Preparing future PR professionals using SCVNGR (and politicians)

As educators there are a lot of things we want to accomplish. We want to develop critical thinkers. We want to encourage students to go out and behave ethically and contribute to society. We want to create situations where students feel that what they are learning in the classroom directly relates to what they will be doing in the real world.

This semester I am teaching PR Writing at the Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU. As in previous semesters, I began with the fear that the writing course would become more of a “survey” of writing tactics used to get messages out to internal and external publics. I usually worry that having the students do a news release one week, a social media release the next week, and a feature release the following week is not providing them with enough of an opportunity to REALLY learn these important tactics.

So, this semester I have made some changes to the PR Writing course. Instead of having them write one of each tactic for the client I am having the students write their first news releases, media kits, pitch letters, etc. for the presidential candidate of their choice and then having them complete a “mini-campaign” built around a local nonprofit using SCVNGR (a geolocation-based gaming application) to engage its audience members. This way they get to practice (and receive feedback) in the classroom before they are expected to write for a client as well as get more practice using the tactics we go over in class.

Based on the SCVNGR partnership, for each Baton Rouge nonprofit client they are expected to create a minimum of eight from the following list:

    • Bio Sketch
    • Media Kit (with Fact Sheet & Backgrounder)
    • News Release
    • Feature Release
    • Social Media Release
    • Advertisement (television, radio or print)
    • PSA
    • Newsletter
    • Position Paper
    • Speech
    • Website Plan including Web Blog
    • Event Plan
    • Any other creative assignment the client might want (i.e., postcard, brochure, flyer).

It’s my hope that this combination (practice in class and then create for real-life) moves PR Writing past being a “survey” course. I also hope that it encourages students to develop the critical thinking skills, ethical and professional behaviors and skills they will need to be successful in the real world of public relations.

Follow us on this journey via Facebook (Discover Baton Rouge with SCVNGR) and Twitter (@discoverBTR).

SCVNGR vs. Foursquare challenge

This semester, my Public Relations Writing and Applications students are completing a service-learning project designed to improve Morgantown small-business revenues by incorporating SCVNGR, a geolocation-based mobile application, into their promotions.

SCNVGR, two-screen shot of retail store challenge.

I envisioned that the task would be an easy one. After all, none of the small-business owners have to pay for the mobile challenges, treks, or rewards offered through SCVNGR, nor do they have to design them. The PR students do all the work for them. Then, after the promotions are up and running the PR students write news releases, feature stories, pitch letters, etc. to get each small-business free publicity. I thought the hardest part would be pinning down small-business owners for meetings. I was wrong.

It seems that Morgantown small-business owners are not very familiar with SCVNGR — or it’s competition, Foursquare. This was surprising as a large part of Morgantown revolves around West Virginia University and college students are HUGE users of mobile phones as well as gaming applications. This meant that the hardest part of this task was that students had to explain (often multiple times and in the minutest detail) what location based applications and gamification were.

Sometimes the small-business owner had heard of, or were at least a bit familiar with, SCVNGR‘s competition, Foursquare (which didn’t always work to our advantage).

Foursquare, two-screen shot of check-in and "tip" posting.

So, I decided to ask my Advertising Media Analysis students to take a few weeks to compare the two different geolocation-based mobile applications to see what they thought. My end-goal was to help find ways for the PR students to “sell” SCVNGR services to small-business owners.

Here are the highlights of their findings:

Foursquare

  • “After I started getting the hang of this application it was easy to see how so many people are addicted to “check in” everywhere they go.”
  • “I really enjoyed that if I checked in enough I would earn new badges.”
  • “I like Foursquare because it seems more venues use it.”
  • “With Foursquare you can easily check in at different locations and earn free stuff.”
  • “I’m more prone to visiting a restaurant where I know I can get a discount rather than a restaurant where I buy something at full price. By earning discounts on Foursquare in a college town like Morgantown you have a good chance of increasing sales to WVU student looking to get a dollar or two off their receipt.”
  • “This application seemed like a friend who could give me advice on where to go.”

