Math, Message Design and Assessment Data: A Strategic Approach to the Facebook Assignment


Tiffany Derville Gallicano, UNC Charlotte

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Math, Message Design and Assessment Data: A Strategic Approach to the Facebook Assignment

Math, Message Design and Assessment Data: A Strategic Approach to the Facebook Assignment

The purpose of this assignment is to adopt a strategic planning approach to the task of creating engaging social media content in a real-world context. For this assignment, students work as a class to set a weekly research-based objective and work in teams to plan the communication department’s Facebook fan page content for every day of a work week (Monday-Friday) during the semester. Other fan page account administrators can post important departmental content throughout the semester without disrupting the week-by-week student takeovers of the fan page. This assignment has been popular in social media and public relations strategy classes. This assignment provides an experiential way for students to apply basic statistical concepts, assessment data, and message design theories. In addition, it has the benefit of serving as a potential resume item and portfolio sample.

Application of the Assignment to ACEJMC Professional Values and Competencies

The fan page assignment contributes to the fulfillment of several professional values and competencies described by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (n.d.). It contributes to the professional value and competency about applying theories in how content and images are presented (ACEJMC, n.d.) because students are asked to apply message design concepts from Heath and Heath (2007), which include simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotional content, and stories. When reviewing initial drafts, the instructor commonly points to one or two message features that a team needs to improve upon for their final product.

In addition, the assignment contributes to ACEJMC’s (n.d.) professional value and competency about conducting research using appropriate methods adopted in the workplace because students use prior fan page performance data to set a weekly performance objective and determine qualities of successful and unsuccessful posts. Students also review the fan pages of comparison communication departments as part of their research (in accordance with the recommendation by Paine, 2011, about examining competitors’ performance). In addition, students review the metrics for the most popular and least popular posts from the prior semester and apply message design theory (i.e., Heath & Heath, 2007) and inductive logic to discuss best practices for engaging their key publics.

This assignment also contributes to three other communication-related professional values and competencies established by ACEJMC. Students gain practice in writing correctly and clearly in a format commonly used in the workplace through the text that accompanies their fan page posts (ACEJMC, n.d.). They are assigned a team grade, so they must critically assess their work and their teammates’ work “for accuracy and fairness,” as well as clear, grammatically correct writing (ACEJMC, n.d., para. 13). Another communication-related competency that is relevant to this assignment is the call for students to use current technologies used by professionals to understand the digital world (ACEJMC, n.d.). Students learn best practices for the digital world through their research about successful Facebook posts and draft their own digital content. Also, to earn an A, students must use their own images/videos for all posts and are encouraged to use resources such as Canva for images.

Finally, this assignment contributes to the ACEJMC (n.d.) competency about applying basic math and statistics. Students apply the mean, mode, median and standard deviation based on data from the prior semester to set the weekly performance objective that will apply to all teams. They use basic percentage calculations to determine how many interactions would be needed to achieve particular percentage increases. Students are encouraged to also report the percentage by which they surpassed the weekly class objective on their resumes/LinkedIn profiles if relevant.

Connection to Best Measurement Practices

To contextualize the strengths and limitations of the assignment as they apply to the professional practice of public relations, students are taught the Barcelona Principles 2.0 in conjunction with the assignment (see the Institute for Public Relations, 2015). Students are told that the best objectives are tied to business results, and the number of interactions to a post is merely an output measure about whether a campaign is on the right track (in conjunction with an analysis of comments, which is another mid-campaign output measure). Questions about measuring social media and the Barcelona Principles also appear on the class study guide and exam to ensure that students are not confused about using an interaction count as an ultimate measure of a campaign’s success. The instructor explains to students that the assignment is designed in a truncated way to focus the class efforts on the course objectives. Additional survey and qualitative research could be added for a research methods class to tie the social media performance to business results. In conjunction with the assignment, students also share experiences with how they measure the success of their social media in their internships and compare these measures (or lack of any measure) to the Barcelona Principles. Students are shown an award-winning video about a Facebook campaign received from a PR agency, which is paused periodically to identify key terms (output, outcome), recognize message design strategies summarized by Heath and Heath (2007), and apply the Barcelona Principles to the campaign measurement.

Assignment Details

In addition to teaching the Barcelona Principles, additional best practices for measurement, and message design theory, the assignment introduction also involves a discussion about what makes public relations strategic. Ultimately, the assignment addresses the importance of goals, objectives, research about key publics, research-tested message design strategies, tactics that are appropriate to key publics, and assessment, which should occur during the campaign and at the end of the campaign.

