Hey everyone. Thanks for tuning into the first episode of The Teachers' Lounge, HubSpot's podcast for the Education Partner Program. Hubspot's Education Partner Program provides colleges and university professors with everything they need to teach leading courses in marketing, sales, entrepreneurship, and communications. That's software, resources, and a community of professors-- all for free.
On each episode of The Teachers' Lounge, we'll sit down with someone who's transforming marketing and sales higher education. I'm Isaac Moche, your host for the podcast. Today, we'll be talking to Karen Freberg, Associate Professor of Strategic Communications at University of Louisville.
Karen does research and teaches about social media, public relations, crisis communication, and emerging technologies. We're excited to have Karen on our podcast to discuss innovating in the classroom, creating content, building a professional network, and how she sets her students up for success after graduation. Welcome, Karen.
Thank you so much, Isaac. Think I'm really excited to be part of The Teacher's Lounge.
And we're happy to have you here. So if I heard correctly, you recently received tenure?
Yes, a few weeks ago. I was promoted to Associate Professor from Assistant Professor at the University of Louisville. And I'm very excited about this process, because it's been a long journey for me. And to have the opportunity to be acknowledged by not only my department and my university-- and even my community of PR professionals-- about the work that I've done over the years, it's really, really awesome.
So I'm very excited. So actually, this is the first podcast and real interview that I've actually been able to use my titles, my new ones. So I'm really excited about that.
Well, we're happy to provide that opportunity for you. And again, congratulations. That's awesome.
So what I figured we could do now is just start by getting to know Karen. And we'll dive into some of the meatier stuff in a minute. But as I was just doing a little bit of research and trying to figure out who Karen is and what drives you, the first thing that I came across that I have to ask you about was your first website was a Val Kilmer fan site. Is that correct?
Yep, it was. I tell this story a lot to my students, because I have them develop their own web site and blog. And they always say, Dr. Freberg, we're afraid of what this will look like. This is our very first website. And I tell my students all the time, look, you can't beat my story. And just to give a little background of how that came about.
My parents were really supportive of my sisters. And I have two sisters and they really are the technology fans of our family. We really all-- as a family-- really love the latest gadgets and tools. And so, for our birthday-- all of our birthdays in 1995, which I am dating myself a little bit-- they said, well, you know what? We're seeing this new thing called the internet and how people can get their own domain names.
And so, each of us got our own domain name for a birthday present. And so, I was 13 at the time and I'd just saw Top Gun for the first time and the Batman movie where Val Kilmer was. And I'm like, you know what? Why not have a fan site of Val Kilmer. But that didn't last too long. But whenever I tell my students like that, they are like who? I'm like, OK, come on. Here's a homework assignment, do some research.
But yeah, that was kind of short-lived. And then it transformed into a site where I used actually the site to promote myself as a student athlete. I competed in the track and field, both in high school and college. And as I tell my students a lot of times, I used to throw things for the living. And so, I was a shot putter. And so, I actually used it--
Yeah, I was going to ask, was it javelin? Was it shot put? So it was shot put?
Just shot put, yeah. My dad was my coach throughout my career. And so, I just-- I thought I would be a basketball player growing up. But my coach told me very early on in basketball that I was too nice to play. So he said, you might want to try something else. So my dad said, well, you could do the events that I used to do. He competed for UCLA and was an All-American.
So I had my first meet in junior high and fell in love with it. And I basically used that as my way to get a full ride for Florida. And I competed a year for the University of Southern California Trojans in the shot put as well, where I still have the school record. It might go away pretty quickly, because we have a really good thrower this year. But having it for eleven years, I'm like, hey, that's cool in my book.
So I used my web site both in high school and college to really promote myself. But I didn't really know that was PR or considered to be PR until I was at the University of Florida, where it was actually my athletic-- academic advisor that looked at what I was doing. And I was, at the time, creating content and having a newsletter, promoting myself. Promoting blog posts for various other track and field websites.
And so she said, hey, Karen. You might want to switch your major from pre-med psychology to public relations. And at the time, I didn't know Florida had one of the top PR programs in the nation . So I took my first class and the rest is history. So that's my long answer to my journey to this point.
It sounds like there is this intersection between two passions-- sports and technology. And that those have grown with each other over time. And exciting-- it sounds like that's almost how you got into blogging, was this student athlete persona that you were developing for yourself and working to reach.
Yeah, absolutely. And I felt, too, it was an opportunity for me to actually try out some of the strategies and tactics that I was learning in the classroom in my PR classes. We were talking about, oh, you need to be aware of your brand image and have your brand voice. And, oh, that you have to be aware of how you present yourself to the public. And literally as a student athlete, I was doing that every time that I was on the field, talking to reporters about how you did, in terms of a need.
And I learned very quickly how to make sure to stick to my message, because the journalists in the sporting community were always looking for a story. They always wanted me to talk badly about my competition. I'm like, no, I'm not falling for that. So it was a good learning experience for me, that I was able to kind of say, OK, I'm using my own brand as a student athlete as my client, essentially.
