5 Ways to Use Snapchat as A Teaching and Learning Tool in Higher Education

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Please note: "This article is originally published on Brian Fanzo's website as a guest blog post.

Most people probably agree that the most impactful change to the public relations, marketing, and/or advertising industry within the last decade is the evolution of digital landscape. Personally, I don’t even remember the last time when I actually used my phone to call someone for a business- or work-related matter (okay, it was last night, but you get my point). Social media platforms are making communication faster, easier, and more dynamic and engaging. Emojis and GIFs are adding another level of engagement to communication messages.

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In my seven years as a professor of Public Relations, I have seen social media quickly rise and predominate the field as the de facto method of spreading an organization’s message, engaging with the public, and maintaining an edge in highly competitive environments. And when we think about engagement, social media outlets are offering more dynamic ways to reach out to customers, consumers, influencers, etc. In this article, I’ll share how I have been using Snapchat, in specific, as a teaching tool to increase engagement with students in my classes, and help prepare students to engage with the industry. 

Before I dive into the topic, please let me tell you who I am. My name is Ai (pronounced as “I”) Zhang. I obtained an M.A. and a Ph.D. in the field of Communication from Syracuse University and the University of Maryland, respectively. I have been teaching public relations at my current school, Stockton University, since 2009. When I started teaching, I had little understanding of how the industry used social media. And topics related to social media were nowhere to be found in our curricula. Until one day in the spring semester of 2014, I read in a student’s paper that he had no idea what Pinterest was. That was my wake-up call and brought me to my social media journey as a public relations professor. I realized that if I wanted my students to stand out in today’s competitive market, they need to be proficient in using these digital platforms. Here I am today, being addicted to social media.

So, how do I use Snapchat as a teaching and educational tool? Let’s get started.

Humanize the teacher as a real person:

  • This isn’t necessarily something I consciously do, but rather is an innate side-effect of using social media. With that said, it’s probably one of the most important parts of being on social media. Students tend to be afraid of teachers, a LOT. Even though you might think you are the friendliest person on earth, there is a power distance that separates teachers from students. Approaching teachers, even when asking legitimate class-related questions, can make students feel intimidated and stressed. Using Snapchat along with Twitter and Facebook to share my personal and professional life has helped me communicate to the students that I am a real person like them. I laugh, sleep, work, grade papers, teach, shop, complain (sometimes), and procrastinate (never! ;). But the point is, sharing some parts of myself in my “natural environment” helps build a rapport with students that wouldn’t otherwise exist. And this is extremely helpful for facilitating their learning and engagement in the classroom.

Engage students through Snapchat Q&A and Geofilters

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There are multiple ways that you can use Snapchat to engage students. Doing a Snapchat Q&A is one of my favorites. For example, when you receive a question from a student via email, rather than emailing back, respond to that question via Snapchat. I can almost guarantee that receiving a personalized response from a professor will blow a student away. It instantaneously connects you, the “superior,” and the student. Plus, who doesn’t love taking a break from answering and responding to emails? The Snapchat Q&A approach works particularly well with those students with whom you already have a better connection. Sometimes, a simple question and answer can lead to an insightful discussion about a class topic or career related issues. I love it when these extended discussions happen. You can feel by the end of a Snapchat Q&A that you are closer to the student and the student feels more comfortable at talking to you. The “face-to-face” and one-on-one communication via Snapchat allows you to transmit what would be lost by using emails. 

  • Another fun way to involve students is to ask them to create class-specific Geofilters. My students love this exercise, and sometimes I offer them extra credit to do so. In this way, they earn course credit and learn an important tactical skill that benefit their careers — win-win. Here is one example of a Geofilter created by one of my students using our class hashtags, #AZSM.

Brand the students and the class

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In today’s information- and noise-loaded environment, differentiation is crucial to help an individual or a brand stand out. I use Snapchat to give my students shout outs and highlight their accomplishments. For example,a few weeks ago, I had four students join me on a #HootChat. I was so excited that they took charge of their learning and then created this Snapchat story →  Several individuals and even Hootsuite itself chatted back about the contributions these students made to the discussion, and then I shared the feedback with the students. Cool, right? But you might be thinking, that’s good, but shouldn’t students be doing this self-branding anyway? Why are we praising students for doing what they are supposed to do? Well, the most important reason is that many students do NOT know how to use social media channels strategically to brand themselves, especially on a new platform like Snapchat. By observing how their instructors use social media, students learn to imitate our behaviors. Interestingly and unexpectedly, students started to brand me and give me shout outs. “Amazing Teacher”? Thanks guys! *brushes back tears*. With the spring semester approaching an end and graduation just around the corner, I plan to feature a few students as my snapchat “heroes” to showcase their accomplishments. I plan even let these “heroes” take over my snapchat account for a day. As many of my snapchat connections are professionals in the industry, this type of branding can further enhance these students’ professional reputation. 

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  • Aside from posting students’ work and accomplishments, I also snap major events in our classes. For example, when we have guest speakers, I snap the highlights of their talks as well as their social media handles. Students have benefited tremendously from such virtual connections. I also share fun activities that our class does, such as our end-of-semester pizza party. Yeah! Cannot wait.

Mentoring and coaching students in the virtual space

  • One of the attractive features of Snapchat is that its content disappears after 24 hours. In other words, it provides a sense of anonymity and privacy. I’m taking advantage of this by using the platform to coach and mentor students, especially on topics that they might feel otherwise uncomfortable to disclose. Again, think about the humanizing aspect — you might have students who are reluctant to come to your office hours to discuss academic or personal issues they’re facing (Confession: I rarely have students come to talk to me during my office hours unless I reach out to them first to schedule a meeting.) While I hope that students understand they can approach me in person, and I don’t want them to feel like they need to hide behind the perceived “safety” of an app, I also realize that I need to meet students where they are at. And that place often happens to be through their smartphone screens and Snapchat nowadays. In light of this, I have recently created a #RockYourCareer hashtag to offer coaching and mentoring to students on both Snapchat and Twitter. In the traditional school environment, student-teacher interaction often ends as school closes. In today’s digitized environment, that connection can continue to be present even after students and teachers become spatially separated. Doing this type of coaching has brought me a strong sense of inner fulfillment.
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Integrating with the larger professional community

  • Brian Fanzo’s recently published an article, “Snapchat: What, Where & Why I’m All-in,” (check it out!). Among the many good reasons he lists to be in love with Snapchat — all of which I agree with, by the way — the one that resonated most with me is Snapchat’s ability to foster and nurture relationships and communities. Brands are getting their “authentic” selves out there, people are connecting — it’s all just one big happy interconnected awesome-fest. And from where I stand in the high, cold tower of the ivory fortress, this is an important aspect. The biggest problem I see in public relations education, is the disconnect between the academy and the industry. There are multiple reasons for this disconnect, and one of them is definitely that students are not integrating with the professional community until it’s time to go out and hunt for jobs. If you’re waiting until you’re on the job market to get connected, you’re starting too late! Or at the very least, students are missing huge opportunities to connect and integrate with organizations and professionals earlier in college. As an educator, I believe that part of my job is to reduce that gap by introducing students to the industry and to engage with industry leaders and influencers. I do this through “traditional” assignments, such as having students run PR campaigns for real organizations; but I also heavily incorporate digital tools like Snapchat to get students engaging with professionals in the field. Not only can you see what others are doing, but you can also get one-on-one engagement with people you might not otherwise have had a chance to meet.

Hope you enjoyed reading these five tips. If you want to learn more about using Snapchat as a learning tool, please make sure to follow Dr. Karen Freberg@kfreberg on both Twitter and Snapchat. She is an innovator! And if you happen to be in higher education as well, I would love to learn how you use social media platforms to interact with your students!

Social Media Marketing: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

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When Mark Schaefer agreed to be a guest on my Facebook Live Show, Classroom Without Walls, I screamed, danced, and had to pinch myself so that I knew I was not dreaming.

I have been a super fan of Mark for a few years. One of my daily habits is to consume Mark’s content, should it be blog articles, live streaming interviews, or podcast episodes. The more I get to know Mark, the more respect I have for him.

You know when you have Mark Schaefer on the show, it will be a value-packed session. Mark didn’t disappoint at all. He offered so much value and shared great insights on Social Media Marketing.

With this particular interview, we had people from 13 countries who either joined us live or watched the replay. The interview so far gained 1.2K + views, 21 shares, and 230+ comments. Even a few weeks later, I am still receiving requests from people to get the replay link.

