One of the challenging parts of teaching modern PR and social media is the fact the industry, along with the tools and specific channels, are constantly changing. Young public relations professionals are being asked to be experts overnight; skilled in the areas of monitoring, content creation, storytelling, and influencer relations. As a professor, it’s a challenge to keep up with the fast pace we are seeing in the industry.

With that being said, there are exercises to help prepare students for the workplace. There are a few assignments that I’ve given over the years at the University of Louisville that have been very well received, assignments that tie in both analytics as well as core principles in PR.

Personal Branding Audit

One of the challenges I hear from colleagues is the lack of access to business or client accounts on social media for their students to analyze for class. There’s a simple response to this: You already have access to social media business and client accounts, and that is your personal brand. One of my favorite projects to assign is to have students reflect on their personal brand, using metrics and platform analytics to evaluate their personal social media strategy. 

The overall goal is to teach the students the importance of online presentation but it uses the audit of their social media accounts to reflect on how these tools can lead to professional opportunities or help foster relationships. Throughout this project, students use data analytics to evaluate the impact of their posts and where they stand in their communities of choice. It also helps them pinpoint their strengths and degree of influence. Students need to know where they currently stand online based on their overall presence, but also where they need to go. As they progress in their studies, they need to know how to build relationships with fellow professionals and brands, create content to engage influencers with, and be able to evaluate the effectiveness of certain types of updates and future content.

Situational Analysis Listening and Monitoring Audit of Client and Competitors

In order to be able to create great content for PR, we have to be able to determine the overall health and stability of our networks. We need to be able to answer questions about how well our content is performing, who are our biggest advocates, and both what and how competitors are doing on social media.

This is where benchmarking a brand and their competitors are very important. In my social media class this past spring, we had a chance to do this with Sysomos. Some of the features of the software are similar to other listening and measurement tools, but it allows students the opportunity to use data to draw conclusions about what is happening. The software highlights major takeaways, gaps to address immediately (e.g. challenges), and opportunities to act on (e.g. create content for influencers and build relationships). 

The goal here is to allow students to not only talk about key performance indicators for their PR plan (e.g. engagement, etc…) but to actually calculate it with actionable intel. In a professional setting, they’ll need this knowledge to advise clients on what they need to consider when planning content and how their results can be evaluated. 

I plan on adapting this assignment for the Fall 2017 semester with Meltwater for my graduate Public Relations and Crisis Communications class at the University of Louisville.

Buzzfeed Content Creation and Analytics Assignment

I wanted an assignment where students created content and evaluated the response based on data analytics. This is where fellow social media professor, Matt Kushin of Shepherd University shared his Buzzfeed assignment with me.

Students were asked to create a Buzzfeed-style post (this could be a quiz, listicle, or regular post), and then promote the piece of content on social media while also evaluating the associated metrics. I adapted this assignment to have students create content about Louisville with what tourists and others should know about the city before they arrive for the Kentucky Derby. Students had to create a post with additional images (citing them, of course) to tell a story while also providing links to resources such as videos, restaurants, and must go to places in the city. 

Essentially, the students created a customized fact sheet about Louisville that was presented and tailored for a Buzzfeed audience. The students also had to decide how they would share this content with the community on social media. Along with outlining steps on how they would measure the success of these posts, and given the outcome, what lessons and action steps to take in the future.

The overall goal of this assignment was to teach students the importance of being able to write strong content relevant to a brand, company, or topic and be able to provide sound metrics that validate their efforts. It was interesting to see the sparks go off when students realized that a platform they have used for years could be adapted for professional opportunities. Seeing this shift in their perspective, using Buzzfeed as passive entertainment to a creative content hub that could resonate with communities, was illuminating.

In summary, there are a lot of great assignments, resources and opportunities out there for PR students and professors to take advantage of. The more opportunities we have to share resources and bounce around ideas, the better off we are going to be in preparing students for the growing expectations we are seeing in the PR field.

There are additional PR assignments listed in my teaching workbook along with rubrics and best practices. If you’re an intern or newbie to public relations, download our ebook to keep on track.

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