And so, I was able to take some of the lessons that I learned competing in athletics and applying them to what actually doing right now. And I'm really thankful that I had that experience. And so, there were a lot of things that I was able to take away from track and field.
Is that a technique that you use with your students to get them to identify something that they're passionate about, to help them understand the way to be successful in PR? Can you talk a little bit about that?
Yeah, absolutely. I actually tell my students to actually think of themselves in this profession like they would as an Olympic track athlete. I basically said, success doesn't happen overnight. You have to continually invest in yourself. And you have to also make sure that you have the right tools and resources to do the best you can.
And I actually had a conversation with my students, because there are certain perceptions sometimes with students. They think, oh, a professor. You just are in class, that's all you do. And I'm like, well, no. And I actually used social media to demonstrate this one time for a class. It was a few years ago, because I had a couple students that said, oh, yeah, you just teach. That's it, you don't do anything else.
So I said, OK. I'm going to use Snapchat and I will record a typical day that I have as a professor. And I'm an early morning riser, because there are some things that I do in the mornings So I'm usually up at 4:30 in the morning, armed with coffee, of course. But I was doing a conference call with a friend overseas and in Europe. We were working on this project. I was teaching, I was doing research.
So I actually documented my day to my students. And I basically said, OK, here's where I was as a student athlete. I had workouts at 5:30 in the morning. About the time that I was getting done with everything, with school work, I was basically-- my end of day was 10:00, 10:30. And really, nothing has changed. The only thing is I'm not throwing things anymore. So that's pretty much-- but I'm kind of shifting gears.
But I've tried to tell the students to take their profession-- especially marketing and social media right now-- create a mindset like an Olympian. Do a little bit each day, have a goal in mind, and just continually work on that. Because it doesn't need to be done. You don't need to be working 24/7, but what you do need to do is to continually do a little bit each day, to improve on your understanding, improve on your skills, and just continually be a lifelong learner. That's so important in this day and age.
Do you have to be conscious about that experimentation? Or is that natural to who you are. It sounds like it might be a little bit of both.
It's a little bit of both. I mean, there's definitely things I feel like when I'm doing various activities that I feel like-- I don't view as work. But I find that there are certain things that I have to do that I really have to get myself motivated to do. It like grading. I'm, like, ugh. OK, I have to do this.
Like what? So what's your strategy? How do you get yourself hyped up for that?
I actually still use exercise to motivate myself. That isn't something that I still-- I'm training a little bit differently. I actually just finished my second mini marathon this past weekend. And so, I'm still exercising. And I've found, for myself, that is still very important for me, because I basically was an athlete for 10 years. And I found that in order to get hyped up-- I'm not the kind of person that looks at a screen, a blank screen for hours at a time.
If I do that for more than a couple of minutes, I'm like, OK, I need to do something else. And then, when I get back, I'll be better mindset. So I usually use exercise, whether it's just walking or I might go for a run, I might go for a kickboxing class or something along those lines-- just to change the mindset that I had before. And because I know if I basically don't want to do something, I will basically be stubborn and say no, I'm not going to do it. But exercise helps me in that way.
You mentioned Snapchat. I'm curious how you balance chasing trends with staying up to date. How do you make that assessment for yourself? And social media's such a swiftly changing landscape. How does that balance show up in its-- in your classroom, but then also for your students as you're setting them up to be professionals? How do you help them figure out how to evaluate that?
That is a great question, Isaac. I mean, I would say there's multiple parts. In terms of staying up to trends, I mean that's where I have a rule of thumb where my students basically go through the process. I'm not only teaching them the trends, but I'm teaching the behavior to find the trends. And so, basically getting them into practice of saying, OK, I have a set point in time where you spend 10 to 15 minutes reading up of what's happening.
And so, I provide them with a list of resources that I go to and use myself, just to kind of see, OK, what's happening in augmented reality? What's happening in social media? Or what's the latest feature that Instagram is stealing from Snapchat? So I just-- I tell them right up front. I'm like, look, this is going to be a field that if you don't like change, then that might be something that you just may want to be aware of. Because this is constantly changing.
And it's hard, it is hard for a professor to balance, OK, you have trends that are happening as we speak in real time. But you also want to make sure that you are preparing your students for what to-- what they need to be prepared for in the real world, for internships and jobs. And there's been times where I've a great-- I set up a great lesson plan. I did this few years ago, when Meerkat was hot. I'm like, I've got this. And then that went away. I'm like, well, throw out that lesson plan.
But I still use it to show students. I'm like, well, even though this trend did not work, or this platform, like Vine, is no longer available, what did that teach us that still contributes to the growth? Like with Meerkat, we are seeing a huge push for live video. They were one of the live ones that really catalyst that trend so I kind of take those lessons as contributing to what we're seeing right now.
So it's a challenge. But I think also, too, in terms of balancing everything with the platforms, I think professors have to put themselves in the role that you have to walk the walk and talk the talk with platforms. And I've actually had a few professors that assigned various Snapchat assignments, blogging assignments, et cetera. But they aren't on those platforms. And that really does make a difference for students, because they're like, OK, you're telling us to do these things, but you're not on these platforms. There's a disconnect.
