Carnegie Mellon University

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April 01, 2011

Students Hit the Road To Tackle Social Media Challenges

By Ken Walters

The course “Measuring Social Initiatives” at Heinz College is taking students everywhere from executive boardrooms to truck stops.

Now in its third semester, the course is popular with students and gaining attention from major corporations. Student teams work with companies to create solutions to help businesses capitalize on social media trends and technology.

“Companies are investing resources into social communities and channels to help build and engage audiences, but find they don’t always meet their objectives,” said Ari Lightman, practice professor of digital media and marketing. “Working with our students provides them with analytic expertise to create strategies that will deliver positive results, while also gaining access to the generation of individuals who use this technology all the time.”

With a group of diverse clients, students benefit from a range of experiences, whether it’s helping a company improve existing social campaigns or build an online social strategy from scratch.

Which brings us to the truck stop.

Students teamed with Progressive Commercial, a division of Progressive Insurance, to help truckers build a social media presence.

As part of their research, one student took a road trip and visited various truck stops, asking truckers what kinds of information they would find useful on a mobile application. The student team also met with an official at Pitt-Ohio, a trucking and transportation solutions company.

“We learned that truckers, who are always on the road, would find value in a mobile application that aggregates relevant industry information,” said Maxine Markfield, a master’s student in the college’s Public Policy and Management Program. “When they are hauling loads from location to location, they want to know information about the shippers. When they arrive with the load, will the shipper turn it around quickly?

Where can they park?

“Truckers are also interested in finding the best truck stops. They want to know about cleanliness, food quality, are pets allowed and is Internet access available,” she added.

Working with Progressive Commercial, the students designed a crowdsourcing application, which allows truckers to provide and share timely information about shipping locations and truck stops, Markfield said. She noted Progressive Commercial was pleased with the project, adding that it provided value to the trucker community and the company.

The Progressive Commercial team wasn’t the only group of students hitting
the road. Credit Suisse, a multinational financial services company, invited a team of students to its New York office.

“The students enjoyed two days of solid meetings, learning about the company and industry so that they could provide strategies and recommendations for an internal social collaboration and communication initiative,” Lightman said.

Other students worked with eBay on a project to help the company connect with hobbyists, an important audience for the online auction and shopping website. The group conducted research on how social commerce affects buyers and sellers, and proposed an application to develop greater levels of engagement with this key stakeholder group.

“The companies we bring in want to do more projects with us,” Lightman said, noting that recent sponsors have included SAP, Comcast, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tom’s of Maine. “In the future, I’d like to team up with different departments on campus so we can create a center where companies can be fully educated on the social media space, including such areas as design, regulations, privacy issues and brand sentiment.”