Monday, August 24, 2009

New Assignment: Optimizing a News Release for Search Engines

I'm teaching our PR survey class this semester and instead of reusing the traditional news release assignment for the writing part of the course, I thought I'd try something a little different this year: I'm having students optimize their news release for search engines. Students will still write a traditional news release, but once that has been graded, they will then take their release, make the necessary corrections and optimize it. The assignment is described below. It's very much inspired by a position paper on search engine visibility published by Steve Rubel on behalf of Edelman. I'd love to hear from anyone who's done this in their class already - anything I'm missing?

The Assignment: Optimized News Release

As we have seen, news releases and the messages they contain increasingly end up on the Internet where they get indexed by search engines. Since these messages have become searchable, it is important to include words and phrases Internet users would use intuitively when searching for content related to that message. Having read Edelman’s position paper on the issue and having discussed search engine and message optimization in class, it is now your turn to take your SEU news release and optimize it. For this assignment, you will need to identify a set of keywords/keyword phrases for use in your optimized news release. Use free tools such as Wordtracker, Google Insights, Google Adwords, or Microsoft’s AdCenter Labs to do so. You may also want to check Twitter Search or Facebook Lexicon to get a sense for the natural words and phrases people use to talk about your type of topic.

  1. Accurately reflect how people talk & search (natural language)
  2. Face little competition from other keywords

Once you’ve decided on your keywords, strategically incorporate them into your news release (see the Edelman position paper for tips on how to do so).


  1. Your revised & optimized news release with the keywords highlighted in bold print
  2. A short paper listing the keywords/keyword phrases you decided on and explaining why you chose them and how they fit the 2 keyword requirements outlined above. Include screenshots of the visuals generated by tools such as Google Insights to back up your argument.
  3. A Twitter pitch for your news release of no more than 140 characters. Use a separate page for this pitch. Your pitch should incorporate at least one of your keywords. Since this is not an official SEU news release, do not send it out over Twitter. For tips on writing effective Twitter copy, check out this example.

Grading Criteria:

Your optimized news release will be evaluated based on the following criteria:

  1. Quality of the writing (10 pts.)
  2. Properly optimized
    1. Keywords incorporated into headline (10 pts.)
    2. Keywords incorporated into body (10 pts.)
    3. Keywords bolded (only bolded words will be considered) (10 pts.)
  3. Quality of the paper
    1. Lists keywords (10 pts.)
    2. Provides rationale for choice of keywords (10 pts.)
    3. Explains how keywords fit reqs (natural language & competition) (10 pts.)
    4. Provides screenshots to back up rationale (10 pts.)
  4. Twitter pitch
    1. Within the 140 character limit (10 pts.)
    2. Incorporates keyword(s) (10 pts.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Creating a social learning environment in the college classroom

It's back to school for us next week and to start off the semester, I'll be giving a presentation to our faculty on how to create a social learning environment in the college classroom. Since I can only cover so much in a 20-minute talk, I've decided to focus my presentation on a conceptual discussion of social learning and cover the how-to aspect in a series of tutorials on this blog.

The idea behind creating a social learning environment is to get students to engage the course material critically and to have them keep their eyes open for interesting material to share with their peers. By having to provide their own examples, students learn to reflect upon course concepts and simultaneously learn to evaluate their peers’ contributions. Such environments allow students to contribute course material and share relevant stories, articles, videos, and pictures in near real-time with both their classmates and instructor around the clock. Although this type of sharing of insights isn’t new, we now have technologies allowing us to do so much more efficiently. My presentation will discuss three technologies instructors can use to set up a social learning space for their classes: (a) Delicious Social Bookmarks, (B) Zoho Creator Databases, and (c) Blackboard Scholar. I have created a tutorial on how to set up each and have embedded them below.

The first tutorial covers setting up Delicious and pulling it into Blackboard through a simple Yahoo Pipe. I have students contribute at least one quality resource a week on a topic discussed in class that week. These contributions can take on the form of relevant news stories, articles, videos, podcasts, or slideshows. We occasionally review these bookmarks in class. During those reviews, students are expected to tell their classmates about the resource and why they think it serves as a good illustration of a particular course concept.

The second tutorial is based on Mike Wesch's 94 articles activity and explains how to set up Zoho Creator databases and how to connect them to Blackboard.

The last tutorial is a brief introduction to Blackboard Scholar, a social bookmarking service offered through Blackboard.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Favorite slideshows from my social media class

Over the course of the past few semesters I have made some of the slideshows I use in class publicly available on Slideshare. I also shared most of them on this blog. Since I periodically get requests for particular ones, I've decided to make the most popular ones available in one post here:

Blogging 101:

Twitter for PR:

Using Twitter to Connect with Audiences:

Twitter & Social Media for Crisis Communication:
Monitoring Conversations Online: