Social Media Application in the Writing Classroom

I turn thirty tomorrow. This past week, the last week of my twenties, I’ve thought a lot about the most important elements of my life: spending time in the mountains, rock climbing and mountain biking with friends, striving for an environmentally-conscious lifestyle, encouraging college freshman to think critically about their choices and their impact, creating lesson plans that help students understand language as an agency for social change and, well, playing with my dog. This list of activities involves a wide range of discourse communities–when I explain social-epistemic rhetoric to my climbing partners, for instance, it sounds a lot different than when I discuss it over spring rolls with my colleagues. But throughout the week, floating from one discourse community to another, I find comfort in the similarities and connections between these communities. The conversations that I have with my climbing partners about environmental issues often share the same content as the conversations I have with my friends, but the genre I choose for the discourse is usually different. With my climbing partners, the genre is usually an informal, but perhaps passionate, discussion-over-beer, and with my students the genre usually takes the shape of an argumentative essay, or perhaps a prospectus and annotated bibliography.  

On the eve of turning thirty, in one blog post, I am determined to salienate the connection between all the discourse communities at play in my life. In the words of the environmentalist John Muir: “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” So, into this blogpost enter my mother–the woman who birthed me, potty trained me, taught me to write and, although I haven’t seen her in two years, recently posted this photo to my Facebook page.


I also talked to her on the phone this afternoon, and she told me all about the misery–and a few saving graces–of social media in her job as a journalist. To all of us teachers and instructors of writing and rhetoric: the change in my mom’s job description over the last thirty years (from the time the photo on the left was taken to today) has been monumental, and it’s all because of the role of social media in our lives. My mom’s job in the journalism industry–as writer and editor of a regional magazine for thirty years–serves as context for why incorporating social media literacy into the writing classroom is so very important. My mom now spends a majority of her day communicating via social media with businesses, nonprofits, environmental action groups, biologists, musicians, artists, the National Park Service, celebrities, wedding planners, caterers and architects–to name a few. Most of our students, of course, are going into fields unrelated to journalism. But the change in the journalism industry serves as an important example of the role of social media in most professions across the country. If you are still not following me on this: my mom, and other journalists like her, communicate daily with people in a variety of different professions, through a variety of social media outlets. Social media is used by most professions as a means of networking–and people like to network with journalists, because it means press, and sometimes free advertising.

As writing instructors, I believe we are obligated to help our students understand the role social media will play in their professional careers, and to also show them how the tools we already use in the writing classroom–rhetorical context, genre, an understanding of audience–will also help them engage professionally (and with appropriate discourse communities)  through social media. 

Before I dive into the Q&A with my mom, Elizabeth Edwards, here is a little background. She started writing for Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine in the 1980s. At first, she wrote primarily from home, and conducted phone interviews and wrote feature length essays with me, as a toddler, strapped to her chest with one of my father’s old ties. Around the time I was in high school she was promoted to managing editor, and by 2009–the year our economy crashed–the entire journalism industry began to flounder. Most regional magazines, and a lot of national publications, folded that year. But Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine downsized their editorial staff from five to two, and my mom and the other remaining editor were told that they needed to blog and Tweet daily if they wanted to keep their jobs. The magazine still puts out a print publication once a month, but they also maintain a website (with links to all the articles) and a blog as well. In this interview, my mom will fill in the rest of the details.

Q: It’s been six years since the journalism industry crashed and Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine almost went under. Will you describe the change in your job description that followed? And the role that social media plays in your life today?

A: Every morning, the first thing that I do when I get to the office is Tweet. Then, throughout the day, I try to put out four more Tweets with links to stories. And as much as I don’t want them to sound like Huffington Post Headlines, they often do. Jeff [my mom’s co-editor] usually Tweets like eight times a day. He’s a saint. I can’t keep up with that.

After Tweeting, I usually move onto Facebook. I update links to stories on the Magazine’s Facebook page, but there is also a lot of pressure to link stories to my personal Facebook page too. Then, I also need to make sure everyone mentioned in a story gets a link to the story on their Facebook page…that’s actually a lot of work and I now have an assistant to help me with that part.

I used to Pinterest every day too, but now someone else does that. We also Instagram, but I told Jeff I needed to survive this summer before I took on one more social media outlet. So he’s doing most of the Instagramming right now. In the end, social media seems to consume my day, but I also try to do as little of it as possible because I really hate it. I mean, it’s all I can do to boot up my phone–but even someone as un-techy as I am needs to learn to get their messages out there through social media.

Q: Can you tell me what you hate most about social media in your job?