So my role, in terms of platforms to try out-- I mean, if you asked me two years ago if I was on Snapchat, I'd be like, what is this ghost thing? I'm too old for this. But I realize, OK, if I'm listing myself a social media professor, I need to really embrace this. So I actually used the opportunity to try out Snapchat for the first time at South by Southwest. I was part of a panel for South by Southwest's EDU conference.
So I said, OK, you guys. I'm going to do this Snapchat story. Let me know what you think. And I think as professors, we have to be open to feedback from our students. My students right away basically said, Dr. Freberg, this was not too bad, but don't quit your day job. Because you are not a creative drawer. And I'm like, well, yeah. I know. My younger sister is the artist in my family. She got those genes. I can draw a stick figure.
But it was-- putting yourself out there is, I think, really important for students to see that from a professor's standpoint. And even not just for the students, but then showing, hey, I'm doing this with my class with other professors. So they feel that's OK for them to also try that out.
I appreciate you giving the concrete example of Meerkat. I was going to ask you, if there was one technology that you thought was going to ride the wave into your classroom that ended up-- not necessarily catching you a little flat footed, but you had to reflect. And be like, oh, man, that didn't necessarily work out the way the market thought it was going to. I like that point about finding the underlying thing, which was actually the development of live video as the trend that was going to be important.
Yeah, and I mean, the other example that I had, too, here at the University of Louisville, we actually-- when I first-- it was a few years after I got started at the University of Louisville back in 2013. We actually had a formal partnership with an app called PTCH, P-T-C-H. And Yahoo! eventually bought the app. But basically was the early stages of video storytelling. So some of the things that you're seeing with stories, with Snapchat and Instagram, we were basically seeing on this app.
And so, I actually had a couple of students do several assignments using this app. I mean, it was available for about a year and a half. But that was one platform that I thought, wow, this was really cool. You'd be able to do various animations, it taught students how to basically create videos, which was really important. But we're seeing now what-- here in 2017-- the importance of stories, whether it's Instagram, Facebook now and Snapchat. And I feel like that was kind of a precursor to everything that we're seeing now. So that's another example.
That leap of faith to try something, even if it didn't end up having the staying power, probably mirrors what those students are going to have to face when they graduate, anyway. Sounds like a win-win.
Yeah, I mean, I think failures-- and just things that may not necessarily pan out-- tell you a lot. And I think taking that-- life is risky. So I tell my students right out there. Like, you don't want to basically hold yourself to the edge and just say, OK, I'm not going to take any risks. Because, I mean, you'll be setting yourself up to never stand out.
And I tell my students already that I know for myself-- I view myself as a guinea pig. I'm like, look, I'll try whatever. I'm going to see what works, what doesn't. But I'll be able to report on that. And then, there will be some cases where there's been assignments that I've given that literally, Isaac, crashed and burned. I'm like, OK, well, I learned something from that.
But then there are others that I thought, well, let's see how this goes. And then there were complete successes, like something that I might think, well, I don't know how this would work, but it was awesome. And one example was-- I had a friend, his name is Matt Kushin. He teaches at Shepherd University. And he's also an awesome professor who teaches social media. And he had his students do a Buzzfeed assignment.
And I remember thinking, Buzzfeed. OK, how would you tie that into a classroom? And so, he actually had this great assignment for students to actually create a Buzzfeed post, monitor it, see how it works in the community, how it's received, measure the number of views, the reactions and stuff like that, and the metrics. And basically, he focused it more primarily in the community at Shepherd University.
But I took that from-- that assignment to my class and I tailored to the Kentucky Derby in Louisville. And my students absolutely loved it. They said this was the most fun they'd had in an assignment ever. And I did my own. Whenever I assign a particular assignment, I always try to do it myself. And I'm like, well, OK. If I'm going to assign something, I'm going to do it myself. So I did it. And I thought, this is pretty fun. I mean, it completely surprised me.
But that's one of the great things about our community. There's a lot of professors that are kind of sharing assignments, sharing ideas. And this was one assignment that I would've never guessed that would have been successful, but it did, so-- it was. So it was really cool.
Well, it sounds like you and Facebook/Instagram have something in common, which is the audacity of copying well can be well-suited towards building a great experience. And there's nothing wrong with that. That brings me to what I think is probably my favorite quote from your book, which I want to talk about a little bit more later. But we're talking about your teaching philosophy and I think that is relevant.
You said, everyone can steal your ideas, but they can't steal your brain. In order to advance the field of social media education, we have to share resources and bounce ideas off each other. Why do you think some professors are hesitant to share their resources? And what sort of advantages have you found in your career-- or can other people find in their career-- for being more public about how they teach and what they teach?
Yeah, that's a great-- like, that's a great point. And I mean, I just was-- I'm still kind of amazed that people feel that they're so protective of their resources and ideas. And I was basically looking at that from my own experience. One of the reasons why I was hired at the University of Louisville was to create a social media class.
