, students chose to focus on issues that would offer genuine support and practical value to their peers.”
Six teams launched strategic messaging campaigns to address key issues during fall semester, including mental, physical and academic health; preparing to graduate, and racial and social inequality.
“It’s been a tough year and an especially tough semester all around for everybody I know, “ said senior Michael Elliot Matthews, whose team created the #MasonStrong campaign to empower students to speak up and reach out for help with mental health. “Knowing others are experiencing the same problems helps us unite against feelings of loneliness but our primary goal is to connect students to available resources.” A second team, #MentalHealth4Commonwealth, is working in concert to increase awareness of Mason resources and urge students to use them.
To help with connecting, the teams used multiple tools and apps in an integrated approach, creating dedicated Instagram accounts, hosting a virtual Twitch session, a podcast, running Instagram stories, and posts directing students to campus resources.
The #MotivateMason team is addressing what the team calls “academic health issues.” “We all are having more trouble this semester than ever before staying on top of the course work and due dates,” said senior Zander Leon. His team created a LinkTree of resources and an electronic calendar to help with organization and deadlines. The #JustDidIt team addressed “physical health” to get students up and running, literally, or up and exercising. Posts challenged everyone to share personal efforts and called on others to do the same, building user-generated content.
Senior Jacob Frehn, who graduates in December 2020, led a team to help students prepare to graduate. “This year has certainly been a curveball, especially for those nearing graduation,” he said. The #GMUGradChecklist campaign reminds students to check off needed to-do items and their #GMUSeniorQuote posts share advice and farewell messages which, according to senior Sarah Proctor, “infuses some much-needed joy into these final days of our Mason career.” “At a time when we can’t connect in person, we’re encouraging seniors to share and to celebrate our achievements online,” she said.
A dominant social issue across the nation and for Mason students in 2020 has been racial and social inequality and is the focus of the #GMU4BLM campaign. “We wanted to stand up and say loudly that Black Lives Matter is more than a hashtag to us,” said Maia Kiner, whose team created powerful Instagram and Twitter messaging and infographics to raise awareness of racial inequality. “We call on Mason students to stand united against any form of racism in our community and help us proclaim #GMU4BLM.”
Professor Mims found students’ dedication to the group projects impressive. “Group projects always present an interesting set of challenges in any course, even during the best of times. Virtual course meetings make those projects even more difficult to plan and execute but these students found some passion in their mission. It’s also part of our course lessons on why things catch on – ‘people share when they care.’”
The Public Relations and Social Media course is an elective with no prerequisites and is open to all Mason students. Offered both fall and spring semesters, the course blends theory with hands-on practice with content creation, social media management, and strategic messaging and execution.
November 24, 2020