A: Okay, I don’t really hate it. Social media is awesome because it’s so democratic. Anyone can get their message out there. But it’s not journalism. I think that’s the most important thing to remember. Social media is about getting your brand out there. It’s a hybrid between editorial and marketing. It can be fun, and it’s how I make a living these days, but it’s not journalism. And the world still needs journalists.

Q: Can you tell me more about how the bust in the journalism industry affected your job?

A: In 2009, the owner of the magazine woke up one day and realized she needed to keep up with the changes in the industry. She pretty much told Jeff and me that we needed to jump on board too, or we’d lose our jobs. So we did. The stress of all the changes lead to my divorce, and his mid-life crisis, but we changed. We did it. The magazine survived.

Print is still down, but it’s becoming retro and cool to buy the magazine in print, so there is hope that that will eventually go up again. MyNorthMedia became the umbrella for the print magazine and everything else in 2009.

It’s kind of amazing that we’ve made it. But also beyond stressful. When the economy crashed in 2009 it was worse in Michigan than anywhere else in the country, and along with the crash paper cost also skyrocketed. We knew we needed to have a website, but websites don’t make any money. And we still can’t really monetize it. That’s why we’ve all been stretched so thin. But I still get to write some cool pieces, and we are slowly building our editorial staff back up.

Q: How does the magazine make money these days? If social media doesn’t bring in much revenue, and neither does print, what does?

A: Well, the owner of the magazine is really smart, and a few years ago she started something similar to TicketMaster called MyNorthTickets. So we are now also the venue to buy tickets for shows all over northern Michigan. And through social media, I help sell the tickets. For instance, when ticket sales for this months Beer Festival were down, the ticket office came to Jeff and me, and we immediately Tweeted about buying Beer Fest Tickets.

We also rely heavily on native advertising. A company buys a package of advertisements from us and then we write an editorial on them. Soy Oil, a pretty cool family owned company, bought one of these packages this month, so I wrote an editorial on them and put an add and a link to their website at the bottom.

This isn’t journalism, but it’s how the magazine is making money. Politics, policy and the environment, that’s what makes real journalism. What we do now is mostly content and lifestyle pieces. Journalism is really important, and I get to do a little of it with my job now, but mostly I do this other stuff. I write about beautiful kitchens in northern Michigan and then I Tweet about it. At least I’m good at it.

Q: Thanks Mom! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: Social Media is the dream of advertising, and I think we need to continue thinking about the separation of church and state, of sales and magazine content. It’s really fun to have the sales people come back to our office and give us ideas for content. But we have be careful. I think as long as their are some real journalists out there, the journalism industry will be okay.

My mother’s experience with social media is perhaps an extreme example. Our students, unlike my mother, will most likely be well versed on what social media is, and how it works, when they choose a career path. But I’m not convinced that without our help to use socially media effectively, and to read it critically, they will use it successfully. We need to help them understand that just because something goes viral–or spreads quickly–on social media, it isn’t necessarily credible. My mom explained that one of her concerns with social media is that people are beginning to view it as journalism, which is to say that the general public is beginning to think of social media as fact. As teachers of critical thinking and analysis, our civic duty is also to ensure that our students leave our classrooms capable of judging the credibility of social media outlets, and also able to recognize what the purpose is behind the social media they are bombarded with. 

Barbra Fagan-Smith, an expert on social media strategy, says: “The fundamentals of communication have not changed, but the pace of our jobs is faster than ever.” In other words, in order to prepare our students for the fast-paced workforce that lies ahead of them, we need to give them the tools to use social media intelligently and efficiently. The awesome thing for us–the mentors in these tools–is that the basic communication skills that we already teach apply to social media. As teachers, we might consider having students put together a rhetorical analysis of a Facebook page, or identify the purpose of a Tweet. Or, why not incorporate an element of visual literacy and have students Pin something to Pinterest–and then identify the rhetorical appeals at work in each others’ Pinterests.

The more practice students have with social media the more they will be able to understand and use it in a professional manner. Another expert in social media strategy, Helen Solomone, explains that:

“One of the main reasons to participate in social media is to listen to what others are saying. These tools offer insight on stories and trends before traditional outlets cover them, providing you with the perfect opportunity to see how your messages fit in. Listening before engaging will also help you to identify who the current influences are online, enabling you to identify the unique angle you should take.”

In the same way that we helps students identify the purpose of a text, and understand the rhetorical context of any message in the writing classroom, we can also help them analyze social media. In return, this will help them identify “unique angles” in their future uses of social media in professional settings.

