Twitter in the Classroom: Marketing Case Study

Monday I introduced the idea of using Twitter in the classroom and shared a video of a “Twitter experiment” conducted at a university in Texas. Students these days are not being engaged by their teachers as well as they could be because they are used to sharing information via social networking sites (SNS) and educational institutions have been slow to embrace SNSs (such as Twitter). To elaborate further on this specific topic, today I briefly summarize the results of a recent study by University of Kent marketing professors Ben Lowe and Des Laffey. They developed their own Twitter experiment in a graduate-level marketing course. Long story short, they found that Twitter does indeed have a positive impact on the classroom, while not being as interactive as they thought it would be.

The Lit Review

Like all proper research articles, Lowe and Laffey (2011) begin with a concise yet detailed review of past research about Twitter as it applies to pedagogy and learning. Summarizing the results of another study, they begin by stating,

With rapid adoption of Web 2.0 technologies among the student population and a gap between student take up and academic take up of Web 2.0 technologies, it would seem pertinent to evaluate the learning benefits to students of using these new technologies within the classroom (p. 183).

They then provide detailed information about Twitter and it’s growth, including the fact that in 2009, there was a 1,000% increase in the number of visits to the site (p. 184). After the introduction to Twitter, they list a few specific benefits, all based on previous research, of the website in term’s of its education use. Four of them are:

  • Conciseness: Tweets being limed to 140 characters provides a number of benefits for the academic setting. The students are more likely to read the short messages (just like a text message) when compared to longer e-mails. Thus, tweets might gain more of their attention. Furthermore, writing tweets to communicate with students is much less burdensome for the instructor, since the website was designed to be extremely user-friendly.
  • Robustness: Twitter is very powerful when it comes to its capability to quickly facilitate the sharing of information that is related to the specific class.
  • Convenience: Users (both students and teachers) can tweet wherever and whenever they want, including from cell phones via either text messaging, the Internet, or applications (the latter two being only on smartphones).
  • Nonintrusive: While it is a SNS, Twitter is not as intrusive into the personal lives of students as some social sites. Students may just choose to follow the class tweets without participating or sharing a lot of information. This is important because many students need to know their privacy is secure before choosing to interact with a teacher over SNS.

Lowe and Laffey predict their Twitter experiment will succeed in (1) sharing with the class “real-world” marketing concepts in a timely fashion (Twitter is used by marketers in the world outside the classroom) and (2) leading to a more up-to-date course with “better linking between theory and practice in a contemporary manner” (p. 185).

The Experiment

There were 123 students in the course the authors worked with, and 80 of them voluntarily chose to participate. These students were introduced to Twitter (if they didn’t know it already) and were asked to follow the tweets of the class. After eight weeks, interviews were conduced to get a feel for student perceptions of Twitter in the classroom. The data from the interviews, along with some previously established information, was used to construct a quantitative likert-type survey. The survey was then given to the participants as well.

Results and Implications

According to the authors,

The results of the Twitter project provide strong evidence that Twitter enhanced a variety of learning outcomes in the course for Twitter followers (p. 190).

Even though this project was voluntary and students did not receive a grade for it, more than 65% chose to follow the course’s tweets and, as the authors note, the benefits of using Twitter included,

…enhanced learning about the subject of marketing, a more enjoyable module, concise and useful communication, timeliness, greater realism, great application of marketing theory to real-world examples, and career skills in the use of new technology (p. 187).

While some students did not like the idea because they saw it as an extra burden in their lives (p. 186), a significant number did seem to enjoy the experiment and to benefit from it positively. One finding that surprised the researchers was that Twitter did not increase student interactivity. While it did increase the amount of information they learned about the specific class concept, it did not seem to encourage the students to interact more with each other and their teacher (p. 187). This might be due to the big class size, and the authors assume interactivity (such as tweeting back) would increase in a smaller class because there would be more time for discussion (p. 189).

Finally, just as I said on Monday, the authors here do not propose for Twitter to replace more traditional communication tools for the classroom, they just see it as a great add-on:

[Twitter] should be viewed not as a substitute for other learning technologies but as an easy to use complement to integrate with existing learning technologies (p. 190).

How KONY2012 Persuaded You (Part I)

If you haven’t seen the Kony2012 video yet, I recommend you check it out by clicking here. It is the most viral video in history with over 110 million total views on the Internet in seven days. These days, anything that gets the attention of so many people inevitably turns into a controversy, and this video is no different.

Today I discuss the aims of the video and then describe, from a Communication concept perspective, why it has been such a viral hit. Tomorrow, I will address the controversy regarding the intentions of the organization which created this campaign.

What is it All About?

The Kony2012 video was created by American nonprofit organization Invisible Children, and it’s aim is to create awareness of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) he leads. Kony considers himself to be a spokesperson of God, and the LRA is a Christian militia (it was previously known at the Holy Spirit Movement), which aims to resist the rule of the Ugandan government, to give the Acholi people of Northern Uganda a voice they have not had for decades, and to create a theocracy in Uganda based on the Ten Commandments (note some observers have said their ideology is unclear). This war in Uganda and the surrounding region has been waged for 26 years.

During their operations in Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the LRA has committed countless human rights violations, including enslaving children and using them as sex slaves and as child soldiers because the group ran out of volunteers. The United States assisted Uganda militarily in 2009 in their fight against the LRA and again provided assistance when President Obama sent one hundred “military advisers” to the area last October.