Click on the image/video below to watch the replay of our interview and draw your own conclusion. Below, I also offered a detailed recap and major takeaways. And if you do choose to watch the replay, I have to warn you that my face was frozen the entire time due to technical difficulties. However, you can hear me and Mark clearly. At least, I was frozen in a good way.

Who Is Mark Schaefer?

Mark Schaefer is “a globally-recognized keynote speaker, educator, business consultant, and author who blogs at {grow} — one of the top marketing blogs of the world.” Mark is also the author of six best-selling marketing books, including Social Media InfluencerReturn on InfluenceBorn to BlogThe Content CodeThe Tao of Twitter, and Known. Mark’s books have been adopted as “textbooks at more than 50 universities,” and “have been translated into 12 languages.” Mark is also among “the Top 10 most re-tweeted marketing authorities in the world” (information from Mark Schaefer’s Website.)

You can connect with Mark on LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and Instagram. Please also make sure that you subscribe to Mark’s blog {grow} here and commit to reading it daily.

Without any further ado, let’s hear Mark’s insights on Social Media Marketing.

Will Purchasing Fake Followers Ever Go Away?

A recent New York Times article titled, The Follower Factory, exposed the dark and the ugly side of social media marketing. In the article, the authors shared quite a few stories of how people were purchasing followers to become popular in the digital space. For example, do you know that

Celebrities, athletes, pundits and politicians have millions of fake followers.

Intrigued and frustrated by this numbers’ game and popularity competition, I asked Mark if this trend of buying popularity will ever go away?

Mark believes that this trend won’t entirely disappear. As he shared,

One of the things I learned from my time in business is that wherever corruption can occur, corruption will occur. There will always be people creating fake news, purchasing fake followers, or doing lousy tricks with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to become famous.

However, all these practices will only lead to short-term wins if there are any. Within this context, Mark shared two pieces of advice to help combat the fakeness in today’s digital space. Read carefully, my friends. These are powerful words that can change your careers and life.

✅ Google cannot let the bad people win. Instead, Google rewards original authorship and quality content. They are looking for signals that reflect quality and authority.
✅ Act on the web as would on the real world. Act with generosity and kindness. Stay centered. Don’t worry about what everybody else is doing. Don’t worry about the tricks. Don’t worry about SEO. Don’t be influenced by the bad stuff going on. Because in the end, the most human company will win. The most human person will win.

How to Rise Above the Digital Noise As An Individual or Small Business Owner?

It was only a few decades ago that people had to rely on traditional print media or TV to get their stories to the outside world. Today’s digital landscape is drastically different. Anybody who has access to the Internet and a digital media device can create content and make their voice heard. As Mark shared,

The most wonderful thing we have in our world today is this opportunity to be heard, to be recognized, and to be acknowledged.

Regardless of whether you are an individual or a small business owner trying to build a brand, you don’t have to wait for others to tell your stories. You can be the narrator of your own stories. You have the power to create content and to establish yourself as a thought-leader in your field. Remember Mark’s words,

Everyone has the opportunity to create their own power. We don’t have to wait to be published in a newspaper or on TV. That’s someone else’s decision. We don’t have to wait to be picked. We can pick ourselves, small business owners, entrepreneurs, or people who want to create a personal brand in the world.

So, what else are you waiting for?

Get started with whatever you have and start producing content and being consistent with your content creation.

Top Three Content Creation Tips

Mark shared great content creation tips, , which I summarize in the following three points.

✅ “One key aspect to content creation is that you just have to start. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to know exactly where you are going or where your niche is, because often you don’t find that out until you start. And you don’t even need to have all the answers to create content. You just need to have the questions.” The feedback you receive from your audience will help you crystalize your message. Your evolution will come as a result of the feedback that you receive from your audience. Produce more of the content that is resonating with your audience.

✅ “The content you create helps you develop an emotional connection with your audience. Your content helps break down the geographic barriers to allow your audience to get to know and trust you.” Mark shared a story of how he was invited by General Electric to conduct a workshop. The person who invited him had been consuming his content for four years before he reached out and made Mark aware that he was consuming his content.

✅ Select a content creation platform or format that works best for you. Video is the buzz word now. But, does it work for you? The truth is that people consume content in different ways and resonate with different types of content. Some people prefer videos, whereas others may like blogs or audio. Select one platform that works best for you and stick to it. For Mark, it is blogging. And Mark has been blogging twice a week, every week, for ten years. The key takeaway is,

Do what brings you joy. Don’t do what people tell you that you should do. Don’t do what you think you should do because somebody else is doing it. Don’t feel that pressure. Do what brings you joy, because if you are not having joy doing what you do, your audience will be able to tell.

The Importance of Social Sharing

One increasing challenge for content creators is getting their content seen. Take Facebook as an example. Mark shared that in 2011, the organic reach for a business page on Facebook was close to 30%. In 2017, the average reach dropped down to 1%. A person using Facebook can be exposed to, on average, 2,000 stories a day. How insane is that?

Within this much digital noise, social sharing has become even more crucial to help content stand out. As Mark said, “The economic value of content that is not seen or shared is zero.” If you are spending hours producing content, but nobody is consuming it, you are simply wasting your time or money. On the other hand, if someone makes an effort to share your content, they are endorsing your content. In Mark’s words, Social sharing is advocacy and

The most powerful thing people can help you do is to share your content. When they share your content, they are saying, I believe in this and I want you to believe in this too. It is a very intimate choice to share someone’s content. It becomes part of your brand. Social sharing is the most important marketing metric today other than conversions. The economic drive of social media and content marketing is social sharing.

What’s Next For Mark Schaefer?

Mark shared with the audience that he is thinking about writing another book, which will be the next revolution of Known. The new book will dive deeper into the humanity side of marketing. I just love it when Mark said “humanity.” As Mark explained,

We are so lost as marketers. We lost our humanity. We lost our soul. We turned over marketing to SEO analysts and IT doing A/B testing. People don’t trust marketing. People don’t trust marketers. We have done it to ourselves. We had all these amazing technologies that are extending human lives in the medical field for example. And the great use of technology in marketing today is to find more ways to annoy people. We are not using technology to take down these barriers and to connect in a human way, and that’s what we should be doing.

Bring humanity back to marketing. Don’t you just love it? I cannot wait to read Mark’s next book.

Call To Action: Be More Human

Mark used three words to end our interview. That are, “Be more human.” Look at every single piece of the content you are producing and asking yourself, how can I be more human?

How can we show our faces, smiles, and humanity, because in the end the most human company will win.

To add on to what Mark shared here, not only the most human company will win, but the most human personal brand will be remembered and shared. Are you being human enough?

P.S. If you are an educator reading this article, I highly recommend you adopt Mark’s book, Known, as a textbook for your social media marketing class.

Digital Dinosaur to Digital Savvy: How Social Media Transformed My Career

                                           Image Credit: Spin Sucks/   shutterstock

                                         Image Credit: Spin Sucks/shutterstock

Please note: This article was originally published on Spin Sucks as a guest blog.

After earning my master’s of arts degree from Syracuse, and my Ph.D. from Maryland in 2009, I thought I was finished with learning.

Boy, was I wrong!

I am a college professor who teaches public relations and social media classes.

During the 2015 spring semester, I had a wake-up call from one of my students who said he’d never heard of Pinterest.

I was in shock and disbelief, initially thinking I’d misheard him.

I assumed that digital natives were digitally savvy.

Are Digital Natives Social Media Savvy?

The truth is, many of today’s digital natives are NOT digitally savvy.

Sure, they know how to use Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram to chat with their friends.

However, that’s pretty much the extent to which most students use social media.

Not many know how to use social media strategically, professionally, and responsibly.

And few have truly grasped the ramifications of having a digital footprint.

Even fewer know how to use analytical tools to draw meaningful implications to strategize their content production and distribution for the purpose of personal branding, professional development, and career advancement.

Unless they’re being coached, most young people are merely using social media as a social toy.

What’s the Missing Piece?

There was a gap in my teaching, a disconnect in my classes, and an important missing piece in my students toolbox — and that gap started with me as the educator.

Unless I embraced and embodied change, the change I wanted to see among students would NOT happen.

I embarked on a journey to fully immerse myself in the digital world, hoping to use my own experience to influence my students and lead by example.

Little did I know that simple decision would bring a 180 degree transformation to my own professional career.

The opportunities I received with my visible digital footprint were amazing: Speaking engagements, research collaborations, guest blog invitations, book chapter invitations, and many others.

More importantly, I built a close community with an awesome group of people who I respect and collaborate with, which would not have been possible otherwise.

I’m sharing the specific strategies I learned during my digital transformation so you can employ them to transform your career.