And so, I just-- I had a chance to TA for an awesome professor at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, her name is Courtney Childers. And that was the first social media class experience that I had. So I had a basic foundation. But I remember my first year as a newly minted PhD, starting my first year as an assistant professor.
I thought, well, OK, I'm going to ask other people who have been teaching social media what they've learned, what they haven't found to be successful. What are the things that I could possibly use and give credit to? I was floored to see how many professors were like-- they gave me not just a no, but more like a hell no. Like, no, this is my resources. This is my intellectual property. Go find your own ways, essentially. But there were several--
We'll fill in the blank there.
Right, exactly. And for me, it was a wake up call. I was like, whoa, OK. Because they were very protective of that. They wanted to have that reputation of being the social media professor. And you see that a lot, people are very protective of that image. Oh, I teach social media, I want to be known as the social media professor.
And I feel like, well, we're all kind of in the same boat. We're all doing the same thing. And we're in this community, why don't we help each other? And so, I wanted to really take that lesson. And so, when I was creating my class and really the inspiration from this book that I wrote, I wanted to be a resource for people and not have to have them reinvent the wheel. And I feel like, well-- I mean, I might have some ideas, but it might not work or be appropriate for all classes, but we can all learn from each other.
And I think if we took the approach of basically sharing information and seeing what works for us and what doesn't, I mean, that's important. And I wanted to do that for-- I mean, for very colleagues. Because I know that there's a lot of friends of mine that are teaching four or five classes a semester or even more. And they're really pressured to keep their syllabi updated, and they just don't have time.
And so, I figure, well, I want to be a resource for them. I want them to feel that they have an opportunity for me, if I can share a couple of tips that I've learned along the way, great. And then, it really came down to last summer, where I was getting a lot of inquiries. Like, OK, how do you teach social media? You're getting a lot of good reactions from various people about how you approach it. You're getting students these internships. How do you do this?
So I'm like, well, I need to basically talk a little bit about this process. And so, that's kind of the inspiration of this book that I wrote last summer. It was published on Amazon in the fall. And I've been really blown away with just the response that I've gotten. I've had a lot of people say this was a huge difference to them, they implemented some ideas, some philosophies that I had in the book.
And really, it's just about helping everyone. I mean, we're all in the same boat. And I didn't want anyone to go through what I went through, just kind of basically running around like a chicken with my head cut off. But if I could help out just kind of minimizing this stress and the anxiety people have, the happier I am.
I mean, that was the whole purpose. I wasn't looking for oh, this is going to be a New York Times best-seller. I wanted to be a resource that people could have, but also be a resource for students that did not have an opportunity to take a social media class. Which still surprises me today, in 2017. There are still programs that don't offer a social media class.
And so, I had students that were actually-- they were learning virtually through me what I was doing on Twitter with my own class. So I'd feel like, well, I can at least give them some assignments that would help them. They could do on their own and maybe build up their writing portfolio. So it was just a fun process. I mean, but yeah, research being a resource is absolutely key in this day and age.
You've really built that up as a model, to show that you can grow your career and you can grow your presence and you can do that by sharing rather than purely owning what you create. And I bet that's come back around and improved your course and has-- when you do publish that next version of the book-- will be that much stronger because of it.
Yeah. It's just been really, really exciting. Also, too, one of the things that I actually found to be really helpful with the book, a lot of professionals actually bought it. Especially in the sports industry. Because I've had a lot of students that have gotten jobs related to various teams, organizations. Brands, even. And it's good for them to kind of say, OK, if I have students that are coming up in the ranks for internships and jobs, here is the work they were able to do in class.
So it was, again, kind of a validation. OK, these students aren't aware of how to do a SWOT analysis or situational analysis on social media. They are able to run reports looking and listening to monitoring tools like Sysomos or HootSuite. And they're able to think strategically, rather than barking back, oh, well here is what we could do to gain Facebook likes.
And so, I also wanted to do that as well. Because in the class that I teach at University of Louisville, I try to cover everything. And there are some programs that have whole degree programs or majors or certifications. And I feel like too best prepare my students, I have to throw basically the kitchen sink at them. And my syllabus is a bit intense. But I basically try to not only give them the tools that they need to succeed, but also create a mindset that will help them further along. Not just after graduation, but further on in their career.
You published this book. You've talked about a prolific syllabus that I believe ends up being about 30 pages and I do want to get to that in one second. But along the content creation, you've been blogging for 11 years. You are vocal that that's been one of the best decisions that you've made professionally and personally.
What advice do you have to professors who probably have this incredible knowledge to share, who might be, for whatever reason, are not taking that-- whether it's a leap of faith or investing the time in creating. Any advice? Either to make it easier or to maybe sway them to join the community?
Yeah, definitely. Again, I feel like blogging is just so essential all across the board, I feel like. I actually guest lecture for several classes. And I've talk to various people at various conferences who teach about blogging. I've had a lot of eye rolls at the beginning. At the time, when I was blogging, I had a few people say, well, you need to spend more time on traditional research. Or you need to spend more time on other traditional duties we have as professors.
