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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Monica Drake is spending time in the Southeast Michigan Media Lab

Monica Drake, the community engagement editor at The Oakland Press, part of Journal Register Company’s Michigan Group, is now joining the Southeast Michigan Media Lab on Mondays. She is a great addition to the lab, and offers expert advice on search engine optimization to bloggers and business owners with websites, and can talk to bloggers about how they can monetize their blogs

Monica Drake

Monica Drake

using Google AdSense.  Make an appointment at the lab or come see Monica between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Mondays.

Today at the lab, we worked on setting up a reader focus group for The Oakland Press and Monica began experimenting with the cloud-based presentation tool Prezi. If you haven’t seen this tool in action, you’re missing out. It’s truly awe-inspiring, and Monica plans to master it and teach it in the lab. In addition to the presentation, we will have a survey for readers to fill out in person and another version online compiled using the digital tool SurveyMonkey.

Also today, we reached out on Facebook to student newspapers and area colleges and universities, sharing information about the Southeast Michigan Media Lab via a PowerPoint link on Scribd and encouraging students to come in for free assistance. We also reached out to The Oakland Press and Macomb Daily/Royal Oak Tribune blogger groups on Facebook, and individual blogger prospects. We’ve added four new bloggers in the last two weeks and we’re working with eight others to get them linked to our news websites across Michigan. If you have a blog or are interested in starting one, please let us know. We would like to recruit 100 in the next year.

We also have plans to present on the Southeast Michigan Media Lab March 22 at Saline High School in hopes of recruiting students for blogging and news-sharing partnerships. The opportunity will be a great learning experience for them, as well as a way to build their portfolios before they head off to college. We’ve also reached out to officials at Belleville and Willow Run schools, and would like to make contact with students across Southeast Michigan.

Three upcoming workshops are planned at the media lab, so mark your calendars. Chris Wechner, director of The Ultimate Analyst, will present “Marketing blogs so people know and want to read your posts” from 1 to 3 p.m. March 28; Monica Drake will present “Understanding Search Engine Optimization to help drive more traffic to your blog or website” from 6 to 8 p.m. April 11; and Toni Jones, a professor at Eastern Michigan University, will present on Google Drive from 6 to 8 p.m. April 24 at the media lab, 215 W. Michigan Ave., in the SPARK-East building in Ypsilanti. Sign up on our Facebook events page.