OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Social Media: In Real Life (SMIRL) 2.0 - Refinement Phase

An after school program on social media marketing that helps high school students from low-income communities leverage existing digital savviness to develop career awareness, build soft skills, and gain experience in the professional world.

Photo of Emily Brenes
17 15

Written by

SMIRL is an after school program targeting high school students in low-income communities. Led by professionals in the digital marketing space, SMIRL exposes students to the world of social media marketing. Students analyze real-life campaigns, grow familiar with marketing plans, and work in groups to create marketing pitches for companies seeking to leverage social media to reach young adults. Partnering companies may choose to develop the winning ideas into actual campaigns, providing internship opportunities for students that show promise in the industry. Students build soft skills and gain experience in a field that is growing significantly and is accessible to people from varying backgrounds.

The introductory-level course unfolds over the course of 2 months, through 8 1-hour sessions that take place immediately after school. Learning targets for the course sessions are outlined below.

Session 1: Becoming aware of social media marketing and what brands hope to achieve by creating campaigns
Session 2: Understanding how to reverse-engineer a marketing campaign to uncover the objective  
Session 3: Gaining familiarity with marketing plans, including objectives, insights, and tactics
Session 4: Completing a social media marketing plan for a campaign as a group
Session 5-7: Working with a team to come up with a social media marketing plan for a real company's campaign
Session 8: Presenting the social media marketing plan to the class, a panel of experts, and the sponsoring company

Once the course is complete, students can join the SMIRL online community (currently a facebook group) to continue engaging with the coursework. In the facebook group, we post relevant examples of social media marketing for the students to discuss, send out mini-challenges for students to respond to, and share exciting news about digital media.

The SMIRL program builds better employment opportunities for youth by preparing students for the current social media-obsessed workplace. High school students are already equipped with very intimate knowledge of all the key social platforms (and a few we have never even heard of), and they have stronger opinions about brands' marketing than they may think. All students are missing is the right context for social media - the understanding that social media  is marketing and a highly marketable skill. The social and digital world is accessible to anyone who wants to get there. It's an industry that is new, young,  growing ( 93% of marketers report using social media for business), and that values scrappiness as much as it values well-thought out strategies. With a little guidance, students can build the marketing know-how and softer skills (communication, strategic thinking, problem solving, collaboration) that will equip them to start their social media marketing careers now. 

The next step for growth is to bring on a corporate partner for a course, so we can better understand "big brand" motivations and interest with this age group. If that test is successful, we would like to begin expanding widely into more schools by identifying new course leaders and equipping them to lead the course (via formal training, an online learning community, and a digital toolkit). In order to do this, we need to learn from strong examples of organizations that have done this successfully.

We also plan to expand our coursework to create an advanced-level course for students to gain more hands-on experience with social media marketing plans. This advanced course will act as a proof-point for students who may be ready to join the workforce as interns or entry-level employees, depending on where they are in their schooling. This is an ideal touch-point for corporate sponsors that would like to get involved with the course and interact with students that are well-trained in social media marketing.


Short Term
In the short term, our work with corporate partners will be guided by one overarching goal: to give students exposure to “non-traditional” professional paths through experience and relationship-building. Working in schools serving low-income communities, we’ve seen firsthand that high school students frequently have a limited awareness of career paths. When asked “what do you want to be when you grow up,” students frequently respond with careers traditionally hailed as successful: lawyer, doctor, musician, athlete. Yet, there’s a diverse world of careers that rely on a diverse set of skills and interests largely unknown to high school -- even college -- students. As friends and colleagues often remark, “I had no idea social / digital media was a job until I was in it.”

Through our work with SMIRL, we hope to give students the ability to recognize new skills within themselves that open them up to new potential career paths. Our work with corporate partners will make the digital and social media marketing space more real and accessible to the students. In the short term, there are a number of ways we envision this happening:
  • Corporate partner presents an actual marketing challenge to the students and, in the final sessions of the course, students work on teams to create social media marketing plans and pitch them to the company.
  • Students build relationships with professionals, i.e. SMIRL Mentors, during SMIRL sessions, working with them on marketing plans and pitches. (Note: We piloted this in the spring.)
  • Professionals speak about their jobs to students, helping lift the veil on what they do at work. (Note: We piloted this in the spring.)
  • At the end of the course, students are invited on a tour of corporate partner’s office spaces. They shadow SMIRL mentors. They eat lunch with the team. Students who win the marketing pitch contest may have the opportunity to meet a senior marketing executive.

We believe (and want to test our assumptions) that this type of engagement appeals to companies for which the following is true:
  1. Company values philanthropy and community engagement -- ideally has an existing CSR structure or foundation.
  2. Company wants to give employees the opportunity to connect authentically with youth in their communities specific, time-bound ways.
  3. Company needs to market to young adults.
Partners might include digital marketing agencies or the marketing teams of companies.

