Category Archives: Volume Four

Millennial Learners and Faculty Credibility: Exploring the Mediating Role of Out-of-Class Communication

Editorial Record: Original draft submitted to the AEJMC-PRD Paper Competition by April 1, 2017. Selected as a Top Teaching Paper. Submitted to JPRE Nov. 27, 2017. Final edits completed July 13, 2018. First published online August 17, 2018.


Carolyn Kim, Biola University


Every generation experiences distinct events and develops unique values. As Millennial learners enter classrooms, they bring with them new views about education, learning and faculty/student communication. This study explores the mediating role of out-of-class communication (OCC) in relation to the historical dimensions known to compose faculty credibility. Findings indicate that OCC has a positive, mediating influence that enhances two of the three key dimensions of credibility for faculty members: trustworthiness and perceived caring. In addition, this study suggests that there is a fourth potential dimension that composes the construct of faculty credibility in the perspectives of Millennial learners: sociability, which should be included alongside the three historical dimensions scholars have used in previous studies.

Millennial Learners and Faculty Credibility: Exploring the Mediating Role of Out-of-Class Communication

The landscape of higher education constantly shifts. Shaping influences include increased faculty loads, diminished budgets, and limited resources (Kim, 2015; Swanson, 2008). A lesser-examined element, however, is the generational influence from Millennial learners. According to Pew Research Center, Millennials were born between 1981 and 1997 (Fry, 2016). As these students have filled classrooms, the educational environment and pedagogical approaches of faculty have pivoted to address the unique needs of Millennials (Kim, 2017b). One particular area of change is the emphasis on out-of-class communication (OCC) between faculty members and students. Scholars suggest OCC is a significant element for students, as it leads to increased learning and immediacy with faculty (Jaasma & Koper, 2002). Formerly faculty were viewed as the “sage on the stage” and espoused wisdom for students to gain. Now they are viewed as a “guide on the side” and encouraged to facilitate a process where students co-create a learning environment (Jaasma & Koper, 2002; Kim, 2017a). These changes have resulted in a new paradigm for learners. Due to these changes, re-examining the construct of faculty credibility in light of Millennial learners, as well as examining the mediating influence of OCC on faculty credibility, is significant.


In order to fully explore this issue, there are three significant bodies of scholarship to examine: 1) generational identity; 2) faculty credibility; 3) out-of-class communication.

Generational Identity

A growing focus among scholars has been the concept of how individuals self-subscribe into social groups within organizational settings. Scholars suggest social identities are self-designated by individuals “to impose order on the social environment and make sense of who they are” (Urick, 2012, p. 103). While there is significant focus in social identity theory that looks at classifications related to constructs such as in-groups and out-groups, race, and gender (Urick, 2012), there is an increasing need to understand generational identities, which can be defined as “an individual’s awareness of his or her membership in a generational group and the significance of this group to the individual” (Urick, 2012, p. 103).

Each generation has distinct values and attitudes that manifest via their interactions with others in organizational settings (Smola & Sutton, 2002). Kowske, Rasch, and Wiley (2010) suggest that Millennial learners are connected due to the fact that they shared key common experiences at significant development points which led to unique characteristics:

Millennials embody an age-based generational identity that has grown through strong formative influences, including parental styles that allowed them a strong voice in family decisions, nurtured their egos and self esteem, and encouraged cooperation and team oriented behavior. (Gerhardt, 2016, p. 3)

Faculty have recognized these shaping influences in Millennial learners and suggest that a shift is required to provide “nuanced pedagogies” that will provide the strongest learning environment possible (Miller-Ott, 2016; Wilson & Gerber, 2008, p. 29).

Sociability and Millennial learners. With this shift in pedagogies, faculty now are tasked with creating learning environments that Millennial learners will feel comfortable contributing to and voicing opinions in, rather than approaching education as lecture-based experiences with an instructor providing content for students to absorb (Gerhardt, 2016). In short, this kind of engaged learning environment is “essential to a successful experience for Millennials in the classroom, and this generation has a strong need to be heard, recognized and included” (Gerhardt, 2016, p. 4). Additionally, Millennial learners expect “more frequent, affirming communication with supervisors compared to previous generations” (Gerhardt, 2016, p. 4; Hill, 2002; Jokisaari & Nurmi, 2009; Martin, 2005). In other words, Millennial learners place a high value on sociability, or the opportunity to interact, connect, and engage with leaders. This value of sociability is higher than previous generations and drastically influences their satisfaction, motivation and commitment to environments (Gerhardt, 2016; Kim, 2017b). In some ways, the concept of sociability is closely aligned with the idea of immediacy.

Immediacy. Immediacy has been defined as “those communication behaviors that reduce perceived distance between people” (Thweatt & McCroskey, 1996, p. 198). A number of scholars have explored the influence of immediacy within the context of faculty/student relationships (e.g., Christensen & Menzel, 1998). In the context of Millennial learners, however, immediacy seems to incorporate concepts that were not as prevalent for earlier generations. Thus, sociability, or the desire to have a voice, receive feedback and interact, are key components for Millennial learners’ perspective of immediacy. In the context of this paper, sociability is used to represent immediacy viewed through the lens of Millennial learners’ expectation of two-way communication, which includes gaining a voice in decision making.

In summary, Millennial learners represent an age-based generational identity that is prevalent in higher education today. Millennial learners have a high focus on participatory culture, having their voice heard, and developing immediacy with those who are leading them, which are more distinct traits from previous generations of learners. It is reasonable, therefore, to expect that these values would influence the overall perspective of a faculty person’s credibility.

Faculty Credibility

Research indicates that faculty credibility plays a significant part in the educational process (Kim, 2017b). For example, student perceptions of faculty credibility influence evaluations of courses (Tindall & Waters, 2017). With the new wave of technology, scholars have also examined how faculty use of social media within a course influences perceptions of the faculty member’s credibility (DeGroot, Young, & VanSlette, 2015). Examining the role of faculty credibility becomes more salient when placed in the larger context of a theoretical framework for credibility.

The construct of credibility has a rich history in communication scholarship. This construct is a composite of perspectives held by receivers of communication toward a particular source, message or medium (Newell & Goldsmith, 2001, p. 236). Credibility is a fluid construct, as it is based on perceptions held by individuals instead of a set state of being. Thus, scholars use dimensions that contribute to individuals perceiving something as credible in order to understand the specific components that enhance or diminish credibility (Kim & Brown, 2015). Scholars examine the construct of credibility through specific categories such as source credibility (Berlo, Lemert, & Mertz, 1969; Hovland, Janis, & Kelley, 1953; McCroskey, 1966), media or medium credibility (Gaziano & McGrath, 1986; Kiousis, 2001; Meyer, 1998; West, 1994) and message credibility (Appelman & Sundar, 2016; Kim & Brown, 2015). Scholars focusing on faculty credibility do so using the dimensions from source credibility.

Historically, scholars suggested that the two primary dimensions present in source credibility were trustworthiness and expertise (Hovland & Weiss, 1951; Teven & McCroskey, 1997). Trustworthiness is a dimension where receivers perceive that a source will keep promises, fulfill obligations, and act in a manner consistent with what is communicated. Expertise deals with competencies, qualifications, and skills. While these two dimensions have consistently shown to be significant in a receiver’s perceptions of a source’s credibility, there is a third dimension that has recently been measured as a distinct dimension for faculty credibility: perceived caring.

Perceived caring. The concept of goodwill has been present in the construct of source credibility since its inception with Aristotle’s rhetoric and discussion of ethos (Teven & McCroskey, 1997). Scholars suggest that goodwill, caring, or affinity (all terms applied to the same concept) is the perception of whether someone genuinely cares about an individual, which is decidedly different from trustworthiness as an overall source (Kim, 2017a). Initially, scholars suggested that the reliability of measurements related to goodwill were too highly correlated to the dimensions of trustworthiness to truly be distinctly measurable. However, in 1997, Teven and McCroskey created a scale that successfully measured “perceived caring” as a distinct dimension, and thus they argued for the inclusion of this as a third piece to consider in faculty credibility. The concept of “perceived caring” (McCroskey, 1992; McCroskey & Teven 1999; Teven & McCroskey, 1997) for this study is defined as immediacy, or the feeling of closeness due to the perception of personal care.

While McCroskey and Teven (1999) argued for “perceived caring” to represent the third and final dimension of source credibility, this construct does not fully capture the new value Millennial learners place on interaction. While perceived caring is based on perceptions of the faculty member toward the student, sociability focuses on the two-way communication and role of student voice within interactions. This distinction is important to the overall construct of faculty credibility. Thus, sociability is used to represent a fourth dimension to perceived source credibility that will be unique to Millennial learners.

Lastly, in recent years, perceptions of faculty members’ credibility and their interest in students has been a growing focus among scholars. The concept of OCC is regularly identified as an influence in faculty/student relationships and may provide a powerful mediating influence for Millennial learners’ perspectives of credibility, particularly in relation to out-of-class communication.

Out-of-Class Communication

What takes place inside of a classroom is only a partial view of what influences student learning. Over the last several years, scholars have increasingly focused on understanding out-of-class communication and its impact to areas such as student motivation, student retention, student/faculty trust, and immediacy (Jaasma & Koper, 2002; Kim, 2017a; Kim, 2017b; Terenzini, Pascarella, & Blimling, 1996).

Dimensions of OCC.  Like many constructs that deal with humans, OCC is multi-faceted and cannot be understood simply as a one-dimensional activity. For example, OCC can be either formal or informal communication between a student and faculty member that occurs outside of the classroom. An example of formal OCC would be a student attending office hours, whereas an example of informal OCC would be a student sending a text to a professor (Furlich, 2016).  Beyond classifying OCC into formal or informal communication patterns, it is also evaluated on criteria such as frequency of occurrences, length, content, and student satisfaction (Jaasma & Koper, 1999). Building on these dimensions are also the perspectives, values and ideals of the individuals involved, including both faculty members and students.

Faculty behaviors and OCC. The role of an individual instructor also has an impact to the theory of OCC. Teacher behaviors in a classroom have been shown to influence students’ perceptions of quality, trust, and immediacy, and, ultimately, a student’s decision to engage in OCC with a specific faculty member (Faranda, 2015; Kim, 2017b). Just as faculty behaviors can enhance learning, Thweatt and McCroskey (1996) identified that faculty “misbehaviors” are those activities that faculty do which result in interference to learning. Misbehaviors do not have to be overtly intentional actions that interfere with students but rather may also encompass more subtle activities, such as actions that communicate a sense of distance or disinterest in student interaction (p. 199).   

Understanding the multi-faceted nature of OCC theory, it is logical to expect a connection between the perceptions students hold of OCC and the perceptions they hold of faculty credibility. Scholars have explored these two constructs and verified that they seem to be correlated in some manner (Gerhardt, 2016; Kim, 2017a; Myers, 2004). In light of this connection, examining the construct in light of Millennial learner expectations is also important.

In light of the existing body of research, as well as the gap in understanding Millennial learners’ perceptions of faculty credibility and the mediating role of OCC, the following research questions guided this study:

RQ1: In what ways does OCC influence Millennial learners’ perspectives of faculty credibility?

RQ2: In what ways does OCC enhance the perceived sociability between Millennial learners and their faculty?

H1: The more students believe that faculty are A) more trustworthy, B) more of an expert, and C) have a greater affinity for students because of OCC, the more likely they are to rate faculty higher on final evaluations.  

H2: The more students believe that faculty are genuinely interested in their lives because of OCC, the more likely they are to rate faculty higher on final evaluations.

H3: The more students believe that faculty are A) more trustworthy, B) more of an expert, C) have a greater affinity for students, and D) possess a genuine interest in their individual life because of OCC, the more likely they are to rate faculty higher on final evaluations.


To address these research questions, an online survey was employed using Survey Monkey, a well-known survey platform. With approval from the Institutional Review Board, participants were recruited via email from a private university in the spring 2017 semester. Participants were recruited from all majors and class ranks and were not compensated for participation in the survey. In addition, participants could opt out at any point or skip questions on the survey instrument.

Participant Demographics

A total of 289 qualified responses were collected. Of those who reported gender, 29.9% (n = 86) were male and 69.9% (n = 201) were female. Of those who identified class rank, 13.1% were freshmen (n = 38); 22.1% were sophomores (n = 81); 34.9% were juniors (n = 81); and 34.9% were seniors (n = 101). Participants represented all seven schools at the university and 30 majors, including Public Relations, Journalism and Integrated Media, Business Administration, Communication Studies, Nursing, Intercultural Studies, Education, Cinema and Media Arts, Biological Sciences, Anthropology, and others. By sampling a variety of majors, participants were able to represent the diversity in degree programs and student personalities, allowing for the results to be more representative of an entire student body.

Instrument Design

In addition to the demographic information collected, participants also responded to Likert-scale items related to credibility and OCC. Three scale items related to previously identified dimensions of faculty credibility (trust, expertise, and perceived caring) were used in the survey instrument. Since scholars have previously identified that these three dimensions are present and distinct within the construct of faculty credibility, it was important to include them each as a scale item (Teven & McCroskey, 1997). Each item asked participants to evaluate whether OCC resulted in an increased perception of the particular dimension.

In addition, this study sought to measure the way in which OCC would influence all three of these dimensions as a unified construct. In order to evaluate the combined influence, a fourth scale item asked students to respond to whether OCC would likely lead them to rate faculty higher on evaluations. This is an important measurement as previous research has shown that credibility is “positively correlated with students’ overall rating of the level of excellence of the course and instructor” (Beatty & Zahn, 2009, p. 275). Knowing that previously scholars found credibility to influence faculty evaluations, it was significant to measure whether OCC had a positive, mediating impact on the evaluation as well.  

Finally, in light of the new findings related to Millennial learners (Gerhardt, 2016), this study incorporated a scale item related to sociability. Participants rated whether they felt that faculty who engaged with them through OCC “genuinely cared about their lives” more than faculty who did not engage in OCC.


RQ1: In what ways does OCC influence Millennial learners’ perspectives of faculty credibility?

In order to address the first research question, three Likert-scale questions were used, based on the three commonly identified dimensions of faculty credibility: trustworthiness, expertise and perceived caring. These questions were posed to assess whether students who experienced OCC were likely to have increased perceptions of specific dimensions related to faculty credibility. Each scale question specifically asked whether, in light of out-of-class communication, the participant perceived trustworthiness, expertise, or perceived caring to be greater.


Out of the 287 participants who responded, 78.4% (n = 225) either agreed or strongly agreed that they trust faculty who are willing to meet with students outside of class more than faculty who do not meet with students outside of class. The mean for this scale item was 4.02.


Out of the 288 participants who responded, only 18.8% (n = 54) either agreed or strongly agreed that faculty who are willing to meet with students outside of class are more of an expert in their field than faculty who do not meet with students outside of class. The mean for this scale item was 2.54.

Perceived Caring

Out of the 288 participants who responded, 68.8% (n = 198) either agreed or strongly agreed that faculty who are willing to meet with students outside of class care more about students than faculty who do not meet with students outside of class. The mean for this scale item was 3.72.

Internal Reliability of Scale

While these three dimensions have previously been shown to influence faculty credibility within the classroom, it was important to verify the internal consistency or reliability of these dimensions in relation to the credibility scale and OCC. The Cronbach alpha for the scale was .68, indicating a moderate internal reliability. In addition, none of the scale items had a high correlation (> 0.60), indicating that they did, in fact, measure distinct dimensions.

RQ2: In what ways does OCC enhance the perceived sociability between Millennial learners and their faculty?

A majority of students (84.75%; n = 239) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that when a professor interacts with them outside of class, it indicates faculty are genuinely interested in individual students’ lives. The mean for this Likert-scale item was 4.12.

H1: The more students believe that faculty are A) more trustworthy, b) more of an expert, and C) have a greater affinity for students because of OCC, the more likely they are to rate faculty higher on final evaluations.  

While 69.3% (n = 194) of the participants either agreed or strongly agreed that they rate faculty higher on course evaluations if they interact outside of class, it is useful to also examine the influence of the dimensions of credibility on this scale item. This hypothesis was used to examine the influence of OCC and credibility on perceived faculty excellence.  

This hypothesis was supported: F = 19.92, df = 3, p = .000. The factor with the greatest influence on whether students were likely to rate faculty higher on evaluations due to OCC was the belief that faculty who are willing to meet outside of class care more about students (affinity).

H2: The more students believe that faculty are genuinely interested in their lives because of OCC, the more likely they are to rate faculty higher on final evaluations.

Hypothesis 2 was also was supported, F = 50.54, df = 1, p = .000.

H3: The more students believe that faculty are A) more trustworthy, B) more of an expert, C) have a greater affinity for students, and D) possess a genuine interest in their individual life because of OCC, the more likely they are to rate faculty higher on final evaluations.

The third hypothesis was supported, as well, F = 22.94, df = 4, p = .000.


OCC and Faculty Credibility

While OCC has previously been shown to have a strong connection with faculty credibility and student learning (Jaasma & Koper, 2002; Kim, 2017a), this study leads to a more precise understanding of the way OCC enhances credibility. Participants indicated that they are much more likely to perceive faculty members as trustworthy and to perceive care from faculty who engage in OCC. However, expertise is not a dimension that seems to be particularly influenced through OCC. So, while OCC does enhance students’ perceptions of credibility, it does so by increasing perceptions of two of the three dimensions. While participants indicated that OCC would have the greatest influence on trust, when it comes to evaluating a professor, the perception that faculty who engage in OCC care more about students seems to play the greatest role in evaluations. This indicates that, while trust is built through OCC, when students determine the overall excellence of a faculty person, perceived care plays the most significant part. This study supports the idea that, while faculty credibility is a fluid set of perceptions that is heavily influenced by in-class behaviors, faculty who choose to engage in OCC have a significant opportunity to build trust and illustrate care for students.

OCC and Faculty Sociability

In addition to previously identified measures, faculty sociability seems to be a particularly poignant component to an educational experience for Millennials (Gerhardt, 2016). In light of this, it was important to understand how OCC may influence the perception of sociability. Participants reported not only that OCC would significantly influence their perception of a faculty person genuinely caring about their lives, but also that this would result in higher evaluations of that faculty member. This seems to indicate that, beyond simply perceived caring, which is an existing dimension, the concept of being genuinely interested in the individual student’s life is a shaping factor for student perceptions of faculty. Recognizing that source credibility is a construct that evaluates whether the perceptions of a receiver toward a source will result in changed attitudes, opinions, or behaviors, it seems like there is strong theoretical support to consider whether sociability should be a fourth dimension in faculty credibility (Hovland et al., 1953). Findings indicate that incorporating sociability alongside of the three existing dimensions did not result in highly correlated variables and, as a unified construct, provided a model that led to higher evaluations of a faculty person.

Theoretical Contributions

This study provides two significant theoretical contributions. First, it expands the construct of faculty credibility in the context of Millennial learners to suggest the inclusion of a fourth dimension: sociability. Second, it advances the understanding of OCC as a pedagogical approach by identifying it as a positive, mediating influence on the perception of faculty credibility.

