Tag Archives: strategy

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. https://doi.org/10.1207/s1532754xjprr0901_02

Feldman, B. (2016, July 27). The dark internet humor of Harambe jokes. New York Magazine. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/selectall/2016/07/harambe-forever.html

Fussell Sisco, H., & Brummette, J. (2016). Online information sharing: A planned  behavior for building social capital. Public Relations Journal, 10(2). Retrieved from http://apps.prsa.org/Intelligence/PRJournal/current-edition/current/sisco_nz3.pdf

Griner, D. (2017, January 3). Wendy’s put a troll on ice with 2017’s best tweet so far. AdWeek. Retrieved from https://www.adweek.com/creativity/wendys-put-troll-ice-2017s-best-tweet-so-far-175334

Rao, V. (2016, September 6). How Harambe became the perfect meme. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/09/harambe-the-perfect-meme/498743

Wellman, B. (2001). Computer networks as social networks. Science, 293(5537), 2031-2034. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1065547

Williams, D. (2016, August 23). Harambe memes prompt Cincinnati Zoo to delete Twitter accounts. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2016/08/23/us/cincinnati-zoo-harambe-twitter/index.html

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.

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. https://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2012.060212

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 http://www.commissionpred.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/report6-full.pdf