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.
CORPORATE PARTNERSHIPS (Refinement)
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:
- Company values philanthropy and community engagement -- ideally has an existing CSR structure or foundation.
- Company wants to give employees the opportunity to connect authentically with youth in their communities specific, time-bound ways.
- Company needs to market to young adults.
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.)
In the long term, we’d like to explore ways in which corporate partnerships:
- Give student participants a clear pathway to employment and concrete work experience.
- 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?
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
- # / % 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