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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Surveys and focus group show readers want to contribute and share content

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A focus group held April 17 at The Oakland Press in Pontiac, Mich., and a survey used to learn readers’ thoughts on the newspaper and website, use of social media and interest in contributing content have netted some interesting feedback that shows, of the readers who responded, most want to contribute community content and share local news links on social media.

A total of 19 people attended the focus group, 11 filled out a survey on site and 31 people responded to the survey online. The online survey was promoted through a NewHive expression, which had 180 views, with 77 views coming through a Bit.ly link, shared on Facebook and Twitter. There were 44 clicks, and 30 responses, on a Bit.ly link to the questionnaire, which was hosted on SurveyMonkey.

Of the readers who participated in our survey, 65 percent said they consume their news both online and in print. Just 12.5 percent said exclusively online and 22.5 percent said only in print. Most, nearly 61 percent, said they want a mix of county, state and national news, while 31.7 percent said state and county, and only 7.3 percent said community specific.

A total of 24 respondents, or 75 percent, said they watch video on our website, 59.3 percent click on hyperlinks, 50 percent want to see timelines, 46.8 percent participate in online polls, 43.7 percent read blogs linked on our website, 37.5 percent appreciate locator maps and 37.5 percent would like to listen to audiocasts.

What’s exciting is 48.7 percent of the respondents are interested in contributing content to The Oakland Press and 41.4 percent said they may be interested if they felt it was important. Only 9.7 percent said they were not interested. Of those respondents, the majority felt comfortable contributing community news and guest columns (56.25 percent), 40.6 percent would submit an item for the community calendar, an equal number felt comfortable sharing photographs of school and community events or share story ideas (37.5 percent), 15.6 percent are interested in becoming blogging partners with The Oakland Press, 12.5 percent would be interested in shooting local video and submitting it, and 9.3 percent would share sports news.

Contribute to The Oakland Press

The folks who took the poll are active on social media. A total 63.1 percent said they actively share news links, 26.3 percent said they are not active on social media and 10.5 percent said they are active but rarely share news links. Facebook is their No. 1 social media channel, with 93.5 percent using it, followed by 54.8 percent on Twitter, 48.3 percent on LinkedIn, 25.8 percent on both Pinterest and Google+, 16.1 percent on Blogger and 12.9 percent on Instagram.

When asked what keeps them coming to The Oakland Press website, the majority (89.4 percent) said local news, followed by county news at 73.6 percent, features and human interest stories at 52.6 percent and state news at 44.7 percent. Information on events attracted 42.1 percent of the respondents, followed by crime and entertainment news (28.9 percent) and court news at 18.4 percent. The video-based news webcast “News at Noon” attracts 15.7 percent, or six of the 42 respondents, the same number of people who said they come to the website to read blogs.

What you like to read

When asked what The Oakland Press needed to improve on, one respondent suggested a government page showing how our leaders have voted and their attendance record. Another suggested more information about amendments to the U.S. Constitution with information on when and why they were adopted. Another said more news about Pontiac is needed and one other responded that coverage of local and countywide news could improve. One loyal reader who attended the focus group said she wanted to see more letters to the editor in print and wanted the Mallard Fillmore cartoons banned. Another member of the focus group asked that the TV Guide page be printed again daily.

“Don’t ask fluffy questions on social media like, ‘What are you doing today?’ People are dumb enough to say, ‘I am going on vacation (please steal from my home),” one person stated in a response to what The Oakland Press could improve on.

“Provide more news, particularly coverage of positive local school and community news. Stop allowing anonymous comments on the web. Require those individuals to be accountable for their comments. Too easy for individuals to make derogatory remarks,” another stated in the online survey.

That Waterford resident’s comments were echoed by the majority of the focus group members, as well, who don’t like anonymous comments from “Sound Off” used in print.

A Pontiac resident noted in the online survey that The Oakland Press should include more outdoors sports news. “Outdoor sports are almost non-existent in your paper. It used to show photos of kids’ first large fish. I would like to see an outdoors section in every edition or on Sundays at least. Not just a page and a larger font.”

Another reader said she would like to see more positive stories about the community, people and events, while a Waterford respondent said the paper needs to report more news. “Stop the ‘action news’ style videos at noon,” another wrote. “Make stories easier to find on web pages instead of having to type in search to locate it.”

Others said The Oakland Press needed to improve on accuracy, grammar and spelling, and reporting more local news, sharing more posts on Facebook and coverage of business.

A reader in West Bloomfield wrote, “There is nothing wrong with The Oakland Press that more journalists doing more stories with more time wouldn’t fix.”

“Provide more coverage of Oakland County, especially Pontiac,” a Bloomfield Township resident wrote. “Write news stories which are longer than three sentences. Do not repost the same story day after day on your website.”

Another wrote, “Remove the government bias and start reporting. Look at Ben Swann in Cincinnati. By creating a liberty-oriented crowd, he has grown many followers and supporters. I canceled the OP years go because of the socialist articles by Bill Press and similar authors.”

A Rochester Hills resident said, “National politics seems to be lacking. I watch national news pretty regularly and TV snippets don’t often tell the whole story. The brief selection of AP stories leaves a lot to be desired.”

Surprisingly, only 15.8 percent of the respondents had heard of MiPrepZone/Oakland and 79.5 percent had not heard of the Southeast Michigan Media Lab affiliated with The Oakland Press. A total of 48.7 percent had watched “News at Noon,” the online news webcast produced by the newspaper’s staff, and 23 percent had never heard of it. Another 28.2 percent had heard of it, but hadn’t watched it.

So what do the survey takers think The Oakland Press is doing right? Listening to the community, and writing stories about community issues and events were among the responses. Sunday coverage of local parks and professional sports teams, as well as delivery service, working with community groups, sharing news on social media, “News at Noon,” local sports, school news, crime news and human interest stories were also cited.

“There are a wide variety of stories on different topics and focused in different cities, not just specific cities,” a Waterford resident noted on her survey.

One enthusiastic respondent said in response to the question “What are we doing well?” “Everything — and then some. All of you! And I thank you. Reading my Oak Press is primary for me!”

A West Bloomfield resident also noted her appreciation, saying, “Not many newspapers are still in print, let alone seven days a week!”

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.