But it's actually now-- I've had a few people that have reached out to me like, OK, I'm on the late end for blogging, but I really need to get on board. And so, I've been able to help them out. I basically say with blogging, it's another way to open up opportunities to kind of communicate to other audiences about the work that you're doing. And I joke a lot of times with my colleagues. I'm like, well, I'm definitely not someone-- I appreciate theory, but I don't live by it. I'm much more of an applied researcher.
And I think with blogging, it allows you to take what you do in your research and translate that to applicable strategies that businesses, organizations, and other people could really use in their day to day lives. And so I also feel with blogging, too, it opens up opportunities to connect with media. I've actually had a few various stories that have come up just because of a blog post. Like I wrote, for example--
I was just going to say, that was going to be my next question is, can you give us a concrete example-- for those final doubters who might be out there-- of something cool to happen because of a blog post that you wrote?
Yeah, I actually wrote of-- one of my areas, as they mentioned before, is crisis communications. And so, I actually teach a graduate-level PR and crisis class in the fall at U of L. And April did not have any crisis whatsoever with Uber, Pepsi, United. And so, I saw the United case happen. And I'm like, OK, I need to write about this, just because it happened on social media. It's a crisis.
So I wrote this post and I used data. Because I was kind of looking to see what other people were writing about the crisis. And I thought, OK. I'm going to put my little academic hat on and say, OK, here is what we know based on the research. But OK, here is kind of what we can look for in this case study. So I wrote this post on my blog and I also posted a separate post on LinkedIn about United.
And I always try to cross-promote, because I figure I have two different audiences on my blog and LinkedIn. And so, I remember closing out my blog and everything. And then all of a sudden, I looked on LinkedIn and I'm like, OK, why am I getting all of these views? And so, LinkedIn had actually tagged it to go under their PR channel and then, also, their aviation channel. I'm like, oh, that's why I'm getting lots of views.
And so, another colleague of mine at U of L saw that post, reached out to our communications and marketing office at U of L, and said, hey, you have two experts here that could talk about this case with the media. And as a result, we were able to get a publication for one of our trade publications out here in mobile called Business First. And I mean, she had actually published research on crisis in aviation incidents already, but I just wrote one blog post. So I was featured.
And then, I actually was interviewed by the Austin Statesman, actually, just a few days ago related to their crisis that happened in Austin with the stabbing. The reporter said, yeah, I remember seeing somewhere it was a PR publication about your blog post, about United. And I thought you'd be the perfect person to reach out to.
And that's something, too, that if there are any doubters especially that are tenure track, that's huge. Because one of the things I learned through this tenure process was not only the research and teaching I was doing, but also what I was getting out and how prominent you were in the traditional media or the popular press. Who quoted you, who [AUDIO OUT] you, who talked about your research? And that's a deciding factor now that a lot of programs and universities are looking at right now. So blogs can lead in that direction.
Not just for professors, but I think you've shown-- and that we tell businesses all the time, too-- is that this in-bound thing works for you. Just create content and people will find it. And if you are an expert and if you have an interesting opinion, you can bring people in and you can build your own PR. And I'm sure your students see that. And that's a perfect example of walking the walk to show them that these things are real and they do work.
Yeah, and I mean, another cool example. This has been a few years, but I tell my students, you write about a company and you just never know what might happen and who reaches out to you. And actually, I can tie this to research. There was a case study that I did, actually, on Heineken, looking at one of those Super Bowl commercials that they did. It was 2009.
So I wrote a blog post about that case. And I said, well, they could do certain things differently, in terms of reputation management practices, et cetera. Because it was not really well received. But I mentioned at the time that I was going to be presenting this case study in Amsterdam, for a corporate reputation conference. Friend
After I wrote that blog post, I actually got contacted the next day by the general manager of Heineken in Amsterdam. And said they really appreciated hearing my insight, but they extended an invitation for me to actually go to Heineken, present their findings, and actually do a tour. And so, my students were like, you have to go to Heineken! So that was-- it took a beer company for them to get-- they're paying attention.
I'm like, OK, well, that's not the whole story. But I mean, I basically tried to tie it into a learning lesson. You write about a company, you provide useful insights, your perspectives, provide new information and content. It's just in-bound marketing. And you just never know who would be able to see that and how that would resonate with them. And just the opportunities are endless.
You're obviously a proponent of having a strong network and blogging has been a big part of that. But what else have you done to build that network?
Well, there's been a couple of things. One of the things that I try to do is I ask students, really, what is their dream job? Or what are some areas they've seen themselves working after graduation or what is their dream internship? And I know it was a few years ago. I have, of course, a background as a student athlete in sports. But it wasn't really until I came to U of L that I really got involved in the sports and social media world.
And I have to thank one of my former students, her name is Samantha. And she was very passionate about working in social media and sports, particularly with a sports team. And so, at that point, I realized there was a hashtag on Twitter called SMSports. And I started participating myself, because I thought if I-- if my students wanted to work in this industry, I had to basically present my-- and be active myself and make those connections.
