Seasoned interactive specialist with experience in new media and traditional marketing

Content Marketing Experiential Learning Project

For those of you that don’t know I am an Adjunct Instructor in the Harbert College of Business at Auburn University. War Eagle!  I teach Marketing on the Internet (MKTG 4500) an undergraduate marketing elective.

This past spring a student recommended, in their end-of-semester evaluation, that I supplement the content marketing and social media marketing material that I cover in class with some sort of practical, hands-on application.  I thought this was such a good idea that I spent the summer developing an experiential learning project.  With significant help from Scott Cowley, an Arizona State University Marketing Ph.D. candidate, the MKTG 4500 BuzzFeed Halloween project was born.  This project gave students real-world content marketing experience, allowing them to apply an array of digital marketing fundamentals in a dynamic way.  Based on class feedback, it also had strong learning outcomes among performers and non-performers.

One of the largest, most popular creative platforms, BuzzFeed.com, provides an ideal ground for a project that allows students to gain first-person experience.  As an overview, the BuzzFeed Halloween project had students create and publish a piece of Halloween-related “clickbait” on BuzzFeed’s open publishing platform.  Each student also had to produce a strategic promotion plan, including the identification of relevant channels, social media influencers, and entities to aid diffusion.  Students published their BuzzFeed posts roughly at the same time, a week before Halloween, and executed their promotion plans to drive at least 1,000 pageviews in a week (a high enough goal to discourage mere “click-begging” from friends).  BuzzFeed’s built-in author analytics provided students with real-time feedback about their own performances so that they could modify plans to reach the goal.  At the conclusion of the promotion period, students assessed their own campaign outcomes compared to their strategies and provided personal take-a-ways along with screenshots of their analytics as proof of performance.

So what happened?

There are 41 students in my class this Fall semester and the class pageview average was 17,719.  I had three students cross the 100,000 mark with a few more hitting over 50,000.

One student even generated 240K+ pageviews over the seven day promotion period for her BuzzFeed quiz, How Well Do You Remember The “Slutty Pumpkin” Episode Of “HIMYM”?  I was blown away.  This is a significant amount of traffic for a first-time BuzzFeed contributor and novice content marketer.  Part of her success was rooted in the segment she hyper-targeted.  Hyper-targeting, a concept I cover in class, is narrowly focusing on niche audiences and is just a couple steps removed from full personalization.  Digital marketers need to be good at both personalization and hyper-targeting, due to increasing data availability and the focus on content marketing.  The student also did an excellent job with her influencer outreach and campaign management and she leveraged the built-in analytics expertly.

Please note, there were many students who fell short of the 1,000 pageview minimum requirement, but in their feedback they said they learned a lot from the experience.  Here are a select few quotes…

  • “All in all this gave me great hands on experience with content marketing. I will definitely take what I’ve learned, the good and especially the bad, and use it for the next time I have to create content online and market it.”
  • “This really has taught me a lot because I know people in the class who received 100K+ views and they said it was addicting which I agree even with my low view count.”
  • “Something positive that I didn’t expect was the amount of views that my quiz received. I was absolutely thrilled with the turn out and I will definitely be doing another BuzzFeed community article soon. I was shocked by how much I enjoyed the experience.”

I even had three students tell me that people have reached out to them with part-time content marketing job opportunities.

Definitely, a very successful outcome for this experiential learning project.  If you are interested in learning more don’t hesitate to contact me.  Also, I strongly recommend reaching out to Scott Cowley.  He has a wealth of resources available for marketing educators that you can adapt for your specific class needs and he is super helpful!

I look forward to repeating this project next semester.  Look for a follow-up post with up-to-date lessons learned around Valentine’s Day next year.