In the immediate future, the costs of the program are limited, primarily requiring volunteer time investments. As we begin to increase expenses, we see corporate funding as a primary revenue stream via partnerships. (School fee-for-service may also be a revenue stream.)

Long Term
In the long term, we’d like to explore ways in which corporate partnerships:
  1. Give student participants a clear pathway to employment and concrete work experience.
  2. Make the SMIRL program financially viable and sustainable.

We'd like to explore placing SMIRL students as summer interns in partner companies that rely on entry-level support and value staff diversity. We could help students showcase their social media marketing skills (build a site to host their marketing plans, help them create portfolios or resumes, etc) in a way that helps them gain employment. It may make sense to partner with existing internship placement organizations rather than directly place and remain accountable for high school interns. If successful, perhaps this presents another possible source of revenue via intern placement fees.

Down the road, we envision the creation a social media agency that is staffed mainly by "adults," but also employs the top performing students that have graduated from SMIRL. Ideally, sponsoring companies of the course would become clients and the students would be able to support campaigns from ideation to execution. We would like to be able to pay the students a competitive hourly wage for their time.

In either case, SMIRL’s value proposition to a company would shift to attract companies for which SMIRL fills an authentic need. What revenue opportunities exist here? Could we shift to a market-friendly social enterprise model?

As we pilot our first partnership, our primary goal would really be to learn via experience. At this stage, we want to better understand the value proposition of SMIRL in the eyes of potential corporate partners. Questions we hope to be better equipped to answer through further research and pilot partnerships include:
  • Are companies and employees interested in engaging with students via the SMIRL program?
  • Is it valuable for the company to work with high school students on an actual campaign? Why and how so?
  • Do the marketing plan pitch ideas actually appeal to the company? How might they build on them?
  • What types of internship opportunities exist for high school students in social media marketing? How can they authentically contribute to the success of a marketing campaign?
  • Are students set up for success in these internship opportunities after completing the SMIRL curriculum? Why or why not? How might we strengthen the curriculum accordingly?
  • How do SMIRL students stack up against other interns? If company already works with interns, how do they find them? What’s the typical intern’s profile? What kind of work do they do? Are they paid?
  • Bottom line: After completing the pilot, does the company believe there is value in partnering with SMIRL? Why, and in what ways? What is it worth to the company?

IMPACT (Refinement)

High schools students are used to learning the important but abstract: Catcher in the Rye, the Battle of Gettysburg, the periodic table, Pythagorean Theorem, etc. SMIRL opens students up to the very real world of digital media marketing -- a world they already interact with daily but often lack the perspective and rhetoric to approach critically. SMIRL gives them a framework for understanding marketing, taking them from the perspective of consumer to company to marketer and back through the analysis of actual social media campaigns and the hands-on creation of a marketing plan from problem to pitch. Analyzing and developing campaigns as a class helps students develop real-world soft skills like critical thinking, communication, and collaboration that are critical components of career success in the long run. At the same time, students understand through direct experience that building a career is about recognizing a skill within yourself, developing it through practice and hard work, and monetizing it by understanding it's value to others. Students not only learn to market products; they learn to market themselves.

Short Term Outcomes
  • # / % of students completing the course
  • # / % of students who express interest in digital media after completion of the course
  • teacher & principal satisfaction with SMIRL

Intermediate Outcomes
  • # / % of students placed in internships with corporate partners
  • # / % of students majoring in marketing

Long Term Outcomes
  • # / % of students employed
  • # / % of students working in digital media marketing

What are the next steps for implementing this idea?

Over the next 9 months, we aim to: 1. Understand the corporate perspective and what needs we might meet via low-barrier research techniques. 2. Identify company for pilot partnership that will (a) provide marketing “problem” and judge marketing plan pitches and (b) provide exposure to the real-world work environments and careers. 3. Test SMIRL 2.0, with (a) new school partner, (b) updated and lengthened curriculum, (c) older high school age group, and (d) corporate partner. 4. Incorporate learnings from SMIRL 2.0 into second, more defined draft of business model and seek input. At the completion of this school year, we'll know we're successful if: a) We've graduated 40+ students from SMIRL's introductory course, with an overall 90% enrollment-to-completion rate. b) 80% of students answer 8+ on "On a scale of 0 to 10, how interested are you in working in digital or social media?" c) 100% of teachers and principals answer 8+ on "On a scale of 0 to 10, how successfully do you think SMIRL exposed your students to a professional path and helped them develop soft skills that will help increase employability?" d) We've grown our Facebook group to 40+ members. e) We've piloted a corporate partnership. f) We've updated our business model and set clear goals for the 2015-16 school year.