SCNVGR

  • “SCVNGR is easier to understand because its main page has all the different ways to check in.”
  • “SCVNGR seems to be focused more on businesses and Foursquare seems to be focused on finding new places and doing new things.”
  • “With SCVNGR I had to check in at a place and do a challenge to receive some kind of reward. Generally the rewards from SCVNGR were more tangible, a coupon or a discount, while most of my rewards from Foursquare were just badges.”
  • “I think that SCVNGR has a better application for advertising and promotion… SCVNGR is an advertiser’s dream because it requires people to buy products or at least come into contact with them in order to get what they want.”
  • “SCVNGR offers a better variety of activities at each check in location.”
  • “SCVNGR creates a more interactive environment.”
  • “The rewards aspect of SCVNGR is more appealing to the advertising/promotions side in comparison  to the pure competitive nature of earning points on Foursquare.”
  • “If you are looking to create a buzz to a level where it will actually generate new business then I would highly recommend that you check out SCVNGR.”
  • “SCVNGR has a call to action that Foursquare is missing.”
  • “I like that the application tries to further involve the user past a simple check in.”

Overall, both advertising and public relations students thought that geolocation-based mobile applications were a great new media to utilize.

  • “I think geolocation-based mobile applications are a really great idea to get people interacting in places that they may not usually visit.”
  • “I think geolocation-based mobile applications are fun and useful once you figure out how to use it effectively.”
  • “Overall I think these geolocation-based mobile applications are a great idea just because it causes others to interact with one another with comments about what they think is good and not.”

All of these findings were quite useful… and inevitably have become part of many of the PR groups’ pitches to potential clients. This project is ending soon. Follow it on Facebook and Twitter (pr_324).

The Value of SCVNGR to Small Town Economies

Big cities get the coolest stuff. They get up-scale stores like Tiffany, Burberry and Coach. They have operas, museums and Broadway shows. People in big cities get to use technology first too. Mobile applications like Groupon, Living Social, Foursquare, SCVNGR and LevelUp get released first in big cities and then “trickle-down” to small towns (if the small town is lucky).

People often travel great distances from small towns to big cities for shopping, entertainment and technology — after all, you can’t get the “good” stuff in small towns, can you?

Not so fast…

SCVNGR has been doing a great job of promoting stuff in big towns. Their national clients are doing some of the following promotions:

Universities are getting in on the SCVNGR action too, using the geolocation-based mobile application SCVNGRU to move students, faculty, staff and alumni across campuses:

But does that mean that SCVNGR is just for big cities or universities? No.

Local businesses, entertainment venues, and city organizations are beginning to use SCVNGR and see some great results. They are attracting new customers, improving relationships with existing customers, and getting people excited about what they have to offer. Just a few local establishments successfully using SCVNGR in their promotion strategy are:

A recent article suggests that local businesses strongly benefit from using mobile to understand their customers — from the one-time shopper to the loyalist. Mobile applications like SCVNGR give small businesses information about who their customers are. In addition, the loyalty rewards offered by challenges and treks increases engagement, interaction and repeat customers.

“This is the first time in history when small businesses don’t feel like the Internet is a trick, and see it as a tool to gain more users or better relationships with their current customers” says David Tisch, investor & managing director of TechStars NYC.

The project my public relations writing and applications students are working on is accomplishing the following:

  • Introducing local, small business owners to a new promotion technology.
  • Creating mobile promotions for small businesses to get more college students into local establishments.
  • Building relationships with small business owners — letting them know that college students are interested in helping them out. Thereby giving back to the local community.

Good things really can be found in small towns. Many small business owners just may not know what is available to them. Technology needs to be introduced to small business owners in attempts to improve local economies.

SCVNGR may be more important to a small town business than it is to the bottom lines of large, national chains. Small businesses rely more upon repeat consumers. They need loyalty to remain in business. One-time customers — for example, travelers checking out local shops — don’t necessarily result in consistent sales that small businesses need to stay afloat.

SCVNGR helps let people know what’s available, what deals are to be had, and who else is doing “stuff.”  This is increasingly important as it appears as though using location-based applications is the “new” way to increase traffic for local businesses.

SCVNGR’s influence on sales and brand perception

Throughout the fall 2011 semester my public relations writing and applications students are actively working to bring SCVNGR, the geolocation-based mobile application, to Morgantown, W. Va.

The first question many people as me is, “Why?” Quickly followed by “What will local businesses get from this?”

A recent study by Ogilvy & Mather and Chatthreads contains some insight into the possibilities of this project. Though their study deals with social media (and not mobile gaming) I believe some of their findings transfer.