Building a Community Using Twitter Chat

Platforms come and go, but people stay.

I agree with Brian Fanzo’s discussion of building communities and fans, not just followers.

The platform that helped build my online community is Twitter, specifically Twitter Chat.

If you are a digital dinosaur like I was, you must embrace Twitter Chat!

Spend as much time possible participating in, and even hosting, Twitter Chats.

It’s a great way to meet others and learn more about the current state of your field.

Seriously! Pause Netflix and jump into a Twitter Chat right now.

When I started my digital journey, Twitter Chat helped me build my personal brand.

I did two or three chats a day.

It helped me connect with professionals in the field of higher education, social media marketing, and even parenting.

I’ve hosted two Twitter Chats: One with Deirdre Breakenridge #PRStudChat(a must-do if you are in higher education), and the other with Public Relations Student Society of America’s monthly Twitter Chat #PRSSA (a must-do for students or junior PR pros).

Hosting these chats exposed me to a much larger community, expanded my network and personal brand, and enhanced my digital craftsmanship.

A year after March 2015, I grew my Twitter followers from 300 to 2,440!

I love the Twitter community I’ve built for my brand.

Your community is what makes your brand successful.

Personalize Storytelling and Communications

How many of you are camera shy? Raise your hand! I know I was.

I remember that raw feeling when I did my first video on Snapchat.

It felt awful.

I couldn’t stand my own voice or the way I looked, but I pushed through that initial stage of discomfort.

Now, I LOVE IT!

I personalize messages by sending video greetings, engaging in extended discussions via video or audio chats, and by expressing gratitude to those who engage with me regularly.

I am not afraid of sending video or audio messages to people I’ve just connected with online.

I am passionate about sharing my life stories through digital platforms, and am certain I’ll do a video announcement upon the publication of this blog!

I love what Caleb Maddix said about transformation, “It is through application that we experience transformation.”

Without the doing part, nothing can happen.

I’m sure Gary Vaynerchuk would agree with the application part, as he puts so much emphasis on execution and taking action.

The bottom line is: If we don’t change old habits, we will never have breakthroughs in life!

Embrace Videos and Livestreaming Apps

The hottest trend in social media marketing is real people using video or live streaming in real time — as Deirdre Breakenridge discusses here.

Audiences crave authenticity and transparency, which are possible via live streaming and videos apps such as Periscope, Facebook Live, Snapchat, and Instagram Stories.

Snapchat has been my favorite tool to tell stories and build my personal brand as a college professor, a social media enthusiast, a homeschooling mom, and a vegan.

Between the stickers, geofilters, bitmojis, and emojis, Snapchat is a lot of fun to use.

I find the real power of Snapchat is its ability to engage in one-on-one conversations with people.

If globalization has made the world smaller, then used strategically, social media envisions us to experience what communities look like in the digital era.

Engage

What is the key feature of social media?

It allows you to socialize and be sociable!

Notice that, social media is not called sales media!

Although selling can definitely happen, social media is not primarily about selling stuff.

Relationship and community building should always take precedence.

A key strategy that worked extremely well during my digital journey is engaging with others.

When I follow people, I comment on their articles, Tweets, videos, pictures, and snaps.

I send videos to greet new followers on Snapchat, and thank those who interact with me.

I give shout-outs to people who have inspired me.

I send videos to congratulate accomplishments and acknowledge special moments in life.

Staying engaged is hard work.

But if you are seeking what Connor Blakley has termed, Return On Interaction (ROI), engagement will eventually guide you to where you want to be.

For example, through engaging with Brian Fanzo, I got the chance to write a guest blog for his website, where I discussed five ways I use Snapchat as a teaching tool.

That article was shared a few hundred times, which far exceeded my expectations.

After some interaction with Deirdre Breakenridge via her #PRStudChat on Twitter, I was offered the opportunity to include some of my students as special guests on her Twitter Chat.

By engaging with PR influencer Carrie Morgan, together we hosted a Twitter Chat during one of my public relations classes.

As a public relations professor, I used to struggle with finding quality guest speakers for my classes, but by actively engaging with all these industry professionals, I now have an amazing lineup of guest speakers for my classes.

It’s such a humbling experience knowing how professionals truly want to give back.

Quality > Quantity (Evergreen Content)

Let me start by saying that consistency is absolutely critical to building an online presence.

Like many with a hectic lifestyle, I am not good at consistently producing content.

I do my best to ensure the content that I produce is high quality, evergreen content.

As an example, a Brazilian journalist found me through a guest blog post I wrote, and subsequently interviewed me about how I use Snapchat as a teaching tool.

It just goes to show that you never know where these experiences will lead you, or who might read your blog post.

So if you cannot make the time to produce content consistently, then seek quality.

Don’t ever sacrifice quality for the sake of quantity.

Without high quality, your readers will NOT engage with you, regardless of how often you publish.

Lifelong Learning

Confucius said, “There is nothing happier in life than applying the knowledge that you learn.”

I wholeheartedly agree.

Learning is rewarding and fun.

I love discovering new things and applying knowledge I have learned to make an impact.

Many others have inspired me on this digital learning journey, and I thank them all.

Never stop learning. Never stop growing.

Our degrees and diplomas only represent our past. It is our ability to learn that moves us forward and brings revolutionary changes to our lives. — Tweet this.

Using Social Media to Teach Social Media: My Interview with HubSpot Academy

               Click  here  to listen to the podcast interview

              Click here to listen to the podcast interview

Recently, I had the honor to be interviewed by Isaac Moche, the Education Partner Program Manager at HubSpot Academy. We discussed how I use social media as a teaching tool.

You can listen to the entire podcast here or read the transcript of our interview here. Because of the detailed show notes from HubSpot, in this article I want to add some nuances and reflections to what I wasn’t able to share during the podcast interview. If you are looking for specific tactics and examples to use social media as a teaching tool, please make sure to listen to the podcast or read the transcript, where there are lots of detailed examples.

First, let’s get started with the basics.

Who’s Ai Addyson-Zhang?

I am an Associate Professor of Public Relations and Social Media at Stockton University, NJ, United States. I have been teaching communication classes for ten years and have recently started to teach Social Media courses.

Outside academia, I am a firm believer and advocate of using Social Media as a teaching tool. I serve as a social media (pedagogy) consultant. I have recently developed an online course on Social Media Pedagogy (contact me if you want to have free access to the course for a limited time). I am also the host of a weekly Facebook Live Show, Classroom Without Walls: Using Technology to Reimagine Education.

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My Journey as a Social Media Professor: Three Takeaways

In the interview, I mentioned that I didn’t become active on social media until March 2015. Why was I late to the game?

I will forever remember March 2015. It was Spring Break. I was at home grading students’ papers. I read in a good student’s paper that he had never heard of Pinterest and he didn’t even know how to spell the word correctly. He wrote in the paper, “Pin…terst…?”. To this day, that word is still imprinted in my mind.

Why was this such a shocker to me? Because I talked about social media in my classes all the time. In fact, I didn’t even remember how many times I lectured the importance of having a basic understanding of the mainstream platforms at least in the United States. Clearly, my teaching was not very effective.

Besides being shocked, I also felt very guilty. Here I was, a Public Relations and Communication professor, and my student didn’t even know how to spell Pinterest. I took the blame personally.

I decided to radically change how I approach social media myself as a college professor. I also saw an urgent need to finally walk the talk.

Little did I know that simple decision to become a better teacher literally transformed my teaching practice & paved a professional career for me that was unthinkable a few years ago. — Tweet this

There are three important takeaways that I gained from this experience.

  1. Are digital natives also digitally savvy? I learned that our students, so-called “digital natives”, are not necessarily digitally savvy. They are very adept at using social media for social and entertainment purposes. However, they lag behind in terms of using social media as a strategic tool for networking, learning, and professional development purposes. They need to be trained by qualified teachers.
  2. Walk the talk. Educators need to walk the talk, especially if you are teaching subjects that are highly applied such as communication, public relations, marketing, and business. I made the mistake of not walking my talk. And I felt so thankful for the student who shared that he had never heard of Pinterest. Without that painful wake-up call, I wouldn’t even be where I am today.
  3. Engage in lifelong learning. A premise to walk the talk is to engage in lifelong learning. I love how public relations and marketing influencer, Deirdre Breakenridge, embodies the spirit of a lifelong student. Unless we embrace the mindset of engaging in lifelong learning, we, as educators, are going to struggle to educate students who are prepared for an increasingly digitized environment. Similarly, I cannot agree more with what education consultant Eric Stoller argued that nobody is only a “digital native” or a “digital immigrant.” In a way, we are all digital natives and immigrants. Becoming digitally literate is a lifelong journey.