Briefly describe a user scenario which illustrates the specific need that your idea is trying to solve.

Angela is a high-school junior in a low-income community. She does well in school, but she is not sure about what the future holds for her. She would like to go to college, but she doesn't directly see that what she is learning in school will be all that helpful to her career - and she is really nervous that she may never be able to have a career as a doctor, lawyer, or accountant. She is eager to gain real skills that she will be able to apply in the workplace. When she hears about SMIRL, she is excited to learn more about how to use the social media tools she is already familiar with in a business environment. She's never really thought about being able to do that as a job before, and so this sounds really exciting! She begins the course and is immediately immersed in the discussion about social media campaigns. She finds it very interesting to learn about what goes on behind the scenes to create the viral videos and native advertisements she sees in her feed every day. Who knew there was so much thought put into all of this? She starts to gain familiarity with the subject matter and begins sharing examples of marketing that she has seen. It becomes really easy to reverse-engineer campaigns to determine the objective and the target market. In the last few sessions of class, Angela gets to actually create her own campaign for a client and present it with a team. It's definitely more difficult to be the one coming up with the ideas, but she is ready for the challenge, and it's helpful to have her classmates and expert mentors on hand to help refine ideas. On presentation day, Angela and her team are nervous, but they are prepared. They have rehearsed their pitch and are confident that they have developed a campaign that fits the client's needs. Angela's team wins the competition! Each team member is set up with an on-campus meeting with a senior marketing executive at the client's offices in midtown manhattan. This is Angela's first time in this type of professional environment, and she finds the buzzy energy in the office exciting. The SMIRL class leaders accompany her to the meeting and are there to help Angela navigate her way through the meeting as she asks all the right questions of the senior marketing executive. She follows up with a thank you right away. Weeks later, Angela is contacted by the HR department at the company asking if she would be available to intern for the summer. She gladly accepts and begins her upward trajectory in digital media marketing.

Complete a User Experience Map. This will help you visualize how a potential end user will interact with your idea. Once you have completed it, upload it using the Upload File button at the end of this form. PDF files preferred.

  • Completed

Who does this idea benefit, who are the main players and what's in it for them?

The target population includes high school students at schools serving predominantly low-income communities. These students develop a marketing skillset, possibly even internship experience, as well as exposure and awareness of a field that, generationally speaking, they are well-equipped to be successful in and that will only grow with popularity of social media networks and digital content publishing platforms. Corporate partners will gain access to a community of customers who will help them create campaigns that resonate with their age group. These partners will also have access to a pool of interns eager to get work experience. While corporate philanthropy offers one source of revenue, so do internship placement fees.

How is your idea specifically increasing access to employment opportunities and pathways for young people?

Last spring, we piloted SMIRL in a four-session course with 8th grade girls at Achievement First. The course was very well received and well attended, and we were hugely impressed by the gains the students made in just one month. By the end, they were making pitches for Oreo (not formally involved) -- one of which very closely mirrors what OREO soon launched as the #OreoSnackHacks campaign. These students are bright, eager to build skills, and genuinely engaged with social and digital media. We gave them a new lens through which to look at marketing, a greater awareness of when / why / how they're being marketed to, and (in the case of this all-female group) a safe space to discuss a number of gender issues. We analyzed campaigns that they found genuinely interesting, like Beyonce's Pepsi Campaign and the Lays Do Your Flavor campaign. These students already engage with social media constantly -- often not recognizing that with a greater awareness of marketing strategies they can build a monetizable skill set while they do. As we discuss above, the next step is to create a formal pathway to employment via partnerships with agencies and/or companies seeking interns. For the students, the energy and enthusiasm is there. It's our job to figure out how to channel that towards tangible employment opportunities that meet the needs of brands.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

When we piloted SMIRL last spring, we had not yet engaged corporate partners or defined a source of revenue. In addition to refining our curriculum, we're interested in exploring a partnership with either a corporation or digital agency seeking access to ambitious young talent. Having explored the school-side, we know that principals and teachers appreciate the opportunities for students to build career awareness and professional experience, and also value programs that engage students after school. While we still have much to learn about the school side of the equation, we need to develop a better understanding of what matters to a potential corporate partner. What need(s) do we meet for them? What do they stand to gain from a partnership? What are they looking for in interns? What revenue-building opportunities exist? The next major step for SMIRL is to test a corporate partnership in conjunction with a course.

What skills, input or guidance are you keen to receive from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

We're really open to all types of feedback, with a special interest in ideas related to corporate partnerships, funding opportunities, expansion examples, and examples of business models that employ students as young as 16 to work with clients.

The idea emerged from:

  • A group brainstorm

How do you envision your idea being implemented?

