Social Media Syllabus: MA in Media and Strategic Communication

Nikki Usher
Aug 11, 2015 · 7 min read

Social Media for MA in Media and Strategic Communication

Professor Nikki Usher — email nusher at gwu dot edu; Class SMPA 525 6:10–8 p.m. W; Office hours by appointment

Course Description:

This class offers a combination of theory and practice designed to introduce you to the complexities of social media. We tend to think that we know how to use social media from personal experiences, but when it comes to being asked to justify and craft our own campaigns, it gets a bit more complicated. Similarly, we may think that we know the issues inherent in social media, but what do these really mean for how we understand our behavior and actions online.

Social media is incredibly complicated. Though nothing about social media is truly new, there is much about social media that is different in form than has come before. Social media raises questions in new ways about the use of data, the way we collaborate and share, the way that we treat people, the way that we identify and assert ourselves, the way we communicate, and social media even affects how we see what we see online (via algorithms). Social media may even change our behavior, prompting action from funding a project to participating in a protest.

This class is structured in the following way. In the beginning (or end) of each class, there will be an approximately 30–40 minute lecture on social media best practices for the topic addressed in the syllabus. You will be provided with the Power Point slides for your reference. The rest of the class will be devoted to discussing theoretical issues raised by social media, but in most cases, these theoretical issues are paired with what we have talked about practically. In other cases, they may have nothing to do with each other and just represent topics you should know about in order to be literate about social media.

Along the way, you will have various homework assignments that relate to certain practical and theoretical aspects of the class. Your final project will be to design a social media campaign, which you will share with the class in a final presentation. A classmate will be assigned to evaluate you in addition to my final evaluation. There will be some in-class group work. The class also includes an out-of-class, virtual component — Tweeting — and you are expected to have some basic facility with Twitter. At any point during the class, I welcome feedback. We will be using Medium rather than blackboard as an experiment and I have NO IDEA how this will work.

Learning Outcomes:

As a result of completing this course, students will be able to:

1. Evaluate communications needs of a business, cause or candidate

2. Understand existing and emerging social media tools

3. Plan and execute a comprehensive communications plan that properly uses social media

4. Understand critical issues in social media

5. Assess and discuss concerns related to the evolving landscape of data and algorithms

6. Know what helps information spread online

7. Be able to discuss how people collaborate online.

Readings and Texts

All readings and texts are either hyperlinked, attached via slideshare, or will be emailed out before class. This document is your bible for the class, and will prove your guide to what is happening in each class each day. A few other documents with other key assignments and guidelines will also emerge, but this syllabus should be referred to before each week begins to know what is up for the week. No books need to be purchased at this point.


You are expected to contribute two original tweets a week relevant to social media. A third tweet should be in conversation with something your classmate has posted. Memes, smart articles, fun stuff, trend pieces, news stories, fun and games and serious work.

Our class hashtag is #SMPASOCIAL. If you want to be sure I see something, @nikkiusher is the best way.

Sample tweets:

Sample tweet in response to classmate:

IF you would like your tweet to be public, REMEMBER to put a . [period] before your classmate’s handle because not everyone is following both you and your classmate and therefore won’t see the response. The .@ makes it public.


All tweets for the week must be completed by Sunday at 7 p.m.


· Participation in class and via social media (15 %)

· Attendance (5%)

· Homework (20%)

· Final Project — 2 parts (60% total)

o Part 1: 55% your social media proposal

o Part 2: 5% feedback on a classmate’s proposal


Social Media Course Readings and HW

Readings to buy:

Recommended (but really you should buy it):


Sept 2: Welcome!

Course policies. History of the Internet (abbreviated); short history of social media & some definitions, brief review of some early social media sites and social networking properties

Readings covered (for your reference, not required reading): Social networks in the 1600s; Boyd and Ellison: the history of social networks;; Kaplan & Haenlein (, Habermas

Reference link: Demographics of key social media platforms

Sept 9: Setting Goals & Understanding What’s Different About the Web

Practical: How to set social media goals, SMART, make the case for social

Read and think about: Preparing a social media plan

Reading: Benkler, Ch. 7 (theory)

HW Due Sept. 16: Pick a social media campaign to work on this semester. You can choose any company, any brand, your company, your organization, etc. Take a brief look at it. Take a census of its accounts (what accounts does it have) and offer in just one page bullet-points what the company is doing well and doing poorly. Email HW to me by class time @

Sept. 16: Twitter and Spreadable Media

Practical: Twitter Fine Points

Reference: Check out NYT on Twitter.