Fear of Technology

I cannot not talk about my social media journey without mentioning my fear of technology. If you are reading this post and happen to be apprehensive of technology, please let me assure you that you are NOT alone.

Technology and social media change on a daily basis. Trying to keep up with all the changes is exhausting and overwhelming to say the least. I love how the founder of Social Media Examiner, Michael A. Stelzner, mentioned in a podcast interview that their Friday Social Media show covers at least 20+ changes in social media every single week. It is hard enough for full-time social media marketers to keep up, let alone educators, who have a highly demanding job.

I was consumed by my own fear of technology and of being in front of the camera. I was also afraid of sharing my own ideas with the outside world in written formats such as blogging. In short, I felt lost, scared, and overwhelmed in the rapidly changing digital space.

I wish I had a magic pill to help you overcome your fears. I don’t. But, I learned from my experience that the only way to overcome my fear is by acting on that fear and by taking baby steps. If incorporating five platforms into your classes seems too much, then start with one. That’s exactly how I got started.

I started with Twitter Chats, and that’s it. Incrementally, I added Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Whale, and other sites. Choose one platform that you feel the most comfortable with and go from there, and join supportive networks. Also remember that you don’t have to know everything and be okay with that.

Becoming A Social Media Pedagogy Advocate

I have been on this social media journey for a little over 2.5 years. I couldn’t be more grateful for where I am today. So many opportunities came to me as a result of my digital footprint, such as guest blogging, speaking engagement, research collaborations, book chapter invitations, influencer collaborations, and podcast interviews like this one with HubSpot Academy.

Oftentimes, we teach our students to build their personal brand and digital footprint. However, equally if not more important is that educators, ourselves, need to build our own digital footprints and professional brands. This is not to just walk the talk, but to elevate our own classroom teaching and professional careers to a new level.

For example, I used to struggle with finding guest speakers from the industry for my classes, but now I have a waiting list of professionals who want to share their experiences with my students. I used to feel inadequate because of my lack of professional experience. But, now, I have people approaching me requesting to be coached.

As I shared in the interview, I am no different from many other educators. You are probably more accomplished than me. The key is getting started and being consistent with your effort. Slowly but surely, you will see changes and experience transformations.

To borrow a bit from Gandhi,

Be the change you wish to see in the classroom.

Just do it.

I believe in you.

A Five-Step Gamification Formula That Will Boost Your Online Course Performance

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Did you know that less than 10% of the students who enrolled in Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) actually completed the courses?

Online courses are notorious for low completion and low engagement rates. I remember what one of my undergraduate students once shared with me, “for online courses, you simply need to remember that you are actually taking a class.” To me, that statement indicated the likelihood in not completing online courses. Even as an educator myself, I am guilty of completing maybe only 20% of the several online courses sitting in my computer, some of which I’ve already paid for.

Given how hard it is to get students to engage in online courses, I was excited to have my friend, Zsuzsanna Kisvardai, join me on my weekly Facebook live show to share benefits and best practices of using gamification as a teaching method. Zsuzsanna is an online course creation expert.

Whether you are an entrepreneur selling online courses or an academic teaching online courses, this article is for you. You can click on the image/video below to watch the replay of our live interview. You can also read my recap here, where I share with you a successful five-step gamification formula that can help you boost your online course performance: including student engagement, course completion rates, and even sales.

What are the best ways to create and deliver online courses? How to best boost course completion rates? How to best engage your students? How to effectively monetize your expertise? How to boost your online course sales if you are selling them?

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Come join us on Wednesday, Jan 31, at 5 PM, EST, with an online course creation expert, Zsuzsanna Kisvárdai, to have all the aforementioned questions answered.

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Zsuzsanna is an edupreneur, which is a combination of "educator" + "entrepreneur". Zsuzsanna's teaching journey started as early as when she was four years old. Then, she became an English teacher. Now, she is a business owner, an Online Academy Strategist, and an online course creation expert.

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Zsuzsanna's specialty is in using gamification to boost online course performance such as course completion rates, student engagement, sales, etc.

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Come join us on Wed. Jan 31st, at 5 PM, EST, to learn Zsuzsanna's journey as an educator and entrepreneur, and the benefits and best practices of using gamification as a teaching method.

Who is Zsuzsanna Kisvardai?

Zsuzsanna is an online course creation expert. She has her own business, My Online Academy, where she teaches people how to create online courses and how to use gamification as a method to boost course performance. Zsuzsanna is an experienced educator and entrepreneur — an edupreneur, as she calls herself.. To learn more about Zsuzsanna, please visit her Website, and connect with her on LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter.

Defining Gamification In The Context Of Online Courses

As the word suggests, gamification has its root in video games. In the context of online courses, Zsuzsanna shared that gamification means “applying video game elements in teaching or education.”

There are definitely underlying connections between gamification and content creation. Games are based on stories. Likewise, content creators are storytellers. What is it about video games that can make people become so addicted to their stories? Can we apply the same philosophy to creating content for online courses?

Zsuzsanna has been using gamification as a teaching method for many years, with tons of positive feedback. Based on her personal experience, she created a five-step gamification formula to help people create content for their digital courses and help students be engaged in learning.

Read the five steps below to understand what each step means and how you can apply it to your own teaching.

Step One: Create A Superhero Avatar

What is the first thing that you do before you start playing a video game? You craft or select an avatar. An avatar is a gaming persona where the person playing the game can choose his or her own name, facial expressions, hair, eye color, vehicles, tools or whatever weapons you will need to play the game.

The same step can be applied to creating online courses. Ask students to create a superhero avatar that they wish to become upon completing the course. Doing so gives students an opportunity to “identify themselves with the superhero they wish to grow by doing your online course,” as Zsuzsanna explained.

You simply need to identify a few Superheros in the specific niche that you are teaching. For example, if you are teaching a health and fitness class, your students can have the top fitness celebrities as their avatars. Having this preconceived image helps students relate to your course content better and understand exactly where they want to be upon completing the course. As Zsuzsanna shared,

Use avatars to represent the learning outcomes and objectives of your course, students can relate to it a lot better.

In addition, Zsuzsanna clarified that these superhero avatars do not have to be visual representations. Course creators don’t have to go crazy about creating graphically complex and stunning visuals. Instead, simply listing out superhero names is sufficient. I think creating such avatars is more so the purpose of activating certain emotions that course takers don’t typically get, than creating stunning images. Zsuzsanna shared some superhero avatars that her students have created such as Barak Obama, Oprah Winfrey, etc.

What a brilliant idea! I cannot wait to ask my students to create their own course avatars.

Step Two: Project A Road Map or Journey

During the second step, you project a learning journey for the students, outlining the steps or points that you student need to complete to transition from where they are to where they want to be. As Zsuzsanna explained,

You create a road map for your students, so that they can see exactly how they go from zero to hero.

Seeing this transformation evokes excitement in the students and motivates them to reach the finish line.

In addition, just like an avatar doesn’t have to be a visual representation, Zsuzsanna reiterated that a road map doesn’t have to be a map. Instead, it is more like a metaphor that symbolizes the stages that the students have to overcome to become heroes.

Step Three: Offer Super Power

Super power describes the extra points or reward points that you offer your students. For every step along the way, you reward your students with bonuses.

For example, we shared a health and fitness class earlier. For this class, if the student completed the required 50 sit-ups, the student can unlock the superpower to have a cheat meal or have an one-on-one consultation with the course instructor or any coach in the course instructor’s network. That’s a simple example of using a reward point to supercharge a student for completing a challenging task or homework. In other words, offering super powers, “open up territories outside the course realm to reward your students,” as Zsuzsanna shared.

Step Four: Provide An Existing Strategy

Depending on what subject you are learning, taking and completing a course can be an intimidating task. You want to help minimize your students’ chances of failing or quitting before they finish the course.

For example, if a student is showing signs of quitting or not being able to complete the assigned tasks, the instructor has to offer the student a quitting strategy. What this means, as Zsuzsanna explained, is that the instructor has to “channel the student into a less challenging part of the learning process.” In this way, the student can still move forward and not quit.

Step Five: Presenting A Way to Move Forward

I think the English word “commencement” illustrates the meaning of step five well. Commencement means graduation ceremony on the one hand; and the beginning of a new chapter on the other. In the context of creating and delivering online courses, once a student completes the course, the instructor has to suggest a way to move forward, a bridge to the next level. In this respect, the instructor can offer a series of courses to keep students on the learning curve and help students become lifelong learners.

