What would you teach in a social media 101 class?

Which books would you suggest? What would you assign? Talk about?

A friend of mine who’s teaching a social media course at a local university emailed me this question: What would you include in a social media class?

Here’s my first shot to teach such a class:


We’d need a few textbooks to get things going. I’d probably tend to go a bit non-traditional here and select textbooks that aren’t written by the social media elite. Here are a few that I’d put on a syllabus (I’m not getting paid for any of the links to the books below):

Content Strategy for the Web” by Kristina Halvorson. I would focus heavily on the content for my class.

The Facebook Effect” by David Kirkpatrick. This is definitely not a how-to or traditional textbook, but students would learn a lot about the psychology of social networks by reading this one.

The NOW Revolution” by Jay Baer and Amber Naslund. This one’s the exception to my rule. I really liked this book, especially for the big brand corporate marketer/communicator.

Groundswell” by Charlene Li & Josh Bernoff.

Here Comes Everybody” by Clay Shirky.

Cluetrain Manifesto” by Rick Levine, Chris Locke, Doc Searles and Dave Weinberger.

Key sections/lessons

The more I thought about how I’d break down the class, the more I kept coming back to the four-step PR planning process. Here’s how I’d break it out:

Research. I’d devote at least one class to research. We’d talk about how to conduct social media audits, which tools to use, and what insights to pull out (and how to pull them out). We’d also talk about how to use some of the bigger-scale social media monitoring tools.

Planning. Again, I’d schedule at least one class to discuss the essential elements of a PR/social media plan.

Implementation. I’d keep this section fairly light, as I’d save most of it for “tools” and “content” sections yet to come.

Measurement. We’d spend a good chunk of time talking about all the ways to measure social media campaigns and programs. We’d talk about paid tools (Radian6, Sysomos, etc.). And, we’d talk about plenty of free tools (Google Analytics, Tweetreach, etc.). The focus wouldn’t be on the tools, but on how to use paid or free tools to measure results.

A few other sections/key areas I’d include in the syllabus:

Psychology of social media. This might be a little much for an entry-level class, but I think it’s fascinating. What inspires people to read a blog post? What motivates people to retweet? Why do people use certain social media tools and not others? What motivates certain consumer behaviors? We’d cover it all.

The tools. Obviously, we’d spend some time talking about Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. We’d also go over the multitude of blogging platforms and the pros/cons of each. And, we’d dive into some of the emerging niche networks (Pinterest, Instagram, Path right now, for example) and explore the possibilities for brands using such networks.

Content development. Even though this could be a separate class, I’d probably spend a good chunk of time around social content creation. What makes a good blog post? What makes a good headline? Tweet? Facebook update? How do you write effective Facebook ads? It’s a long list, but one worth covering in depth since this is where students will most likely spend a great deal of time upon graduation.

Community management. Another area of focus since students will most likely fall into these roles upon graduation or soon after. What are the basic principles of effective community management? What are the traits of a good community manager? We’d examine some real-world situations and do some real-time work.


This is where it would get fun. Assignments would be heavy on writing, of course, since that’s a big piece of success in the online world.

I’d ask students to write blog posts tackling current events—this would force students to form cohesive and rational opinions, a skill lacking in our industry.

I’d also ask students to edit an existing post—something I’m sure they’d be asked to do in their first “real world” job.” I’d ask them to write social headlines and content—everything from Facebook updates to Twitter posts to Instagram descriptions. We might even get into video and photo basics.

I’d also feature relevant and timely case studies from the online world. This would be really fun as I would probably bring in real-time events and happenings—just days after they occur. After all, isn’t that the beauty of teaching a class about digital marketing? This last semester, I could have talked about SOPA, McDonalds and the recent Walgreens campaign.

That’s my syllabus. What would be in yours?

Arik Hanson is principal of ACH Communications where a version of this article first appeared.


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