How to Teach Social Media

This guide is a comprehensive overview of everything you need to teach a great social media marketing course.

Introduction: Why Teach Social Media

We live in an increasingly connected world.

Consider: half of the world is connected to the internet, and almost 3 billion people are active on social media. 


With social media being so ubiquitous, one might wonder, "Why teach social media if we are living in it every day?"

Here are just a few reasons why you should teach social media in higher ed:

  • Using social media to start, grow and scale a business is very different than using it as a consumer
  • Students should understand the ethics, norms and best practices of using social media as a professional
  • Social media skills are "table stakes" at many companies now. 

Teaching social media can be an incredibly daunting task. The space moves so quickly that professors can sometimes spend more time finding up-to-date resources than they spend creating an engaging and through-provoking course. How frustrating!

This guide is meant to be your path to creating a great social media course, efficiently and effectively. It includes a syllabus template with resources, examples and lesson plans. There are sections written by professors, for professors, on the challenges of teaching social. 

So roll up your sleeves and read on if you want to learn how to teach a social media course. Even if you've taught one before, there's always room to innovate!


If people have changed the way they live and buy things, it follows that marketing and sales must update as well to match this new lifestyle. Colleges and universities have recognized this and begin to integrate social media programming into their curricula. 

Interestingly, social media isn't taught in a unified way, and is approached from multiple different disciplines. 

That's what we found when we surveyed 30 professors teaching social media. 

As a result, you'll find that each professors syllabus and course is unique. Don't forget to check out the Survey section at the bottom to see more advice from these professors on teaching social. 

We took the information from these professors, and the perspective of HubSpot's 30k+ businesses and created a syllabus that covers 5 objectives

  • Building a content strategy: How to produce content, how to curate content, how to design content, and how to create shareable content.
  • Channel evaluation: Where does your target market spend time online? Which channels should your company use, and what will the goals of that channel be?  
  • The Psychology of social: Why certain content get shared, how to improve the virality of content.
  • Community-building: How to engage with people to build relationships and trust, and how to make community-building a collaborative and cross-departmental priority for your company.
  • Developing a brand voice: How to develop a brand voice and create a consistent experience across all of a company’s external channels.
  • Best practices for how brands should behave and how they should not: Case studies on how brands have interacted.
  • Measuring your efforts: Types of goals (engagement, revenue, reach, traffic).
  • Paid Social: The why and how of advertising on social media.  

 You can check out the collaborative and editable syllabus below. This social media syllabus is an overview of how higher education and industry are teaching social media today. 


Time and again we've heard from professors that keeping a social media syllabus up-to-date is one of the most challenging things about teaching social. 

We asked Karen Freberg, Associate Professor of Strategic Communications how she keeps her syllabus up-to-date. 

"This is one of the most frequently asked questions for professors who are teaching social media. How to keep up with all of the changes that are happening in the industry and making sure your students are getting the information and knowledge they need to be successful in their internships and future jobs? Here are some ways you can stay on top of things:

  • Evaluate and audit your syllabus before each term. Like when you are moving, you want to organize your social media class content into bins: Keep, revise, throw out, and new (create). This way, you are able to figure out what are some lectures you can keep (since they are going to be pretty consistent like strategic planning), and there may be lectures and assignments you may want to throw out (ex. Meerket and Vine assignments to name a few). However, this also gives you openings for what else you want to cover and can add that may be useful for your students.
  • Bounce around ideas with fellow professors who are teaching social media. While it may appear to be a lonely journey in some cases for some professors who may be the only person teaching social media, you are not alone. Reach out to professors who are teaching social media in the HubSpot group and see what they are doing, what are some things they are experimenting around with, and what books and articles they are using.
  • Have practitioners evaluate your syllabus. Reach out to colleagues who are working in social media and get their take on your syllabus and see if it is covering all of the areas that need to be covered for the semester, and ask them if there needs to be anything added or changed. Professionals in the industry want to be part of the conversation with social media classes, and this can actually lead to opportunities to invite them to be part of the class as a guest lecture or even client.
  • Build out your class schedule and leave at least 1-3 class periods dedicated to talking about future trends. This way, you are able to cover these items that are happening during the semester and talk about them at a designated time period."