Conclusion

The five-step gamification formula opened my mind to think of more creative and fun ways to engage students in online classes and to boost course performance. Give this formula a try and see if it can improve your student engagement, course completion rate, or enrollment numbers. As “building a school in the cloud” is becoming popular, maybe gamification will be more widely adopted as an effective teaching method.

What do you think? Have you ever tried gamification as a teaching method? Please share your experience with me.

Integrating Social Media With Public Relations: Tips, Challenges, & Best Practices

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If you are a public relations or communication professional , your job probably has been drastically affected by the rapid developments in social media and technology. From owning a school email to creating a Facebook account to today’s sponsored content, paid ads, bots, ever-changing algorithms, and increasingly sophisticated analytical tools, social media and technology have changed how we practice public relations and communication.

A few weeks ago, I had the honor to engage in a dynamic and insightful Facebook live interview with a communication, public relations, and social media expert, Shonali Burke. Shonali shared tips and best practices to integrate social media with public relations, definition and examples of Social PR, and how educators can better prepare the next generation of communication professionals.

Click on the image/video below to watch the replay of our interview. Or, read my major takeaways below to get the most out of my in-depth interview with Shonali.

How to best integrate Social Media with contemporary Public Relations?

Come join my guest of honor, Shonali Burke, and I on Wednesday, Jan 24, 5 PM, EST, for a dynamic discussion on public relations and social media.

Shonali is the founder and CEO of her own consulting company, Shonali Burke Consulting. Shonali is also the founder and host of her own monthly Twitter chat, #MeasurePR.

Outside of the professional world, Shonali is a seasoned educator at Johns Hopkins and Rutgers Universities, where she teaches communication and public relations courses. In 2016, Shonali won the "Instructor of the Year" award at Johns Hopkins University.


Come join us on Wed, Jan 24, to hear Shonali share how to best integrate PR with social media, how PR practice has changed within the last decade, what Social PR means, and how educators can best prepare the next generation of communication professionals.

Who is Shonali Burke?

Shonali is the founder and CEO of her own consulting company, Shonali Burke Consulting. Shonali is also the founder and host of the popular monthly #MeasurePR Twitter chat. She is a blogger, a storyteller, and a high-demand speaker. Shonali conducts workshops and trainings on Social PR. In addition, Shonali manages a Facebook group that focuses on Social PR, called The Social PR Posse. I highly recommend you request to join the group to network and learn with a group of passionate PR and communication professionals and educators.

Outside of the professional world, Shonali is an instructor at Johns Hopkins and Rutgers Universities, where she teaches communication and public relations courses. In 2016, Shonali won the “Instructor of the Year” award at Johns Hopkins University.

You can learn more about Shonali from her websiteTwitterLinkedInFacebook, and Instagram.

How Has Public Relations Changed Within The Last Decade?

Shonali has been practicing public relations for almost a decade. I asked her to reflect on her professional experience and identify the top three compelling patterns and trends that she has witnessed or experienced within the last decade. Below is a highlight of what Shonali shared with me.

🔷 Technology. The biggest change that Shonali noticed is how much and how fast technology has evolved within the last decade. For instance, do you know that YouTube launched as a dating site on February 14 in 2005? Look at YouTube today. It has become the second largest search engine on the web. And My Space, do you still remember it? It was the social media platform to be on during the years of 2005 and 2006. And Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, they have all become mainstream and mandatory social networking and marketing platforms. As Shonali noted,

When social technology starts to come to our work space, it changes how we do businesses. I used to fax media advisories to the news assignment desk. Now, we do everything electronically and virtually.

🔷 From traditional media relations to a focus on community. Shonali made it clear that public relations is more than media relations, although a good media relations professional is still valuable to effective public relations practice. There is much more to public relations than media relations. Especially in today’s digital work space, there are many more avenues for PR professionals to utilize to get to know their audiences. These are not merely media professionals but multiple stakeholders, and cultivate relationships with them. As Shonali said,

What we need to do is focusing our attention on multiple audiences; not just that one media audience. … Think about how your product or service is a value to your end user and your community, and look at it from their point of view, which is what good PR should always be about. Use social technology to reach them, that’s where the magic starts to happen.

I couldn’t agree more with what Shonali shared. Social media should be used as a two-way communication channel to cultivate relationships and to nurture communities, instead of a self-broadcasting platform.

🔷 Measurement. As the founder and host of her monthly #MeasurePR chat, Shonali reiterated the importance of investing in smart metrics to measure PR outcomes in reference to organizations’ overall business goals. Professionals have to rely on and understand data and analytics to inform strategic decision-making.

For more information on measurement, I highly recommend you follow the Association of Measurement & Evaluation of Communication. They have myriad useful information and resources on their website including an Integrated Evaluation Framework. Also, make sure that you bookmark this guide, The PR Professional’s Definitive Guide to Measurement. In a nutshell, it is time to stop relying on vanity metrics such as followers, likes, or shares to measure your public relations outcomes.

Social Public Relations: What It Means & How It Works

One of Shonali’s specialties is in using Social Public Relations to grow and scale one’s business. Social PR is not simply adding a social media dimension to traditional public relations practices. For example, you create an electronic copy of a flyer and blast it off to all social channels. This is far away from the essence of Social PR. Instead, as Shonali explains,

Social PR looks at the social aspect. … How are we using technology to bring people closer? How are we socializing the conversation around our brands, products, services, organizations or clients so that we can start to build, educate, and motivate multiple communities of influence to start telling our stories with and for us?

How powerful is that statement? I couldn’t have defined it better myself. My favorite part of the above definition is building “multiple communities of influence to tell our stories with and for us.” In other words, technology is not the end, but a means to achieve bigger goals, i.e., bringing people together to co-create content and to tell stories with and for you.

Are you adopting this community-oriented approach yourself? If not, maybe it is time to revisit your overall social media strategy, and flip your approach from “what is in it for ‘me’ to what is in it for ‘them,’” as Shonali suggested.

When you have enough people telling your stories for you, you are not only building your social proof, but becoming more relatable and trustworthy to your audiences. To this end, you want to make an effort to serve your community first so that they start to trust you and feel motivated and excited about your products or services, as well as the stories behind them.

The Dual Role of Being A Practitioner and Educator

As an educator myself, I love people who are practitioners and educators at the same time, and are willing to give back to the academic community. When I just started teaching, one area where I struggled was my lack of professional experience. I felt there was something missing in my teaching. I didn’t have these juicy and interesting personal stories to back up what I taught in the classroom. My teaching was dry, unrelatable, and ineffective until I started to embark on a practitioner journey.

I believe that practice and theory have to go hand in hand. That’s why I have adopted experiential learning as my primary teaching method. Theories without solid practical experience are like soldiers in the battlefield who don’t know how to use weapons.

Within this context, I got excited when Shonali shared with me a trend that she has observed. That is,

More and more academic institutions want their students to have real-world experience. They want practitioners who have real-world experiences to come in and to teach their students. This is a big trend. It is not going to go away any time soon.

this approach is beneficial for students, since they are learning the practical aspects of theories and concepts; but it’s also rewarding for practitioners. As Shonali shared,

Because if we are teaching someone how to do something, then we are extending the life of our learnings because we are passing it on. We are helping to give back to the industry and the profession.

Amen to Shonali for being lifelong learners and her dedication to serving students and the profession. I hope future classrooms in the higher education space will be populated by not just pure academics but a combination of academics and practitioners.

Conclusion/Call To Action

In a nutshell, I see practitioners like Shonali as a bridge, interlinking practice and education. Educators need constant feedback on updates and changes from the industry to refine what they teach in the classroom.

As Shonali shared in our interview, the PR professional is experiencing monumental changes on a daily basis. Students need to understand not just traditional media or a few narrow functions of social media, but have the skillsets and strategic mindset to use social media and digital communication tools to achieve overall business goals and objectives.

I sincerely hope that our education space can develop more practitioners and educators who serve as bridges. That’s how we can shrink the gap between education and practice. Otherwise, we are doing a disservice to our students. So, become a bridge. Your students and the profession will thank you.

If you love everything Shonali shared here, please check out her FREE master class on Social PR and connect with her on all the social media sites mentioned at the beginning of the article.

Digital Disruption & The Millennial Mindset: How Educators & Professionals Should Be Prepared

                 Weekly Facebook Live Show, #ClassroomWithoutWalls, hosted by  Ai Addyson-Zhang

                Weekly Facebook Live Show, #ClassroomWithoutWalls, hosted by Ai Addyson-Zhang

It is no surprise that today’s digital revolution has brought significant changes to many sectors in our lives. As an educator, the one single area that I am forever passionate about is education.

