viral video PR writing assignment recap

This semester in my PR writing class at the University of Georgia, I tasked my students to create videos which we hope would “go viral.” The purpose of the assignment was put the students’ ability to:

  • identify their audiences
  • determine the correct appeal
  • create a message that would resonate.

To ensure this wasn’t just a “cool YouTube assignment,” I had students turn in storyboards which I graded as an assignment & gave feed back on publics, appeal and messaging.

In preparation of this month-long team project, we welcomed Converseon‘s Paull Young into our classroom via Skype to tell us the secrets of making videos so good that they just can’t help but go viral. (watch here and here.)

I invited our client for the project, UGA Admissions, to come in to talk about their admissions recruiting process, the distinctly different audiences (parents, high school students, transfer students, etc.) and what they’d like to achieve with the video project. I asked the NOT to tell us the content of the videos they’d like — let us creatively see what we can come up with — but focus on an end-project goal with us instead.

Student were promised bonus points if UGA Admissions picked their video for use in the recruiting efforts. I also held a “viral showdown” where all the videos competed against one another and the top two most popular videos (videos with the most views) got bonus points as well. Interestingly, there was some difference in the make-up of the winners for the Admission-selected videos and the most viewed videos.

In grading the viral videos, I created a standard rubric looking again at publics, appeal and message. Given Paull’s advice to the students, I also looked for whether there was a call to action. Additionally, I looked at the technical quality – could you hear the dialogue, were the transitions adequate, etc. All copyrighted material (music, images) was both acknowledged in the credits of the film and students provided me proof of permission for use for everything. (We don’t believe in stealing music or photos here & that was another lesson I wanted to teach.)

Because these videos were posted on my YouTube account, I was able to look at the YouTube InSights data for each video. Along with the graded feedback from the rubrics sheets, students received print outs of the InSight data on who was looking at their video (gender, ages, location), how they found the video (referrers & search terms) as well as the neat “hot spots” graph which I annotated to show where people might have rewound the video or at which point they abandoned watching it.

In the end, the students loved the project and I feel it showed the professional approach PR can take with making social media content. Just because it is on YouTube does not mean that you can steal music to play in the background or that you should forget everything you learned about messaging.

I gave students a month to work on it outside of class. They were in teams of 3-4 people, self-selected. They were given full creative control of their content for the video & just received consultation-type feedback from me. They checked out my flip cams to record the videos (2-day check out for each of my 2 flip cams) & most of them taught themselves how to use iMovie to create the video. While I offered some level of tech support, few asked me any questions at all.

If you’re curious, UGA Admissions selected:
#1: Lessons Learned: Katherine Durham, Danielle Sender, Devin Zimmerman
#2: My UGA: Kristin Ballard, Ryan Barnes, Magan Cowart, Meredith Schneider

The viral showdown winners were (views as of April 28, 2009):
#1: My UGA: Kristin Ballard, Ryan Barnes, Magan Cowart, Meredith Schneider (1,922 views)
#2: There’s no place like home – UGA: Staci Dale, Katie Brown, Katie Holcomb (1,369 views)

You can watch all the videos, some admittedly better than others, at this YouTube playlist.

This was cross-posted at the PR Profs blog.

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