And that's a great community. I really have enjoyed that. And by fostering those networks and those relationships with people, just being able to be human-- and, I think, really embracing what social media is about, being social-- I think is really important. And so, I mean, just having these ongoing conversations for the last couple of years have opened up huge opportunities for students.
Like with my former student Samantha, she was able to get a position with Team USA last year, where she had a chance to work on the Rio Olympics for Team USA, working on social and digital. And that just came from not just LinkedIn or an application, but that actually came from a DM on Twitter, with the head of social and digital for Team USA saying, hey if you're looking for-- because we were connected on Twitter. And he had posted, saying, hey, I'm looking for someone to help out on social digital.
And I'm like, well, I may have a student that might be interested. Just kind of-- I think looking for those opportunities to make those connections a network. I love connecting with people. I love seeing-- being able to connect with professionals who are-- they're really active. And I'm saying, OK, I want some rock stars. I want some students or young professionals that I know, who would be great for my team.
So I've almost had to put on a little mini hat-- beyond a professor, researcher, consultant-- of a networker. I'm like, oh, OK. You're looking for this type of student. I have someone here. And so, I basically-- pretty much one of the things I do a lot on Twitter is personal introductions. So the professionals are able to see what my students are doing in the class within my-- and my students are able to connect with them as well. So it's win-win.
You mentioned that as an extension of the role of being a professor, but it sounds like your thought is that that is what being a modern and effective social media professor is. That you almost have that obligation to build those connections and at least present your students as an authority that could provide value to business.
Yeah. And I mean, I think that-- I mean, even just with the hiring changes that we're seeing. I mean, a lot of times you do see in typical classes, you have the cover letter, you have the resume, and you apply for a job. And there's that. So it's very linear. But you have to basically think outside of the box in making an impression. And there's so many blog posts that you see right now, what you-- what students and young professionals have to do to make themselves known for these businesses.
I know Mark Schaefer, who is a big social media influencer and author. I mean, he basically says, well, blog posts in your blog is basically your writing sample. You send in a portfolio, that's one thing. Your social media accounts are also examples of work that you can basically include in. And that's a big deciding factor.
But people do respond to relationships and positive interactions. And a lot of employers, of course, they look to see how students present themselves, whether or not they have real, authentic accounts or they have fake Instagram accounts or Finstas, which was a new term that I had to learn this semester. I'm like, OK.
But I mean, those are just some things. In addition, well, I covered that in several courses for my students. But I do really try to reinforce the students. I basically try to basically tell them, OK, here's how you see me in person. Here's how you see me online. And I ask them, do you see any differences? And they're like, no. And I'm like, well, that's the goal.
You want to be consistent and authentic online. Be yourself. One of my favorite quotes from my late grandfather has always been stressing to my sisters and I was having one set of manners. Have one set, manners that are as consistent offline as well as online. So that's what I try to kind of instill with my students as well.
It sounds like there almost has to be a vigilance for a professor to align what they're teaching with what those students are going to go need to be successful.
I think so, yeah. And I've warned colleagues who are saying, hey, I'm going to be teaching a social media class. And I have to say to them-- We usually meet either virtually over coffee or if I have a chance see them at a conference, and they tell me, hey, I'm going to be teaching a social media class. Do you have any advice? I usually get them coffee and just say, OK, one, this is going to be your major food group for the entire semester are you teaching this. And two, this will be the hardest class that you'll teach, but also the most rewarding.
Because there's a lot more obligations, as you said, and duties that are attached to being a social media professor. The things I'm doing for some of my other classes don't compare to what I'm doing for my social media class. I would say I'm pretty much working even three, four, five times as hard for my social media class as I am for my other classes, just because of the importance of staying on top of the trends.
Making sure that students are aware of how they present themselves online, making sure that they understand this strategy and the mindset that goes behind implementing these tools. It's just really a lot to handle all at once. And so, that was the other thing that I really wanted to stress in this book. Yeah, just be aware it might be trending, everyone wants to teach social media, but doing it right means really, really investing yourself personally as well.
Do you feel like there's a compound interest? That the first year might be difficult, but that you're laying the foundation in the network, in the content, in the habits that you're building, to make it easier? I ask because I think you might have freaked a couple of people out with that last one, even though it is a very important and true comment. Do you feel like there is that compound interest? And that your first year might be your toughest?
Yeah, I think your first year is definitely your toughest, because it is a new class. And any type of new prep, if you-- it's basically embracing a new concept into a culture in a community, at your department. And I know when I first taught social media, I basically came in saying, OK, this is the class. This is how it's going to go down.
And I remember my first core students, they were like, whoa, OK. This is something that we never experience in any of the other classes. So it was kind of like a culture shock. But some of the students really embraced it. And they said, OK, this is exactly what I expected. It's what I'm looking for. Then there were other students that said, oh, my gosh. This is a lot harder than I thought it was.