How is digitization disrupting the traditional education system? How is today’s hyper-connected world affecting people’s learning and information-seeking habits? How do millennials learn and prefer to learn?

With all these questions lingering in my mind, I had the great honor to interview Brian Fanzo @iSocialFanz for a thought-provoking discussion on Digital Disruption and the Millennial Mindset. And of course, how can educators best prepare the next generation?

If you are an educator or a professional who has a passion for technology and education, this article is for you! Brian offered tons of valuable advice on digital disruption, education, and innovation.

Our original video interview so far gained 1.4K+ views13 shares, and 210+ comments. If this high audience engagement doesn’t convince you, click on the video below to watch the replay of our interview or read my recap here to draw your own conclusions. I promise you won’t regret it!

Let’s get ready for a power learning session with the one and only Brian Fanzo!

Kick off 2018 with my first live interview in 2018 with the one & only Brian Fanzo.

Brian is an international speaker, top social media influencer, podcaster, and founder and CEO of his own company.

Brian will join us and discuss "Digital Disruption & the Millennial mindset", and "How educators & professionals should be prepared" to educate the next generation.

Come join us on Jan 1, at 5 PM, EST, for a dynamic discussion with Brian. It will be an amazing chat.

Please share the information with friends who might benefit from the content. Thank you.

Who is Brian Fanzo?

Brian is the Founder and CEO of his own consulting company, iSocialFanz. As a top social media influencer, Brian specializes in teaching brands the power of digital storytelling by tapping into various emerging technologies. As a Millennial, Brian has established himself as a well-known keynote speaker who talks about building digital strategies to connect with Millennial and Generation Z audiences. Brian is also the host of his own podcast, FOMO, and the co-host of SMACtalk Podcast. You can learn more about Brian from his Website, and connect with Brian on LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Everyone Can Be A Digital Storyteller

Brian made it clear that in today’s hyper-connected world, everyone has the power and ability to become a digital storyteller, as long as one has access to Wi-Fi, cellphone signal, and any digital media device. As Brian said,

It doesn’t matter what your background is, it doesn’t matter who you know, what you know, where you’re from. You have the ability to connect with people that are like you, but you also have the ability to tell your story with very little limitation.

In fact, when the interview was conducted, Brian was in the US and I was in South Korea. The fact that we could connect so easily and share our stories with the outside world is both exciting and empowering. It illustrates how technology can bring people together to co-create content, to transform that content into knowledge and wisdom, and to share our learning with the outside world.

As Brian shared, his passion in life is to

Connect great people with great people to do great things.

To me, that perfectly summarizes the gist of social media and what social connections mean.

We Are All Teachers & Students At The Same Time

I have been teaching college students for more than a decade. One thing that I don’t like about the traditional education model is that we typically default to the teacher as the point of authority; we don’t prioritize the knowledge that students or others in our communities can offer.

However, our society’s technological innovation and advancements have fundamentally democratized information ownership and distribution. There are so many online learning platforms that allow people from all over the globe to learn, to freely exchange information and ideas, and to establish themselves as thought leaders within specific fields.

I love how Brian shared that he is constantly learning from his daughter. For example, if Brian were to design an app, he would think about how his daughter uses and holds her phone. This simple example taught me that no one is always an expert; instead we are all students in today’s digital age where things are being constantly disrupted and reinvented. As Brian said,

You can learn from everyone and from people of all shapes, sizes, races, and sexual orientations.

Amen! Don’t you just love that!

Have a learner’s mindset and be willing to share what you have learned.

Focus On Your Own Message & Support It With Ample Evidence

Brian offered a powerful perspective on this. He shared and encouraged people to question the fundamental “why,” why people are doing what they do? For example, in education, why are we teaching students the way we teach them? Why are we evaluating them the way we do? If the answer is because we have always done it that way, “we know that’s a problem,” as Brian sharply observed.

But opinions can easily escalate into ugly debates or even remarks of hatred, especially in today’s online and digital space. If you haven’t experienced it personally, you probably have heard of it happening to someone else. To this point, Brian also cautioned,

It’s okay to question why. But, it’s NOT okay to berate or bring someone down because they’re doing something different…. it’s a mistake we make because we disagree rather than telling people why we disagree. We often try to break people down and … that’s the easiest way to create conflict. It’s the easiest way to fail with teamwork.

Let’s all follow Brian’s sage advice here. Next time, when you disagree with someone, instead of questioning the person, make an effort to focus on your own message and provide ample evidence to back up your arguments or claims. As Brian said,

If you truly want to move the needle forward, you have to teach other people what to do, not just tell them what to do. If you believe your way is better, educate them. And that’s how true changes happen.

For educators, this is such an important and critical skill that we need to help our students to develop.

Digital Disruption & The Traditional Learning Environment

How many of you still look at the education space as online VS offline? I know I am guilty of this. As an educator for almost a decade, I have been conditioned by our current teaching models to perceive online and offline learning as as dichotomous as opposed to integrated. As Brian shared,

It is weird that we still look at education as online versus offline. When I look at digital, especially education, we have to look at it as online AND offline. It should be AND, not VERSUS.

This statement reminds me of how the Khan Academy has used video to flip the traditional learning model. Instead of having a teacher lecture on what the students are supposed to learn, the teacher asks the students to watch Khan Academy videos at home and then come to classes to engage in in-person discussions and coaching with teachers and students. I absolutely love this model and think about applying it to my own classes. If you are a student reading this, I’d love to hear your perspective on this approach. Please share your opinions in the comment section.

In addition, Brian shared another compelling point that being digital is NOT an either-or situation, either you are digital or traditional. Being digital doesn’t have to replace what we used to do. Instead, as Brian proposed, “how can being digital scale what you used to do traditionally? Can I reach more people? Can I do things at a faster pace?”

I cannot agree more with that. As someone who is an advocate of using social media & technology as a pedagogical tool, my argument is that technology cannot replace teachers in the classroom, but can substantially amplify what teachers can doI have witnessed and experienced how incorporating a digital dimension to my classes has enhanced student engagement and expanded their learning networks.

Being Omnipresent or Selecting a Niche

Do you suffer from Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO)? When there are new apps or tools come out, do you feel the urge to play with them immediately? I do! I suffer from FOMO, big time. As a social media professor and practitioner, one question that I frequently ask myself is,

Do I have to be everywhere to build my brand, voice, or authority?

According to Brian, the answer is NO.

The old way of thinking is that I need to be on all the platforms to understand them. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. If you have a niche, own that niche. Even if you don’t have one, you don’t have to feel that you have to be everywhere. Being everywhere gets overwhelming. You get burnout. As much as I believe, at one point, that I would never get burnout from social media, there are multiple times in the last 18 months that I put my phone into airplane mode.

Amen! Brian’s response spoke to my heart. I used to chase every shiny object that came out. I used to feel the pressure to be everywhere to build my personal brand. It was not only exhausting and overwhelming, but left me little time and energy to create original content. If you are a content creator, you know how important it’s to create original content. Ironically, my fear of missing out actually made me miss out on many opportunities to create high quality and original content.

So, what should you do instead? Here’s more sage advice from Brian.

Focus on where your business is today while listening to where your business and customers are going tomorrow. If you focus where your business is today, then you won’t get distracted by the shiny objects. But, you want to listen, and you want to learn about the Snapchat or the live videos or how people are using different ad platforms. Focus on business today. Listen to where good things are going tomorrow. You’ll never be behind. You’ll never fear missing out.

Invest in Your Community

My final piece of advice from Brian is “invest in your community.”

If you are starting out and if you are in education trying to grow your digital footprint, invest in your community. Give a lot more to them. Celebrate them before you start talking about ‘I’. If you are doing a lot more ‘we’ and celebrating others, when it is your turn to be celebrated, it comes right back to you.

I wholeheartedly believe that the same philosophy can be applied to classroom teachers. As teachers, we should make an effort to build our classes as communities by placing both teachers and students in the center of learning.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed my interview with Brian Fanzo. I also hope that the content I shared here has deepened your understanding of social media, digital disruption, and education.

We have entered an era where the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself. Regardless you are an educator or practitioner or both, we all need to engage in lifelong learning, not just about content in our field but broader disciplines and fields as well.

Brian believed that

collaboration is the future of innovation.

I believe the same. Let’s all focus on “becoming a great ‘me’ first” so that we can then “be a part of a great ‘we’.” That’s how we move our society forward by becoming the best versions of ourselves.