Faculty credibility theory. Historically, faculty seem to have a larger focus on establishing expertise and trust with students. However, recently, faculty have begun focusing on the dimension of perceived caring. With Millennials filling classrooms, it is more important than ever to understand what dimensions truly build their perceptions of credibility. Beyond simply goodwill or affinity for students, Millennials are looking for personalized interest and connection. They want a voice in their educational process and to know their contributions are heard. In addition, they want to have leaders, or, in this case, faculty, who are authentically interested in their personhood. This study goes beyond calling for sociability as something that Millennial learners value and instead identifies it as something at the heart of their perspective toward faculty. If faculty fail to illustrate sociability or a genuine interest and engagement with Millennial learners, their credibility will be diminished. Furthermore, this may result in misbehaviors (Thweatt & McCroskey, 1996) that ultimately diminish learning and reduce the impact of what faculty set out to do in the first place.

OCC mediating faculty credibility. A further contribution of this study is the finding that not only are OCC and faculty credibility interconnected, OCC actually mediates the perceptions of faculty credibility in Millennial learners. Participants identified that they view the trustworthiness, perceived care, and sociability of faculty members to be greater when they engage in OCC compared to those who do not. In other words, this study confirms that OCC is a direct mediator of increased perceptions of credibility. Moving forward, faculty may benefit from recognizing that OCC can play a pivotal role in pedagogical practices. Those who do not purposefully engage in OCC may end up experiencing students who perceive them as less credible, particularly when compared against other faculty who have adopted this pedagogical approach.

Future Research and Limitations

This study has made two significant contributions to theoretical frameworks. First, it has suggested that for Millennial learners, sociability is a key dimension in faculty credibility. Second, it suggests that OCC is a positive, mediating factor in developing faculty credibility. Future research should explore these two constructs by examining it on a variety of college campuses, as well as incorporating additional scale components that may measure the validity of each of these elements in relation to the existing concept of faculty credibility.

There were several limitations within this study. First, the study took place at a private institution. It would be beneficial to expand the participants and include a variety of institutional types to validate the findings. Additionally, this study did not control for factors such as previous interactions with highly social (or not social) faculty members and the way those interactions might have influenced participants’ perceptions within this study. Finally, self-reported measures on behavioral outcomes have the potential to differ from ways people might actually respond. In light of this, while students reported certain behavioral intentions, it would be beneficial to conduct additional research to see if those self-reported concepts align with real-world application.


While source credibility has a rich history of scholarship, the presence of Millennial learners suggests that the current approach to faculty credibility needs to be adjusted. Their values are distinct compared to other generations and, thus, their perspectives on what makes faculty members credible are equally distinct. While trustworthiness, expertise, and perceived caring continue to be important, the addition of sociability is something that changes the current model. Additionally, OCC is more than simply an enhancement to student motivation or learning. It, in fact, enhances perceptions of credibility by bolstering the dimensions of trustworthiness, perceived care, and sociability. Thus, engaging in OCC seems to be more than a pedagogical approach; this study indicates it may be a crucial component to faculty that hope to have a meaningful influence on Millennial learners.


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What Do Employers Want? What Should Faculty Teach? A Content Analysis of Entry-Level Employment Ads in Public Relations

Editorial Record: Original draft submitted to JPRE July 6, 2016. First revision went under review July 24, 2017; second revision went under review Sept. 26, 2017. Manuscript accepted for publication Feb. 5, 2018. Final edits completed July 19, 2018. First published online August 17, 2018.


Brigitta Brunner

Brigitta R. Brunner, Auburn University


Kim Zarkin, Westminster College

Brad Yates Headshot January 2018

Bradford L. Yates, University of West Georgia

We would like to thank our research assistants, Stephanie Held and Natalie Sands, for their help with this project.

What Do Employers Want? What Should Faculty Teach? A Content Analysis of Entry-Level Employment Ads in Public Relations


Public relations remains a popular major at the undergraduate level; faculty want to provide the best educational experience for their students to help them secure jobs. This research explores entry-level employment ads in public relations as a way to understand what skills employers want and expect new graduates to have. A content analysis of 199 entry-level employment ads posted to the Public Relations Society of America Job Center was conducted. Major findings include the need for graduates to possess not only hard skills such as writing but also soft skill abilities, such as time management, deadline orientation, and collaboration. In addition, it was found that few job ads specifically request that future employees have a public relations degree. Finally, although many of the ads that were examined call for a future employee to have the skills traditionally associated with the technician role, the authors suggest a new practitioner role has come into existence. This role, which bridges the technician and manager, is called the manager’s apprentice, and it requires knowledge of tactics and writing, as well as familiarity with measurement, social media strategy, and data collection.

Key terms: public relations, employment ads, hard skills, soft skills, manager’s apprentice

What Do Employers Want? What Should Faculty Teach? A Content Analysis of Entry-Level Employment Ads in Public Relations

Public relations programs educate students with specific careers in mind and often make curricular decisions according to perceptions of industry best practices. To stay informed about best practices, programs often form professional advisory boards and urge faculty to be active in professional networking organizations, read trade publications, and follow industry blogs. Students are encouraged, if not required, to complete internships, and assessment reports may include employment data as a marker of meeting learning goals. Regardless of methods, staying current with what students will need to be successful is often a high priority for programs large and small. As the industry rapidly changes due to technology and other factors, not only are practitioners hard at work to develop ways to implement these changes into their strategies and tactics, but educators, too, are working to redevelop course content and topics (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2015).

Graduates entering the field of public relations come from a wide range of programs. Some have entire majors devoted specifically to public relations (e.g., Syracuse University, University of Florida, University of Georgia); some have tracks or emphases focused on public relations (e.g., Austin Peay State University, East Tennessee State University, Fisher College). Still, others have just a few course options within a broad-based communication degree (e.g., Mercer University, Southern Arkansas University, Troy University).  

Graduates from all of these types of programs commonly seek the same entry-level positions in public relations. Despite program size or accreditation status, it is important for all to understand what employers want and expect in new employees. This research explores entry-level employment ads in public relations as a way to understand which skills employers want and expect new graduates to have. A content analysis of entry-level employment ads can provide insight into what the industry desires in a new employee, which could be useful as programs contemplate curriculum for public relations classes and programs.

Employee Roles

When the topics of employment and job opportunities are introduced to students, discussions of the roles of technician and manager often ensue based upon the content of introductory public relations texts (e.g., Wilcox, Cameron, & Reber, 2015). Research about public relations roles was first conducted by Broom and Smith (1979) and was refined and expanded with the work of Broom (1982), Dozier (1983), and Dozier and Broom (2006). Broom and Smith (1979) examined the tasks undertaken by practitioners, and they developed five common roles: the technical service provider, the expert prescriber, the communication process facilitator, the problem solving/task facilitator, and acceptant legitimizer. Broom (1982) simplified these concepts, reducing the roles to four and renaming them the expert prescriber, the communication facilitator, the problem-solving process facilitator, and the communication technician. Dozier (1983) and Dozier and Broom (1995) further refined this work, noting how closely connected the expert prescriber, the communication facilitator, and the problem-solving process facilitator roles were. Because of this interrelated nature, Dozier collapsed the three roles into one, simply calling it the manager role.

Managers are part of the decision-making process and use research and measurement to develop strategies (Dozier, 1981; 1984; 1992). In contrast, technicians perform tasks, such as writing press releases, and work to complete tasks assigned by managers and clients; their work does not include strategy or problem solving (Broom & Smith, 1979; Dozier, 1992). While the manager and technician roles have been the standard since their inception more than 30 years ago, there is some research that suggests there could be new roles emerging (Diga & Kelleher, 2009; Neill & Lee, 2016; Vieira & Grantham, 2014). However, current textbooks rely on the dichotomy of the manager and the technician when explaining public relations roles.

Employee Skills, Knowledge, and Abilities

In conjunction with a discussion of the manager and technician roles, many textbooks also spell out the skills and abilities that are desirable in entry-level and advanced employees (e.g., Wilcox, Cameron, & Reber, 2015). Public relations educators and practitioners have worked together in summits, in meetings, and in the writing of reports in order to develop students’ key skills and abilities through curricula that will endure for decades (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2018). The first comprehensive report of the Commission on Public Relations Education was published in 1975; updates were made in 1987, 1999, 2006, 2010, 2012, and 2018 (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2018).

The latest report of the Commission, Fast Forward: Foundations and Future State. Educators and Practitioners, was released in April 2018. Like the reports before it, the report states that one of the major skills entry-level employees need is the ability to write. The new report, however, goes beyond suggesting that today’s public relations graduates be proficient writers by stating that they also need to be versatile and adaptable writers. The authors also note the importance of research, theory, ethics, and technology as necessary knowledge for today’s public relations practitioner.

The discussion of what makes for the ideal public relations program (i.e., one that provides students with the skills necessary for employment) has been ongoing. Historically, many practitioners have cautioned that public relations educators ignore the input of those hiring graduates in order to meet the demands of students and administrators (Wright & VanSlyke Turk, 1990). The authors of the 2015 Summit of the Commission on Public Relations suggested that educators need to do a better job of helping practitioners to understand the way universities work, resource limitations, and the intricacies of accreditation, certification, and core coursework requirements.

Some practitioners may believe recent graduates are not ready for the workforce. For example, Todd (2009) found PRSSA professional advisors did not believe educators were adequately preparing students for current industry and practice standards. In fact, these professionals suggested public relations curricula were out of touch and needed to put more emphasis on new technologies, technician skills, and entry-level positions. Further, they stated entry-level employees still lacked good writing skills and suggested more practitioners should be involved in assessing student work. Todd called for more engagement of academics and professionals to ensure students were gaining the knowledge and skills required in the workforce.

Similarly, the most recent Commission on Public Relations Education (2018) report suggests, “There are gaps, often significant, between what employers want, what they think new hires have – and educators often tend to rate students higher than do practitioners” (p. 15). Other research has also compared and contrasted what academics and practitioners believe about public relations education. DiStaso, Stacks, and Botan (2009) surveyed professionals and academics via PRSA, the Association of Women in Communication, Page Society, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, International Communication Association and National Communication Association to better understand the current state of public relations education. While both academics and professionals agreed that writing skills, especially those necessary to write press releases, are essential for entry-level employees, such skills often were not possessed by applicants. Both groups also believed it was important for entry-level employees to possess soft skills.

Hard skills can be thought of as those linked to the technical abilities and knowledge of the field (Robles, 2012; Woodward, Sendall, & Ceccucci, 2010). In PR, hard skills would include knowledge of writing, data analysis, social media, and measurement. Soft skills are characteristics, outlooks, and actions that help one to be proficient when working with people, communication, and projects (Robles, 2012; Woodward, Sendall, & Ceccucci, 2010). Robles (2012) suggested that “soft skills are the intangible, nontechnical, personality-specific skills that determine one’s strengths as a leader, facilitator, mediator, and negotiator” (p. 457). In public relations, soft skills are needed for improved communication, effective project management, and collaborative work relationships.

DiStaso et al. (2009) found professionals and academics agreed that entry-level employees should have skills, both hard and soft, including good attitudes, initiative, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, organization skills, interpersonal skills, flexibility, knowledge of media, knowledge of current events, creativity, the ability to take criticism, and understanding of basic business practices. Again, the findings showed that entry-level employees are sorely lacking in all the above skills, but they were rated especially low for knowledge of current events and business practices. Similarly, Auger and Cho (2016) found public relations programs are still lacking in requirements for business courses in the curriculum. These findings suggest that educators need to place greater emphasis on these areas and types of knowledge.

In 2010, PRSA leaders wrote a white paper based on the thoughts of delegates of the Leadership Assembly. This work identified what industry and educational leaders believed would be the most important skills and knowledge for future practitioners (Barber et al., 2012). Again in the white paper, leaders called for knowledge of business practice and literacy such as an understanding of financials, management, and international experience. While noting a decline in writing skills, these leaders said the core skills and competencies or hard skills of the field were still relevant and necessary. Among other skills, the group noted the need for technologic understanding, as well as emotional intelligence and knowledge of social sciences such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Adaptability, creativity, and understanding of design principles were also mentioned as necessary skills, especially when technology is involved (Jacques, 2015). Similarly, some stated that students should be skilled in public speaking and interpersonal relationship skills because executives will expect them to have those abilities (Jacques, 2012).

In May 2015, the Commission on Public Relations Education held a summit with leading public relations practitioners to better determine what the ideal public relations education standards should look like (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2015). Practitioners at the Summit helped to develop a description of the ideal entry-level public relations practitioner. While the description included knowledge derived from experience and classroom knowledge, it also included soft skills. For example, certain personal traits, integrity, accountability, and a sense of ethics were deemed necessary. In addition, these participants said entry-level practitioners need to be driven and have intellectual curiosity, making them lifelong learners. Being able to collaborate, to listen well, to adapt, and to be sensitive to cultural and individual differences were noted as important interpersonal skills for entry-level practitioners. Additionally, the Summit participants also said self-awareness and assertiveness were key. The practitioners also listed essential skills for entry-level practitioners, many of which seemed managerial in origin. For example, solving problems, conducting and analyzing data, and making connections between how the world works and how those things affect the clients were among this list of essential skills.

Finally, the group also identified essential knowledge for entry-level public relations practitioners. Among the items mentioned were knowing the role and value of public relations and being able to explain this information to a client or employer; understanding how to measure public relations outputs; interpreting data and understanding analytics; knowing communication and public relations theories; understanding cross cultural and global communication and sensitivities; understanding how business works and how business acumen affects public relations, as well as knowing “the skills that are new to the PR professional, the things older professionals don’t even know yet” (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2015, p. 8.) To sum it up, one COO of a global corporation said the entry-level practitioner should: “Know how to write and speak. Know how to run a project and work as part of a team. Think globally” (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2015, p. 9). These recommendations are a tall order for both educators and students.

Research in Public Relations Using Employment Ads

Little research has examined job descriptions and the offerings of public relations programs. Auger and Cho (2016) conducted a content analysis comparing the courses taught within public relations curricula to descriptions for entry- and advanced-level public relations jobs. Their findings suggest that employers wanted to hire graduates with the ability to compose and author materials, the ability to speak in front of people, the ability to work with journalists, the ability to use emerging channels of communication, and the ability to develop tactics and strategies. Positions for people more advanced in their careers were more likely to require interpersonal, fundraising, research/measurement, and crisis knowledge, while entry-level ones had more emphasis on knowledge of visual communication.

Auger and Cho (2016) concluded that generally speaking, the current public relations course offerings were not only meeting industry needs for entry-level positions but also giving students the foundation they needed for advanced positions by including ethics, law, research, and globalization in course content. These findings suggest that a strong relationship has been built between public relations educators and practitioners (Auger & Cho, 2016). However, their analysis also stated that while educators are adequately preparing students for crisis, fundraising, and basic public relations skills, they still fall short when it comes to social and new media.

Auger and Cho (2016) stated some students are aware of this shortcoming, as evidenced by Di Staso et al. (2009), who found that public relations students feel least prepared for working with new technology, design, and layout upon graduation. However, Auger and Cho argued that this perceived knowledge gap regarding new and social media may be temporary because course curricula are evolving, and many professors are incorporating social media into existing course content even if stand-alone social media courses are not listed on curriculum sheets. Due to this shifting landscape, it seems there is still room for improving public relations curricula when considering industry requirements, and it is appropriate to investigate it further. This study will expand upon the work of Auger and Cho by further investigating the skill sets sought by entry-level employers. While Auger and Cho investigated a similar area of research, they looked at both curricula and employment ads; however, we looked only from the practitioner standpoint of what skills are being sought from our graduates.

Research Questions

When faculty approach curriculum planning, there are always questions about what new skills public relations professionals will need to be competitive. Professional advisory boards and trade publications provide some insight. However, a systematic approach to examining entry-level employment ads in public relations may answer questions about specific skills that are being requested of new graduates, which furthers the work of Auger and Cho (2016), and is needed to better understand how and if the PR curriculum is keeping up with the needs of the practice. Based on the literature and foundational framework examined, the researchers developed the following research questions to gain more insight into what entry-level public relations employment ads requested of applicants in terms of education and skills.

RQ1: What degrees are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

RQ2: What knowledge/skills related to writing formats are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

RQ3: What knowledge/skills related to social media platforms are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

RQ4: What knowledge/skills related to design tools are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

RQ5: What managerial knowledge/skills are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

RQ6: What soft skills are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?



For a sampling frame of job skills and requirements, job postings from the Public Relations Society of America Job Center were gathered via a convenience sample. The sample included 199 entry-level employment ads posted between October 28 and November 18, 2015. Entry-level is defined here as requiring fewer than three years of experience. The unit of analysis was the job description of the PRSA Job Center website.

The PRSA Job Center website allows users to search its job postings based on “Organizational Setting.” The settings include the following: 1) corporation, 2) educational institution, 3) government/military, 4) independent practitioner, 5) nonprofit/association, 6) professional services, 7) public relations agency/consultancy, 8) recruiter, and 9) other. Our sample had the following distribution: corporation (n = 78), educational institution (n = 18), government/military (n = 3), independent practitioner (n = 0), nonprofit/association (n = 33), professional services (n = 13), public relations agency/consultancy (n = 28), recruiter (n = 9), and other (n = 16).

Measures and Coding Procedure

The coding sheet was developed based on the literature surrounding public relations education, practitioner wants/needs for entry-level employees, and soft skills. The coding sheet was used to assess the educational level, fields of study, the types of writing experience desired, soft skills, social media platforms, and design programs requested in each of the ads. The instrument consisted of 58 questions and was broken into sections to help guide the coders. For example, one section asked the coders to look for and code basic information about the job such as organization type and degree type. The other sections of the instrument asked the coders to inventory information about writing formats and skills, social media platforms and skills, design tools and skills, managerial skills, and soft skills listed in each ad.

Intercoder Reliability

The authors held two training sessions with two research assistants (one undergraduate and one graduate student) to review the coding instrument and code book. After these sessions, the two trained research assistants coded independently. At first, the research assistants conducted a pretest of 10% of the research sample to test the coding instrument for reliability. Discussion was used as a means to clarify inconsistencies. Using Holsti’s formula, the initial intercoder reliability was found to be 80.68%. Although this intercoder reliability falls within an acceptable range, the researchers refined the coding sheet and with these changes, the intercoder reliability rose to 89.2% (Stacks, 2016). One significant change between the pretest instrument and final coding sheet involved the structure of the skill lists. The first draft of the coding sheet presented the skill sections as long checklists, and because of that length, the coders were missing key terms. In response to that issue, the coding tool was revised, so the coders had to state whether each skill was listed in the ad with a simple yes or no format. By forcing the coders to look through the ad for each individual term, intercoder reliability was increased.


RQ1: What degrees are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

Nearly three-quarters of the employment ads listed the bachelor’s degree as preferred or required (see Table 1). The ads were fairly open as to the specific majors requested. Forty percent of the ads made no mention of majors, with another six percent just saying “related field.” Communication (42%), journalism (27%), and marketing (34%) were the most commonly mentioned degrees. Public relations (17%) and English (14%) also appeared occasionally.

Table 1

Degrees Sought in Entry-Level Employment Ads

Brunner et al. Table 1 Degrees sought in entry-level employment ads

R2: What knowledge/skills related to writing formats are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

Writing skills are consistently valued highly across many professions. Public relations is a writing-centric profession. Thus, it is no surprise that 70% of the ads listed writing well as a key to success. It is probably more surprising that 30% of the ads didn’t mention writing.

Public relations is not the same profession it was years ago. Therefore, the authors wanted to pay particular attention to any specific forms of writing mentioned in the ads as a way to understand what types of assignments might best position graduates for the job market. Table 2 shows how often 22 writing pieces appeared in the entry-level employment ads.

