As bright pink donation boxes for Brock’s United Way Period Promise campaign appeared across campus last month, students in the Department of Communication, Popular Culture and Film used carefully crafted social media posts to encourage donors to fill them.
For three weeks in March, Assistant Professor Michelle Chen’s COMM 4P65 students channelled their learning and creativity into producing content, analyzing data and pulling out all the stops to engage the Brock community on the issue of period poverty.
It’s the second year in a row that Chen’s social media students have worked with United Way Niagara. While last year’s cohort focused on pitching campaigns, this class took the project a step further.
“It’s very different to pitch something than it is to actually do it,” Chen says.
Students worked in groups focusing on one social media platform each — TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Fourth-year Business Communication major Leanne MacAskill says the project stood out to her because it gave her a chance to both be creative and learn about a social issue that hadn’t previously been on her radar — one that became a “driving factor” as she and her group members tackled the project.
“Period poverty affects individuals in many ways that I did not think of, such as missing events or learning opportunities due to not having menstrual products,” she says. “Being able to provide support for those in need really influenced the amount of effort that we put into promoting the Period Promise Campaign.”
Fourth-year Media and Communication Studies student Rani Hansalia wasn’t new to the field of social media marketing, having worked in social media strategy for companies with big budgets. But learning to rely on creativity and experimentation instead of paid advertising taught her some valuable lessons.
“One thing I learned through this experience promoting a social cause on social media was to use my resources wisely and really find ways to connect and resonate with the audience,” she says.
Hansalia was also interested to see how small shifts in timing and targeting based on audience response could yield big results.
“Some of the details that we focused on ended up working towards the overall audience reach of the posts, and that helped us narrow our target audience reach to the users who would be able to donate to the campaign cause,” she says. “I was always under the impression that if something is working, there’s no need for change, but this project helped me understand how the world around us is always changing and while consistency is good and essential, newness within that consistency is what the audience seeks.”
The project included several phases and steps to ensure that content was on brand and representative of the campaign’s goals.
“All posts were pre-approved by me and two members of Brock’s United Way Committee, and during the last week of the campaign, the communications manager of United Way Niagara came to our meeting and gave feedback that was very helpful,” says Chen. “Students said the approval process made it very real to them.”
Another big lesson surrounded potential controversy and being ready for online backlash.
“As part of the planning process, students created a social media contingency plan, thinking about issues or comments that might come up in this campaign and how they would respond to negative comments,” says Chen. “It was an important part of developing hands-on skills in direct application. It’s one thing to learn about social media theories and strategies, but it’s another to play around with them and see how they work in the real world, and that’s what I encourage the students to do.”
Associate Professor Colleen Whyte (BRLS ’97), Faculty Co-Chair of Brock’s United Way Campaign, describes the partnership with Chen’s class as a “wonderful experience.”
“Students were engaged and committed to this very important campaign,” says Whyte. “It was exciting to see how students were able to spread the message via various social media platforms.”
For MacAskill, learning the ins and outs of social media on behalf of a not-for-profit organization and seeing results in real time has made a lasting impression.
“There were many lessons learned,” she says. “It was a great feeling to see the analytics and metrics of our group’s posts and the number of impressions we had, and it was great to get feedback from United Way Niagara.”