Twitter Chats in the Live Streaming Age: Reflections on #TwitterSmarter’s Second Monthly Talk Show

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                                                  #TwitterSmarter’s second monthly talk show.

Do you love Twitter chats? I am addicted to them. I have been participating in various social media marketing, public relations, and education & technology related Twitter chats on a regular basis for quite some time now.

As we are approaching the end of 2017, numerous changes have happened in the social media world. One of the biggest changes is how live streaming and video messages have revolutionized how people engage in digital storytelling.

How can Twitter chat, a largely textual Q&A format, benefit from the rising popularity of live streaming?

Twitter Chats in the Live Streaming Age: #TwitterSmarter’s Monthly Talk Show:

Madalyn Sklar is the founder of a popular weekly Twitter chat, #TwitterSmarter, which is on every Thursday at 1 PM, EST. I love how Madalyn incorporated live streaming into her weekly Twitter chat. Madalyn has a team of greeters behind her #TwitterSmarter team. I am fortunate to be one such team members to work closely with Madalyn and my best teammates, Zala BriceljSabrina Cadini, and Alberto Gómez.

In order to bridge the weekly text-based chat with the new wave of live streaming, we have begun a monthly Facebook talk show called the #TwitterSmarter Monthly Talk Show. It started in October, 2017.

The overall goal of the show is to bring in #TwitterSmarter chat guests from the last two months to a live streaming platform (i.e., Facebook) to engage in deeper conversations with the #TwitterSmarter community. The monthly talk show is hosted on the last Thursday of the month at 5PM, EST.

During our November talk show, we featured two special guests, Craig Carpenter and Dr. Joyce_Knudsen. They offered great insights on social media marketing & community building.

       #TwitterSmarter’s second monthly talk show. Click on the image above to watch the replay

Below, I highlight two takeaways from our guests.

Using Visual Content to Build Relationships

I have always believed that images are great ways to tell stories digitally. However, I never thought about using visual images to start conversations and build relationships and communities. This is my biggest takeaway from chatting with Craig Carpenter.

Craig is the founder of RelayThat, whose goal is to help you create images better and faster. Click on the caption below to connect with Craig on LinkedIn.

How can you use images to create communities?

This is how Craig did it and it absolutely melted my heart. During the#TwitterSmarter chat on Nov. 9, Craig created the following image during the chat.

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Seeing that image blew my mind away. As you can see, I am still talking about it almost a month later after the chat. Not only did the image help me feel closer to the #TwitterSmarter family but also changed me to Craig’s forever fan!

In Craig’s own words,

Using visual content is a great way to lift others up and to start conversations.

How powerful is that?

Craig also shared that during live events, people can create quote images to grab people’s attention. He did this himself and got great engagement. I am totally going to “steal” this idea and create quote images for speakers when I attend my next conference. I recommend you do the same. Remember,

Visual content is a relationship builder. — Craig Carpenter — Tweet this.

A key point I also want to point out is, making your own sleek graphic designs does NOT have to be expensive or difficult. You certainly don’t need to be a trained graphic designer to do it!

Be Unique in Your Storytelling

My biggest takeaway from Dr. Joyce_Knudsen during the monthly show is how to be unique in your own storytelling — showcasing what is unique in you that others aren’t doing. Dr. Joyce also discussed the importance of being real, authentic, and positive in creating and sharing content online.

What I love the most about Dr. Joyce and her message is that she walks the talk. She is the most engaging and authentic influencer that I have ever interacted with.

Dr. Joyce stood out to me as a true giver. — Tweet This

Even with her 1.12 million followers on Twitter, Dr. Joyce engages, listens, and shares content of value to her community. In fact, Dr. Joyce shared that her “secret” to build such a large community on Twitter is that she’s authentic, real, positive, and being genuine and unique in her storytelling.

In the social media and digital world, there is so much automation and self promotion. But, you should never automate human interactions.

At the same time, Dr. Joyce reminded me of the importance of being yourself and embracing who you are. Social media has no shortage of influencers, micro-influencers, thought leaders, celebrities, etc.

But, there is only ONE you. Don’t try to be someone else. Discover what makes you, You. Engage in introspection to understand your “why.” Then, create content that cannot be created by someone else and showcase what you are doing that others aren’t doing. A community will emerge as a beautiful byproduct of your message and consistent content creation.

Conclusion

Kudos to Madalyn Sklar for elevating her #TwitterSmater chat to a new level. If you haven’t tried this yet, maybe it is time that you think about it.

How do you like my takeaways from Craig Carpenter and Dr. Joyce_Knudsen? How do you use visual images? What are your strategies for building communities online?

Share your thoughts with me, please.

If you like this article, let’s connect on TwitterInstagramLinkedIn.

Even better, join me every Wednesday at 5 PM, EST for a live Facebook interview with leading professionals and educators regarding topics related to social media, technology, education, and change.

SEO & Content Tactics that are Worth Your Time & Build Your Online Presence

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It probably comes no surprise that SEO and content tactics are major buzz words nowadays. I learned from this year’s Social Media Marketing World conference in San Diego that Facebook is running out of room of news feed and ad space. Community building has become even more important; likewise, producing quality and valuable content for your audience has become a must to serve your fans and build relationships with them, and to rise above the noise.

I had the honor to engage in an hour-long conversation with Julia McCoy, CEO of Express Writers, regarding SEO and content tactics that can help organizations and individuals build a strong online presence and rise above the noise.

If you are an social media marketer or communication professional, you are for sure going to benefit from the strategies and tactics Julia shared to elevate your brand to the next level. If you are an educator, you will also love Julia’s advice on taking advantage of social media to create a strong online presence for you so that you can maximize your potential reach and impact.

Without any further ado, here is my conversation with Julia. Enjoy!

Who’s Julia McCoy?

Julia is the CEO of Express Writers. She is an author, speaker, and content marketer. Julia has been the CEO of Express Writers for more than six years. She transformed her agency from bootstrapped to a six-figure business. Julia is a top-ranking content marketer (ranked #33rd last year). She is also a best-selling author about online writing skills, So You Think You Write?Additionally, Julia is the creator of a podcast, online course (contentstrategycourse.com), and her own Twitter chat (#ContentWritingChat).

Clearly, Julia has no shortage of accomplishment. I am so honored that she joined me for a value-packed interview.

Top strategies to build a strong online brand

✅ Determine your place of authority online. First, you need to identify your niche. The more niche you go, the better results you get. Understanding your niche helps you create a persona of your ideal client.

Who is your ideal client? Whom are you going to serve?

Understanding your ideal client helps you create content and use the right keywords to reach out to that client. For example, if you are a digital marketer, that’s extremely broad. You need to identify the specific industry you are serving, such as B2B, B2C, gender, income, interest, etc. You want to narrow down your niche as much as possible.

Once you discover your niche, you can create content by thinking about the person you are serving.

Julia recommends conducting surveys to identify your ideal audience. If you have a brand new audience, you can use Facebook Audience Insights, which allow you to get tons of data on your ideal target person. To be honest, I have never explored Facebook Audience Insights until my interview with Julia. I went ahead and did a search on my Facebook page’s audience insights. See the two screenshots below.

                                              Facebook Audience Insights (image 1)

                                             Facebook Audience Insights (image 1)

                                             Facebook Audience Insights (image 2)

                                            Facebook Audience Insights (image 2)

My understanding of Facebook Audience Insights is really rudimentary. But, I can see from the second image that my audience tend to be married and more educated. This makes perfect sense to me because my target audience is college professor.

✅ Listen to your audience. Your clients have issues and face challenges. Listen to them and create content to solve their problems. For example, if your client doesn’t know how to write a list-style post, it can be a topic on your editorial calendar. At Express Writers, Julia shared that her team has done a great job at listening to their audience and creating content that matters to them. For example, the content that works for their audience is long-form, intensive, and thorough content.

How to create stellar content that can rise above the noise?

Julia shared a pattern that she observed based on her personal and Express Writers’ top-performing content. The key takeaway is,

How much usefulness are you giving away in your piece of content?

Once you answer that question, there are optimization tricks that writers can employ to further enhance the reach of their content. For example, if you are creating a long piece of content, you want to study your headlines. The tool that Julia uses and recommends is called, Advanced Marketing Institute Headline Analyzer , which is a free tool. I did a quick headline analysis using the current title I have for this article. See the screenshot below. You can see from the screenshot that the ideal Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) score is 50% to 75%.

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Julia shared a great example of a long-form piece of content that she created for this year’s International Women’s Day. She identified the top 50 women in marketing to follow. The article took her two months to complete. However, it achieved incredible results. The article got shared 5K plus times and read 7K times on Search Engine Journal, and has become the top performing content there.