The goal of the Kony2012 video is for American youth to become aware of the LRA and of Kony, to pressure cultural and political leaders into speaking out about the issue, and to speak out themselves to pressure the US government to keep their advisers there, so that they can help to capture Kony and presumably, defeat the LRA.

Why is the Video Such a Hit?

Why has this video become such a huge viral hit, when there are many similar issues in the world and many videos online advocating for those issues a well?

Many have written about why it has been so successful (see here, here, and here, for a start), but I have yet to see a critique of it’s success based on a persuasive technique that I saw being employed in the video. Good editing is not the only reason people become emotionally attached to documentaries; there must be a good story and persuasive strategy behind them as well. Which group of people are experts at combining good stories and good editing to sell the audience ideas?


As this blogger suggests, the Kony2012 campaign is a genius example of an excellent grassroots marketing campaign. In the Communication discipline, we study the persuasive techniques involved in marketing and why they are successful. One of the most widely incorporated persuasive techniques is Monroe’s Motivated Sequence, which I briefly discussed here. The sequence has five basic steps that, if followed in order and done well, are supposed to be a foolproof technique to motivate an audience. The five steps are (in this order) to gain audience attention, establish a need, provide satisfaction, show a visualization of that satisfaction, and finally, to provide a call to action.

I have watched the KONY2012 video three times, and (whether the creators planned this or not), have noticed that it definitely uses Monroe’s Motivated Sequence. This sequence has been used  for decades because it works in persuading audiences, and it is one of the main reasons this video succeeds in getting an emotional response from it’s target audience. To show you this, I took screenshots depicting the different stages of Monroe’s Sequence as they were incorporated into the video. Another highly persuasive aspect of this video that I have not seen widely discussed is the use of music. It contributes a lot, especially because they used music that is popular to some young adults today, yet still dramatic enough for the video; such as Mumford & Sons and Nine Inch Nails. I encourage you to play the song below (which was used in the video) as you look at the screenshots, to get the full effect (if you get an advertisement from YouTube, sorry!)




1. Gain Attention

The voiceover begins by telling us that right now, there are more people on Facebook than there were in the world two hundred years ago, and the last line of the introduction proclaims:

The next twenty-seven minutes are an experiment, but in order for it to work, you have to pay attention.

By showing the spectacular images, the images of social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, including the dramatic music, and ending with the countdown clock and the teaser (what’s the experiment?), the introduction effectively gains our attention and pretty much guarantees that most young adults will not stop watching.




2. Establish Need

In this case, the producers spend a lot of time establishing the need. First, we are shown that the narrator (and presumed hero of the video) has a cute child, and this actually helps to establish his credibility, because we are more likely to trust a parent. This is why politicians love babies. Then we are shown another child, Jacob, who is Ugandan and who cries because of the devastation he has seen and because his brother was presumably killed by the LRA. Our hero (Mr. Jason Russell) promises Jacob that he will stop the LRA, and then tells his cute little boy, Gavin, about the evil Kony, and shows us the huge need for action that exists because of all of the horrible things Kony has done (he’s pretty much Hitler, as implied in the video).




3. Provide Satisfaction 

After grabbing our attention and establishing a need by showing us all of the terrible things that Kony has done to the kids in central Africa, the video provides us with satisfaction by showing us what can be done to solve the problem, or the “need”. The main suggestion here is that a united voice of concerned citizens working together (online and offline) should pressure the government to keep the American military advisers in the region, so they can help to capture Kony.  The narrator continues:

In order for Kony to be arrested this year, the Ugandan military has to find him, in order to find him, they need the technology and training to track him in the vast jungle. That’s where the American advisers come in. But in order for the American advisers to be there, the US government has to deploy them. They’ve done that, but if the government doesn’t believe the people care about arresting Kony, the mission will be canceled. In order for the people to care, they have to know. And they will only know if Kony’s name is everywhere.




4. Visualize Solution

The solution is visualized in two very quick but powerful shots. First, a hypothetical front page of the New York Times discussing the capture of Kony and second, a (fake) family being reunited with their son.




5. Call to Action

The final step of Monroe’s Sequence, the call to action, is probably the most blatant one, because the narrator tells the audience, “We know what we have to do, here it is..” and then the video presents the above sequence. The audience is encouraged to “make Kony famous” by signing up for an action kit and using the materials in it to make Kony famous. Furthermore, the audience is encouraged to contact celebrities and politicians and to tell them they support the fight against Kony. Technology is mentioned again; the supporters are encouraged to tweet at the celebrities and politicians, and they are told they can take a photo of their Kony posters with cell phones and tag it onto the Internet. The narrator proudly proclaims:

Arresting Joesph Kony will prove that the world we live in has new rules, that the technology that has brought our planet together is allowing us to respond to the problems of our friends.

At this point of the video, many young adults will have been persuaded to support the campaign because of the catchy music, the inspirational narration, the incorporation of technology they can relate to, and the individual stories of the children and the hero, Mr. Russell.

The creators of this video, just like creators of infomercials, knew most people would already be sold on the idea by the end of the video, and they also knew that sharing content on the Internet is second nature to young adults. Thus, the last call to action explicitly calls for the audience to share the video with their friends.

The obvious use of Monroe’s Motivated Sequence to create an emotional appeal, combined with the extremely simple call to action at the very end (share this with your social networks!), the excellent editing, and the brilliant use of music are the reasons this video has become the most viral video in history.