There were far fewer specific writing forms mentioned in the ads than might be expected. Only promotional materials (including brochures) and web content were found at least 50% of the time. Social media appeared in 47% of the ads. Strategic plans (38%) and press releases (27%) were also among those items more frequently mentioned. A common writing form that was not coded for originally, but seemed to come up frequently in the “other” category, was the newsletter. Through additional coding, the authors found newsletters mentioned in 23% of the ads.

Table 2

Writing Formats and Skills Sought in Entry-Level Employment Ads

Brunner et al. Table 2 Writing Formats and Skills Sought in Entry-Level Employment Ads

RQ3: What knowledge/skills related to social media platforms are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

Social media appeared in about half the entry-level employment ads, but Table 3 shows that specific platforms were not often mentioned; however, Facebook and Twitter were noted in 14% of the ads. Social media management tools such as Hootsuite or TweetDeck rarely appear, with 93% of the ads making no mention of social media management tools at all. Similarly, social media analytic tools such as Google Analytics were also not common, with 84% of the ads making no mentions. Therefore, it is clear that while social media is a common expectation for new graduates, the specific tools are not being mentioned all that much.

Although Microsoft Office tools are not social media, this research did code for whether they appeared in the ads after the coders mentioned how frequently they were seeing it in the test batch. About half the ads mention Office and the specific tools of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel.

Table 3

Social Media Platform Experience Sought in Entry-Level Employment Ads

Brunner et al. Table 3 Social Media Platform Experience Sought in Entry-Level Employment Ads

RQ4: What knowledge/skills related to design tools are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

The Adobe Creative Cloud and the specific tools included were mentioned in 28% of the ads. Photoshop (18%), InDesign (13%) and Illustrator (10%) were the most commonly mentioned tools. The research also looked at web design tools and platforms. Only 20% of the ads made any mention of either content management systems, such as WordPress, or HTML or other coding.

RQ5: What managerial knowledge/skills are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

This research also looked at a wide array of managerial skills. Table 4 shows specific skills mentioned in the ads, including budgeting (27%) and event planning (19%). Project management appeared in 67% of the ads, speaking to the importance of developing that skill in undergraduates. Office management skills were only mentioned in 2% of the ads examined.

Table 4

Management Skills Sought in Entry-Level Employment Ads

Brunner et al. Table 4 Management Skills Sought in Entry-Level Employment Ads

RQ6: What soft skills are sought in entry-level employment ads in public relations?

Table 5 shows a wide variety of soft skills coded. Being collaborative and collegial topped the list, appearing in 67% of the ads. Organizational skills such as being able to multitask appeared in 59% of the ads. The other two most commonly mentioned skills are closely related to the first two. Thirty-nine percent of the ads specifically mentioned relationship-building and/or time management/managing deadlines. Other frequently mentioned soft skills in the “other” category were editing and proofreading, customer service, and analytical skills. Oral communication skills also showed up with similar regularity, suggesting the need for students to work on oral presentations of all kinds.

Table 5

Soft Skills Sought in Entry-Level Employment Ads

Brunner et al. Table 5 Soft Skills Sought in Entry-Level Employment Ads


While it is not surprising that entry-level positions require a college degree, it might seem odd to some that the ads in this sample were more likely to request a communication, journalism, or marketing degree than one in public relations. These findings support curricula that encourage students to enroll in a variety of courses across disciplines and to seek minors that will complement the knowledge and skills of their chosen major. These findings also raise questions about how well PR educators are communicating the value of the PR-specific degree. Public relations industry leaders have been cautioning academics and practitioners about the dangers of having people not trained in public relations working in the field since 1973 (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2018).

As has been noted, practitioners are concerned with entry-level graduates’ writing abilities. Perhaps this frustration is exacerbated by practitioners not insisting that job ads specifically require a degree in public relations, as well as by the employment of people who do not have classwork or degrees in public relations. According to DiStaso, Cornish, Sheffer, and Dodd (2018), “Many practitioners do not require a degree in public relations when hiring for entry-level positions. This means that the field is flooded with students who went to programs lacking a strong writing focus, no or a low barrier to entry to major, and students who did not get a public relations degree but want to work in the field” (p. 42).

Perhaps inviting practitioners to be more involved in education through guest speaking engagements, student-run firm advising, and advisory boards would help change this situation (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2018). If practitioners are more involved with public relations educators, they would better understand what is taught in the curriculum, and misconceptions about what is being taught could be cleared up more readily (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2015). Perhaps with greater practitioner involvement and knowledge of what the PR curriculum includes, we will see more ads specifically requesting applicants who have an undergraduate degree in PR, which ultimately helps not only academics but the profession as well.

The examination of the ads in this sample demonstrate that entry-level jobs are still written with a technician in mind. Technicians are employees who typically do not make decisions on the management level, but instead develop communication tactics and carry out the decisions and policies made by others (Broom & Dozier, 1986; Dozier, 1984). Similar to what other researchers have found, this research also finds writing is still the most highly desired skill for entry-level practitioners (Auger & Cho, 2016; DiStaso et al., 2009; Jacques, 2012; Jacques, 2015); however, the lesson from RQ2 is that the ads are far less specific about the types of writing needed in these entry-level jobs than might be expected. One possibility is public relations formats are perceived to change so rapidly that specific forms of writing may quickly become obsolete. Yet other possibilities are that the ads are written with the skill set of the person who last held the position in mind, or the ads are written by human resources personnel who may not be as familiar with the field.

The advent of social media as a significant part of an entry-level technician’s day puts practitioners and academics in a unique situation not only to need to be constantly on top of the latest trends but also to find interesting ways to use the latest platforms to engage publics. Although most of the ads reviewed for this study did not mention specific social media platforms, management software, or analytic tools by name, they did call for social media skills and knowledge. The need for social media knowledge among public relations students and practitioners is obvious. For example, a 2017 study by Wright and Hinson found many public relations practitioners reported spending up to a quarter of their working day using social media. Students would likely be well-served if they had a command of both social media platforms and social media analytic tools (Kinsky, Freberg, Kim, Kushin, & Ward, 2016; Meng, Jin, Lee, & Kim, 2017).

Despite the ads’ adherence to the traditional technician role, there also seems to be a trend to request management skills of entry-level practitioners. For example, 67% of the ads examined requested applicants have project management skills. Similarly, the list of essential skills put together by participants of the 2015 Summit of the Commission on Public Relations also mentions the need for managerial skills. Perhaps as more employers come to recognize the importance of employees with measurement skills, more entry-level positions will evolve from purely technician to that of a manager’s apprentice. This new role might still require the writing skills and familiarity with tactics of the current technician role, but add to it knowledge of measurement and social media strategy and analytics, data collection, and the development of preliminary reports. In this bridging role, a manager’s apprentice might be responsible for some decision-making, problem solving and policy related to social media and/or other areas. Even with this suggested additional role, the public relations manager would still be responsible for the public relations program, its outcomes, and problem solving; the public relations manager would still be the expert in the field who negotiates, plans, and strategizes the communication between organizational leaders and publics (Broom & Dozier, 1986; Dozier, 1984).   

Another area students may need to be familiar with is design, including design programs. The need for design can probably be tied to the type of public relations the students see themselves pursuing. Those students aiming for agencies and larger corporations will likely work with graphic and web designers. However, students interested in smaller nonprofits and independent consultancies will likely need to rely on themselves for basic design tasks such as brochures, posters, and simple websites. Educators and practitioners alike believe knowledge of design is helpful (see Gallicano, Ekachai, & Freberg, 2014); however, they rate this knowledge as less necessary than skills such as writing and research (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2018). “While these skills may still be important in smaller organizations that do not have their own production facilities or can’t afford to outsource production, the ability to communicate using appropriate messages and channels appears to be more important than the packaging of those messages” (O’Neil, Moreno, Rawlins, & Valentini, 2018, p. 55). Perhaps in the future, educators will find more ways to infuse design within the existing curriculum or build relationships across their respective campuses, so students can take supporting classes in areas such as graphic design.

Other qualities desired in entry-level public relations practitioners include soft skills such as the ability to meet deadlines, collaborate, speak in public, and build relationships. Soft skills have moved from knowledge that is “nice-to-have” to a “must-have” for employers (Bancino & Zevalkink, 2007, p. 22). In 2010, Klaus reported that approximately three-quarters of continuing employment accomplishment is contingent upon malleable abilities, whereas merely one-quarter of long-term job success was attributed to hard skills. While hard skills are already part of university curricula, soft skills need more emphasis to better prepare students for the workforce (Wellington, 2005). Going forward, a challenge for faculty will be helping students identify ways in which they can document soft skills on their resumes, especially if job ads specifically call for such skills. In addition, it seems students with proficiency in Microsoft Office programs should include them on their resumes based on the findings of this study.

Recommendations for the Classroom

From a curricular standpoint, public relations faculty can stand by the idea that good writing is good writing, regardless of the particular form (Jacques, 2015). New modes of writing can be learned, if the basic skills are already there. Therefore, it seems appropriate for educators to continue to teach AP Style, grammar, and sentence structure, but they need to balance assignments requiring students to write traditional pieces such as promotional materials, press releases, and features with assignments focusing purely on writing for social media platforms, such as Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and general web content. Faculty need to continue to develop social media classes (Kim & Freberg, 2016; Zhang & Freberg, 2018), as well as find ways to introduce such content across all current courses (Auger & Cho, 2016). By including lectures and projects related to analytics, proper use of social media, and the writing, design, and presentation of social media content, any shortcomings in these areas would be addressed.

Faculty need to find ways to integrate both hard and soft skills into assignments, assessment, and classwork in order to create a more well-rounded graduate (Robles, 2012). Getting students out of the comfort zone of lecture can help them to practice and develop soft skills (Bancino & Zevalkink, 2007; Dalley, 2014; Schulz, 2008). Soft skills are best taught using experiential, authentic, and integrated learning, such as when the faculty member takes on the role of a coach rather than a lecturer and guides students through assignments that require teamwork, writing, and oral presentations (Elmuti, 2004; Gordon, 1998; Navarro, 2008; Noll & Wilkins, 2002; Tuleja & Greenhalgh, 2008).

To encourage students to develop the soft skills and other qualities most wanted by industry leaders, faculty could also use techniques associated with the flipped classroom (Gibson & Sodeman, 2014; Hutchings & Quinney, 2015). In the flipped classroom, class time is used mainly for application and analysis rather than lecture. By building motivation among students, they come to class prepared by having completed assignments, and the classroom can more closely resemble a functioning workplace where faculty take on the role of a facilitator who guides students through active learning experiences that help them to build their professional talents (Bristol, 2014). Additionally, the flipped classroom helps students to develop skills such as leadership, collaboration, communication, and problem solving (Chen, Wang, Kinshuk, & Chen, 2014; James, Chin, & Williams, 2014). Faculty could task students with assignments and projects focused on measurement, making connections among the global context and their respective assignments, conducting and analyzing data, developing goals and objectives, and refining their storytelling skills to better prepare them for the workplace (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2015).

By developing such assignments, students would not only have the safety of the classroom while making mistakes and learning, but also would take part in peer-to-peer education while being guided by a faculty member. Students could be asked to participate in gallery walks in which they reflect upon and offer constructive criticism to their peers. Gallery walks help students to synthesize and evaluate the work of their peers through movement, reflection, analysis, group discussion, and writing (Honeycutt, n.d.). This activity can mirror the team dynamic common to many workplaces.

Students could also conduct micro-teaching assignments on topics such as professionalism or globalism to further reinforce public speaking skills and adherence to deadlines. Students could also be tasked with reflecting upon the ethics and responsibilities surrounding their own work to further develop them as professionals. Finally, students could be asked to help develop rubrics and other assessment tools for assignments, so they can learn more about what quality work is and how to judge it. Therefore, the flipped classroom might be a key to developing the entry-level employee that industry leaders dream of hiring while helping students to be ready for the manager’s apprentice role they could encounter in the workforce.

Some final suggestions are for faculty, with the help of practitioners, to develop soft skills seminars for students to take before interning. By eliciting the help of internship supervisors, faculty could find ways to build students’ knowledge of and confidence in their soft skills. Internship supervisors could also be called upon to help assess soft skills as part of their feedback about interns (Daugherty, 2011). Community partners and clients working with students on long-term projects could also help assess these areas (Steimel, 2013). Similarly, student-run agencies under the guidance of faculty and/or practitioners could also be a place where students learn about and further develop their soft skills with assessments specific to this skill set built into any feedback materials (Bush & Miller, 2011; Swanson, 2011). Finally, practitioners could assist faculty with building soft skills knowledge in students by providing workshops, talks, and/or webinars on the topic through professional organizations such as PRSSA.

Limitations and Future Research

Although these data are interesting, they are only based on a convenience sample of online ads posted on PRSA’s website. This sample not only excludes ads found in other media, but it could also exclude those organizations unable to pay posting fees such as small organizations, particularly represented by the nonprofit sector. In order to answer the research questions posed by the authors, only entry-level ads were reviewed; therefore, little information has been gained about the skills and knowledge necessary to move to the next level of employment. A follow-up study should examine job ads targeted to middle- and senior-level practitioners in order to complete the picture of what skills and knowledge public relations practitioners need throughout the life of their careers.

Finally, this research vein could be further explored using qualitative methods, such as focus groups or in-depth interviews. Focus groups and/or interviews could be conducted with those people who are hiring entry-level public relations practitioners. This step would help public relations educators to better understand not only what employers want in entry-level public relations practitioners, but also why they desire such skills and qualities. Similarly, qualitative and quantitative methods could be used to gain insight into the experiences of newly hired entry-level practitioners to understand their interview and job search experiences, as well as to determine what skills and knowledge they draw upon to complete their daily work. These lines of research could help educators when developing courses, course content, and curricula to prepare students for the workforce they will encounter, thereby strengthening the relationship between educators and practitioners.


In conclusion, it seems that faculty can best meet the needs of their students and their future employers by being aware of the knowledge and skills that are called for in entry-level employment ads. In addition, faculty should build strong alliances with their local practitioners to further gain insight into this aspect of their work. Perhaps a final suggestion is for faculty and students to closely examine entry-level job ads in the classroom and determine ways to take students from undergraduate to employed public relations practitioners.


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Teaching Digital and Social Media Analytics: Exploring Best Practices and Future Implications for Public Relations Pedagogy

Editorial Record: Original draft submitted to JPRE March 30, 2017. Revision went under review August 7, 2017. Manuscript accepted for publication Oct. 8, 2017. Final edits completed July 20, 2018. First published online August 17, 2018.


Michele Ewing Photo by David LaBelle

Michele E. Ewing, Kent State University

Carolyn Mae Kim, Biola University

Emily Kinsky

Emily S. Kinsky, West Texas A&M University

Stefanie Moore

Stefanie Moore, Kent State University

Karen Freberg

Karen Freberg, University of Louisville

Teaching Digital and Social Media Analytics: Exploring Best Practices and Future Implications for Public Relations Pedagogy


One of the growing areas within public relations is digital and social media analytics. Teaching the use of analytics to communication students is not new, but studying what is being taught is almost non-existent. The public relations research literature has supported exploring the value of data analysis to gain audience insights, to measure communication strategies, and to evaluate campaign efforts. The purpose of this study is to explore the ways in which faculty are teaching social media analytics. Two content analyses were conducted to explore trends of digital and social media analytics training. Authors analyzed related course syllabi and a Twitter chat on the subject sponsored by the AEJMC PR Division and PRSA Educators Academy. Findings and future implications in teaching digital and social media analytics for educators and public relations practitioners are discussed.

Key words: social media, social media analytics, public relations education, digital analytics

Teaching Digital and Social Media Analytics: Exploring Best Practices and Future Implications for Public Relations Pedagogy

The field of public relations, like many other professional disciplines, has been compelled to respond to the growing demands and shifts in the digital social landscape. Within the public relations education sector, there has been a rise of social media research (Duhé, 2015). One of the challenges in social media research and practice is to determine how to effectively bridge the expectations of practitioners with what is being taught in the classroom. Several pedagogical studies looking at social media (e.g., Kim & Freberg, 2016; Zhang & Freberg, 2018) have attempted to make these connections stronger within the discipline, yet with social media changing so quickly, professors face significant challenges keeping up with the trends, as well as addressing the key areas and skills students need to be successful in the field. Teaching the use of analytics to communication students is not new, but studies examining what is being taught in this area are almost non-existent; thus, an investigation of current curriculum trends related to digital analytics is a goal of the current study.

Literature supports the value of data analysis to gain audience insights and shape and measure communication strategies (DiStaso, McCorkindale, & Wright, 2011; Elkin, 2017; Grates, 2016; Jain, 2016). Kent, Carr, Husted, and Pop (2011) pointed to the benefit of advances in technology to students: “With new tools like analytics in the hands of communication professionals, understanding stakeholders and publics becomes easier, and students become stronger professionals” (p. 543). As Stansberry (2016d) explains, the usefulness of social media goes far beyond sending messages; social media allow practitioners to better understand their target publics. Thus, a key skill students need to learn is how to make sense of the data available. According to Elkin (2017), the majority of marketers (72%) value employees’ data analysis abilities even more than other social media skills (65%). Beyond that, of the 12 “professional values and competencies” listed by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, five closely connect to the idea of teaching digital analytics. The ACEJMC guidelines have the following requirements:

irrespective of their particular specialization, all graduates should be aware of certain core values and competencies and be able to . . . understand concepts and apply theories in the use and presentation of images and information . . . think critically, creatively and independently; conduct research and evaluate information by methods appropriate to the communications professions in which they work; . . . apply basic numerical and statistical concepts; apply current tools and technologies appropriate for the communications professions in which they work, and to understand the digital world. (para. 9)

The importance of instruction in analytics at all levels was emphasized by Kent et al. (2011), who said introductory students should be presented with the ideas and tools connected to analytics, while actual data gathering should be done regularly by advanced students. The authors pointed toward the ability to understand data and how to communicate the insights clearly and correctly because numbers, by themselves, do not tell the story. According to Kent et al., students need actual data to learn from so they do not rely on “stereotypes and guesses” in their campaigns; “having data allows professionals to make better decisions. Just as many professors use scenarios and case studies to teach ethics, having access to real data and helping students learn how to interpret data is valuable” (p. 541). Teaching data analytics to students in public relations is important because of what can be learned about relevant stakeholders and the environment in which an organization exists.   

The purpose of this study is to examine how U.S. public relations professors are teaching digital and social media analytics. Following further examination of literature in the next section, the current study will fill some of these gaps through new research efforts into what is currently taught on the topic of digital analytics and what some experts say should be taught.


Much of the research related to digital training in public relations classrooms focuses on the use of social media (Childers & Levenshus, 2016; Fraustino, Briones, & Janoske, 2015; Kim & Freberg, 2016); however, gaps remain in scholarship that specifically focus on the area of teaching social media analytics. This is an important gap to address, as the use of measurement and the ability to understand data analytics is crucial to future public relations professionals.

