If you’re not already on social media, you can download the apps and get started in a matter of moments. But learning how to use social media effectively is much more difficult than searching the app store, and there’s no better way to learn than by doing. That’s why social media marketing students at FLC work in tandem with local companies to develop new marketing strategies and campaigns.
“It’s a cutthroat world, and people don't think they need a marketer to do marketing for them,” Marketing senior Kandi Buck says. “You think social media is going to do it by itself. I didn’t realize there was so much strategy to it. Having a whole semester dedicated to social media opened my eyes. This is a massive tool.”
The class, Social Media Marketing, is an upper-division Marketing elective taken primarily by Marketing, Art, and Business Administration majors each fall. The class teaches students the basics of professional social media through lectures, research, and hands-on projects where student teams serve as creative firms and consultants for real clients.
The idea of marketing on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram appeals to students like Symon Johnson (Art, ’17), who took the class with FLC’s Director of Marketing and Adjunct Instructor of Marketing Lindsay Nyquist. He has engaged with advertising campaigns on these platforms for years, and he appreciated learning from the person who conducts social media marketing for the College.
“She went through the process of what she does and how she does it,” Johnson says. “I found it really interesting how she approaches social media for Fort Lewis. It’s really about figuring out how to curate those posts and elevate yourself into the greater sphere of the social media world.”
He also benefitted from figuring out the analytic side of self-promotion on different platforms. “Lindsay looks at demographics and how you can tailor your posts, do A/B testing on Facebook, test hashtags on Instagram, or find the right keywords on Twitter,” he says. “It’s about figuring out how to properly operate on each platform.”
It’s one thing to learn the theory behind promoting a brand, though, and another thing altogether to practice it for actual businesses. After all, as Buck says, this is a way to get a business’s name out there to a lot of people.
“What did we do before?” she says. “We sent mail. People are more likely to click open a link than they are to open an envelope. That’s why social media is really important. Everybody’s on it. It’s a way of life now.”
Buck and her two teammates got the chance to tackle the social media marketing plan for KSUT, one of southwest Colorado’s public radio stations. The station had a social media presence already, she notes, but the posts were infrequent and ineffective. However, the station was open to suggestions.
“They needed somebody to do their social media, first and foremost,” Buck says. “We told them, ‘You have to post several times a day. Do contests. Show your listeners and your followers things that are happening in the studio.’ They started doing that more often, and they actually implemented some of the things we suggested to them in the strategy that we wrote. They listened to us.”
For another segment of the Social Media Marketing course, Johnson’s team competed to develop a new marketing campaign for the local craft brewers at Ska Brewing.
“The idea to help market Ska was to figure out what they could do differently that they haven’t done before,” he says. “I wanted to keep Ska fun and approachable for people who didn’t know Ska already.”
Ska is already known for its comic-book styling on its packaging, and when Johnson’s team visited the brewery, the staff talked about each of the beers having their own personality and niche within the business. He got to thinking about how to spotlight those particular characteristics of the beers as if they were indeed characters, and he came up with the concept of a cartoonish tournament voted on by followers.
The team had to work through all the logistics of the promotional media for a March Madness bracket of microbrews, and they ended up relying on the newly unveiled Instagram Polls feature. They filmed a fifteen-second promotional video with boxing beer cans that would allow viewers to vote on their favorite brew.
“It’s important to have a creative mindset to think about the big picture of what a company wants and how you can approach it,” Johnson says. “Not only in a business way, but also having fun with it and showing what quirks the business is known for.”
They pitched the beer-bracket idea to Ska, and were chosen as the winners of the campaign competition. “It was a shock to get picked,” Johnson says. “It gives you hope that, when you actually go into the industry, you’ll have valid creative ideas to help promote a future campaign or company.”
After completing the course, both Buck and Johnson are working as private consultants for small businesses. They credit the Social Media Marketing course for giving them the experience they needed to understand the ins and outs of real, on-the-ground marketing.
“I wanted to come to a school such as this for career services, for internships, for the resources,” Buck says. “I want this career. I wanted to get started right away.”
She says she’s thankful for the partnerships between the College and the many small businesses in Durango who volunteered to work with the students—and in some cases, actually integrate their ideas. “This town is small enough that they want to be involved with the College,” she says. “All the local businesses around here are so supportive. I rave about that, and it’s because Fort Lewis is just so personable.”
The personal connections have helped both students as they transition into marketing other businesses with the skills, flexibility, and knowledge they learned in Social Media Marketing. As Johnson points out, marketing requires empathy for his clients and their customers if he hopes to succeed.
“Promoting yourself online, you really have to think about who your audience is, who is possible to market to, and what kind of fun and creative skill set you can put on the table,” he says. “And that’s especially true when it comes to social media marketing.”