First, they suggest that social media directly correlates with sales increases. Recent blogs suggest that gamification (via websites and mobile applications) does the same. Consumers get to interact with, engage with and be entertained by your brand. Does engagement lead to sales? An overwhelming majority say yes. Especially with a mobile gaming application like SCVNGR where promotions are designed to get consumers to interact with your brand in the best possible ways — thereby highlighting your brand attributes.

Second, the study suggests that your media should be integrated. For this project students are creating blogs, posting to Twitter, messaging via Facebook (social media) as well as creating news releases, feature releases, social media releases, short teasers, media advisories, and pitch letters for traditional media outlets. Everything is integrated — each piece telling different parts of the whole story. Findigns from Ogilvy & Mather indicate that by combining social media and public relations consumer spending could increase as much as 17 percent.

Third, Ogilvy & Mather’s study suggests that social media directly influences spending and consumption. SCVNGR users can immediately post photos, tips, and comments about brands directly to social media sites Twitter and Facebook — ways that can help influence other consumers in their networks. The 0-1-2 effect shows that the more people we observe doing something the more likely we are to do it. Visibly posting SCVNGR “challenges” to social media will result in this.

Fourth, and not surprisingly, the authors suggest that social media have the ability to rapidly change brand perceptions. Advertising “build-up” is long, taking forever to change brand perceptions. Seriously, don’t we still feel poorly about BP regardless of how many ads (see below) they show? Public relations works a bit faster. We feel better when we seen companies acting professionally and giving back to the community — even if they have done something “bad” (e.g., Phillip Morris donating computers to underprivaleged children).

Fifth, the study indicates that consumer exposure to brands via social media (24%) is much lower than that of television (69%). What this means is less clutter. So, when you look at your SCVNGR application and only see a few companies listed, it means your business is highlighted as one that is forward-thinking enough to include gaming in your marketing strategy. It means you don’t have a bunch of competitors taking away your customers. It also means that when customers use SCVNGR to earn rewards, they will come to your business!

On a different note, I would like to point out that through this service learning project the public relations writing and application students are getting some hands-on, highly relevant experience with:

  • developing mobile promotions,
  • meeting with clients,
  • pitching ideas to clients,
  • creating sales, marketing, and other “pitch” materials,
  • writing for social media,
  • getting media attention for this unique project, and
  • increasing student awareness through events, flyers, etc.
The work they do in this class will result in some very impressive portfolio pieces and will definitely set them apart from their peers.

SCVNGR promotions begin in Morgantown

The PR 324 students have completed their sales letters, process brochures, and marketing plans. They are now poised to meet with owners of local Morgantown businesses to pitch the idea of using SCVNGR to attract WVU college students to their establishments.

This is all part of a service learning project for the Public Relations Writing and Applications course offered by the P.I. Reed School of Journalism. It is part of  a joint partnership with SCVNGR and the International Town and Gown Association. The goal? To improve the local economy through mobile gaming and social media.

SCVNGR is a geolocation-based smartphone game where users can “check in” to different locations they frequent and earn points toward something of value from different businesses.

Clients such as Coca Cola, Buffalo Wild Wings, Gamestop and most recently Duncan Donuts are using SCVNGR as part of their promotion strategy. Even the North Carolina State Fair is getting in on the action, by conducting a deep-fried SCVNGR trek through the fair.

This week the PR 324 students have to come up with interesting Challenges, Rewards and Treks for their clients. Each team should present different ideas to the client (as no one wants to have the same promotions as everyone else, right?). This is going to take ingenuity, creativeness and an engagement mindset as SCVNGR is about interaction through gamification.

I am really excited to see what each team (retail, services, entertainment, restaurants, pubs/beverage) is going to come up with for exciting Challenges and Rewards. I think some of them are even planning Treks (whoo, hoo a Morgantown social media pub crawl:) to get students moving among local businesses. Should be pretty interesting.

Furthermore, I am excited to see how each team plans to get more WVU students to download the FREE SCVNGR application to their smartphones.

Stay up-to-date on all the cool freebies, discounts, and rewards you can earn by checking-in to local businesses. Follow the students on Facebook and Twitter (@pr324_wvu) as they add new Morgantown clients.

As you can see, this service learning experience has many real-world applications for the PR students. Over the next few weeks the students will be creating media pieces regarding the project. Keep your eyes peeled for media coverage of this unique project!

Gamification and Social Media in the Classroom: SCVNGR and International Town & Gown in the PR Writing and Applications Course

Gamification and Social Media in the Classroom: SCVNGR and International Town & Gown in the PR Writing and Applications Course.