In the 2017 report on undergraduate education from the Commission on Public Relations Education (Toth & Lewton, 2018), both educators and practitioners identified “research and analytics” as a highly desired skill (p. 87). The desirability of that skill was rated 4.30 by educators and 4.08 by practitioners (1 = not desired, 5 = highly desired). The educators participating in the survey also rated how well “research and analytics” is covered in their programs (m = 3.78), and practitioner participants rated how frequently that skill is found in new graduates hired by them (m = 2.70). Additionally, when asked to rate specific topics of importance for PR curriculum, both practitioners and educators rated analytics highly. On a scale of 1 (not essential) to 5 (essential), educators rated the importance of “data analytics” in the curriculum at an average of 4.15, and practitioners rated the topic 3.93 (p. 89).  The topic of “measurement and evaluation” was also rated highly by educators (m = 4.57) and by practitioners (m = 4.42), as well as the topic of “social media” (m = 4.60 by educators; m = 4.46 by practitioners) (p. 89).

Social Media Pedagogy Research: Concepts and Skills

Early on, Anderson and Swenson (2008) studied what public relations educators should cover in class related to “new media” (p. 109). They solicited advice from PR professionals about what they should teach to best prepare their students, and one of the emerging themes was measurement. The authors followed up this research effort with a study about digital competencies (Anderson & Swenson, 2013), which also sought advice from PR professionals, specifically via a Twitter chat (#PR20Chat) and a survey of top bloggers, including Brian Solis, Arik Hanson, Gini Dietrich and Deirdre Breakenridge. Prior to the current study, the examination of social media curriculum has been rather broad; no one has yet focused specifically on teaching digital analytics in public relations.

In order to best prepare students for the professional world, researchers have examined the use of social media in the industry (e.g., McCorkindale, 2010; Sundstrom & Levenshus, 2016; Wright & Hinson, 2017). Other researchers have focused on practicing social media skills in the classroom (e.g., Fraustino, Briones, & Janoske, 2015; Kinsky & Bruce, 2016; Kinsky, Freberg, Kim, Kushin, & Ward, 2016; Kinsky, Kuttis, Nutting, & Freberg, 2016; Tatone, Gallicano, & Tefertiller, 2017), including the use of multiple platforms (e.g., Janoske, Briones, & Fraustino, 2016). Researchers have also studied the use of new media by students to communicate with professors outside of the classroom (Waters & Bortree, 2011).

Several studies have focused on the use of particular social media tools. Most of the research about the use of social media in the classroom has focused on Twitter (Anderson & Swenson, 2013; Carpenter & Krutka, 2014; DeGroot, Young, & VanSlette, 2015; Forgie, Duff, & Ross, 2013; Fraustino et al., 2015) and Facebook (Frisby, Kaufmann, & Beck, 2016).

Facebook and Twitter have been the most frequent social media platforms utilized for public relations classroom exercises; however, LinkedIn (Edministon, 2014; Peterson & Dover, 2014), YouTube (Madden, Briones Winkler, Fraustino, & Janoske, 2016), and blogs (e.g., Moody, 2010) have also been used in communication courses. Although much of the extant research examines one platform at a time, some professors have shared their use of multiple social media platforms within their campaign client projects (Childers & Levenshus, 2016; Melton & Hicks, 2011) to teach students in public relations classes about the fundamentals of writing, campaign strategy, and research approaches.

Some researchers, such as Anderson and Swenson (2013), have suggested training students to use social media professionally by using role-playing exercises and case studies, as well as using social media platforms in class. Providing assignments that create a realistic experience allows students, who will become future professionals, the opportunity to apply what they have learned in the classroom setting (Anderson, Swenson, & Kinsella, 2013). Similarly, Neill and Schauster (2015) recommended integrating math practice related to social media analytics into public relations budgeting projects in capstone courses to help students prepare for professional demands.

Although many skills related to social media have been referenced in previous literature, there is a lack of research exclusively focused on what professionals and educators see as needed concepts and skills in the curriculum related to analytics. This lack leads to the first research question:

RQ1: What digital analytic concepts and skills do both public relations students and practitioners need to understand?

Digital Analytics Outcomes

Certain research has focused on particular outcomes rather than platforms, one of which is analyzing target publics. According to Stansberry (2016d), “The information shared by key publics on social media sites has been a goldmine for public relations practitioners looking to understand the concerns, needs, and preferences of their target audiences” (p. 76). The public nature of so many social media platforms gives students access to an enormous amount of data for free. Stansberry (2016d) argued “teaching students to perform publics research not only exposes them to advanced social media analytics tools and techniques, it helps prepare them to thrive in a rapidly changing profession” (p. 88). This training allows students to analyze data while also brainstorming creative ways to apply their findings into campaigns, strategic plans, and situational analyses for clients and brand audits, to name a few possibilities.  

Social media provide practitioners with valuable data, but they are not the only digital sources that should be analyzed. Website traffic is also important to consider. Kent et al. (2011) expressed that website analysis is an important addition to social media monitoring in order to gain information “about the full range of organizational visitors” (p. 542). Moody and Bates (2013) also looked at website-related content in their study of students’ knowledge of search engine optimization and of current trends in SEO within the PR industry.

Digital analytics training must not just cover collecting data, but should also include identifying the metrics that can be used for evaluation and measurement purposes for public relations professionals and researchers. Kent et al. (2011) recommended testing students on analytic terms (e.g., bounce rate), using case studies to explain how analytics can be used in public relations, and providing real datasets for students to analyze and use to propose strategic communication changes for an organization based on the analytic results gathered. There are still some measurement concerns and issues pertaining to social media. Waddington (2017) discussed how some of the issues that occurred in traditional PR measurements are translating into the same challenges for social media. This concern about what to measure points to the importance of understanding how to analyze and interpret the data collected on social media into actionable strategies.

Kent et al. (2011) recognized the different training opportunities between introductory public relations classes and advanced courses. Beginning students might simply be shown what data looks like, while upper-level courses should involve more advanced tasks such as monitoring website traffic.

According to Kent et al. (2011), students can engage in more advanced work after understanding terms and concepts:

The next move is to be able to understand how one variable influences another (“bounce rate and time on site are related . . .”). The third move is to be able to explain how variables change and interact over time or because of external forces (“the outbreak of Malaria drove up TOS during the month of April and also drove down the bounce rate . . .”). This sort of sequential, cause and effect, reasoning takes some time and practice to master. (p. 543)

In addition, some digital analytics strategies taught in classes do not tie directly into how they impact business or communication objectives. Thus, integrating the principles and framework of social media measurement protocols from AMEC (International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication) and digital analytics frameworks and connections to DAA (Digital Analytics Association) is necessary. AMEC’s Integrated Framework (2016) helps guide communications professionals in measuring the impact of their work. The interactive website tool guides professionals through the process of “aligning objectives to establishing a plan, setting targets and then measuring the outputs, outtakes and outcomes” (para. 4). The Digital Analytics Association Competency Framework (2015) serves as an industry reference for employers and educators by providing an overview of the necessary knowledge, skills and competencies needed for careers in digital analytics.

Most of the research exploring digital analytics courses and curriculum do not emphasize these two associations’ frameworks, which raises a point of concern. Without this bridge, there is a divide between what is being taught in the classroom and what is being implemented in practice. A first step in filling missing gaps in the curriculum is to find out what is currently expected of students in courses that include analytics training. This leads to the following research question about what students are expected to accomplish by the end of a course related to digital analytics:

RQ2: What outcomes related to analytics do faculty incorporate into syllabi as part of their courses teaching analytics?

Social Media Course Communication Methods

Instructional methods in public relations classes have been examined by many previous researchers, and the discussion of creating a class hashtag goes back to at least 2011 (Lowe & Laffey). However, no previous studies were found

that examined the inclusion of class hashtags or Facebook groups across social-media-related public relations classes. This use of particular social media communication methods within analytics-related classes leads to this study’s third research question:

RQ3: What social media communication methods are embedded into courses that teach social media analytics?

External Training and Certification Opportunities

For students to be prepared to process their future employers’ data, they must be trained. Like previous researchers, Stansberry (2016d) pointed out the necessity of adding new training modules to classes so that public relations students can keep up with industry: “The percentage of individuals who used social media to share multimedia content has risen rapidly, and it has become imperative that future public relations professionals be equipped with the skills to research and measure this popular form of communication” (p. 76). According to Fraustino et al. (2015), “young practitioners increasingly must develop social media skills to be competitive on the job market and successful in the workplace, and such training can start in the PR classroom” (p. 1).

A number of companies have begun to offer training programs online (e.g., Hootsuite Academy, HubSpot), with some programs designed specifically for college classrooms (e.g., Meltwater). Public relations professors have taken advantage of analytics tools and tutorials for their students to learn from, as well as certain programs’ certification options, allowing students to prove their new knowledge and skills (e.g., Kinsky et al., 2016). The increasing availability of free analytics tools has made it easier to incorporate analytics training into the classroom.

In light of research showing employer demand for students to meet today’s digital analytics challenges (Ewing, 2014; Fraustino et al., 2015; Kim & Freberg, 2016; Neill & Schauster, 2015; Stansberry, 2016d) and an increase in social media experiential learning in the classroom (Childers & Levenshus, 2016; Fraustino et al., 2015; Frisby et al., 2016; Kinsky & Bruce, 2016; Kinsky, Freberg, et al., 2016; Kinsky, Kuttis, et al., 2016; Madden et al., 2016), this study will also seek to explore the ways in which faculty are teaching social media analytics by integrating analytics-related certification testing:

RQ4: In what ways do faculty incorporate external certifications as part of their courses teaching analytics?

Incorporating Professional Expertise

In addition to online training programs with analytics tools, professors can recruit public relations professionals with data analysis experience to speak to their classes, whether they are present in the room or joining the class via video chat technology such as Skype. Research has found value in guest speakers sharing experiences from their work (e.g., Riebe, Sibson, Roepen, & Meakins, 2013), which prompts the study’s final question about inviting external professionals as guest speakers related to analytics:

RQ5: How are faculty utilizing professional experts to enhance their courses that teach analytics?


Phase 1: Course Syllabi

To understand the ways in which professors teach social media analytics within a classroom, the authors conducted two content analyses. The first was a content analysis of course syllabi (N = 31) from faculty who teach social media analytics to communication, public relations, journalism, business, or advertising students. The syllabi were gathered from universities around the country through requests on the listservs of the Public Relations Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) and the Educators Academy of the Public Relations Society of America. These syllabi were gathered by May 2016 and represented both undergraduate and graduate courses.

Coding Procedure for Syllabi

The authors coded the information from the course syllabi using 32 factors, including names of the courses, types of assignments, tools used in the class, days dedicated to teaching analytics, and integration of industry professionals within the course. A variety of institutions were represented within the sample, including private and public, large and small, as well as universities from various areas of the U.S. (see Appendix A).

Intercoder Reliability for Syllabi

The codebook and coding procedure were tested by the authors who independently coded each of the syllabi, randomly assigning specific ones to each author. After the initial coding, the authors examined the results, which revealed inconsistencies across multiple coding categories. To address this, the authors adjusted the codebook to provide more clear definitions for manifest syllabus content versus latent content. After the revisions, two of the authors independently coded each syllabus. Despite the initial revisions to the codebook, finding an appropriate way to evaluate the agreement between coders remained challenging due to the non-standardized structure of the syllabi and general topics listed. For example, exams and extra readings were prevalent, but whether they related specifically to analytics (one of the coding items) was not always clear. Another example of coding challenges was found in coding “course outcomes.” Some syllabi listed “objectives,” others listed “goals,” others mentioned “outcomes,” and some had none of the above.

As a result, the researchers used Krippendorff’s Alpha for this study’s inter-coder reliability analysis because it is an appropriate approach when having a number of observers or levels of measurement applied in content analysis (Hayes & Krippendorff, 2007). In addition, this measurement equation looks at “observed and expected disagreement” (Joyce, 2013, para 2).

After the revision of the codebook, the values for agreement among coders for these courses were as follows: courses that employ analytics within the title (α = .93); requiring textbooks (α = .67); requiring additional readings (α = .69); case studies to read (α = .69); students conducting a case study during the course (α = 1); professionals presenting case studies (α = .89); guest lectures by professionals (α = .86); the use of professional certifications as course requirements (α = .85); listing “KPIs” as a course outcome (α = .89); listing specific tools in course outcomes (α = .77); listing “listening” as a course outcome (α = .82); listing “insights” on the course outcomes (α = .68); listing “ethical implications” on the course outcomes (α = .72); incorporating a class hashtag (α = 1); using a class Twitter list (α = 1); and using a class Facebook group (α = 1).

According to Krippendorff (2004), it “is customary to require α > .800. Where tentative conclusions are still acceptable, α > .667 is the lowest conceivable limit” (p. 241). Using these standards of measurement, the above elements each fall within the range of acceptable agreement.   

Phase 2: Twitter Chat

The second phase of the study included a content analysis of a Twitter chat, which was held in April 2016 to allow an opportunity for crowdsourcing among public relations professionals and educators with digital analytics expertise (see Appendix B). Social media channels can be beneficial to researchers by cultivating public participation, via an open forum, where participants can respond to questions quickly (Glowacki, Lazard, Wilcox, Mackert, & Bernhardt, 2016). Similar Twitter chats have been analyzed by Anderson and Swenson (2013), Carpenter and Krutka (2014), DeGroot et al. (2015), and Fraustino et al. (2015).

The chat for the current study included 56 participants and 300 tweets. Two professors and two practitioners hosted the discussion. Participants were invited through memberships in public relations academic and professional associations, as well as personal outreach to faculty networks via email and social media channels. Twitter messages were captured during an hour-long live Twitter chat, which used the hashtag #PRAnalytics. Questions were posed by the hosts, who used identifiers (e.g., Q1, Q2, Q3,) to present each question. Participants indicated which question they were responding to using identifiers (e.g., A1, A2, A3). A series of nine questions were proposed to spur discussion about digital analytic concepts both public relations students and professionals need to understand.  

A thematic analysis of the tweets was conducted to determine the content that industry leaders and educators thought were best practices and to identify helpful tools for teaching digital analytics. The thematic analysis involved looking for patterns; those emerging themes became categories in the analysis for each question posed in the chat (see Fereday & Muir-Cochrane, 2006). The authors then grouped the data by category (see Riessman, 2005) to identify final concepts that emerged from the Twitter chat.

Figure 1

Summary Statistics from #PRAnalytics Twitter Chat


Concepts and Skills

RQ1 explored the digital analytic concepts and skills that both public relations students and practitioners need to understand. Core themes from the Twitter chat on #PRAnalytics included measurement, contextualizing data, critical thinking skills, social listening skills, knowledge of social media and analytical tools, and digital storytelling skills.

Twitter chat participants emphasized the importance of students understanding measurement (n = 12 tweets) and contextualizing data (n = 10 tweets). For example, MasterCard’s Bernard Mors (2016a) tweeted, “Digital PR produces a lot of data, the challenge is to turn this data into actionable insights.  #PRAnalytics.” PR professional Michael Brito (2016b), from LEWIS Global Communications, said, “THE most important data is audience intelligence. PR & Marketing must understand the behaviors of very specific audiences #PRAnalytics.” PR professor Kathleen Stansberry (2016a) said,We focus too much on brand mentions/engagement. Need to teach the importance of using data to understand audience concerns #PRAnalytics.”

Measuring results. Participants in the Twitter chat advocated that public relations students should understand definitions of metrics, analysis of metrics, and use of metrics to measure strategic communication. Practitioners tended to emphasize the importance of showing business value for public relations, and one practitioner mentioned that employers are evaluating students’ understanding of digital analytics in terms of how students connect back to business objectives. Jennifer Trivelli (2016) tweeted, “The key is zeroing in on metrics that truly support biz. goals and that you can influence. That which is measured is managed. #PRAnalytics.” During the chat, professor Tim Marshall (2016) wrote, “Employers want students who connect measurement/eval back to overall biz objectives, rather than platform vanity metrics. #PRAnalytics.”

Practitioners and educators also agreed on the differentiation of volume metrics and engagement metrics as one of the most important concepts for students to understand. Rather than looking at vanity metrics such as likes or retweets, these individuals recommended focusing on metrics testing engagement, while not confusing terms like volume, reach, and influence. When people directly interact with a brand through writing a comment, sharing a post and extending the reach or influencing other levels of publics that the brand could not directly reach, this type of social media activity would be considered engagement. In other words, students should understand how to specifically track and measure direct interaction with publics that can show outcomes for social media activities as opposed to simply grabbing quick data points (vanity metrics) that do not show whether the public is truly interacting on social media with the brand.

Understanding context. Contextualizing data (n = 10 tweets) and critical thinking skills (n = 10 tweets) were recurring themes among all Twitter chat participants for questions about concepts, skills, best practices, and pitfalls students have when analyzing data. Participants emphasized the importance of understanding how to transform the data into actionable insights. Critical thinking abilities included asking questions, analyzing metrics, and operationalizing key terms. Overall, both practitioners and educators articulated the struggle with getting lost in the data and recognizing which data to mine and analyze, and then developing meaningful insights to drive communication strategies. For example, Mors (2016b) said, “Same practices 4 social & traditional PR: set objectives & KPIs, tools to capture data, visualize results, derive insights. #PRAnalytics.” PR professor Ai Zhang (2016b) posted, “Contextualize data to draw meaningful conclusions → drive strategic decision-making. #PRAnalytics.” Professor Stansberry (2016c) tweeted, “Learn to speak (and write) in the language of the C-Suite. Ask the right questions. Always be critical of your data. #PRAnalytics.” Brito (2016a) pointed out that “anyone can look at data, run a report, spew out #s. Very few can extract an insight that can drive a narrative/program. #PRAnalytics.”

Using tools and listening. Social listening skills and knowledge of social media and analytical tools also emerged as valuable digital analytic skills for public relations students and graduates, with each topic generating at least eight responses. Listening skills (n = 8 tweets) focused on the ability to monitor social environments, including using listening tools. Winkler (2016a) tweeted, “Social listening is the process of monitoring digital media channels to devise a strategy that will better influence consumers. #PRAnalytics.” PR professor Katie R. Place (2016) tweeted this assignment suggestion: “Basic one, but we learned so much from taking on a real client and producing monthly social listening/monitoring reports. #PRAnalytics.”

Connected to both RQ1 and RQ4, knowledge of social media tools (n = 8 tweets), native analytic tools (n = 5 tweets), Google Analytics (n = 5 tweets) and Hootsuite (n = 4 tweets) encompassed a student’s ability to stay up-to-date with the latest digital platforms and tools, and the student’s ability to then choose an appropriate platform given an organization’s goals or clients. In line with the Twitter chat, the content analysis of syllabi showed faculty use a variety of tools and resources to prepare students. Some of the popular social media tools mentioned on the syllabi were Google Analytics (n = 11), Hootsuite (n = 10), Facebook analytics (n = 6), Twitter analytics (n = 4), Storify (n = 3), Google Adwords (n=3), Excel (n = 3), Crimson Hexagon (n = 2), Radian6 (n = 1), Canva (n = 1), Klout (n = 1) and Sprout Social (n = 1). Despite the plethora of analytic software available, some Twitter chat participants (n = 3) noted that it is not necessarily important for students to have familiarity with a wide range of tools, but it is more important for them to understand the data and methods behind specific platforms, so they have the ability to transition from platform to platform.

Since analytics tools come and go, professor Itai Himelboim’s syllabus provided a valuable assignment faculty could consider. In his Listening and Engagement course (I. Himelboim, personal communication, Feb. 2, 2016),  students are assigned to work in groups for the duration of the semester, and in one of the assignments, they are asked to find, learn, and generate a report based on a new social media analytic or listening tool. Students are required to find a free social media listening tool or one that offers a free trial. Students must choose the tool or tools that help them address their client’s questions/meet their goals best. Their final report is to summarize social media activity related to their client/topic, using Crimson Hexagon, which they learn in class, as well as the free tool used to collect and analyze the data.