While identifying angles that will make them–or their product or brand–stand out in social media, students will also need to learn to identify which social media outlet is going to work the best based on their content and purpose. This is where an understanding of genre and discourse communities comes into play. According to Christopher Swan, a pioneer in digital communication resources, “one size doesn’t fit all” with social media. In the writing classroom, we already give students tools for identifying audience and purpose. All we need to do is help them apply this to the use of social media.

My mom was already in her 40s when social media took over her life in the workplace. Tomorrow I enter my thirties, and I hope that my students leave my classroom with the skills to communicate effectively and efficiently with social media. Most importantly, I hope they venture out into the real world, beyond the ivory towers of academia, with the ability to think critically about the social media messages bombarding them on a daily basis. By the time they are my age now, technology and the use of social media will have changed and expanded in many ways, but if we can offer our students tools in basic analysis and communication that will help them keep up with those changes, then we will have succeeded in our roles as teachers of writing and rhetoric.

Thanks for reading! I’ll be climbing with my friends and celebrating my birthday tomorrow, and I will probably try to explain this blog post to them in the language of the climbing discourse community. I might use a climbing blog as an example of genre, or perhaps the climbing gym’s Facebook page. When I ask them how they know if a person writing a climbing blog is credible, they will probably say, “because of all the hard shit he’s climbed, duh,” and because I am not their English 105 instructor, I’ll try to refrain from asking them to be more specific.

16 thoughts on “Social Media Application in the Writing Classroom”

  1. My blog post was about having social media as a journalist and owner of a small newspaper. I see exactly what she means by technology basically changing her job description over time. There is a lot more screen time involved than hard hitting journalism and the pressure for instantaneous news is overwhelming. Having hours between an event and the printing of a daily paper is now too slow for our generation’s mind set of receiving information. By the way, Happy Birthday! What an incredible feat to accomplish with your master’s degree in your thirtieth year.


  2. Hi Chase:
    Thanks for your post. After reading your blog in its entirety, I’m wondering if the title would hold more relevance if it read, “Social Media Lessons for Student Journalists” or something like that. I began to wonder this more and more as I got deeper and deeper into your piece.

    As a professional writer, your mom contributes a lot of relevancy to the topic of how social media changed the day-to-day operations of a journalism environment, and most of your blog focused on your interview with your mom. By taking that approach, however, the “Social Media Application in the Writing Classroom” point never really took shape.

    Or maybe you could interview your students on how they apply social media in their writing/journalism classes.

    Your thoughts?


    1. Hi Denise,

      My hope was to show the importance of teaching social media use (as a genre and outlet appropriate for rhetorical analysis) in the writing classroom, because it now plays such a large role in most professions in the United States. I used my mom, and journalism, as an example because in many ways the journalism industry was the first to feel the effects of social media. So, to answer your question, no, I don’t want this post to be for journalism students (journalism students should already no this!). I want it to be for teachers of writing…so that they have an idea of what the world outside of academia will be asking of their students. I’ll try to clarify this ASAP in the post.




  3. Happy Birthday Chase-

    First off, great picture. Your interview with your mom was pure enlightenment. In the Phoenix area, there is one daily paper that seems to be suffering from a dwindleing subscription rate. I always thought that it was sad, the paper being something nostalgic that my family and I would look at together on Saturday and Sunday mornings. However, your mother’s words show a truth that had me completely naive. I never realized that in hard economic times, one of the first things that gets cut from the budget would be something like a periodical. Especially with the instant updating of the internet. While reading your interview, I was thinking that maybe the internet made journals, newspapers and magazine more environmently friendly; however, when your mother discusses how her discourse has changed since she has transitioned to using more social media makes me wonder what this indicates about our society and what we value. “What we do now is content and lifestyle pieces” (Chase’s Mom). Is that what we care about now? The fluff?

    On the other hand, I think your mom has fantastic ideas on how student can use social media to learn rhetoric. Students are so familiar and drawn to the format, that the content would be something that they could focus on more easily. Additionally, using the visual aspects as well as the written language would be engaging for the students while using high level operations. Excellent post, thank you for your ideas and insight!