Ready to put these ideas in action? Grab your ready-to-use, easy-to-customize, social media syllabus template. 

Ready to put these ideas into action?

Grab your ready-to-use, easy-to-customize, digital marketing syllabus template.

The Why, How and What of Social Media Assignments


Keith A Quesenberry — Messiah College

Assistant Professor,  Marketing

Twitter LinkedIn 


So you want to teach social media? You are either very passionate about the subject and are excited to dive in but are not sure where to start or someone talked you into it and you are worried about what to do next. Either way, getting started can be a challenge. I experienced both of those feelings when I was hired to develop and teach my first social media course. I will share some insights I have learned over the years.

One of the most important aspects of teaching social media is having good assignments. Because students have been on social media a lot personally they may dismiss it as being easy. Professors are also often criticized for being too focused on theory with not enough on practice. Assignments are the perfect opportunity to show students what they don’t know, what they need, and to help bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Once you have the course developed another challenge is keeping it updated because social media changes so quickly. I have found that a good assignment can be both beneficial for the student and the professor. I can’t spend all my time on social media searching for the latest examples to bring to class every week.

You can’t rely on a five-year-old case study and it is hard to completely update a course between every offering. A good assignment can challenge students to apply theories and concepts in real situations and can have them bringing the latest cases and examples back to you for all students to benefit.

For example live video arose very quickly as a hot topic in 2016. By the end of the year some of the leading channels that started the trend like Meerkat and Blab were already gone. Thus spending a lot of time on a Meerkat specific assignment wouldn’t be very efficient for me and not very useful for the students.

A better assignment would be to challenge students to use live video for a larger strategic reason for a real business, organization or to promote an event. Even if their plan was based on Meerkat, the strategic thinking is still relevant. I still have a useful assignment I can use today and my students could apply their same strategic thinking to Facebook Live.

Why Assignments Are Important

Different students learn in different ways and perform better on certain types of assessments. Some are great test takers and struggle on papers. Other students are excellent on papers, but tend to do poorly on tests. Some students freeze in presentations and others thrive on the personal interaction.

As a professor it is important for me to offer a variety of grading and learning opportunities. I try to vary assignment types so students with different strengths can work within their strength areas as well as within their weak areas for a chance to improve.

Bloom’s Taxonomy is always a good guide for developing courses and assignments. Bloom’s Taxonomy divides outcomes into levels of complexity from remember, understand and apply to analyze, evaluate and create. I use quizzes, tests and simple exercises to cover the lower areas. I use assignments to access the higher learning areas.

The definition of learning is the acquisition of knowledge and skills. We learn by being taught and through study, but also by experience. You can read a book all day on how to jump over a hurdle. The coach can even tell you how to hurdle, but that doesn't make you a hurdler. You have to get out on the track and try to jump over the hurdles yourself. The same applies to your students and social media. Good assignments will empower students to get out and try the social media strategies for themselves.

How To Create Engaging Assignments.

I first start by identifying the most important concepts. This would be the main strategic concepts, principles and topics of the entire course. You may cover hundreds of terms and channels, but what are the core principles that are essential to understanding social media?

Once I have identified a half dozen to a dozen main concepts I try to turn each one into an assignment. Not every one has to be equally difficult or time consuming. Assignments on main topics can range from simple homework, short presentations and social media posts to more significant papers, plans and implementation of social strategies. I develop the assignment with the goal of having the student apply the concept, best practice, strategy in a way that demonstrates their understanding and helps turn that knowledge into skills through practice.

I make sure all assignment also include these important sections:

Introduction: This first section provides the overview, background and purpose of the assignment. It explains why they are doing the assignment and places it into the context of the overall subject and course.

Requirements: Here I spell out the main requirements of the assignment as clear and concise bullet points. I try to put them in the order the student will complete them. Each requirement represents an important step.

Grading Rubric: Rubrics make grading easier for me and helps make completing assignments less frustrating for my students. There are many ways to create effective rubrics choose the one that makes the most sense for you.

Helpful Hints: This is where I provide main tools or guides (with links) to what I know the student will need to complete the assignment. If you know they will need it, list it here. I also provide helpful hints explaining where previous students may have been confused.