The key takeaway is,

The more time you take to craft a piece of content, the better the content is. Putting lots of time into that piece of content and perfecting it, it will pay off. It will help your content stand out above the crowd.

At Express Writers, Julia has a team of five people to help her create and perfect a piece of content. For example, Julia will spend a week to just research the topic and identify the best keywords for that topic. The second week will be production week when they create the content and write about it. Hearing this from Julia really helps me see how much time and effort it involves to create outstanding content that ranks high on Google.

On the other hand, Julia does mention that you don’t always have to create long-form content. The rule of thumb is understanding your audience and what they expect. In other words,

Knowing what your audience expects is the first and foremost key to create really great content.

Our interview also help me understand the importance of using the right keywords in your content creation. Julia recommended using specific tools instead of Google because Google doesn’t give you competition numbers, which are crucial to keyword selection. The tools Julia suggested include SEMrush and Mangools. Whereas SEMrush is on the more expensive end, Mangools is a lot cheaper to use. In general, you want to use keywords that are low on the competition rank.

Conclusion

I hope you learned as much as I did from my interview with Julia. Julia has recently launched a Practical Content Strategy Certification course, which goes much deeper and broader on the topics we discussed here. For a limited time, you can have access to a free version of her course. Please make sure to sign up here to receive the free course content.

Julia can be found at @JuliaEMcCoy on Twitter and Medium, and @ceomommy1 on Instagram.

How I Earned A Top Writer Status in Social Media on Medium in Less than Two Months: My Top 5 Secrets to Succeed in Blogging

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In March 2017, I had a chance to attend the mega Social Media Marketing World conference hosted by Social Media Examiner in San Diego.

It’s the best social media conference I have ever attended.

My mind was blown away by ideas, tools and apps, actionable steps, analytics, and more.

One of the major takeaways was the power of video.

Everyone seemed to be talking about video and live-streaming, and why businesses and individuals should embrace it.

As a live-streaming enthusiast, I completely see its value.

However, does this mean the written word, specifically blogging, is losing its attraction?

Quite the contrary.

Blogging still has value.

A blog can still elevate one’s personal or professional brand to the next level. I earned a top writer status in social media on Medium within two months.

In this post, I share my journey as a blogger and my top five secretes to succeed in blogging.

My Journey as a Blogger

I started blogging in May 2017.

Yes, I’m late to the blogging game!

Before that, I had blogged four times in my entire life, and two of those posts were guest invitations.

The conclusion seemed somewhat obvious: Blogging was not my area of interest.

As of today, I have regularly been blogging for several months.

Medium recently nominated me as a top writer in social media on the platform, with other experts, such as Gary VaynerchukLarry Kim, and Jeff Higgins.

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I earned this status on June 18, 2017. So, technically, that’s less than two months since I started blogging regularly. I also grew my followers on Medium from 600 to 1,000.

How did this happen? What led to my transformation?

Read below to find my top five blogging tips.

I. Understand Your Why

Simon Sinek is the person who truly pushed me to think about my “why.”

Blogging is no different from any other social media platform.

Many people jump into social media because it is cool or fun without understanding why they are on it in the first place.

It is fine if you are just seeking a channel to entertain yourself.

However, if you are running a personal or professional brand, you have to be wise about your choices and actions.

Therefore, here are my questions for you:

  • Why do you want to blog?
  • What do you believe?
  • What are your business or personal goals?
  • How can blogging move you closer to your goals?
  • What’s the role of blogging in your overall strategic plan?

Here are my answers:

  • I am a college professor.
  • I believe today’s students have changed and educators, as a result, have to change how we interact with our students.
  • Social media and technology play a huge role in how students have changed.
  • Thus, I embraced social media as a pedagogical tool. I use social media sites heavily in my teaching to facilitate learning.
  • I blog on social media, teaching, and higher education to help educators learn ways that they can apply social media to their own teaching and career.

How about you?

Answer these questions first and then develop a calendar to strategize your blog content.

For example, a social media influencer I know has a content calendar.

It means he crafts his material in alignment with the courses, webinars, workshops, training, or speaking engagements he’s selling.

For instance, if he’s doing a course on personal branding, his blog posts will be a series of tips on building personal brands.

Writing your blog content with the bigger business goals in your mind, so you do not just see the trees, but the trees and the forest.

II. Clarity in Your Focus and What Your Audience Wants

Once you understand your why, your next step is to identify a focus for your message or storytelling, which then helps you understand who your audience is and what they want.

Without a clear understanding of your why, focus, and audience, your content is going to struggle, and your blogs posts will look confusing to your audience.

You need a clear focus on storytelling to attract an audience to your blog and to become loyal to your content.

Two specific practices I undertook, that helped me understand my focus and my audience.

First, ironically, it is writing, which helps me develop and refine my ideas.

Often, the process of writing reveals my topic.

Second, reading books from authors who teach you how to find your voice.

I am fortunate enough to have discovered Mark Schaefer’s book, Known, which helped me tremendously to identify my voice and space.

III. Consistency & Rich Content

Among the 20 plus blogs I wrote, each article takes an average of five to 10 minutes to read.

For a ten-minute article, it’s around 2,000 words; for a five-minute article, it’s about 700 words.

Those that generate the greatest traction for me are those that are long and thorough.

Although people’s attention spans are getting shorter, quality content still reigns supreme by both humans and Google.

I resonate strongly with the nine tactics Nat Eliason discussed in his article, 9 Blogging Tactics for 2 Million Views in 2 Years.

Long-form and rich content of value to my audience is what helps me rise above today’s digital noise and builds a community of readers who enjoy and benefit from my content.

Producing such content is what brings long-term wins.

For example, I recently got a podcast interview invitation from a person whom I have never interacted with, but he loves reading my blog posts.

My blog posts have helped me build credibility in my field of interest.

The same thing can happen to you.

Focus on producing quality content on a regular basis, and you will see results.

IV. Be Vulnerable and Authentic

Once you identify your why and focus and develop a level of consistency, the next question is, “How should I approach the subject?”

As humans, we tend to share the good parts of our lives.

A precursory view of your Facebook news feed proves this.

No one wants to be a Debbie Downer.

We all tend to share the highlights in our lives.

My experience revealed a different scenario.

Among the blog posts I wrote, the ones that generated the highest engagement rates were reflections on my failures and mistakes as a college professor.

What this tells me is that stories that aren’t positive — the ones of struggle and failure — are still appealing to readers.

The key is being authentic with who you are and where you are in your journey; your audience will appreciate your transparency and vulnerability.

In fact, every time I publish something about my mistakes and weaknesses, I am always showered with love and support.

It’s reassuring to know we are all on a journey to make ourselves better.

V. Combine Blogging with Visual and Audio

Written Content needs to be combined with visual and audio formats to maximize its value.

One fundamental difference between blogging today versus five years ago is there is much more diversity in competition.

Before, blogging might have been your primary content creation and distribution channel.

Today, blogging by itself is not sufficient to reach your audience and to share your message.

Written content has to be used in conjunction with visual and audio formats to optimize its influence and impact.

Below I listed ways blogging can work with other mediums to improve reach:

  • Blog post recap of Facebook live shows or interviews
  • Facebook live shows announcing the release of new blog posts
  • Create quote images of blog posts and post them on Instagram and Twitter
  • Write blog post responses regarding trendy YouTube videos I watch or articles I read
  • Customizing the highlights of my blogs on Facebook and Instagram as microblogs
  • Sharing blogs on LinkedIn and Medium
  • Adapt your blogs into video or infographic formats and share them across channels

There are many possibilities. But, you get the idea.

Written content must be used in conjunction with other content formats to attract an audience and to build a tribe for you.

Take advantage of the numerous social media sites available to maximize the potential reach of your written content.

Textual, visual, and audio formats have to be used hand-in-hand to optimize the range of each.

Conclusion

Your blog posts can still elevate your business or personal brand to a new level, even in 2017.

Find your “why” first, and use that to identify a central focus for your message and storytelling.

Your focus will help you understand your audience and their needs and pain points.

You can then craft content of value to your audience.

Use rich and thorough content to attract your audience and to build your community, and do so consistently.

Be authentic in your storytelling.

And don’t be afraid to reveal your vulnerabilities.

Finally, use the synergy of textual, visual, and audio formats to maximize the reach and effectiveness of each.

Blogging is a marathon, not a race. Enjoy the journey.

P.S. This blog was originally published on Spin Sucks as a guest blog.