Students impressive with grasp of social media

On Saturday, I made the 120-mile round trip to Lake Orion to help judge the DECA District 7 Competition at Lake Orion High School. While I was

As a judge at the DECA District 7 Competition, I had a set of instructions with a role-playing scenario, Scantron to record my vote and list of students who would be presenting.

As a judge at the DECA District 7 Competition, I had a set of instructions with a role-playing scenario, Scantron to record my vote and list of students who would be presenting.

surprised at the number of students involved in the marketing club whose mission is to “prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the globe,” I wasn’t so surprised to see their grasp of social media.

Representing The Macomb Daily, The Oakland Press and other Digital First Media newsrooms across Michigan, I volunteered to judge teams competing in the Marketing Communications category. This was the first round of competition and winners will go on to the state level to compete before heading to Nationals.

Judges gathered at 8:45 a.m. in an area at the high school dubbed KIVA, which appeared to be a film studies classroom. There were dozens of us — business owners, working professionals, parents and teachers. By 10 a.m. we were given our marching orders, which included instructions not to give anyone a score below 50 as it could defeat them or a score of 100 so they don’t rest on their laurels and not prepare for the next level of competition. I filmed some Touts (live video) of our instructions.

I saw seven teams of two, who presented as my marketing team as I was serving as a CEO of a company in a role-playing scenario. I was so impressed with the first team that I scored them 102, out of a possible 120, and then realized their score had to be under 100. So, after some readjusting, I brought them down to a 90-something. As more presented and I heard their ideas for marketing a new idea on the company’s behalf — and keeping in mind the scoring range — the scores I handed out ranged from the high 70s to the high 90s.

Later, I spoke with other judges and was surprised that some were more critical than I was of the presentations. Maybe I am a softie, but I thought these students really understood marketing communications in today’s world. After all, they grew up with it. Some of the other volunteers judged different categories, so it could be a case of students being weaker in other areas of business, finance and management.

For example, the students who presented to me understood how to appeal to a younger generation through word of mouth and social media. As part of their marketing plans, they relied heavily on a social media strategy, more so than a traditional media approach, to reach a younger demographic because that’s where their peers live, breathe and communicate 24/7. They also understood the importance of partnerships and collaboration for growing reach.

As a journalist, I am not an expert in marketing communications, per se, but I’ve been using social media on a consistent basis for the last four years. The students’ ideas of incentivizing employees to help spread information about their new campaign via their personal social media channels, and ideas for viral campaigns, were brilliant.

They were also interested in visualizing data, sharing with consumers how their campaign, which included a focus on helping to “save the environment,” was working. They proposed customer rewards programs and were careful not to appear to their audience to be overly aggressive in their selling or marketing. I thought this was a refreshing approach and made a lot of sense given the fact many young people have grown up in a brand-centric world of media saturation, and may be over it. The students appealed to their peers’ “ethical sensibilities,” as one team emphasized several times in their presentation, and incorporated a component of giving back to the community.

When it was over, I thought about my time in high school more than 20 years ago. I wish I had participated in DECA, although it wasn’t offered at my small high school, and was exposed to this hands-on approach to learning that would have benefited me in the real world. I am confident the students who participated will be better prepared as they move on to college and then start their careers, and I am glad I volunteered to be a very small part of it.

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