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Social media workshop sharpens online skills for graduate students

DU alum Geoff Renstrom By Kathleen Burkhardt (MA '13)

College students are no strangers to social media. Students are heavy users of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other online sites. But using social media as a public relations or journalism tool can be tricky even for the savvy college student.

DU's media, film & journalism studies department hosted this spring a five-hour workshop on social media specifically for strategic communications students, helping them learn how to use new media in proper and innovative ways.

Geoff Renstrom (MA '11), account executive at Linhart Public Relations, and Misty Montano, digital content manager at KUSA-TV, led the workshop and shared their wide-ranging expertise on the relevance of social media for public relations pros and journalists alike. Renstrom and Montano shared numerous examples from their professional experience in managing social networks for various clients and audiences.

They also offered tips on how to maintain an organization's social media presence in just five or ten minutes a day. Participants learned that over 93 percent of social media users today believe that companies and organizations should have a presence on social channels. Yet the real value of social media for businesses and nonprofits remains elusive for many professionals.

Montano and Renstrom reaffirmed that social media tactics and strategies work best when following the same rules for any communication plan. Here are some of the key takeaways from the day:

Know your audience

Know who you need to reach on each social platform and what their expectations are. Do your followers on Twitter want to know industry news? Do your followers on Facebook want posts about your office culture? Figure out which content resonates most on each channel and develop appropriate content strategies.

Determine the personality, tone, language and purpose of your brand

Know why you are on social media and how you should speak and act in different channels. Always speak in your brand's true voice. Is your brand playful? Serious? Humble? Sarcastic? Develop messaging based on your brand's personality and your strategic goals.

Use social media to start and maintain conversations, not just as a broadcasting tool

While social media can be a great place to boast about your wonderful product or service, be careful to not use it solely to push out information. Social networks are a great place to interact with your consumers, drive new engagement, and create a more loyal brand following. Also, the relationships you foster now will work in your favor when a crisis strikes.

Pick a channel that fits your goals and keep the content flowing

Your brand does not have to be on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, and Foursquare all at once. After you determine your social media goals, pick a platform that best serves your goals and maintain a consistent presence. It's better to not be on social media at all if you cannot keep content up to date on the channels you choose.

Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate

While ROI with social media can be tricky to determine, there are many tools out there that can help track impressions, engagement, and click through rates. Some favorite free services include Social Mention, Twitonomy, Facebook Insights, and Google Analytics.

The workshop was timely for graduate students, many of whom aspire to careers in public communication where social media plays a growing role. The biggest challenge for PR practitioners and journalists might be the technological learning curve. But Renstrom and Montano showed how social platforms can be managed confidently by applying tried and true strategic communication principles.