What An Effective Assignment Looks Like.

Over the years I have experimented a lot with many different assignments. What follows are two social media assignments I have found to be especially effective. They could be smaller individual assignments or expanded to be larger semester long group assignments.

Social Media Audit Assignment.

 One effective social media assignment is to have your students conduct a social media audit. This can be done for a business, or you can have them perform a personal social media audit.

The first option is great for breaking down brand social activity to analyze what social media strategies a company is currently employing and gives students the opportunity to apply what they've learned by making recommendations to improve an existing brand’s social strategy.

I either assign the brand in a service learning project for a local company or non-profit or I allow students to choose the brand they wish to audit. I have found the second option to be especially effective in graduate courses where the student can perform the audit on their own company for a real “learn it today, apply it tomorrow” experience.

Giving this assignment as a personal social media audit has many additional benefits for personal branding, networking and career advancement for my students. A personal social media audit also provides opportunities for emphasizing etiquette and ethical considerations.

To perform a social media audit I have created a template you can use or modify that can be download here. Conducting a brand social media audit based on this template is also explained in the Harvard Business Reviewarticle, “How to Conduct A Social Media Audit.”  For a look at how to conduct a social media audit as a personal branding audit assignment see professor Karen Freberg’s SlideShare on Managing Online Reputation.

Social Media Plan Assignment. 

Another assignment I have found to be very beneficial is to have students complete a social media strategic plan. I have students break into groups to create an overall social media strategy for a real business or organization. This is a much larger task and thus I divide it into multiple smaller assignments spread throughout the term leading up to a final report and presentation (if possible). This plan could be completed by individual students, but I prefer to break them into teams to give the experience of working as a group to complete a project.

Over the years I have develop a 5-step social media plan process:

  • Define current business and social media situation; 
  • Create a big idea and plan integration; 
  • Selection social media channels; 
  • Integrate non-marketing social media activity; 
  • Finalize social media plan and measurement. 

These are the main steps of developing the plan. I have also condensed the steps into three main assignments of:

(1) Brand summary and social analysis,
(2) Big idea and social channels
(3) Final social media plan and measurement.

This process is further explained in the article “Fix Your Social Media Strategy by Taking It Back to Basics.”

There are many ways to customize this overall assignment to your unique situation. One option is to assign a specific client to every student group with live client involvement. This requires extra management time for me as the instructor, but provides students the added benefits of learning from real client contact.  Here the plan could be simply presented as the final piece or students could present the plan early in the semester and enter an implementation phase to execute the plan for the client. This requires further time and monitoring but again has many benefits for the student and client. This could possibly be reserved for a more upper level or capstone type course.

Depending on the size of the class everyone can work together on one client in different roles or different groups could create different strategies competing for the winning execution. Other options include allowing students to select businesses they are personally interested in or connected with to create a plan. I have had student’s select a sports or fashion brand because they have a passion the topic and want to get into that industry. Other times I have had students select a family business or a startup they are personally involved in from our business plan competition. A final option is to develop the plan and implement it via one of the available social media simulation tools.

My best assignments also leverage industry tools so students can research and collect real social data and help them implement plans. There are many free and paid tools that students can use on their own. You may also want to invest in a paid service to use in classes, for student clients, or to use in a social media lab. Organizations like Hootsuite have programs to partner with universities offering free or discounted social media monitoring class access. Students can also earn industry certifications and badges to increase their knowledge and marketability to prospective employers.

Whether you are excited, afraid or both, hopeful these tips and suggestions will help you develop and engaging and effective social media course. The right social media assignments can be a win for you and your students.

What Should Professionals Know About Social Media

To quote Michelle Weise from her article in HBR,  "Something is clearly wrong when only 11% of business leaders — compared to 96% of chief academic officers — believe that graduates have the requisite skills for the workforce.

That's why it's so important for professors to consider the expectations and knowledge of professionals when creating their social media syllabus for their course. 

We asked our professional network to identify the one thing they would share about using social media professional, and have included the answers below. Enjoy!

Advice for Teaching Social Media

karen freberg

Karen Freberg — University of Louisville

Associate Professor,  Strategic Communications

Twitter LinkedIn 



What I wish I knew when I first started teaching social media marketing, with three actionable tips for teaching your first course.