  4. Chase, I would like to congratulate on a powerful job-well-done here. Your work has certainly evolved and strengthened over the last several weeks, and it’s been lovely to witness. One question I had is the connection between your introduction and the apparent purpose of the post (social media applications and instruction in education) – perhaps these notions of discourse communities and genre could be connected to your overall focal point of the post in this introduction portion as well? Either way, the beginning was engaging, inviting, and prompts your reader to continue (love the personal bit on your birthday!). Furthermore, moving on to focus on your mother and including that absolutely beautiful photo of the two of you was moving and continues to hold your audience’s attention and commitment to reading and responding to your piece.
    Your writing voice is just truly beautiful, and you add even more depth in, for example, the John Muir quote, and later Barbara Fagen-Smith and Helene Solomone supporting references. You develop a clear position in your assertion that while students are probably not going into the field of journalism, the interview with your mother still holds a great deal of relevance for them in that her experiences in her industry “still serves as an important example of the role of social media in most professions across the country.” I couldn’t say it better myself. My husband, who works for GoDaddy (the equivalent of internet real estate), actually works in the social media department. What does he even do? His responsibility is to basically surf the various social media outlets and respond directly to any reference (both positive and negative) made about the company. This has led him to discover a great deal about how public perception is shaped for various companies, and it shows how GoDaddy is keenly aware of the importance of actively inserting its presence in these mediums to improve and act upon that development of perception/reputation. High schools are joining the social media world for similar reasons, though beyond reputation it is also to strengthen its communities and student involvement/participation. From what I have seen, most companies and organizations are reaching a critical point of awareness in terms of the influence and necessity of participation and relevance in the social media realm. So, your point is definitely well-taken here.
    Your mom’s commentary on the difference between social media and journalism saddened me, but you’re right – it highlights the importance of highlighting these differences to our students too. There is a blurry crossing between communications and marketing here; companies are shaping the content of “news” and sales are driving publication.
    What made me laugh is your mom saying “I hate it” – because my husband says the same thing lol! How bizarre. But then, my husband chose that position. He just views social media negatively and refuses to participate in his personal life (but for his company, it’s more than fine…?). I guess it does go to show the “marketing” nature of it – that is precisely what his position entails: positive marketing, branding, advertising, promoting, retaining.
    Her final words of caution resonate: “Social Media is the dream of advertising, and I think we need to continue thinking about the separation of church and state, of sales and magazine content. It’s really fun to have the sales people come back to our office and give us ideas for content. But we have be careful. I think as long as their are some real journalists out there, the journalism industry will be okay.” You reflect on this well in the conclusion of your piece, emphasizing the importance of incorporating social media instruction into our teaching of writing and rhetoric. It is established how significant this is, and how it will benefit our students in the workplace and in their personal lives. I’ve also always shared your view of social media as similar to that of analyzing “traditional texts”: “In the same way that we helps students identify the purpose of a text, and understand the rhetorical context of any message in the writing classroom, we can also help them analyze social media. In return, this will help them identify “unique angles” in their future uses of social media in professional settings.” Your correlation between achieving this goal and having succeeded in “our roles as teachers of writing and rhetoric” is well-received and shared entirely by your audience (me!). 
    Towards the end of your piece, it becomes clear where genre and discourse come into play (the creation and publication world of social media), but perhaps again, a clearer connection to these concepts (as they are the focus of your intro) might help your reader better understand the connection between that set-up and the rest of the work.
    Thank you so much for sharing this lovely publication, and can’t wait for the final week!


    1. Brandi, thanks so much for the thoughtful comments! I’m looking forward to revising this post based on your suggestion to better connect the main concepts of the post–genre and discourse and how they relate to the creation and publication world of social media.



  5. Hi Chase,

    Happy Belated Birthday! This is an excellent post. I really enjoyed reading it and the content was great. Your mother’s experience in journalism and her shift to social media is a perfect topic for this assignment. The way you explained her experiences express everything that our course readings were trying to convey and then some about the changing world of social media. My only suggestion is that there are a few grammatical errors and at some points it looks like a word may have been omitted. Overall, nice job!


  6. Chase,
    I loved how you incorporated your mom into your post by providing us with her perspective on social media. As you mentioned, social media has fostered many changes to that of a journalist. Has your mom had a difficult time with social media because she isn’t of that generation? Great way at incorporating your personal background into the blog!



  7. Chase,

    I think the story about your mom was very touching; it gave a personal touch to this blog. I thought the conversation was great and I love how your mom said, “Okay, I don’t really hate it. Social media is awesome because it’s so democratic. Anyone can their message out there. But it’s not journalism.” It really shows how die hard your mom is about her profession.

    I really think you did an amazing job and I love reading your work. Thank you.


  8. Hi Chase,
    First Happy Birthday. I really liked how you combined different elements in this post, it is something that I am really envious of you being able to seamlessly integrate elements of you personal life, professional life, and educational elements we covered in class. I was also surprised to see the different ways that social elements are used as new ways of publishing journalistic stories (or linking to them). Even after looking at the examples from the class this is still not the first thing that I think of when I think of social media. Thanks for providing me a new way of looking at social media,


  9. Dear Chase,

    Nice fourth post! And happy belated birthday, Chase! I hope you had a fantastic outdoor 30th birthday adventure! I can imagine you all around a campfire talking about discourse, genres, and social media among cricket chirps and owl hoots. (Perhaps?)