Reading: Spreadable Media (chapters…..; (theory)

Hand in your HW before class.

Sept. 23 — Social Media Marketing/Advertising and Facebook Fine Points

Enjoy my partner in social media trainings across the DC area (and beyond) — Lauren Glickman. She’ll share some of her practical expertise.

No reading required for today.

Reference: Facebook and Twitter tips from content strategy startup NewsWhip

Oct. 7 Crowdfunding

Reading (all practical): Read about how Kickstarter works. CNN Money (3 part package- follow related links). How to run a successful crowdfunding campaign: (short video from IndieGogo founder). Two of the best perspectives and advice I’ve found on how to crowdfund: and

Reference: Most successful crowdfunding campaigns (via Wikipedia)

In class: break up into groups of 2–3 and brainstorm a crowdfunding campaign for one of your selected companies knowing what you know now

Oct. 14: Social Media Listening and Using Analytics: Visit from Chartbeat

Practical: Chartbeat, a publishing/content/news company that uses analytics will show you how its software works and what you can learn from using analytics for content. All of your organizations will have content, we are all content creators now.

Practical in class: Review of some of the best analytics software (focus on free), talk about how to marshal analytics into a marketing plan (what can and can’t you promise?)

Readings: Likeable Social Media (theory/practice): read as much as you like, discussions in class will focus on Ch 2, Ch 5, and Ch 10.

Purchase recommended:

Oct. 21 Predictive Analytics and How to Design A Social Media Campaign

Practical: In class, discuss one of the best guides to a social marketing campaign, Hootsuite’s write-up.

This social media campaign discussion will guide the final evaluation for your final project.

Readings: Chapters from Predictive Analytics, Siegel (theory)

Oct 28: Big Data and Social Media

Practical: Guest lecture via Skype from former Crimson Hexagon employee now of Panorama Education, and Yale Sociology PhD Elizabeth Butler Breese

Readings: Breese — When Marketers and Academics Share a Marketing Platform; Aspen Institute Report — The Promise and Peril of Big Data (theory/practical)

Reference: A Very Short History of Big Data

Nov. 4: Algorithms

Guest lecture (hopefully) with Nick Diakopolous, University of MD assistant professor, jointly appointed with Computer Science and Journalism

Reading: Algorithmic Accountability Reporting (theory/practice)

Homework for Nov. 11: How would you create the ideal Facebook algorithm? Suggest different weights as if you were writing a mathematical equation for Facebook. What factors would you include? Due by class via email

Nov. 11: Privacy and Data Control

Practical: In class — social listening platforms

Readings: Jacob Silverman — Terms of Service (chapters) (theory)


  1. If you don’t pay attention to your fitness data (# of steps you take each day) — spend the week recording how many steps you take at the end of the day. If you do record this information, don’t look at it for a week. I’m curious about whether you start to change your behavior, whether you get “into” tracking your data in this way, etc. The research question is does the ability to collect personal data — once you start — create behavior change?
  2. Please bring an article about the Internet of Things. Something that gets you jazzed about how the internet and technology is developing. Talking and responsive Barbies than can have conversations, alarms that can be set from your cell phone — find an article about something you find totally neat, and bring it to share with the class. To get your juices flowing, here’s a neat blog:

In class, we’ll take another look at the best way to strategize around those calendars.

Dec. 2: Shaming and Trolling

Practical: How to Deal with Trolls

Readings: So You’ve Been Publically Shamed (theory/practical) — Oh man, this is an amazing book and so interesting. Assigning chapters, but you really should read the whole thing. Your book club could read this easily. It’s chat-over-coffee-worthy.

Please purchase and read what you’d like.

Dec. 9: Presentations/Social Media Plan Due

5-minute “Ignite” presentations where you introduce your social media strategy. You will be assigned a peer evaluator in addition to me who will offer feedback/grade your presentation.


What people did to become social media marketers

At Showtime

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store