In another analytics course evaluated in the study (S. Moore, personal communication, March 21, 2016), students worked individually and in groups to define, measure, analyze and report on a client’s website activity based on the client’s objectives. Students identified and included key performance indicators (KPIs) and a summary of their findings along with recommendations for improvement. They incorporated visualizations and graphics to best represent and accurately communicate important data and findings to the client. They used Excel and created a custom Google dashboard for reporting.

Another project related to those found in the syllabus analysis was found in the review of literature. Stansberry (2016d) created a five-week project where her students worked in teams and used free tools (e.g., Hootsuite, Google Trends, BuzzSumo, IssueCrawler) to identify key publics and to conduct a content analysis, a social media audit, an online social network analysis and content tracking, which her students rated as valuable; they appreciated the applied, experiential lesson as something that would help distinguish them from others applying for the same job in the future.

Storytelling. Another prevalent digital analytic concept identified by participants was digital storytelling, or the ability to look at data, extract insights, and then present the data in a compelling manner. When it comes to analytics, students need to integrate their critical thinking skills with their storytelling abilities to share the data in a meaningful way that connects with audiences. For example, PR professor Hilary Fussell Sisco (2016) said, “I always want . . . students to visualize data. Infographics and other visual tools to explain data makes it #munchable. #PRAnalytics.” Zhang (2016a) tweeted, “Tell digital stories. Use live videos. I am playing with @Animoto & PowerDirector. Love them very much #PRAnalytics.” While Stansberry (2016b) commented, “Seems counterintuitive, but writing & visual comm. Again, if you can’t give the data meaning, it’s pointless. #PRAnalytics.”

Other concepts discussed during the Twitter chat included understanding Excel pivot tables, functions, and formulas (n = 4 tweets) and search engine optimization (n = 3 tweets). The Twitter participants commented that students shouldn’t be “afraid of math” and should learn how to use Excel to sort and analyze data.


RQ2 focused on understanding stated outcomes for courses that teach digital and social media analytics. Many outcomes stated on the syllabi contained more generic wording with only 6% listing “KPIs” (n = 2); 35% listing specific tools (n = 11); 10% listing “insights” (n = 3); and 13% mentioning ethical implications (n = 4). The most frequently mentioned analytics tools included Google Analytics (n = 11), Hootsuite (n = 10), Facebook Insights (n = 6) and Twitter Analytics (n = 4).

RQ3 focused on understanding specific social media communication methods that were used in courses. Results from the content analysis of syllabi indicated that a class hashtag was the most popular, with 26% of the syllabi incorporating this (n = 8). Based on the syllabi, it was difficult to know if hashtags were used for synchronous Twitter discussions or if they were simply used to categorize and share online resources among the class. Additional required online interactions noted on syllabi included participating in live-tweeting events, reading and/or posting to a course or professor’s blog, tagging a professor in tweets, and working to improve individual Klout scores. Only one syllabus mentioned using a Facebook group, and none mentioned a required Twitter list.

RQ4 focused on what ways professors were utilizing external certifications to train students in analytics. Findings from the syllabus content analysis indicated that the majority of courses did not require students to complete an external certification that had an analytic element. The 28% that did incorporate certifications (n = 9) primarily required Hootsuite, Google Analytics, or Google AdWords. Results from the Twitter chat related to RQ4 included three participants advocating Google Analytics certification as one of the most valuable certifications in the industry. Additional online resources mentioned on syllabi to supplement classroom instruction included Code Academy, Google’s Analytics Fundamentals, Khan Academy, Lynda and the Marketing Analytics Initiative at Darden website.

RQ5 focused on the ways faculty utilized outside professionals or organizations to help teach analytics. Based on the content analysis of the syllabi, 66% of courses (n = 21) relied on outside professionals to share their expertise.

Also related to RQ5, the Twitter chat participants discussed the use of several outside resources, including the Institute for Public Relations, AEJMC, and other relevant academic or professional organizations. For example, PR pro Mors (2016c) suggested, “The @InstituteForPR has some great resources on website #PRAnalytics.” Twitter chat participants also mentioned outreach to professors and practitioners to serve as class speakers and/or to offer insight about teaching digital analytics. Professor Rowena Briones Winkler (2016b) said she wanted to “give a shout out to my @AEJMC_PRD friends” for being “SO helpful, re: teaching help! #soblessed #PRAnalytics.” Further, online tools such as Microsoft, Lynda, and Google Video were emphasized during the Twitter conversation. Professor Matt J. Kushin (2016) tweeted, that Microsoft has “an academic alliance program that provides many tools.”      

During the Twitter chat, several themes emerged for assignments focused on teaching digital analytics, such as working with an actual client, using dashboards, performing listening projects, and generating reports. Educators stressed the importance of tying these assignments to real-world clients. The responses indicated that these assignments would give students realistic application by requiring them to submit client-monitoring reports and to develop strategic-communication recommendations based on insights gleaned from the data analysis. Responses from students who participated in the Twitter discussion indicated that assignments requiring the creation of a blog and the teaching of SEO best practices helped them understand digital analytics and drive traffic on their own websites.

During the Twitter chat discussion, both educators and practitioners advocated for ongoing opportunities to access, mine, and analyze data. These activities were thought to be key to creating an understanding of digital analytics in the practice of public relations. Professor Jamie C. Higdon (2016) said, “Integrate analytics throughout educational journey. Require SMART objectives and metrics plan for all major projects. #PRAnalytics.”


Incorporating digital and social media analytic training is a crucial component of the future of social media education (Kent et al., 2011). This study examined specific pedagogical practices identified within manifest content on syllabi and in a Twitter chat among educators and practitioners in order to explore current practices and standards for analytic training.

To address whether courses were meeting employers’ demand for new analytic skillsets, it made sense to begin this study by examining learning outcomes stated on syllabi. Outcomes are designed to set the tone for a course and also identify the primary goals of student learning. Therefore, looking at student learning outcomes stated on syllabi is particularly important when examining an instructor’s approach to teaching digital analytics.

With the growing efforts to measure and evaluate digital activities, analytic competencies were a natural focus for social media and digital communication courses. Thus, it was expected that courses would have clearly identified learning outcomes for students related to digital analytics. However, very few courses had outcomes specifically mentioning analytics. While educators embedded analytic concepts and training within their courses, the wording of their learning outcomes did not reflect the focus on digital analytic competencies.

For example, only two of the syllabi reviewed mentioned KPIs, and only three mentioned listening or insights, which are basic analytical competencies. This initial finding indicated that, while analytics are taught in these courses, classes might not be focusing on this area, resulting in the course outcomes often ignoring or only leading to inferences about course expectations in this area.

With the Commission on Public Relations Education report (Toth & Lewton, 2018) identifying the value both educators and professionals place on analytics and measurement competencies, it seems important for educators to not only embed these competencies within courses but to also explicitly identify them as a learning outcome that students will be gaining through these courses. The Twitter discussion among educators and practitioners clearly conveyed the importance of public relations students and graduates understanding digital analytics.

Based on feedback from practitioners, existing research, and analysis of syllabi, the following are recommended learning outcomes faculty might consider incorporating in their digital analytics course syllabi:

  1. To identify the importance of online data in strategic planning and validating ROI.
  2. To identify online influencers and the major users of various types of digital and social media.
  3. To use analytics tools and technologies to capture data, generate reports and glean insights.
  4. To analyze ethical implications associated with interpreting and using online data.
  5. To discuss the impact of digital and social media on relationships between organizations and their stakeholders.
  6. To evaluate how stakeholder engagement on social media channels affects organizational operations.
  7. To articulate definitions and measurements of social media engagement and website traffic.
  8. To apply basic numerical and statistical concepts to evaluate, plan, and implement strategic digital tactics.
  9. To apply concepts and theories in presenting findings and in creating visualizations and dashboards to share with management/client.
  10. To become Hootsuite and/or Google Analytics certified.

One of the key areas that is suggested in social media education is for faculty to help students understand professional uses of the platforms (Kim & Freberg, 2016), including analytic information (Anderson & Swenson, 2013). Recognizing this need, the current study examined the ways in which faculty incorporate professionals into the classroom. Numerous educators who participated in the Twitter discussion shared that they either taught a digital analytics course or included digital analytic concepts in existing courses. The majority of syllabi indicated that faculty were including professionals by bringing them in for guest lectures; however, it was difficult to identify within the syllabi whether these professionals specifically addressed topics of analytics or other areas incorporated within the class such as campaign management, content creation, or platform functions.  

An area of growth between professional organizations and the classroom has been the opportunity for student certifications on specific platforms such as Hootsuite, Google, and HubSpot (Kinsky, Freberg, et al., 2016). While this is an increasingly popular choice to help students gain competencies, the authors were surprised to find only about a fourth of the 31 syllabi mentioned an external certification as part of the course requirements. In addition to previous literature pointing to the value of certifications (e.g., Kinsky, Freberg, et al., 2016), three Twitter participants mentioned the importance of external certification. The availability of free, high quality, external training programs offered online (e.g., Hootsuite, HubSpot, Google) makes it easier for educators to provide up-to-date, industry-relevant preparation for students, and educators should take advantage of these programs. We predict their inclusion on future syllabi will increase.

Another key finding of the study is the lack of consistency in resources on the subject of digital analytics, including required textbooks and online sources. Syllabi included a wide range of industry books used to teach students about the subject (see Table 1). This is, in part, due to the content and structure of the course and whether analytics was the sole topic or if it was only a smaller component of the social media or digital curriculum. This inconsistency in required books is something that has been noted in previous studies looking at the social media curriculum (Kim & Freberg, 2016). Due to the nature of the rapid changes in the field, educators have to frequently update their sources. Textbook and resource choices are also impacted by where the class is being taught within a university (e.g., marketing programs may use different textbooks than public relations programs). In addition to books, many syllabi included references to required online articles, white papers, and PDFs, but few syllabi specified titles of these resources.

Table 1
Required Textbooks for Digital and Social Media Analytics Classes
Title Times Mentioned
Likeable Social Media, Revised and Expanded: How to Delight Your Customers 3
Measure What Matters 3
Groundswell Expanded and Revised Edition 2
Web Analytics 2.0   2
What Happens on Campus Stays on YouTube   2
AP Stylebook 1
Advertising and Public Relations Research   1
The Basic Practice of Statistics 1
Contagious   1
Cutting-Edge Marketing Analytics 1
Digital Marketing Analytics    1
Good Strategy Bad Strategy 1
How to Measure Social Media: A Step-by-Step Guide to Developing and Assessing Social Media ROI 1
How to Use Google Analytics the Tutorial   1
Maximize Your Social: A One-Step Guide to Building a Social Media Strategy for Marketing and Business Success 1
Measuring the Networked Nonprofit: Using Data to Change the World 1
Mediactive 1
The Power of Visual Storytelling 1
Predictive Analytics 1
Primer of Public Relations Research   1
ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income   1
Real-Time Marketing & PR   1
Share This 1
The Social Current   1
Social Media Intelligence 1
Social Media Marketing 1
Social Media ROI   1
Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business 1
The Signal and the Noise 1
Your Brand, the Next Media Company: How a Social Business Strategy Enables Better Content, Smarter Marketing and Deeper Customer Relationships 1

For RQ3, in examining pedagogical practices to teach social media and analytics, the authors examined other social media communication methods professors had incorporated in their syllabi to facilitate online interaction. Some of the interactions mentioned involved the use of a class hashtag, Facebook groups, Twitter chats, Storify, and live tweeting.

Future Research and Limitations

This study explored basic questions related to pedagogical practices and teaching social media analytics. In order to provide a foundational knowledge, the authors examined the manifest content of 31 syllabi and a Twitter chat among 56 public relations practitioners and educators. One limitation of the study is that the themes identified through the Twitter chat were based on a small number of affirmative responses; however, this is typical because of the dynamics of a Twitter conversation. Participants are unlikely to tweet the same theme to minimize repetitive content. Another limitation to using the chat data is that people who valued the topic were more likely to participate in the Twitter chat than people who were disinterested or didn’t value it.

Future studies may consider in-depth explorations through discussions with the faculty who are teaching the courses. Future studies could incorporate a mixed-method approach involving focus groups and interviews with professionals to determine if these digital analytics assignments were effective in preparing students for their new roles, perhaps following the methods of Gallicano, Ekachai, and Freberg’s (2014) study of an infographic assignment. In addition, testing the effectiveness of certification programs (e.g., Kinsky, Freberg, et al., 2016) for analytics could be beneficial as well.

Educators can also integrate and test how certain assignments are implemented and accepted within digital analytics by using guidelines and frameworks accepted in digital analytics associations and professional circles. Many frameworks, like the ones proposed by AMEC and DAA, can be integrated and used in current courses for lessons and used as inspiration to create assignments for students to test their knowledge and application skills in digital analytics. Further research could explore classes that use a specific framework for assignments and those that do not, and compare the end results. In addition, interviews with digital analytics professionals who are a part of these associations could be explored in future research to determine what they feel are key areas to emphasize, growing trends, and challenges and opportunities in the field.

Although course syllabi provided a general overview, often information seemed missing or vague. It does not mean faculty failed to incorporate certain pedagogical practices in their classes; their absence may indicate that they were simply not shared through the syllabus, and this could have been done with the purpose of keeping the class nimble as technology changes. Future researchers can learn from and anticipate coding challenges encountered in this foundational study. Direct conversations with professors would allow more specific details of each course’s content to be explored. In addition, in-depth interviews with practitioners who are experts in this area would allow for deeper exploration of digital analytics concepts, tools, techniques, and resources that could be used to teach the subject.   

Social media pedagogy, especially exploring digital and social media analytics, is one of the emerging research concentrations that will help align the public relations profession and education community for the foreseeable future. A bridge can be created to help teach digital and social media analytics for both educators and professionals to agree on, for the sake of the young professionals entering the workplace. Like most research concentrations and perspectives within a discipline, identification of future directions, questions, and calls-to-action must be recommended to address some of the growing challenges and opportunities involved when it comes to social media pedagogy, especially in the area of teaching digital analytics.


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Waters, R. D., & Bortree, D. S. (2011, Spring). Communicating with millennials: Exploring the impact of new media on out-of-class communication in public relations education. Teaching Public Relations Monograph, 80, 1-4. Retrieved from

Winkler, R. B. [DrRBWinkler]. (2016a, April 21). A1: I think social listening is an increasingly important concept/strategy to teach PR students  #pranalytics [Tweet]. Retrieved from

Winkler, R. B. [DrRBWinkler]. (2016b, April 21). A4: Imma give a shout out to my @AEJMC_PRD friends, who I have been SO helpful, re: teaching help! #soblessed #PRAnalytics [Tweet]. Retrieved from

Wright, D. K., & Hinson, M. D. (2017). Tracking how social media and other digital media are being used in public relations practice: A twelve-year study. Public Relations Journal11(1), 1-31. Retrieved from

Zhang, A. [aiaddysonzhang]. (2016a, April 21). A2: Tell digital stories. Use live videos. I am playing with @Animoto & PowerDirector. Love them very much #PRAnalytics [Tweet]. Retrieved from

Zhang, A. [aiaddysonzhang]. (2016b, April 21). A7: Contextualize data to draw meaningful conclusions –> drive strategic decision making #PRAnalytics [Tweet]. Retrieved from

Zhang, A., & Freberg, K. (2018). Developing a blueprint for social media pedagogy: Trials, tribulations, and best practices. Journal of Public Relations Education, 4(1), 1-24. Retrieved from


University Syllabi Used for Coding

University Name Course Names
Biola University
  • Social Media, SEO and Digital Strategy
Carnegie Mellon University
  • Digital Marketing Analytics
Cleveland State University
  • Media Metrics and Analytics
Elon University
  • Strategies for Emerging Media
University of Florida
  • Consumer and Audience Analytics
  • Introduction to Social Media
  • Social Media Skills
University of Georgia
  • Public Relations Research
  • Social Media Analytics, Listening and Engagement
  • Coding for Interactive Media
Iona College
  • Applied Communications Research
Kent State University
  • Digital Analytics for Ad and PR
  • Public Relations Online Tactics
Louisiana State University
  • Public Relations and Social Media Strategy
Loyola University
  • Audiences and Distribution
University of Maryland
  • New Media Writing for Public Relations
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • Digital Marketing and Social Media Analytics
Ohio Northern University
  • Social Media Principles
University of Oregon
  • Social Media Insights and Measurement
  • Analytics and Adwords
New York University (Stern School of Business)
  • Social Media and Digital Marketing Analytics
San Diego State University
  • Digital and Social Media Analytics
University of Southern California
  • Data Analytics Driven Dynamic Strategy & Execution
  • Digital Analytics
University of South Dakota
  • Internet Marketing and Communication
Syracuse University
  • Social Media Theory and Practice
  • Using Big Data and Analytics (Maymester Course)
Texas Christian University
  • Social Media Measurement
University of Virginia
  • Marketing Analytics
West Texas A&M University
  • New Media
  • Seminar in Media Innovations and Management

Building a Social Learning Flock: Using Twitter Chats to Enhance Experiential Learning Across Universities

Top GIFT from AEJMC-PRD 2018

Editorial Record: Submitted to AEJMC-PRD GIFT Competition by Feb. 5, 2018. A blind copy was peer reviewed by the PRD Teaching Committee, led by Chair Katie Place, and selected as a Top GIFT. First published online on August 17, 2018.


Amanda Weed Headshot

Amanda J. Weed, Ohio

Karen Freberg

Karen Freberg, Louisville

Emily Kinsky

Emily S. Kinsky, West Texas A&M University

Amber Hutchins Headshot

Amber L. Hutchins, Kennesaw State University

Building a Social Learning Flock: Using Twitter Chats to Enhance Experiential Learning Across Universities


A monthly Twitter chat focused on social media was created to engage students and professionals across the country, and assignments were created to use the chat content with various classes across PR programs. The chat created an online learning community in the same vein of industry chats such as #HootChat, #TwitterSmarter and #AdobeChat. The purpose was to supplement students’ classroom learning by offering themed conversations about relevant topics in social media. By featuring industry guest panelists, students were able to gain professional perspectives and ask questions to further their understanding. In addition, students were able to share the knowledge they gained through classroom learning with an outside audience, which may increase self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997) and development of professional networks to increase internship and job prospects.


Chat participation offered an alternative to the traditional online discussion board, which is only available to members of a single class. Each monthly chat was dedicated to a different social media topic, which meant multiple learning goals could be achieved. As students shared class-based knowledge during the chat, faculty could assess student learning goals against a diverse landscape of courses across universities to address strengths and areas for improvement. In addition, students experienced professional development benefits that can come from engaging with influencers, industry practitioners, and brands. By engaging in proactive conversations, giving praise and acknowledgements, and integrating their own points of view, students learned the real-world benefits of social media networking and had the potential to serve as a strong advocate and social connector with their own community.


Twitter chats are commonly used in the public relations industry to facilitate knowledge-sharing and networking among practitioners. By building an audience that included classes at multiple universities, the chats allowed students to form positive habits that will foster continuing education to support their advancement in the public relations industry. The chats also allowed students to extend their education beyond their own class or institution. By expanding the audience to include panelists who were experts in the chat topic, students had an opportunity to make online connections with them, which widened students’ networks and their knowledge of the field—not just for that day but for as long as they follow those professionals on into the future. Participating in the chats also gave students the chance to impress these professionals with thoughtful questions and insightful responses.

