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.


Blogging, Twitter, Facebook, Audio, Video and More

I spent Thursday afternoon and all of Friday in the Community Media Lab and had many conversations about reaching an audience, how to grow an audience, and building relationships on social media. Some of those conversations were more organic, evolving from a chat about today’s media landscape, while others were more focused and specific.

Michael Mathis, an Ypsilanti attorney who says he’s now “shifting gears,” was my first visitor Thursday afternoon, but he really wasn’t there to “visit” with me specifically. I just happened to be in the SPARK East building, where our Community Lab is housed, at the same time he was attending a Shifting Gears support group meeting. While he was waiting, he asked me if I worked for SPARK. I told him I was part of the Community Media Lab and then explained the mission to him. Michael seemed very interested and mentioned he was leaving his career and considering his options. A mentor had suggested that he start a blog. In addition to law, he has a background in journalism and has done voiceover work on Internet radio. He was planning to attend a workshop on the blogging platform WordPress at the Ypsilanti District Library. As soon as he’s done, I suggested he come back and we would help him set up his blog. I also suggested BlogTalk Radio for an Internet talk show. His first hurdle, however, is figuring out what type of content he would be providing. He’s also interested in making revenue from his online activities, so I steered him toward Google AdWords. I don’t know much about it, but I know the Google offices in Ann Arbor offer 20-minute time slots to chat, or he could simply “Google” the information. I wish him the best of luck as he starts his new venture, and hope he returns to us as a content-sharing partner so we can add his voice to our website and the community at large.

Bob Cummings, a community blogger who partners with us, stopped by on Friday to learn more about, for capturing audio and he wanted links to a workshop presented by Leslie McGraw that he missed on integrating social media into your professional development. Bob has been a regular visitor to the Community Lab and has attended some of our workshops. I consider him our super fan because he is so supportive and enthusiastic about our efforts in the lab. He’s also a dream to work with because he is so curious about all of the technology tools out there for him to share his message. After a couple of hours, Bob had his Scribd and iPadio accounts up and running, and tested on his WordPress blog. Bob is a big fan of Twitter and has had a lot of success sharing his message using the microblogging tool. He also has a true understanding of social media and its power. I look forward to reading his new blog posts and seeing how he incorporates the two new tools he learned about to enhance his storytelling and information sharing.

Donna Gilkey-Lavin also stopped in Friday just as Bob was leaving. I had been expecting her after receiving an email from Kyle DeBoard of SPARK, who referred her to me for help with social media. Donna and her husband, who reside in Belleville, started the company Lavin Lift Straps. She has a very interesting story, which she shared with me as we talked about her business and its needs. The Lavins are getting assistance and advice from SPARK, which is good, but she was looking for a little insight about social media and how she can use it to promote her business. We talked about setting up a Twitter account and Facebook page, and I suggested she check out,,, and we talked about YouTube for sharing her product demonstration videos, as well as video testimonials. The company also recently won an award, and I suggested she return to the lab for help on writing a press release. She was so grateful and appreciative, which reminded me how useful the Community Media Lab can be for people. It really is a great resource. I encouraged Donna to set up a Twitter account tonight as a first step. I also suggested she return any weekday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to speak to any of the reporters and editors here, who can help her decide on a blogging platform that fits her needs, educate her more on Twitter and help her set up a Facebook page for her product, as well as a YouTube channel.

While some days spent in the lab can be slow and we use that time to work on our own content for or explore new technology tools, it’s days like yesterday and today that make me feel good about the service we provide in the Community Media Lab. The challenge is spreading the word about what we offer and utilizing those very tools I promote to help reach a larger audience.

Thoughts on using social media as an organization

Today I had the pleasure of meeting Nakenya Yarbrough, who is running publicity for a Mothers of Preschoolers support group in Canton. MoPs is a group of about 50 mothers with preschool or kindergarten-aged children that meets bi-monthly at a church in Canton.

Yarbrough recently took on the role of running publicity and had a few questions about Facebook, Twitter, blogging and how they all come together for non-profit organizations like MoPs. After reading about our Community Media Lab in The Belleville View, she decided to stop in.

Here I’ll post a few of her questions, along with the answers I had for her. Hopefully this can help others in similar positions as Yarbrough. Remember, these answers are based from my experience, and I only hold a journalism degree. I’d never qualify myself as a “social media expert,” but I am more than willing to give advice based on what I’ve seen.

When is it necessary to have a Facebook, Twitter and blog?

I say it depends on your audience. If the people you are serving are engaged on all three (or more) platforms then it’s a good idea to use all three. But say the majority of your group members use Facebook as their main source of communication then you might not need a Twitter or blog right now. You can find this out by simply polling your users. You can use the built-in survey on Facebook, or use an outside website like Survey Monkey. Or, you can go old-fashioned pen and paper if you like. In the end, it’s important to find out what’s important to whomever you are serving.

How important is it to have the various websites consistent with each other?

I think consistency is really important. It helps people who are viewing your organization’s information for the first time know that everything is correct and gives a sense of professionalism. I know that’s what I want when I’m looking for information on a business or organization, whether I’m working on an article or considering being a consumer.

How do I keep those websites consistent?

A lot of sites let you post across various platforms. You can set up your Facebook to automatically Tweet anything you post, and vice-versa. There are also third-party websites, like HootSuite, which allow you to cross post. Using the same profile photo for each website can help you be recognized by the people who are looking for your company or organization. Using similar handles on each site will have the same effect as well.

Hopefully these answers help anyone who’s a little uncertain about using social media platforms for their business or organization. If you have any more questions feel free to email me at or find me on Twitter @kgjestland. I’m also in the lab 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Monday.