    I like this sentence because it connects on multiple levels of content for this class and I also like the visual—like you’re in a dreamlike state. “But throughout the week, floating from one discourse community to another, I find comfort in the similarities and connections between these communities.” Lovely!

    The special relationship you have with your mom is evident! It was enlightening to read your revealing interview about her work experience. What a perfect subject matter resource! And that black and white picture of the two of you is awesome! What a fascinating interview and career your mom has. I could relate to the changes in the print industry in 2009. I started working for a publishing company of print magazines and newspaper inserts in 2006, when the magazines were thick and juicy. By 2009, my library if magazines were increasingly thinner. Madden Media also had to find other ways to make money, so like the Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine, the company I worked for developed more eMedia products (like eBrochures and iBrochures they called them, for electronic-brochures and interactive-brochures as opposed to print brochures, to name a couple) in order to supplement missing revenue and cater to the growing demand from consumers for electronic advertising modes. It’s interesting to me to know other publishers underwent similar situations, like how the magazine your mom works for came up with MyNorthTickets. It’s amazing the change the economy had on so many people.

    I sensed a disappointment from your mom that she worked in an altered industry, yet she was still appreciative for her job though. I can see her perspective how social media isn’t journalism and more about “getting your brand out there.” I wonder how many other journalists whose paths became skewed are also “fearful for the journalism industry.” I remember thinking that with one of the articles we read for class about how writing in general has changed so much—everything’s faster and more brief today. This conversation reminds me of the film “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days.” The main character, Andy, had a master’s degree in journalism and was writing fluffy pieces instead. Fluffy is what sells, I suppose and somebody’s got to do it!

    What an intriguing interview! It sounds like you are even more convinced, inspired, and that much more armed to better help your students. I like your realization: “The awesome thing for us–the mentors in these tools–is that the basic communication skills that we already teach apply to social media.” Also, I liked how you brought your life into the evolution of social media—the photo from the past; your current perspective; and the future possibilities that you and your students will grow into. Thank you for sharing this journey!

    On the technical side of things, here’s a small list of things I noticed that you can determine if you want to tackle before our final deadline:
    – For the answer to question 2, this sentence is missing a verb: “Anyone can —– their message out there.”
    – In paragraph 3 of the answer to question 3, change “out” to “our.”
    – Delete the unnecessary “s” in this sentence: “In the same way that we helps students identify….”

    Wonderful, Chase! I’ll look forward to next week and again, hope you had a fun trip and may your birthday celebration continue a bit longer! Here’s to a new trip around the sun!



    1. Oh, and I thought of one other thing: just to possibly include links, to perhaps your mom’s magazine (if she approves), or something like that. I’d be interested and would definitely click on the link if there were one!

      🙂 Just a thought!


    2. Dawn, thank you so much for pointing out those typos! The keypad on my computer is really sticky!! Thanks for your helpful comments. And, by the way, I figured out our em-dash misunderstanding: when I (and I assume this goes for everyone) put to hyphens together, Word Press automatically joins them, but it doesn’t look much longer than a hyphon, or en-dash. In other words: when I hit edit on the posts, what look like en-dashes show up as two hyphens together…in the publishing process Word Press changes it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. How frustrating, Chase! I knew that you must totally know those em-dashes—I could see you using them! I’m sorry for the crazy frustration of it all! 🙂 I’m glad you got it figured out!


  10. Chase,

    Thank you so much for sharing such personal insight into your life! (And a very cute picture)

    I agree there is a definite need to teach students how to look at social media. I am finding my biggest struggle with my students is why their opinion is not sufficient to completely defend their points. There are so many aspects of social media where people can go online and share what they think without necessarily being credible. Then people will read what they think because it is of course on the internet.

    I commend your mother for her ability to adapt to the changing technology. It is not an easy feat. I think even if some disagree with the extensive incorporation of media analysis in the classroom, it is nonetheless becoming a requirement. Social Media is here to stay. Denying this fact is denying our students and their generation.

    I loved your ideas on having students look at a Facebook post. I was recently discussing an image recently posted online depicting a new “upgrade” to the iPhone. The image looked like an Apple advertisement complete with copyright. However, the text on the advertisement described the new upgrade as “Wave” a new way to charge your iPhone in the microwave. I think I will use this image in my classroom as a reminder to always read subtext.

    -Thank you for sharing!


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