Classroom Consultants

In Sy Syms Social Media Marketing Course, Students Become the Experts

They’re brainstorming viral campaigns, submitting budget proposals, developing websites, pitching to media and conferencing with clients—and that’s just during this week’s class sessions.

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Sy Syms students in the Social Media Marketing course taught by Professor Steven Chan (center) offer personal finance help in Washington Square Park as part of their campaign.

They’re students in the new Social Media Marketing course at Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business, and if their workload sounds more like a typical day at a marketing agency than a college lecture, it’s no accident. There are no textbooks and few required readings for this course. Instead, the class operates on one simple principle: learn by doing.

“Social media has become a phenomenon in our culture, something that can’t be ignored by any kind of business or anyone who’s trying to communicate anything online,” said Assistant Professor of Marketing Steven Chan, who designed and is leading the course. “There’s no foundation to teaching this kind of thing because it’s a new medium that’s just come about in the last few years. To me it would be boring and beside the point to teach it in a textbook way.”

As Chan considered different models for the course, a call from Jonathan Struhl ‘09SB, an alumnus who ran a hugely successful social media campaign at his first job out of college and went on to create his own agency, gave him an idea.

“One of the challenges undergraduates face these days is how to take the degree they earned and get a job right off the bat with those skills,” said Chan. “Great work experience is what’s going to set you apart when you enter the workforce. We thought, instead of studying case scenarios, why not make an agency out of the class and build teachings around it? It’s a completely unique idea—hopefully, this course will give students hands-on experience that’s not only going to teach them social media in a totally new way, but will help them find a job and be good at it when they graduate.”

20141113_syms_social_media_37“I think it’s a cool concept that will help everyone involved—the students as well as the clients,” said Struhl. “Social media is that one thing right now that the younger generation can do that the C-level executives aren’t familiar with, but know they need to participate in. I know how to onboard a client, pitch a client and execute a campaign, and we’re figuring out how to run the students through that process to give them an edge. They have the opportunity to really move the needle on projects for clients, which I find exciting.”

So Chan turned an ordinary classroom into a campaign headquarters. In small teams, students develop strategies to help real companies and organizations see real differences in their marketing and brand awareness. Their client list is diverse, ranging from Pint Pal, a startup that makes cozies for ice cream lovers who like to eat straight from the pint, to the Young Israel movement, to an organization fundraising for Ebola research.

The class is also collaborating together on a larger project: the Credit Karma Campus Challenge. Sponsored by Credit Karma and hosted by EdVenture Partners, the competition calls for students to create an integrated marketing campaign aimed at educating the target market—college students and young professionals—on the value of understanding and managing credit through the Credit Karma site and its resources, and driving them to become members. The class is given a $1,500 budget to implement their plan. If the Sy Syms students win, they’ll fly to San Francisco, California, and pitch their idea to top executives at the company.

“It’s a win-win: the company is gaining brand awareness in college audiences, and students experience a real work atmosphere and are able to say, ‘I worked with this client and implemented a successful campaign,’ ” said Chan.

So far, their strategy is as expansive as it is unexpected, including everything from a feel-good viral campaign that dares social media users to pass along acts of kindness (“Good karma, good credit”) to a social media scavenger hunt around campus. The class also set up a whimsical, Peanuts-style advice booth in Washington Square Park this week where passersby can seek personal financial help and learn more about Credit Karma.

20141113_syms_social_media_49“As a team, our approach at Syms is to make learning about credit and personal finance fun and engaging for college students and young professionals,” said Chan. “One of the reasons this group isn’t well-educated about personal finance is that it can seem boring and abstract. Our marketing campaign highlights topics like how to get your first credit card, why credit matters for students, and so on, incorporating the Credit Karma resources—a free credit score and online lessons to manage your personal finance—in a fresh, fun way.”

All that field work on campaigns is contextualized by guest lecturers like Struhl, who share their own experiences in the evolving world of social media and marketing, and insights into consumer behavior and social psychology drawn from Chan’s background in management consulting and academia.

Jason Wasser, a senior majoring in marketing with a minor in business, feels the skills he has learned in this course will play a pivotal role in his job search when he graduates in January. “Something that I have learned so far has been the importance of knowing your target market and their interests,” he said. “By providing me with the unique opportunity to work with two real companies, Credit Karma and Pint Pal, this course has better prepared me to interact with clients and fulfill their needs in the future.”

“We actually have a budget from Credit Karma and we have to base our decisions on the amount of money we have to work with,” said Daniel Livi, a senior majoring in marketing. “For me, it feels like I’m actually working for a marketing firm that is running a social media campaign for a client. We live in a time where a strong social media presence is one of the most important aspects of a company. I believe this experience will help me in the future no matter what field I enter.”

“This course has been a welcome breath of fresh air,” said Daniel Redlich, a senior majoring in business marketing. “It’s all very hands on. I’m in charge of web development and on the tech team, which runs the campaign’s social media as well as building and managing our website. We have deadlines from our clients that we have to keep, so handing in your work on time has a different feel—it’s a lot more responsibility, but there’s a lot more opportunity to step up to the plate.”

“It’s really a lot of fun,” he added. “It’s not what you would expect from a business course, but that’s how it should be.”

Check out upcoming events on campus for the class’s Credit Karma campaign.