Using the Twitter chats as source material provided experience for students to create various forms of assignments that may be applied to learning outcomes of different classes (see attached assignment guides). Content creation and measurement are two important areas within public relations that are highly valued, and these chats gave students the chance to do both. Through participation and follow-up assignments, students better understood best practices and results of a particular social media initiative with set key performance indicators.


With 303 participants and 2,180 total tweets (7.19 tweets/contributor) across the four chats, participation and engagement were high. Evidence of learning was demonstrated through the various products created, including graphics of favorite quotes from the chat, tweets posted, and summary paragraphs designed to be blogged. In the context of Bloom’s taxonomy, assignments addressed multiple levels of learning. Chat participation assessed comprehension by allowing students to demonstrate their understanding of topics through response to question prompts. Post-chat assignments integrated higher levels of learning taxonomy (application, synthesis, evaluation) through analysis of chat content and content creation that facilitated creativity and critical thinking.


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W H Freeman/Times Books/Henry Holt & Co.

Appendix A

General Assignments

Assignment #1

Chat Participation

Twitter chats are IRT (in real time) conversations that center around a unique topic. To participate in a Twitter chat, you will follow the conversation by following the chat hashtag. When viewing the chat, make sure you are using the “Latest” tab to view the tweets in real time. 

Chat questions are typically labeled as Q1, Q2, and so on. To respond to a question, begin your tweet with A1, A2, and so on to match that particular question. You may also retweet the question and add your response as a comment. Always include the chat hashtag in your tweet to ensure your response will be viewed by Twitter chat participants.

To receive credit for your chat responses, you will need to include your class hashtag in your chat tweets.

Assignment #2

Create a Twitter Moment

Twitter Moments allow users to curate content to share with their audience. For the assignment, you will create a “highlights reel” of the Twitter chat that features the most valuable insights that you gained from participant responses. Share your Moment on Twitter so your followers can also benefit from those insights. For an example of a Twitter Moment, see

For guidance in creating a Twitter Moment, visit

Twitter Moment Requirements

  • Cover Image
  • Title (5-9 words)
  • Description (30-50 words)
    • Write a paragraph-style description that includes the following information:
      • Date of Twitter chat
      • Featured guests
      • Chat topic
      • Hashtag the audience may search to view full chat
  • Chat Highlights
    • Add each chat question
      • Tip: Search the chat hashtag + Q1 (or Q2, Q3, and so on)
    • Add a minimum of three responses after each chat question that reflect the most valuable insights you gained
      • Tip: Search the chat hashtag + A1 (or A2, A3, and so on)
  • Publish your Moment
  • Tweet your Moment

Appendix B

Analysis/Measurement Assignments

Assignment #1

Social Media Listening

In this assignment, you will be asked to evaluate the Twitter chat by using a social media listening tool. The options are listed below:

  • Tweetdeck
  • Hootsuite
  • Buffer
  • Keyhole
  • TweetBinder
  • Hashtagify
  • Tagboard
  • Other

Provide an overview of the listening tool you will be using. Describe the tool’s features. What are its main advantages and disadvantages? What is the timeline when you will be conducting this listening procedure?

Discuss the key performance indicators (KPIs) from the chat. Make sure to report and discuss the following metrics from the Twitter chat:

  • Twitter Reach
  • Twitter Reach – Mention Type
  • Twitter Reach – Engagement Type
  • Twitter Reach – Authority Type
  • Sentiment
  • Mentions
  • Most Retweeted
  • Most Engaged Users
  • Top trending keywords that are being used in addition to the hashtag
  • Make sure to note the sentiment, mentions, users, and communities on Twitter for your analysis.
  • Additional findings worth noting

Recommendations + Strategic Insights

  • What are the main findings from the analysis of the Twitter chat?
  • What insights can you use to determine from this Twitter chat? What are three takeaways?
  • What are some recommendations for future Twitter chats?
  • Provide three resources (ex. guides, professionals, articles, etc.) on Twitter chats for how to evaluate and measure future chats.

Analysis/Measurement Assignments

Assignment #2

Chat Performance Executive Summary

Directions: You will monitor the hashtagged conversation from the Twitter chat, analyze the results, and produce an executive summary of the results for the chat sponsor.

Step 1: Collect data from Twitter.

  • You can use the search function to find posts using the chat hashtag. You are welcome to use other applications like Hootsuite or Meltwater, but keep in mind that even some top organizations monitor “by hand.”
  • Examine the posts. Take note of keywords and themes used by participants.  Are there other hashtags being used along with the main hashtag (other class hashtags, etc.)?
  • Count and categorize the data. Focus on one or two themes or topics.  

Step 2: Create a visual representation of your findings.

  • It’s up to you how you want to represent the data you found—pie chart, graph, etc., but make it easy for readers to understand the prominent topics, themes and sentiment from the chat. Use generators like, Excel to create pie graphs, or inserted photos of hand-drawn charts. It’s not necessary to be a graphics expert, just focus on providing a graphic of your results.

Step 3: Write a 3-paragraph executive summary to explain your results. 

Write your summary using concise, direct language. 

  • Para 1: Report your results.  Make sure to indicate the sample size (number of tweets you analyzed) in the key to the graphic.
  • Para 2: Interpret and analyze the results. What do the results mean? Go beyond positive and negative mentions and report on topics/themes, keyword mentions, or other data that can be useful.
  • Para 3: Make recommendations for future chats. What would you recommend to the chat sponsor in order to improve participation and engagement?

Appendix C

Design Assignments

Assignment #1

Create a Quote Illustration

Scan through the chat and find a “quotable quote” to illustrate using Canva or Spark. Be sure to cite the person who said the quote with both his/her full name and Twitter handle. Once it is illustrated, we will give peer feedback in class, make needed adjustments, and then each student will share his/her quote via Twitter, along with a sentence explaining why it was chosen. Tag the person who said it and use the chat hashtag to reach a wider audience.



Design Assignments

Assignment #2

Create an Infographic

Infographics are used to present data in a visually appealing way that makes a concept easier to understand at a glance. For this assignment, you will collect data and identify five unique statistics about the Twitter chat, such as the following statistics:

  • # of participants
  • # of likes, retweets
  • Most responses to a single chat question
  • Use of pictures/GIFs
  • # of tags
  • Top 5 tweets by likes
  • Top 5 tweets by RT

Once you have tabulated the statistics (by hand or with a program like Meltwater), create your infographic. You may use platforms like, Piktochart, Visme, or Canva.

Infographic Requirements

  • Headline
  • A brief description of the Twitter chat
  • Visual design that reflects the Twitter chat topic
  • 5 statistics: Include an “explainer” (description) for each statistic that provides additional detail
  • Provide a source credit (including hyperlink) at the bottom of the infographic that directs readers to the full Twitter chat source

Appendix D

Writing Assignments

Assignment #1

LinkedIn Article

One way to increase your LinkedIn connections is to start publishing articles through your account that can be read by the LinkedIn community. For additional information about LinkedIn publishing, visit

For this assignment, write a 200-300 word article about the three key insights you gained from the Twitter chat.  

To create an effective LinkedIn article, you should include the following elements, in addition to your writing:

  • Headline (5-9 words)
  • One header image
  • One embedded picture or video in the article
  • At least three hyperlinks to outside articles related to your key insights
    • Tip: Integrate hyperlinks into your article, not as add-ons at the end
  • At least two hashtags that make your article searchable on LinkedIn
    • Tip:  Integrate hashtags into your article, not as add-ons at the end
  • Optional: Tag relevant people in your article
    • Tip: Tag guest panelists from the Twitter chat or people you have quoted in the article

Additional Tips:

  • Include visual/multimedia elements (embed example tweets, relevant videos, etc.), in addition to the visual representation of the data.  
  • Embed your hyperlinks in the text; don’t simply paste a URL in the text. Test your links to make sure they work.
  • Separate into sections and label each section (you can create your own titles for each section). Each section should be approximately one short paragraph (two max). 
  • Give your blog post a title. This is different from a headline or an essay title. Use the title to highlight important findings from your report. For example: “#SMStudentChat Shows Growing Interest in Blogs for Professional Development.”
  • Make sure that the background does not obscure the text. 
  • Use a clean, professional theme/format.  
  • Be informative and professional, but use a conversational tone (natural human speech).  Avoid slang.
  • Use multimedia and line spaces to break up text.

Assignment #2

Promotional Post

Write a short promotional post for Twitter or LinkedIn with one teaser tip you learned from the Twitter chat. Direct your audience to read your article for more tips and insights. Include a hyperlink to the article, your class hashtag, and tag the chat sponsor.

Diagnosing Health Campaigns: A Campaign Evaluation Assignment

Top GIFT from AEJMC-PRD 2018

Editorial Record: Submitted to AEJMC-PRD GIFT Competition by Feb. 5, 2018. A blind copy was peer reviewed by the PRD Teaching Committee, led by Chair Katie Place. First published online on August 17, 2018.


Laura Elizabeth Willis, Assistant Professor of Health and Strategic Communication in the School of Communication at Quinnipiac University.

Laura E. Willis, Quinnipiac University

Diagnosing Health Campaigns: A Campaign Evaluation Assignment


The purpose of this assignment is to have students engage in the evaluation of real-world, contemporary health communication campaigns developed and disseminated by a leading public health organization. The final product of this assignment is a written analysis paper; however, the content of that paper is meant to be developed through group discussion. The assignment was developed for an upper-level, major elective on strategic health communication for public relations undergraduate students. This assignment has two primary components. First, groups of students are asked to apply the six components of health communication campaign design (formative research, use of theory, audience segmentation, message design, channels/message placement, and evaluation) in their evaluation of the campaign overview and materials presented on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website. Additionally, student groups are asked to consider the role of evidence within the campaign development and evaluation. Second, groups have the opportunity to discuss how organizations communicate about their campaigns, including what information they provide and what information would have been more helpful in determining the outcomes of the campaign. This assignment has been popular in both the on-ground and online sections of the strategic health communication elective class, as it provides students the opportunity to apply course material to a real health campaign in collaboration with their peers.


This assignment asks students to engage in critical and creative thinking in their application of key concepts from course materials to assess a campaign, as described on the CDC’s website. Moreover, the assessment of the campaign deepens students’ understanding of the purpose of research in strategic health communication, an inquiry and analysis learning outcome. These are learning outcomes for both the analysis paper and the group discussion about the CDC’s communication about its campaigns on its website. This assignment directly connects to public relations theory and practice, as it asks students to consider the output of contemporary campaign practices and identify possible theories that may have informed the campaign.

The assignment also asks students to practice effective communication in their discussions with their group members about their assigned campaign, in the analysis paper they submit as a group, and in the follow-up discussion. Finally, working as a group also encourages them to practice professionalism in group dynamics, which is a social and emotional intelligence learning outcome.   


This assignment provides students with the opportunity to evaluate how components work together in practice. Students apply the six components of campaign development and consider the role of evidence to a real-world example in group discussions and a subsequent paper. Moreover, this assignment helps them to feel more familiar with these concepts before they begin their final project for the course (a health campaign proposal plan).


In-Person Classroom

When this assignment has been utilized in a class running in person, students are divided into small groups, in which they select from a list of pre-determined CDC campaigns. Generally, student groups begin to work on the analysis of the campaign during class time. By providing time in class for this work, the instructor can observe a group’s dynamic and get an idea of their individual contributions to the assessment of the campaign, as well as answer questions as they arise. An analysis paper is due afterward (generally by two class meetings after the in-class work time). In the class meeting in which the paper is due, we wrap up the assignment with a more meta-level discussion of how the CDC organized and discussed the campaign efforts on its website.

Virtual Classroom

In an online setting, the timeline varies slightly, and the nature of group work and discussions shifts. In-person work and discussions shift to a virtual group messaging program and/or a discussion board on the class’ website. Student professionalism in the small group setting can be assessed through group evaluation, which is due after the submission of the paper.

In both on-ground and virtual settings, students have noted that this assignment helped them to more fully understand the implications of critical campaign components, such as audience segmentation or evaluation, on an individual campaign’s success, as well as the generation of strategic health communication knowledge for future campaign development.


Once students have been separated into small groups (no more than four, depending on the class size), they are given a list of CDC campaigns that they have likely never heard of before, but which have sufficient information about the campaign available through the CDC’s website. For example, previous student groups have analyzed campaigns such as “Screen for Life,” “Inside Knowledge,” “Get Smart,” “One and Only,” and “One Conversation at a Time.” The groups are then asked to select campaigns, and students are given some quiet time in class to begin reviewing the campaign information. After that, student groups are asked to begin discussing both the campaign itself, as well as the communication efforts about the campaign.  

Discussion Prompts

Student groups are asked to consider the following prompts as they begin to critically review and discuss their CDC campaign.

  • What information was easiest for you to discern about your assigned campaign from the CDC’s website?
  • Was the organization of the information easy for you to navigate?
  • Who do you think the target public is for these web pages?
  • If you were planning on developing a campaign that shared the same topic (or target public), what information would have been most helpful to you? What would you like to know that wasn’t provided on the website?
  • How do the ways in which the CDC communicates about its campaigns connect to what you understand about evidence-based practice?

Within their groups, students are asked to discuss how they see the six key components of health communication campaigns within their assigned campaign, as this will be a major focus of the final paper (for analysis paper directions, see Appendix A; for grading rubric, see Appendix B).

Appendix A
Analysis Paper Directions

Work with your group members to review and analyze the CDC campaign you’ve been assigned. You must evaluate both the campaign itself and the information provided about the campaign on the CDC’s website. 

(1) From the CDC’s website, what can you determine related to the six key components of campaign design: 

  • Formative research
  • Use of theory
  • Audience segmentation
  • Message design
  • Channels and message placement
  • Evaluation

Questions to consider: 

  • What do you perceive the goals of the campaign are?
  • Who is the target audience for the campaign?
  • What channels appear to be utilized by the campaign? 
  • Using what you know about the key components of a successful campaign, what does the campaign seem to be doing well?
  • What possible changes would you suggest? 

(2) Moreover, what might the information provided suggest for the evidence-based approach to health communication? 

Questions to consider: 

  • Does this campaign appear to have been based on evidence?
  • Would you be able to incorporate lessons from this campaign into the development of future health communication campaigns?

Write up the critical analysis in no more than 5 pages (using APA style). This paper should be a true group effort – you should NOT divvy up the work and individually write subsections; this will result in a paper that lacks a consistent tone of voice.

Connections to course material must be made and cited appropriately.

Your contributions and professionalism will be assessed through group evaluations at the end of the assignment.

Appendix B
Analysis Paper Grading Rubric

Reminder: Your individual grade for this assignment may be impacted by the evaluations provided by you and your group members. It is your responsibility to be a professional and effective group member. Failure to submit a fully completed evaluation will result in a 5-point reduction from your individual grade.

Equal Weight (20% each) Mastery (90-100%) Proficient (80-89%) Developing (70-79%) Feedback & Score
Identification of the main aspects of the campaign Identifies and demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the main components of campaign design Identifies and demonstrates an acceptable understanding of most components of campaign design Identifies and demonstrates a weak understanding of some components of campaign design
Analysis /evaluation of the campaign Presents an insightful and thorough analysis of all aspects of the campaign Presents a thorough analysis of most aspects of the campaign Presents a superficial or incomplete analysis of some of the aspects of the campaign
Recommendations Supports recommendations and opinions with strong arguments; recommendations are reasonable and objective Supports recommendations and opinions with limited reasoning and evidence; demonstrates little engagement with ideas presented Little or no action is suggested, and/or inappropriate solutions are proposed to the issues
Links to course material Makes appropriate and powerful connections between identified health communication aspects and the course readings and lectures Makes appropriate but somewhat vague connections between identified issues/concepts and concepts studied in course material Makes inappropriate or little connection between aspects identified and the concepts studied in course materials
Writing mechanics and formatting Demonstrates clarity, conciseness, and correctness; formatting is appropriate, and writing is free of grammar and spelling errors Exhibits occasional grammar or spelling errors, but there is still a clear presentation of ideas; lacks organization Writing is unfocused, is rambling, or contains serious errors; writing is poorly organized and does not follow specified guidelines


Teaching Trolling: Management and Strategy

Top GIFT from AEJMC-PRD 2018

Editorial Record: Submitted to AEJMC-PRD GIFT Competition by Feb. 5, 2018. A blind copy was peer reviewed by the PRD Teaching Committee, led by Chair Katie Place. First published online on August 17, 2018.


Leslie Rasmussen

Leslie Rasmussen, Xavier University

Teaching Trolling: Management and Strategy


The assignment developed after many discussions over Wendy’s response to online trolls and its subsequent Super Bowl 2017 commercial, which was inspired by a trolling incident (Griner, 2017). Wendy’s generated online and offline buzz, and sparked a trend by tackling trolls head-on.  Several months prior to the Wendy’s incident, the Cincinnati Zoo similarly faced an onslaught of trolling after the death of its Lowland gorilla, Harambe. Trolls bombarded the Zoo’s Twitter account with comments and memes about Harambe, prompting the Zoo to shut down its Twitter account for two months (Williams, 2016). Xavier University is located in Cincinnati, thus it was natural that classes began comparing the two cases, the differing approaches, and discussing the impact the death of Harambe had on online culture. It was also used as an example of how a meme can be converted into social capital (Fussell Sisco & Brummette, 2016) and ultimately applied to network theory (Wellman, 2001). The memes included images of Harambe along with varying comments mocking the Zoo, listing things Harambe could no longer do, and showing Harambe in heavenly clouds (Feldman, 2016). Harambe was dubbed “the perfect meme” (Rao, 2016, para. 2) and made it nearly impossible for the Zoo to regain control of the story.

In the Zoo’s case, the capital was so powerful that it exacerbated its crisis situation. Students were able to assess the case using contingency theory (Cancel, Cameron, Sallott, & Mitrook, 1997) to understand the factors influencing an organization’s stance along the advocacy-accommodation continuum. Ultimately, the result was a series of assessment and analysis assignments that culminated in a final strategic trolling creative brief. Throughout the building assignments, students examined how organizations deal with trolls or troll-like behaviors, and why some consider trolling other organizations or consumers as part of a broader strategy.


Students were able to accomplish the following outcomes:

  • Understand three theories used in public relations and communication (social capital theory, network theory, contingency theory)
  • Assess complex cases by supporting arguments with each theory
  • Use theory to build a strategy for strategic trolling.


Student feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Trolling has challenged some of the long-held beliefs regarding crisis communication, and the assignment forced students to consider an alternative route to managing a creative and potentially damaging situation. Later, it allowed them to harness three theories to inform a creative approach to incorporating trolling or troll-like behavior as part of a broader strategy. Organization-on-organization trolling is certainly a trend. The overall goal of the assignments was to consider trolling as goal-oriented. The concept was initially challenging, but the final assignments were creative, fun, and harnessed the three primary theories learned in the course.


Cancel, A. E., Cameron, G. T., Sallot, L. M., & Mitrook, M. A. (1997). It depends: A contingency theory of accommodation in public relations. Journal of Public Relations Research9(1), 31-63.