  • Keen to prototype it, find partners and pursue implementation

Attachments (1)


Join the conversation:

Photo of Dave Zinsman

Hi Emily!
Really great idea. It's something really lightweight and doesn't require a lot to get started! To address one of your questions, I'm taking an approach with a similar project where a practitioner pays a job-seeker to work on basic aspects of a job.

For instance a photographer could pay a somewhat inexperienced job seeker to do less knowledge intensive things in the workstream like setting up reflectors and filters in the designated places; basic corrections; etc. The takeaway for the job-seeker isn't a living wage, but a little cash, and a lot of great portfolio/CV work.

The only other feedback that I'd give is to highlight two basic things that CGI will be looking at: specific impact and timeline. For instance, "we aim to teach 500 youth the basics of running a social media campaign in our first year." You can see more about CGI's criteria here:

Hope this helps!

Photo of Lisa Pastor

Hey Dave,

Thanks so much for your comment! I could definitely see that type of setup working for our students. In your program, do you work directly with the employer to come up with the assignment or do you let them manage the student however they wish? I guess my question here is who is ultimately responsible for making sure the student and the employer both get what they need out of it?

Appreciate you highlighting where we could improve our submission as well! We will add more specific impact and timeline information to our submission.


Photo of Emily Brenes

Agreed -- it's super smart to get really specific and realistic about the deliverables and expectations for an inexperienced job seeker, especially when we're talking about high school students. I'd love the chance to connect offline and learn more about your project! Feel free to email me at if you're interested in talking more.

Photo of Dave Zinsman

Hey Lisa and Emily,

The way I see it working well in what I'd like to do is to have the relationship between practitioner and job seeker be a simple practitioner-apprentice type of relationship. It's up to the practitioner to choose the best apprentice for a given preexisting job. The responsibilities for ensuring that it is a mutually beneficial relationship is the same coordination that occurs between candidates and firms in any recruitment scenario.
Love the project; will definitely connect, Emily! TTYS

Photo of Nick Kim

Love the refinement EB/LP. Seems like you guys have a really good grasp of how your model would directly influence the employment opportunities of your students. It's a creative use of social media in the classroom, and your short term and long-term goals are both lofty yet achievable. Congrats!

Photo of Emily Brenes

Thanks, Nick. We appreciate the support and would love to hear any feedback you have that might improve SMIRL!

Photo of Meena Kadri

Wow – great stuff, guys! In terms of social enterprise business models, you might want to check out the Social Business Model Canvas: for a fun way of shaping your thinking (you can upload your canvas via the Make It Visual gallery on your idea) and read more about social business models here:

Photo of Lisa Pastor

Thanks, Meena! Great idea. I have created business model canvases for enterprise products before, but never for a social business. Will definitely give this a shot.

Photo of Emily Brenes

Meena - We used to Social Business Model Canvas you sent over and just posted it. Take a look! Would love your thoughts. Thanks so much for the suggestion.

Photo of Uwe Schn

Hi Meena, cool I didn´t know that BMC is also available for Social Enterprises.
I am currently preparing a BMC for our case. For this I need detailed facts and data about (corporate) volunteering, online volunteering and challenges in the third sector in USA and Europe. Do you or anybody else can give me an advise where I can find consolidated data in the web? BR UWE

Photo of Meena Kadri

Can't say I know about where to find data for that – but good luck! Glad you found the BMC useful – and we're looking forward to seeing your User Experience Map where you're ready:

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congratulations on making it to the Youth Employment Challenge Refinement list, Emily. We find it very interesting how this idea focuses on a specific skill that young people have today and leverages it to prepare them for employment and to build networks with future employers. We are curious to learn what type of corporate partners you have in mind? What is your goal to accomplish once they join the course? How will you assess its success? What are the next steps in the next six months? What are the expected challenges and goals during this time frame? We are also keen to learn what happens to students once they finish the course. What expected direct impact does going to this program have on young people's pathway to employment? Looking forward to learning more about this idea and seeing how it develops in this next stage. Check out more tips for Refinement:

Photo of Lisa Pastor

Wow! Thank you very much. We are honored to be included in this group of concepts. We will refine our concept and share the updates soon. Thanks again!

Photo of OpenIDEO

You can now grab some challenge-specific Refinement tips here: Looking forward to your agile refinement-moves to strengthen your idea for impact!

Photo of Emily Brenes

Thank you for pushing our thinking with all these resources and questions. Looking forward to feedback phase #2!

Photo of Luisa Fernanda

Excited to learn your insights on these questions. Also check out the new questions we have added to the contribution form.

Photo of Lisa Pastor

Thanks, Luisa! We are hard at work prepping our answers for the refinement round. We'll have fresh responses posted by this weekend!