Because I think there is that preconceived notion that social media is easy. Or all we do is tweet or snap or take pictures. And I basically told my students, yeah, OK, we're going to be talking about that. We're going to be doing content creation. But we're also going to go a lot deeper into certain subjects and using it professionally.
So the first semester that I taught at the University of Louisville, yeah, it was kind of an adjustment. But what I did, too, that really helped me in my second semester is I actually-- we're able to basically set classes. Because this is an elective class at the University of Louisville, where I actually had a-- I had a prerequisite to take the class, which is an Intro to Strategic Communication class.
But I also said in the note for-- in order for students to enroll, they actually had to interview with me. So I actually had to ask them questions. So it was kind of like a formal job internship interview. I wanted to get their gauge. OK, what do you think about this class? What are your goals? Are you aware that this is going to be a really tough class, probably the hardest that you'll take in this semester?
And so my students were like, yeah, yeah, yeah. But then, I bring out my 30+ page syllabus. I'm like, OK, this is basically what we'll be covering. But then what I have been doing, too, is actually showing them, look, I'm doing this for a reason. I say to my students, there's a method to my madness. Where here are other students where they've got jobs. Here's the internships that they've got.
Everything from Team USA, Adidas, Dallas Mavericks, to even this upcoming weekend. We're going to have the Kentucky Derby. I have three students that are working the social media for the event. So showing this the students, OK, I'm asking you to work a lot. You're going to be spending a lot of money on coffee to get through this class. But here's the end result. Here is the reward that you'll be able to get from this. And so, seeing that and building it up each year has been really successful. So, yeah.
But short answer, yes. Your first year is going to be a complete adjustment. But take deep breaths, learn from the experience. But also know that there's other professors out there who definitely walk the walk and who can definitely help out in addressing any questions that people have.
All right. I think most people can take a deep breath after you mentioned that. It sounds like that interview process-- it's so interesting. Because it does double duty to make sure that the students who join your class are committed, but you're also giving them the real world practice of applying to something. Of saying that this is going to be intense and if you're willing to commit, it's going to be worth it. But you've got to come along with me. And you got to be willing to own this.
Well, also, it also forces the students to understand, too, while we're going to be using a lot of technology, there's also nothing between-- nothing like face-to-face meetings. So a lot of times-- we have several other classes that do this, where you have to get permission by an instructor where all students have to do is send an email. And I'm like, no. No, you're not going to be able to just send an email.
For a job interview, you're going to have to actually sit down and talk to someone face to face. And I found that students get really nervous about that. I'm like, look-- I tell them. I'm like, I'm not throwing anything anymore. So I'm throwing shot puts or anything, so I'm pretty easygoing. And my office is-- I tell my students, I'm not a typical professor. I have Angry Birds, I have Sherlock. My office is chaotic, to say the least. But in a good way.
But I just want to try to make them feel welcome, but also understand that they need to understand this is a professional course. That there are certain expectations that I have for them. So it's basically, again, back to creating this mindset of being on time, working hard, working as a team, contributing individually for content creation. So I do ask a lot of my students.
But what I also do, too, every semester is I bring back the-- several students from the previous semester's class back to talk to the students. Because I find that peer discussions, basically-- like what did they experience from the previous class, what did they learn, what did they get out of it, any tips to survive in the class-- that seemed to be really working for them. So this is, oh, I feel a little bit better now that I can actually walk away with this class and survive. And so, that's been a successful implementation as well.
So you'll reach out to students who were in the course and bring them back in and fold your alumni back into your course?
Yeah, they actually have a designated hashtag. Because every class-- and that's the thing, too. A lot of social media classes from other professors, they use Twitter, pretty much-- or Facebook-- to basically converse with the class. That's an opportunity for them to share announcements, resources, conversation. So I actually have students send me notes on Twitter. And that's a lot easier for them than just sending me email, which is totally fine.
But every semester has a designated hashtag. And so I basically tell my students, OK, this is your hashtag. This is your community. This is your course. But when they finish up their final presentation, OK, you guys are Freberg alums. That's your group. And so, they feel very accomplished. So they're able to say, hey, I was part of this experience and I survived.
And so, I always bring back three or four students to share their stories and they're very proud of that. They're like, yes, I've survived. And they look at the other class like, OK, I was in your shoes last year, but here's what I learned. So the incoming students that look like deer in the headlights-- like, oh my gosh, what did we get ourselves into? But they all survive.
And they've really been some of the hardest working students that I've had, ever, as a professor, some of the students that I've had at the University of Louisville. I've thrown a lot at them. I tell them I'm kind of like Miranda Priestley, but I feed them. I give them coffee and donuts. But I do expect a lot of them. There have been a couple of cases like, well, OK. It's not the unpublished manuscript of Harry Potter, but it's close.
You're empowering those students, though, who do make it through, who do run the gauntlet, to tackle what seem like are a couple of your really big goals. Which are to build a network, to help your students get jobs, to bridge and close that skills gap. I think that's a really simple, actionable thing that I don't see professors do enough, is engaging the students who did end up being successful.
