Talking about Audience and Social Media

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While the students I teach are typically adept at personal uses of social media, they often need to learn how to use digital tools for professional purposes as they prepare for their future careers.

This week, I had a personal experience that will make a great discussion starter to talk with students about audience and social media. It all started with my decision to replace my three-year-old phone while keeping my unlimited data plan. I went into the Verizon store and said I needed two things: I wanted to buy a new phone at full price, and I did not want to change my contract in anyway.

When I got home and checked my account online, I found that they had dropped both my unlimited data plan and my mobile hotspot. I sent out a couple of complaints to the customer support accounts on Twitter:


No one was minding the corporate Twitter feed, so I decided to deal with the problem in the morning. I woke up to these two responses on Twitter:

Someone at Verizon probably thought that was a cute, stress-reducing response. To me, it felt patronizing. Some Verizon support employee was patting me on the head and treating me as if I had a booboo that needed kissed to make it all better. Um, no.

Sprint, on the other hand, took advantage of the situation to encourage me to change carriers. Their reply was opportunistic, but at least they weren’t belittling me. They wanted to engage in a professional conversation with a potential customer.

These two replies make perfect discussion starters for talking about audience and social media. I’ll ask students to compare the two responses and discuss about how they would respond as the customer and on behalf of the company. After some discussion, I’ll set up an in-class exchange among three or four groups of students:

  • Group 1: The wronged customer
  • Group 2: The customer’s service provider (e.g., Verizon)
  • Group 3: An alternate provider (e.g., Sprint)
  • Group 4: Another alternate provider (e.g., AT&T)

I would pitch a similar scenario to the group representing the wronged customer while the other groups did some fast research on the company they represent. The first group would share their complaint, and the other groups would respond. Groups can post their proposed Tweets on a Padlet, so that we can avoid creating one-time use Twitter accounts. I would encourage them to think about the role of time as they come up with their responses as well. I’m eager to see what they can come up with, in 140 characters or less.

Do you have favorite social media examples? Have suggestions for teaching students about audience and tone in social networking? I’d love to hear from you. Just leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.

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About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.