There are several things I wish I knew before I started teaching social media marketing. My first class was back in 2011 when I was a Graduate Teaching Associate for Dr. Courtney Childers and her social media class, and it gave me the foundation I needed to be confident to create my own class.


Here are three actionable tips for teaching your first course:

  • Have confidence in the subject matter. Social media may have the perception amongst students that it is just for “parseltongues” and they know everything about social media. Yes, they grew up with the technologies, but that does not translate always in using these tools and channels for professional purposes. Your experience, insights, and knowledge can help them foster this creative and strategic mindset and allow them to experience and learn this approach in the classroom. Plus, not one person is an “expert” in social media because it changes so much. Instead of being cautious about the material, be confident knowing you and your students will have the chance to explore these new trends together.
  • Structure your teaching + research for class routine. Each professor is different in their schedules, so you want to make sure to figure out what times of the day work best for you to search for articles, share these with students, and time to research and learn about the new trends. Setting some time before class (10-15 minutes) to read, analyze, and note current campaigns, cases, and trends happening in the week will help in creating current conversation to start the class off with. Block out time slots in your daily calendar (Google Calendar, iCal, etc) and set reminders for yourself for when you want to do this.
  • Be your own professor. There is no cookie cutter shape structure for a social media class. However, teaching social media allows you, as the educator, to establish your brand to your students as well as to the general community and social media industry. Plus, there are a lot of flexibility to what you will be able to cover in your class. Teaching social media gives you the opportunity to to focus on what areas to cover, what assignments to give out, and experiment what works and what does not in your classes. See what other professors are doing (ex. those who are teaching social media marketing classes in the HubSpot Education community for example), and determine what practices/assignments are working for them, what are some things you feel you’d need to revise in your classes, and see what are some areas that are NOT covered that will be in your class.


carolyn kim

Carolyn Kim — Biola University 

Faculty, Public Relations

Twitter LinkedIn 



Social media saturates society – and the educational world is no exception. As professors who teach social media, it can be a daunting task to keep up with all the trends, latest tools, and the newest platforms. Looking back, there are a few tips I wish I could give myself when I began teaching social media courses.


  • Be Flexible: Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects for me was realizing that what I prepared to teach one day could be outdated the next. There are a couple strategies I now use to help. First, I focus on big picture topics and ideas that empower students to be effective no matter what platform is being used. Essentially, I think through what professionals expect of interns and entry level professionals and focus on those competencies. Second, I have adapted assignments to engage student in exploring the latest information. For example, instead of showing them all the analytic options available on dashboards for each platform, I assign groups to work together on a brief presentation for the class. Each group does a different platform and they are able to present the latest analytic options.
  • Learn with Your Students: Particularly as a new faculty member, I wanted to make sure I knew all the material for each class. The tricky thing with social media, however, is that you can never know it all. I know now that, rather than trying to be an exhaustive resource, I can let my students know that I am learning right along with them. I always advocate for the value of why we are learning the material, but I now am more comfortable in learning all of the whats and hows with my students during a semester. For example, if you assign a certification, complete it with your students. This does two powerful things. First, it builds a classroom culture that allows students to open up about what they are learning and challenges they may be having. Second, it allows you, as the professor, to model what social media professionals have to do on a daily basis: learn.
  • Connect: Particularly when you are first teaching a social media class, it is daunting just to set up the course and design a syllabus. While those are, indeed, time-consuming, an invaluable resource that I have found is being part of groups with other Social Media Professors (Here is a must-be-part-of group on Facebook). Being well connected to others who teach allows you to glean great ideas and share some of your own. Additionally, connect with professionals. Reach out on Twitter, LinkedIn and any other platform on which you are active. There needs to be a strong connection between professional practice and academic training. Staying connected with professionals allows you to invite them in for guest lectures, connect students for internship opportunities, set up tours of social media centers for brands, and much more.

Overall, I think my biggest take away is that social media requires social professors. I have found I am most effective in my teaching when I actively engage with platforms, intentionally use social channels, and purposefully connect with others. Social media is a dynamic educational resource…and by embracing the very nature of social media, in all of its unknown and constantly shifting components, educators can really tap into the power it provides for students.