Yeah. What I'm also trying to do, too, is every semester-- because I only teach the social media class once a year. Just because I think if I taught it twice, I'd basically probably would have invested a lot of stock in Starbucks. Because I already drink a lot of coffee. And I think I would need double that or triple that. But what I do in the fall as I'm preparing and updating, it's basically new prep for me every year. Because everything changes, even in a couple of months or weeks.
But what I try to do is once I finalize the syllabus, I actually have a group of professionals that I have a close connection with. And I actually send them out my syllabus and say, OK, here's what I have so far for my class. And I ask them, 1, am I covering all of the main areas you feel are necessary to cover in social media today? And whether it's 2016, 2017, I'm probably going to do this again in 2018.
And then I basically ask them a second question like, if you were a hiring manager for your agency, brand, et cetera. If you've had a student interview with you and say, OK, I can show you the syllabus of that experience, would you hire them? And basically, I use their feedback. And mostly all the time-- all the time, the feedback that I've gotten has been, like, oh, my gosh. I want to take a class like this.
And my biggest compliment that-- one of my favorite, favorite people in social media-- he is amazing-- is Jason Falls. And he's actually in Louisville. He does really good work for the social media and PR community out here in Louisville. And I remember sending my first syllabus to him. I'm like, OK, what is Jason going to say?
And he writes back, I'd be scared to take this class. He was like, no, really, but this is really awesome. And so, I had him speak. And I mean, I saved that tweet. I actually put that into my tenure package for everyone to see. I'm like, OK, yes. I'm saving this for later. So I want to make sure that I'm doing the right by the profession as well.
Because sometimes-- and that's building not only the-- I'm addressing the skills gap between the students, but also bridging the practice and education and economy. Because that's a big issue that we're seeing right now. I mean, the more that-- I mean, I feel like I can help build that bridge, I think the better off we're going to be.
How did you build that advisory group? Are those folks that came from those-- we'll call them Heineken-like experiences. But how did you build a community of professionals who felt invested enough in what you were doing to help you craft your syllabus?
Well, just-- I mean, it was a variety of different ways. I mean, I just basically reached out to them And just started-- I didn't go for the hard sell, basically, initially. I didn't go and say, Jason Falls, OK, read my syllabus and that was the first thing I asked. I built a real relationship. And I had an ongoing conversation, like if he shared something. Like, hey, wow. This is great, Jason. Thanks so much.
And so, I had a chance to meet with him. We have an annual conference as part of our Louisville Digital Association. And I remember meeting him for the first time and I felt like, oh, my gosh, I'm meeting a social media celebrity. I was so excited. But just really, basically, just reaching out to people. Just talking to them.
And I actually had to thank this one connection through research, actually. Deirdre Breakenridge, who is by far one of my favorite friends, colleagues, PR professionals in the area. One of my first-- well, actually, it was my first publication-- looked at social media influencers for research. I actually published a study. And I actually looked at Deirdre as a social media influencer.
And I sent her a note. Just an email. And I thought, well, OK. You know, I might not hear back from her, but I wanted to let her know that, hey, I have this research that I did. And here's what I found about your personality as a social media influencer. And that started a friendship that is now eight years in the making. And so, since then, we have become really good friends. She's talked to my classes. We've been able to correspond. And she teaches a social media class at NYU.
And so, it's just been a really good, mutually beneficial relationship. But I think just one of the things I tell my students, too, is they get kind of intimidated. Whether they see the verify check mark, or the thousands upon thousands of followers, or oh, my God, I don't know if I can talk to this person, because they are part of this big brand.
And I have to pull them aside and be like-- actually, one of my favorite movies of all time-- I use Pixar references all the time in my class, but one of my favorite movies is The Incredibles with Edna Mode. I mean, I feel like she's my spirit animal. But I try to pull them aside, like, OK. Not, pull yourself together.
And I tell my students, these are people. They're human beings. Treat them how you would your friends. They're not on these super high pedestals. But they just want to have those authentic conversations, so just start a conversation. Reach out to them. If they don't answer, OK, that's fine. But if they do, at least you know you've made an opportunity possible.
But not taking that initiative, I think, is really challenging. Especially for students, because they're like, oh, my God. I'm scared. What if nothing happens? Yeah, that might happen. But then also say, OK, what could happen? What are the possibilities?
The worst thing that you could have is regret. But a lot of times I didn't do that myself. I show them, OK, here's-- here. I did this. I might have to take the initiative to start these conversations, too. And then the students follow. So that you kind of have to lead by example, sometimes.
I love it. I can't think of a better way to wrap things up than to say that the way to innovate is to lead by example, to take that first leap. And say, hey, the worst thing that could happen is you will be right back where you were 10 minutes ago if you don't give it a shot. So, Karen, I want to thank you so much for joining us for the inaugural episode of The Teacher's Lounge. And I appreciate you coming here to share your thoughts.
Yeah, and thank you again for the opportunity. It was a real pleasure to be on the podcast with you and be part of The Teacher's Lounge.