Goals and Objectives

The class discusses the goal and sets the objective for weekly performance. The following goal is shared with them as the assignment: “Enhance the sense of community surrounding the UNC Charlotte Department of Communication Studies.” Next, the class is led through basic statistics to set an objective. Students examine the total number of weekly interactions for each week of the prior semester, which are included on the assignment handout. Students calculate the median, mode, and mean on their assignment handout. Next, they use a standard deviation website to automatically calculate this number to determine whether their distribution of weekly fan page interactions is normal (see, n.d.). Kernler’s (2014) visual helps students understand the concept of standard deviation. Once students have figured out whether the weekly distribution of fan page interactions is normal based on the data’s standard deviation (extensive instructions are in the handout, which is walked through together), they decide whether they can use the previous semester’s mean as an anchor for setting their objective or whether the median or mode might be better choices. Once they have made their decision, as a class, they complete the following framework for the class objective: “To increase interaction on the fan page for the week (i.e., defined as the combined total of reactions, comments and shares) among members of any of our key publics by ________________, as compared with _________________________.” They calculate what a 10% increase would be from their anchoring metric and decide whether they think the increase is both meaningful and attainable. If the increase is not meaningful, they calculate what a 20% increase would be and so forth. The class also acknowledges that with social media, a major limitation is that we do not necessarily know if the people interacting with the content represent the class’ key publics, which were defined as prospective, current, and graduated majors and the parents of all three groups; department faculty, staff, and administrators; and university administrators.

Due to the modest size of the department’s fan page subscribers, a second goal for the class was built into the assignment: “Increase awareness of the UNC Charlotte Department of Communication Studies fan page.” The predetermined objective for the class was “to increase page likes among members of any of our key publics by five people per team member.” Students recorded the names of the people they recruited and organized the list by key public. They were not allowed to recruit each other for the assignment. Fan page recruitment stretched some students in terms of their comfort zones with promoting fan page content and might have played an important role in most students’ ability to reach their objective for the number of weekly fan page interactions.

Student Privacy, Assignment Timeline, Content, Rubric, and Teamwork

Each team’s Monday post includes an introduction of the team with a group picture and a quote for #MotivationMonday. To be in compliance with FERPA, students are informed that they need to tell the instructor prior to the deadline of their initial draft if they have any privacy preferences regarding the use of their name or picture. Drafts are due on Tuesday prior to the team’s week, feedback is provided within 24 hours, and students’ final submission for a revised grade is due via email Friday afternoon of the same week. The timeline is feasible because only one Facebook assignment is graded each week. Content is posted a week in advance, and the instructor emails the team to remind them to promote the fan page during the week and email anyone they featured on the day the relevant content appears if tagging was not possible. Students often share the Monday post on their feeds, which helps them exceed the weekly objective. Other themes for posts include Teach It Tuesday, Working Wednesday, Thursday Thoughts, and Forty-Niner Friday (named for the university mascot). The instructor maintains a list of content covered in the prior semester and restricts students from focusing on it (with some exceptions). The rubric for the assignment can be found in the Appendix. The complete handout exceeds the page limit of this article and can be requested via email (


Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications [ACEJMC]. (n.d.). Nine accrediting standards. Retrieved from (n.d.). Standard deviation calculator. Retrieved from

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2007). Made to stick: Why some ideas survive and other die. New York: Random House.

Institute for Public Relations. (2015). Barcelona Principles 2.0 – updated 2015. Retrieved from

Kernler, D. (2014, October 30). A visual representation of the empirical (68-95-99.7) rule based on the normal distribution. Retrieved from

Paine, K. D. (2011). Measure what matters: Online tools for understanding customers, social media, engagement, and key relationships. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.



Assignment Rubric

In nearly all cases, you and your team will share the same grade. Thus, you need to work together to brainstorm good content ideas and proof each other’s posts, which will help to ensure a consistently high quality.

An exception to sharing the same grade is if a team member is not making internal deadlines that the team sets. If a member of your team is not keeping up with your internal timeline after at least one reminder and is not responsive to you within 24 hours, please email me or meet with me. Possible options I might take include lowering the teammate’s individual score or removing the individual from the team. Individuals who are removed from a team have the option of completing an alternate assignment (such as anonymously creating content for May 1-5 and will earn an assignment grade no higher than a C). Also, if I see that a team member did not author any of the posts, I will drop this person from the group.

5 points: Engaging, inviting, professional, human tone, including word choice. Use of up to one exclamation point per post to avoid sounding giddy.

10 points: Interesting content that is strategic with regard to the information covered in this worksheet and in our class discussion.

10 points: Quality of pictures or videos (aesthetic quality, lighting, sharpness, sound, if relevant) and how interesting they are (candid pictures and videos taken by you are preferred).

  • Any picture taken from the Internet that is not free to use (or that is free to use with attribution but is lacking the attribution) will result in a 0 from the individual author’s score and a maximum of 7/10 on the other team members’ score. I will also file a plagiarism report with the university, even if I do not press charges.
  • For a score of 8-10, the Monday post picture must be taken of your group all together with sharp resolution and good lighting. The picture should enhance your professional footprint.
  • For a score of 9-10, high-quality original photos and videos must be included for every post. See me if you want to appeal for an exception. Remember that you can use Canva online to create free images for quotes.

10 points: Writing mechanics, factual accuracy, spelling (including the saved name of the document), AP style and brevity.

  • 10/10: Flawless
  • 9/10: 1-2 errors
  • 8/10: 3-4 errors
  • 7/10 5-6 errors
  • 6/10 7-8 errors

(and so forth)