Feldman, B. (2016, July 27). The dark internet humor of Harambe jokes. New York Magazine. Retrieved from

Fussell Sisco, H., & Brummette, J. (2016). Online information sharing: A planned  behavior for building social capital. Public Relations Journal, 10(2). Retrieved from

Griner, D. (2017, January 3). Wendy’s put a troll on ice with 2017’s best tweet so far. AdWeek. Retrieved from

Rao, V. (2016, September 6). How Harambe became the perfect meme. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Wellman, B. (2001). Computer networks as social networks. Science, 293(5537), 2031-2034.

Williams, D. (2016, August 23). Harambe memes prompt Cincinnati Zoo to delete Twitter accounts. CNN. Retrieved from

Appendix A

Trolling Assessment (Pre-Assignments)

For this series of assignments, we will explore cases involving organizations being trolled by people and by other organizations. We begin by exploring trolling and its effects on organizations to determine best management practices. Next, you are challenged to consider trolling as part of a broader social media strategy. You must consider brand voice, industry environment, audiences, and the consequences of engaging in this type of strategy. In all portions, you must consider contingency theory or other appropriate theories reviewed in class that apply to the decision-making process when determining strategy.

Throughout the assignments, you must discern the purpose of memes and consider methods to convert memes to social capital. Initially, it may be difficult to extract strategy from troll-like behavior; however, it has become increasingly necessary to explore. For example, brands like Wendy’s and T-Mobile have incorporated trolling into strategy and brand voice.

The multi-level assignment includes the following:

  • Case assessment and application of social capital theory and contingency theory (or other appropriate theories reviewed in class); determine best practices for management
  • Case/client analysis
  • Strategic development/creative brief

Case Assessment: Cincinnati Zoo Harambe crisis – Online personas trolling an organization

  • How did online trolls convert Harambe into social capital? Assess all elements of social capital, network theory, etc. to analyze the case. Next, using the contingency theory and the advocacy-accommodation continuum, determine and assess the factors influencing the zoo’s response. Conclude with your overall assessment of effectiveness. Things to consider: The purpose of memes – or social capital – in an effort to think about trolling as part of a broader social media strategy. How can a particular meme be converted to social capital?

Case Analysis: Because they got high: T-Mobile’s strategic trolling of Verizon on 4/20 – Organization-on-organization trolling

  • How did T-Mobile turn an earnings report into social capital? Assess all elements of social capital, network theory, etc. to analyze the case. Next, using the contingency theory and the advocacy-accommodation continuum, determine and assess the factors influencing T-Mobile’s actions and Verizon’s response. Conclude with your overall assessment of effectiveness.

Appendix B

Strategic Trolling Creative Brief


Identify an organization you believe could benefit from engaging in troll-like behavior. In the last year, we’ve seen several organizations engage in such behavior with social media users and with other organizations. Some have had great success; others flopped and apologized. We’ve also seen some organizations engage this way as part of social media strategy or a broader strategy.

Consider how all artifacts will be used as social capital for the brand. Can you use the memes to connect with target groups or build a network? What conversation do you want to occur around the memes? How might the meme self-replicate?

Project Overview

In a brief paragraph, describe the project. Hit the overarching theme and intent.

Statement of Communication Problem or Opportunity

In one complete sentence, describe the communication problem or opportunity to be addressed. Consider how you would like to frame the problem or opportunity.

Target Audience

  • Target audience(s) and secondary audience(s)
  • Demographic information
  • Psychographic information
  • Brand character(s)


In one sentence, briefly describe the overarching goal.

Strategic Objectives

Develop appropriate communication objectives that adhere to the SMART criteria.

Brand Voice

In a brief paragraph, describe the brand voice for the project. List three key words to describe the tone of the content.

Key Messages  

Provide a bulleted list of key messages you want to communicate to the target(s). For each bullet, identify which audiences are targeted.

Desired Action or Response

Briefly describe the desired action or response from each target audience. What do you want them to do? How do you want them to respond? What conversation should occur around your social capital and among your target audiences?

Creative Strategies & Tactics

Remember, strategy or strategies should involve trolling. Determine the number of tactics based on appropriateness of strategies, client, and overall vision. Include the objective achieved with the strategy and corresponding tactics. Also include the audience targeted for each. When developing strategies and tactics, remember to consider the risk factors and potential response from this approach.


Thoroughly explain the purpose of the content. Thoroughly address how the content is converted to social capital. You will need to explain how the copy and images will connect with target audiences or build a network. Explain the conversation you intend to create around the content. Explain how the content may self-replicate and where it will lead.

Creative Samples

Create 5 samples of the memes used to strategically troll another organization. Include all corresponding content. For example, if the meme will be released on Twitter by a person or organization handle, what text will accompany the image? Think about the commentary T-Mobile’s John Legere included in his tweets with the #VerHIGHzon memes.

Reflection & Theory

Clearly indicate how social capital theory, contingency theory, and/or network theory shaped your strategy. Explain how and why you believe your approach involves all facets of social capital theory and how it informed your strategic decision. The same applies for contingency theory and network theory.

Additional details for each section are provided in class.

Sparking Creativity Through Purpose-Driven Storytelling

Top GIFT from AEJMC-PRD 2018

Editorial Record: Submitted to AEJMC-PRD GIFT Competition by Feb. 5, 2018. A blind copy was peer reviewed by the PRD Teaching Committee, led by Chair Katie Place. First published online on August 17, 2018.


Cooney Headshot

Chris Cooney, Washington State University

Sparking Creativity Through Purpose-Driven Storytelling


The Digital Strategies and Techniques course begins with a two-part assignment in which students produce a multimedia story about their transformation from a college student to a communication professional.

The assignment aligns with the Washington State University Foundational Competencies for Communication, which require students to “creatively adapt content and conventions to diverse contexts, audiences, and purposes,” including the use of digital communication technologies (UCORE, n.d., para. 7). Adobe Spark requires less than one hour of classroom instruction for students to gain the skills necessary to complete the assignment. Having a minimal need for technical instruction enables students to focus on the structure of their stories and the significance of the elements they contain.


This assignment furthers the following WSU Communication learning goals: “Defining, analyzing, and solving problems;” “combining and synthesizing existing ideas, images, or expertise in original ways;” “thinking and working in imaginative ways characterized by innovation, divergent thinking, and risk-taking” (WSU, n.d., para. 3).


My Great Idea For Teaching (GIFT) combines the process of personal narrative construction with Adobe Spark as a media creation tool in an assignment that empowers students to confidently engage in communication strategy development and purpose-driven multimedia storytelling grounded in PR practices.

The problem-solving approach, creative process, and media creation tool used in this assignment are intuitive and approachable. Students follow a strategic content creation process that requires research, strategic development, ideation, content creation, and implementation.


The intuitive workflow of Adobe Spark gave students the confidence to make mistakes and experiment without significant risk of wasted time or effort. Students can quickly explore new possibilities that they previously saw as unattainable. I could then provide feedback during the class period and suggest changes, which the student could often implement before the end of the class period.

Student Examples

Listed below are examples of the multimedia narratives students produced based on the assignment instructions.

Karen Gallardo,

Kelly-anne Cubley,

Niko Balocco,


For the first part of the assignment, Personal Professional Assessment and Vision, students write a structured narrative, grounded in their personal values and goals, that describes how they will leverage their strengths and overcome obstacles to achieve what they define as success.

In the second part of the assignment, Personal Introduction Presentation, students translate their written story into a multimedia narrative using Adobe Spark, a free storytelling tool that is part of the Adobe Creative Cloud.

The assignment requires students to engage in a planning and creative process that mirrors the situation analysis and strategy development process used in professional public relations. The assignment is a practical and meaningful introduction to strategy development and digital content creation.


UCORE. (n.d.). UCORE Categories and Course Lists. Retrieved from

Washington State University (n.d.) WSU Learning Goals: Communication Learning Goals. Retrieved from




These are the assignment instructions provided to students.

Assignment – Part 1: Personal Professional Assessment & Vision

Assignment on the course blog:

This assignment will serve as the basis for your Presentation 1: Personal Professional Introduction assignment, so you should complete it before you begin work on your presentation.

For this assignment, you will develop a structured narrative, grounded in your personal values and goals, that describes your personal transformation from a college student to a successful communication professional. Although this is a personal story, the structure of this assignment and the process you’ll use to develop it is based on the same creative process you’ll use to research clients and customers, so you can develop communication solutions that meet strategic goals.

Create a document that captures your structured creative thought process–including relevant details, references, goals, actions, and insights. You will use it to construct a personal story about your transformation from a college student to a successful communication professional.

Document Outline
A. Personal Information – Start with an overview of yourself; where you came from, how you got to WSU, and what you’re doing right now.

  • Your name and hometown.
  • Your major, area of interest, minor, or other active academic pursuits.
  • When will you graduate? How many months away is that? How many days?
  • What are you doing this semester besides taking 381?
  • Your hobbies, interests, groups/organizations you are a member of or other things you want to share about yourself.
  • What are your core values? In other words, what personally do you stand for and consider most important?

Research requirement: Include at least two relevant statistics in this section that help establish context or scope for your personal background and interests. Include citations for these statistics.

B. Vision of Future Professional Self – Where do you see yourself professionally five years after graduation?

  • Where will you live? – Geographic location, urban or rural, relevant details about your living situation.
  • Where will you work? – Type of company or organization, location, relevant details about your work environment.
  • What will your title be? – How does this title relate to your skills and strengths? Cite a real title and organization with specific job responsibilities and requirements.
  • Who will you work with? – What kinds of people will you collaborate with at your company or organization? Who will you engage with outside of your company (customers, clients, the public, etc.)?
  • What work will you do? – What will you create or produce, what impact will it have on people and on society?
  • What will you do besides work?
  • How does all of this relate to your core values?

Research requirement: Research the location you want to live in and firms and titles in the industry and location you identified. Cite at least two sources in this section to demonstrate a clear connection between your vision of yourself and the real possibilities that exist there today.

C. Situation Analysis – Do a strength, weakness, opportunities, threats (SWOT) analysis on yourself based on your preparedness to begin your professional career and be successful. Include relevant information about your skills and experience.

Summarize your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats either in a table or as a bulleted list.

Identify what you think is your greatest opportunity and your greatest threat or challenge.

D. Steps to Enable Future Vision – What are 3-4 specific decisions you can make or actions you can take in the next four months to use your personal strengths to capitalize on the greatest opportunity you identified or minimize the most significant threat that could stand in the way of you moving toward your vision of your future professional self?

List your greatest opportunities and most significant challenge.
Then for each of them:

  • Identify the specific action you can take or change you can make that will address it.
  • How will taking this action lead to your vision of your future self?
  • How does taking this action this relate to your core values?

Research requirement: Identify 2-3 specific resources (people, organizations, classes, scholarships, etc.) that could help you make the most of a particular opportunity or overcome a challenge. Cite these resources.

E. References – Include a references page at the end of your paper. Use MLA style for your citations.

Assignment – Part 2: Presentation 1 – Personal Introduction Presentation

Present your personal story about your transformation from a student to a successful communication professional.

Assignment on course blog:

Develop a multimedia presentation that describes your transformation from a college student to a successful communication professional. Use Assignment #1B: Personal Professional Assessment and Vision as your reference for your presentation structure and content. Collect and incorporate multimedia elements (photos, video, audio, etc.) to help illustrate your story and engage your audience.

Create a short, multimedia narrative using Adobe Spark. You can either use Spark Page to create a web page to illustrate your story, then deliver a verbal narrative in class that relates to the web page. Or you can create a standalone Spark Video that may only require a brief verbal introduction in class. You also have the option to combine a Spark Page and a Spark Video to deliver your presentation. Remember, you cannot exceed the 2-minute time limit for your presentation.

Your in-class presentation should not exceed 2 minutes. Spark Videos should be 1-2 minutes.

Format: A Spark Page or Spark Video.

Presentation Outline
This is the suggested outline and order for your presentation. You can adjust the order to fit your personal vision and concept for your story, but your story must include all of the elements listed in the outline.

A. Introduction – Start with an overview of yourself.

Include relevant details from your previous assignment.
Introduce your core values.

Media requirement: Include at least two images in this section.

B. Situation Analysis – Where are you today? What is the most important information about your current situation for your audience if they are to understand where you want to go and how you are going to get there?

Identify your most significant opportunities and most significant challenge.

Media requirement: Include at least two images in this section.

C. Vision of Future Professional Self – Where do you see yourself professionally five years after graduation?

Media requirement: Include at least two images in this section.

D. Path to Future Vision – What are you going to do to move toward your vision of your future professional self.

Identify the specific actions you will take.

Media requirement: Include at least two images in this section.

E. Outcome and Benefit – What is now possible? What is the result of having achieved this vision of your future professional self?

  • How do you benefit?
  • How do others benefit?

Media requirement: Include at least one image in this section.

Looking in to see out: An Introspective Approach to Teaching Ethics in PR

Top GIFT from AEJMC-PRD 2018

Editorial Record: Submitted to AEJMC-PRD GIFT Competition by Feb. 5, 2018. A blind copy was peer reviewed by the PRD Teaching Committee, led by Chair Katie Place. First published online on August 17, 2018.


Regina Luttrell Headshot

Regina Luttrell, Syracuse University

Ward Headshot

Jamie Ward, Eastern Michigan University

Looking in to see out: An Introspective Approach to Teaching Ethics in PR


Instances requiring concrete decisions, whether ultimately judged as correct or not, inundate our daily lives. When discussing the topic of public relations ethics within today’s classroom, students are commonly requested to contemplate and explain their perception of what ethics are and their importance within the industry. Inevitably, responses to explaining ethics follow a similar theme: “Ethics differentiates between good and bad” or “Ethics are gray – neither right or wrong.”

By leveraging numerous ethical theories, including Immanuel Kant’s ethics (Kant & Paton, 1964; Sullivan, 1989), John Locke’s natural-rights libertarianism (Locke & Gough, 1966; Simon, 1951), Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism (Bentham, 1823; Heydt, 2014), and Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development (Kohlberg, 1976; Thoma, 2014) as the foundation of ethical principles, this assignment has been developed as an introduction to the process of making ethical decisions.  

Recognizing that assessing “right” and “wrong” can be difficult and is often influenced by individual contexts, a firm understanding of ethical theory, and a framework for ethical decision-making that allows for the development of a set of behavioral standards that can help guide the appropriate actions for a range of situations (Luttrell & Ward, 2018). Upon completing this assignment adapted from our textbook, A Practical Guide to Ethics in PR, students will better understand the code of ethics guiding the field of PR and also identify, recognize, and write their own personal code of ethics by distinguishing what influences their decisions as students and future PR professionals.


To truly understand how ethical codes affect us as individuals, it is important to think about the components that have shaped our ethical principles. The majority of us subscribe to some level of basic ethical theories. Whether rooted in early lessons from childhood, our faith or religious beliefs, or simply from life experiences, we make judgments about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of certain actions based on our own moral values (Luttrell & Ward, 2018). According to Parsons (2016), ethics provide a set of guiding principles for behavior that helps individuals decide the appropriate way to respond in various situations. Ethics propagate from having to make tough choices and from the need to provide justification as to why we make particular choices.

During an in-class lecture, students are asked to examine the PRSA code of ethics (Public Relations Society of America, 2011). They read and dissect the code of ethics, ultimately concluding that ethics applies to all levels of behavior and judgment. Acting properly as individuals, creating responsible organizations and governments, and bettering our society as a whole are behaviors that accompany being a good citizen and PR professional.

The benefits to students are numerous, especially in relation to the PR industry, where ethical dilemmas are encountered almost daily. After completing this assignment, students recognize leading ethical theorists, identify the increasing importance of ethics in PR, and analyze the role ethics play within the profession. This assignment is applicable to a variety of courses within the PR discipline, including writing, social media, ethics, and case studies. The activity appeals to a wide range of students because it captures their attention from the start. Students are surprised to see the various ways in which ethics ground the profession. They are excited to learn how their personal beliefs play a role in their decisions as students and future practitioners.


After initially reviewing ethical philosophies from Kant, Locke, Bentham, and Kohlberg, as well as examining the PRSA code of ethics, students are asked to search for the code of ethics subscribed to by their favorite brand. Upon locating the code, the class discusses the merit of what is being presented. Some organizations offer concrete examples of how the organization acts ethically, while others offer a generic statement regarding their ethical principles. This is an important aspect of the assignment because students begin to see the difference between “lip service” and truly abiding by principles that guide the organization’s decision-making.

Students are then asked to write their own code of ethics by the conclusion of the lesson. (See the Appendix for the assignment). Typically, they are given a week to complete the writing assignment. This code should consist of a set of simple, direct statements that describe each student’s personal ethics. To evaluate how well the code of ethics is written, it is important to ask, “Could someone read this code of ethics and predict the kind of choices I would make?”


This assignment engages and challenges students to think analytically and creatively, yet also allows the freedom to research new ideas, values, and methods that eventually support their personal code of ethics. PR practitioners are advocates for organizations, clients, and stakeholders. Therefore, it is crucial that students construct and analyze the elements of ethical decisions, in addition to understanding and articulating the ethical, legal, and social responsibilities of PR professionals.


Bentham, J. (1823). An introduction to the principles of morals and legislation (Vol. 1). London, UK: Oxford at Clarendon.

Heydt, C. (2014). Utilitarianism before Bentham. In B. Eggleston & D.E. Miller (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to utilitarianism (pp.16-37). Cambridge: Cambridge University.

Kant, I., & Paton, H. J. (1964). Immanuel Kant: Groundwork of the metaphysic of morals. New York, NY: Harper Torchbooks.

Kohlberg, L. (1976). Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive-developmental approach. In T. Lickona (Ed.), Moral development and behavior: Theory, research, and social issues (pp. 31-53). New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Locke, J., & Gough, J. W. (1966). The second treatise of government, and a letter concerning toleration. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell.

Luttrell, R., & Ward, J. (2018). A practical guide to ethics in PR. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Parsons, P. (2016). Ethics in PR: A guide to best practice. London, UK: Kogan Page Limited.

Public Relations Society of America. (2011). PRSA Member code of ethics. Retrieved from

Simon, W. M. (1951). John Locke: Philosophy and political theory. American Political Science Review, 45(2), 386-399.

Sullivan, R. J. (1989). Immanuel Kant’s moral theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University.

Thoma, S. J. (2014). Measuring moral thinking from a neo-Kohlbergian perspective. Theory and Research in Education, 12(3), 347-365.


Assignment Instructions

To truly understand a personal ethical code, it is imperative to consider the components that have shaped personal ethical principles. It is rare that we interact with individuals who do not live by some beliefs represented in various common ethical theories. Personal experiences drive ethical decisions.

Think about your personal experiences and how they might shape your beliefs. The questions below will help you begin your analysis. Learning to identify a moral code allows you to better see where your beliefs fit with other ethical theorists and assist you in identifying your core values.

  • What external influencers (parents, teachers, friends, etc.) have shaped your values?
  • What values have you maintained that you were taught as a child?
  • Are there any values that you were taught as a child that have changed as you matured?
  • What qualities do you value in yourself and/or in others?
  • When considering what you have learned with regard to Kant, Locke, Bentham, and Kohlberg, what ethical theory or theories do you most closely identify with?
  • What ethical systems do you follow on a day-to-day basis?
  • What are some of your strongest beliefs about humanity? For example, do you believe that everyone deserves respect? Do you believe that all people are inherently “good”?
  • Are there any ethical practices you think are absolutes? For example, is lying always wrong?

Ethical codes should be comprised of a preamble and highlight various ethical codes to live by both inside and outside the classroom (minimum of 4, maximum of 6). When complete, include a summary of how ethics plays an integral role in the profession of PR.

*Assignment adapted from Luttrell and Ward (2018).

Social Media Campaigns: Strategies for Public Relations and Marketing


Matt Kushin

Matthew J. Kushin, Shepherd University

Social Media Campaigns: Strategies for Public Relations and Marketing

Author: Carolyn Mae Kim, Ph.D., APR, Associate Professor, Biola University
London, Routledge, 2017. 194 pages.
ISBN13: 9781138948600
Suggested Retail: $72.70; Amazon: $33.12

The recent publication of the 2017 Commission on Public Relations Education report emphasized the importance of social media management skills among entry-level practitioners, while noting a gap between the skills entry-level practitioners should have and do have (O’Neil, Moreno, Rawlins, & Valentini, 2018). The rise of social media as a central component of many public relations efforts today necessitates that public relations students are taught the professional and strategic implementation of social media. While dedicated courses in social media exist, educators are also integrating social media into other classes, such as public relations principles, case studies, and campaigns courses. Social Media Campaigns: Strategies for Public Relations and Marketing is designed to educate readers about how to plan, organize, and execute a social media campaign. The text combines key terms, interviews with experts in the field, and case study examples, while teaching the reader how to apply knowledge gained within a campaign model. With an emphasis towards public relations and marketing applications, the text is well-suited for a university class setting, but it is also written with practitioners in mind.


The book is organized into five sections. First, Kim discusses social influence. The remaining four sections are organized around the four stages of a social media campaign: listening, strategic design, implementation and monitoring, and evaluation. Each chapter begins with a brief sentence that summarizes the main thrust of the chapter. Visuals and tables are used throughout, helping the reader identify important takeaways and see examples of social media posts. Within each chapter, Kim offers the reader a question-and-answer interview with an expert from academia or the field. At the end of each chapter, the reader will find a bulleted summary of key concepts, a list of suggested readings, and a list of references. The writing is clear and succinct, providing the reader valuable information while remaining approachable to a student population who is reading less and less (Hoeft, 2012).

Throughout the book, Kim emphasizes that a social mindset must permeate the culture and decision-making process of an organization in order to find success in the social media era. Kim’s approach is grounded in the bi-directional public relations model, urging readers to move beyond using social media simply as a uni-directional promotional tool. Instead, Kim advocates the two-way symmetrical model of public relations and emphasizes that social media practitioners should build and maintain understanding between the organization and its publics (Grunig & Hunt, 1984).


Chapter 1 places emphasis on the organization being a social organization, stating that such organizations “recognize social interaction as a core approach to business rather than social media as a tool to accomplish business, and thus experience the power of authentic relationships with key stakeholders” (Kim, 2017, p. 3). Kim discusses how online communities and brand communities relate to the rise of social media and how organizations might go about engaging with such communities while avoiding common pitfalls. To address these issues, Kim puts forth the central organizing feature of the remainder of the book: the four-step social media campaign model, offering a brief overview of each section.

Chapter 2 introduces the first stage of the campaign process: listening. The chapter focuses on two aspects of listening: foundational background research and listening to the social landscape. Foundational background research is grounded in a thorough understanding of the organization, its structure, culture, policies, and ways of communicating. Social landscape listening seeks to identify brand-relevant online conversations and those participating in them with the goal of identifying opportunities for the brand to participate. Upon introducing terms relevant to social listening, Kim explains how those terms are applied in practical settings through “Key Data Application” subsections. An overview of social media analytics is provided as it pertains to social listening, with a drill down into share of voice (SOV). A step-by-step demonstration with visuals helps the reader to see how SOV can be calculated in spreadsheet software. The chapter wraps up with a look at how to make sense of the listening efforts and perform a SWOT analysis.

Chapter 3 offers step 2A of the four-stage planning process: the social media strategic plan. The chapter covers common key aspects of developing a strategic plan offered in other texts such as identifying goals; defining the audience; creating SMART objectives; developing strategies, tactics, and key messages; and building a budget. Importantly, Kim also covers many aspects of strategy that are specific to social media, such as building a consistent online social profile and developing a social media voice and content plan. With helpful examples from companies such as Coca-Cola, Kim discusses social media community policies, employee social media policies, and the social media component of the organization’s crisis plan. Social media ethics are emphasized within a two-way, or dialogic, communication framework (Kent & Taylor, 1998) and the TARES ethics model (Baker & Martinson, 2001) .

Chapter 4 continues step 2 of the strategic planning process, focusing on designing brand community engagement. Several cases are covered of brands across different social media platforms, providing the reader with an array of creative ideas used to build brand value. A discussion of brand credibility, and media credibility more broadly, is woven into issues related to brand personality, access to decision-makers, and individualized social media communication. Kim discusses ways to create tactics that both support the campaign goals, align with the brand personality, and foster perceived credibility. Here, Kim is careful to remind the reader of common pitfalls in creating tactics, such as the desire to try something edgy or trendy.

Chapter 5 introduces the third step in the campaign planning process: implementation and monitoring. In this chapter, Kim provides several key resources and tools for executing a campaign, such as content calendars. In addition to covering pre-planned content, Kim discusses the role that monitoring plays in helping brands engage with their audience during a campaign, identify opportunities for real-time marketing, and surveil for potential crises.

Chapter 6 covers the fourth and final step in the campaign planning process: evaluation. Specifically, Kim breaks down measuring the effectiveness of social media campaigns into three parts: preparation, implementation, and impact. By dividing measurement into these three sections, the practitioner is able to assess the accuracy of formative research conducted, the effectiveness of information distribution, and the success rate of campaign objectives. In so doing, Kim provides ample discussion of social media analytics to elucidate understanding of key components, while offering tips for the application of common analytics metrics such as likes, reach, and visits. While the text is not meant to teach analytics in depth, it offers an insightful primer to help launch further inquiry and effectively teaches the reader about the application of metrics as a decision-making tool. The focus on actionable metrics across the three parts of evaluation is coupled with considerations of various social media platforms, as well as third-party analytics tools.


To get the most out of this book, familiarity with social media is needed, but mastery is not required. The book effectively introduces key concepts and provides an inclusive summary of the strategic campaign planning process to someone not familiar with it. As a course text, this book is well suited for undergraduate juniors and seniors.


Social Media Campaigns: Strategies for Public Relations and Marketing is a cohesive, well-written, and efficient text for anyone seeking to understand how to effectively design a social media campaign. The text provides a roadmap for planning, executing, and evaluating a campaign while offering in-depth considerations of key concepts and issues relevant to both students and practitioners. Further, this book can help faculty strengthen their understanding of strategic social media. Given the book’s foundation in strategy, readers will find that this is a text that has longevity even as the social media landscape continues to change.  


Baker, S., & Martinson, D. L. (2001). The TARES Test: Five principles for ethical persuasion. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 16, 148-175.

Grunig, J. E., & Hunt, T. (1984). Managing public relations. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Hoeft, M. E. (2012). Why university students don’t read: What professors can do to increase compliance. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 6(12), Article 12.

Kent, M. L., & Taylor, M. (1998). Building dialogic relationships through the worldwide web. Public Relations Review, 24, 321-334.

Kim, C. M. (2017). Social media campaigns: Strategies for public relations and marketing. New York, NY: Routledge.

O’Neil, J., Moreno, Á., Rawlins, B., & Valentini, C. (2018). Learning objectives: What do students need to know and be able to do for entry-level positions? In Fast Forward: Foundations and future state. Educators + practitioners. The Commission on Public Relations Education 2017 report on undergraduate education. (pp. 45-58). Retrieved from

Meltwater Media Intelligence Software


Matt Kushin

Matthew J. Kushin, Shepherd University

Meltwater Media Intelligence Software

Cost: Free with Meltwater University Program
Contact: Carol Ann Vance, Director of Talent Acquisition, Americas,

Meltwater media intelligence software ( is an online software suite that enables subscribers to conduct news and social media monitoring, as well as build media lists and perform media outreach (, 2018). Like many of its competitors, such as Radian6 and Cision, Meltwater follows the software as a service (SaaS) model. Users subscribe and log in via their web browser to access the software package. Users do not need to download any files or software to use the service. There is also an optional mobile app available in the App Store and Google Play that enables users to access many of the service features on their mobile device (“Meltwater Mobile,” n.d., 2018).

The software works by allowing users to search public social media data from platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook, as well as forums, blogs, comments, and product reviews (, 2018). Similarly, the software enables users to search articles from news databases. A search can be used to look back in time to past social media posts or news articles. Once set up, a search will collect social media posts or news articles going forward. According to the Meltwater help center website, news searches go back to the start of 2009, and social media searches go back a rolling 15 months (Apple, n.d.).

Since January 2017, Meltwater has offered a university program, which enables faculty and students to get free access to the software to use in the classroom for educational purposes. Carol Ann Vance oversees the university program at Meltwater. Software training was initially provided through an optional introductory video call with the professor and class; however, due to the scale of the university program, the company has moved to a model of making training videos accessible. In addition, online training is embedded into the help section of the software.


The Meltwater software is divided into functions via a navigation menu on the left. The first part of this review focuses on functions related to the news and social media search features. Following that, additional supporting features are noted.


Users set up searches for keywords or phrases and provide time and date parameters. Searches can be for either news or for social media content. As their titles suggest, news searches enable users to search a real-time database of news articles across a growing list of more than 300,000 news sources (C. A. Vance, personal communication, May 23, 2018). Multiple searches can be programmed to run concurrently. Social media searches enable users to search a variety of social media platforms, as well as forums, blogs, and product reviews.

A search can be set up by navigating to the “Search” menu item. A user enters a keyword to begin a search. Once a search is initiated, additional keywords can be entered. Further, after a few keywords are entered, a list of related keywords is generated and suggested by the software. The user has the option of including those keywords in the search. Similar to searching on other platforms, keywords can take a variety of forms, including but not limited to a word or phrase of interest; the name of a person, organization, or entity; a hashtag; or a username. Users have three options for the types of search they want: (1) all of these keywords, (2) at least one of these keywords, or (3) none of these keywords (see Image 1). These options can be combined in a single search. Users can also enter search terms using Boolean logic in the advanced settings. Date parameters and source parameters can be set. News source parameters include location, source type, reach percentile, among others. Social media parameters include source type and language.

Image 1

Screenshot of Meltwater’s search tool. Image used with permission from Meltwater.

Once a search is set up or after an existing search is edited, the user begins to see the results in real time. Searches default to a reverse-chronological view, with the most recent post at the top. The results can be sorted by a number of other dimensions, including reach, sentiment, and geolocation. Each item in the search results is organized into a “content card,” which contains metadata appropriate to the type of search. For example, for a news search, metadata information includes publication, headline, byline, date and time of publication, reach, and sentiment score. In each content card, the first few lines of text to a news post are shown, as well as a photograph. Clicking on the article headline takes the user to the original article in a new browser page. Similarly, users can sort metadata in social media searches and access the original post by clicking on the social media profile data associated with search results.  


Dashboards are created from existing searches. They can be accessed by navigating to the “Dashboards” menu item. Therefore, a user must first set up a search for a topic of interest before creating a dashboard for that topic. Dashboards are visual representations of data from a search, and they are organized into interactive widgets (see Image 2). Widgets are displayed as windows within a dashboard and, as the name suggests, function to analyze and display information visually. There are a variety of widgets, including but not limited to widgets that display share of voice, potential reach, media exposure, sentiment, trending themes, top locations, top sources, a heat map, and a Google Analytics widget. Each widget can work with one or more of the following sources: news, social or RSS feed. Each widget can be interacted with and customized individually, enabling the user to modify the date range and the search source for that widget. Further, the location and size of widgets can be changed within a dashboard. As such, Dashboards serve as the key way to interact and analyze data in Meltwater.  

Image 2

Screenshot of the Meltwater Dashboard. Image used with permission from Meltwater.

There are three default dashboards: monitor, benchmark, and analyze. Additionally, users can set up custom dashboards by picking and choosing the widgets of their choice. All dashboards can be customized by adding and removing widgets from the settings in a dashboard. Multiple dashboards can be programmed to run concurrently, and users can set up multiple dashboards for the same search. It is worth noting that data from dashboards can be downloaded in CSV format for analysis in external software, such as in Microsoft Excel.


The influencer tool enables students and professors to build searches for influencers working at news outlets and to build media lists. Users can search for influencers and their associated news source through Meltwater, import a list of contacts from a CSV file, or create individual influencers manually by entering their contact data.

To build a media list using the Meltwater search software, users start a new search and select whether they are searching for “Contacts” or “Sources.” Several filters enable users to focus their search on key parameters, such as beats, source reach, geographic focus, language, media channel, and others. Once a search is run, the user can select from the results to see detailed information about the reporter or media outlet (see Image 3).

Image 3

Screenshot of Influencers Tool in Meltwater. Image used with permission from Meltwater.


In addition to the features above, Meltwater contains several additional features.


The “Home” menu item is a default view that a user sees when logging into Meltwater.


The “Inbox” menu item is a place to organize RSS feeds and searches that a user has programmed.


Tags are created by users in the “Tags” menu item. They can be used to classify and thus organize content for easy access later. Articles or social media posts can be tagged via the search results.


The “Outputs” menu item enables users to output, or share, search content from pre-programmed Meltwater searches to a third party outside of the Meltwater platform. This may include internal parties such as direct reports or external parties such as clients or website visitors. In the classroom context, students could create outputs to share with the professor or with class clients.

Outputs take one of two forms: 1) newsletters and 2) newsfeeds. A newsletter allows a user to pull posts from a preprogrammed search to send via email. The newsletter is organized by sections, which contain user-selected posts from a search and which can contain explanatory text that the user can add. Each section can contain data from a separate preprogrammed search. Once set up, the newsletter can then be emailed to an email list, which can be imported in CSV format. The newsfeeds feature enables a user to create a feed of posts from a single preprogrammed search. A website administrator could then use the generated RSS or XML to produce a web feed to be hosted on an organization’s website. These features are not likely to be used in the learning environment.

PR Insights

This feature is not available through the university program. It enables users to create custom reports of Meltwater data.


The “Settings” menu item is where users manage their account information and customize preferences. Importantly, the settings feature is also where users can connect Instagram and Google Analytics to pull data into Meltwater from those services.


The user should have a working knowledge of social media, social media analytics, and media relations. The interactive, visual nature of the software is approachable but can be cumbersome. The available help tools within the software provide resources, including step-by-step videos, for professors to learn the software and teach it to students. But, learning to use the software effectively requires a substantial time investment. Given that the software can be accessed via a web browser or via the native apps (, 2018), it can be readily accessed by professors and students both on and off campus, irrespective of operating system.


I integrated the Meltwater software in my undergraduate 300-level social media course in fall 2017. To me, the power of the software is in its ability to quickly pull historical data from a variety of sources. Unlike other software that I have used, Meltwater does not require a user to set up a search ahead of time to begin collecting data for future analysis. This enabled my class a lot of flexibility in what we were able to search. With other software, I have had to pre-program searches at the beginning of the semester and wait several weeks to collect enough data to use for class projects.

However, there were some hiccups and challenges with using the software. I will discuss several below.

We began with a brief activity where students set up a few searches to monitor social media content related to a well-known health and beauty brand and its competitors. The purpose of the activity was to familiarize students with what the software was capable of monitoring on the social media side. Here, we ran into a few issues where software usability challenges and user inexperience conspired to create problems. First, when setting up their searches, students struggled to get creative in generating the search keywords. Beyond the brand names themselves, I tried to encourage creativity. For example, I suggested using the brand’s social media account handles and using various spellings of the brand names (e.g., with and without an apostrophe in one case). Students also did not tend to look at the search results to look for false positives. In some cases, students needed to go back and add keywords to the “None of these keywords” textbox to refine results. Altogether, students tried to rush this important process.

Second, some students struggled to follow the instructions to make the search a social search, accidentally setting up the search as a news search instead. Students didn’t seem to understand how the “news” and “social” searches differed, despite having taken the video training provided in the software as well as my brief lecture in class. Both the variations in keyword choice in search set up and the mistake of creating a “news” search instead of a “social” search led to inconsistent results between students when they analyzed their search result data in a dashboard. Third, several students stumbled through understanding that a dashboard was needed in addition to a search to see analytics. They expressed that they felt that the search should auto-generate a dashboard. Because there are several different types of dashboards, the differences for which are not immediately clear, they grew frustrated and confused. These students did not understand that the search serves to pull in the data, and can be modified, and that the dashboard provides the output of the data via the widgets. Fourth, when setting up additional widgets within an existing dashboard, a user must select which search to pull the data from. Several students selected the wrong search unknowingly, and were thus believing they were seeing data for one brand when in fact they were seeing data for a different brand.

In ways such as those described above, students seemed to struggle with grasping how to navigate and use the software. Those struggles led students to believe they were reporting the correct data when in fact they were not.

Turning now to the data the software provides, there are a few limitations to be aware of.

First, be aware that the software is a monitoring tool and does not provide access to analytics of social media accounts. My students also completed a social media audit assignment and we were only able to use some features of the Meltwater software. For example, we were unable to find a way to use the software to explore analytics surrounding a specific social media account (e.g.,  a Facebook page and its followers, or audience demographics). This is likely because this information is not public. Therefore, for certain assignments, additional tools or client access to built-in analytics will be needed in the classroom beyond Meltwater.

Second, while the news media influencer tool is great for building media lists, it was a bit challenging to help students identify social media influencers via Meltwater. There are a few proxies which can be used to try and triangulate a search for social media influencers. I had my students sort searches by reach and by engagement. There is also a dashboard widget for finding the top posters by volume, as well as a widget for share of voice. However, a separate tool for identifying influencers in a social conversation would be a wonderful addition.

Third, in my own experience, I found the widgets a bit cumbersome to navigate. From a dashboard, one has to click into the widget by clicking the blue arrow before a widget can be interacted with. Interaction with the widgets feels a bit one-dimensional. When a data point – such as a date – is clicked on in a widget, the software displays all results pertaining to that data point. However, many widgets do not allow further drilling down. For example, if the widget showed search volume for a four-month period and I clicked on one day, the widget will not zoom in on that day and show me a timeline of posts across the hours of that day. In this regard, I was not able to see what time of day search volume was at its highest.

Upon completing our use of the software throughout the semester, I asked students for verbal feedback about their experience. Some expressed excitement and a sense of empowerment, others expressed a sense that they learned a lot, and a few expressed a sense of being overwhelmed or intimidated. A majority of students said that they wished I had spent more time in class showing them how to use the software. I recommend that professors planning to use the software in their classroom offer ample in-class opportunities for students to learn to set up searches properly and refine searches through keyword targeting. I also recommend walking students through the dashboard setup a few times and checking for understanding and task completion. Look for discrepancies between students in their results, and help students to reverse engineer how decisions they made in setting up their search led to those discrepancies.


The Meltwater media intelligence software provides a powerful software suite for teaching students about news media monitoring, social media monitoring, and analytics. Meltwater is also a powerful tool for teaching students key media relations skills, namely identifying relevant news outlets and reporters and building media lists.

By integrating the Meltwater software into classes in public relations and social media through activities and assignments (see for examples), professors can expose students to media intelligence software used by more than 25,000 organizations around the world (O’Malley Greenburg, 2017).


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O’Malley Greenburg, Z. (2017, May 23). Google slayer: Meet Meltwater, the company that conquered Google Alerts. Forbes. Retrieved from