Last month as part of National Mentoring Month, four students from George Mason University School of Business' Internet marketing course presented their winning case project to staff and executives at United Way Worldwide in Alexandria, Virginia. The project was aimed at supporting United Way's Mentoring Call for Action, their new, historic effort to recruit one million new volunteer readers, tutors and mentors to help kids boost academic achievement.
Students Jason Bethke, Alexandra Bucuresteanu, Alex Robson and Sebouh Kasbarian offered advice on how United Way can leverage social media to reach college students. Business leaders from United Way headquarters, as well as course instructor Peter Hahn, adjunct professor of marketing and vice president of national campaigns at United Way served as judges and selected the winning team from among the four teams who presented their campaign strategies. The winning team then had the honor of presenting their strategy at the Mary M. Gates Learning Center at United Way headquarters, giving the students a real-world experience of presenting in a corporate setting.
"The students did a masterful job integrating online and on-the-ground activities," says Hahn. "That really is one of the keys to an effective social media campaign."
The centerpiece of the students' presentation was the "LIVE UNITED Campus Challenge," an intercollegiate competition where students aim to earn the most points for their school in an effort to win a free concert by a popular music act. Schools accumulate points when their students "like" United Way on Facebook, sign up for email updates, volunteer and give donations. The student team developed the concept themselves, using the concert as incentive, which has been a successful motivator for United Way in the past.
"The United Way project provided us with an invaluable opportunity to integrate our study of social media, search engine optimization and Internet marketing principles," says Bethke.
Throughout the semester-long project students submit deliverables that were graded—providing feedback in the same way a consultant would submit deliverables and receive feedback from a client.
Hahn designed the project to offer a real-world job experience for the students. Deliverables throughout the semester included submitting a document outlining the group's goals, designing what the website would look like for certain ideas, determining how traffic would be driven to the site and how they would conduct email and search campaigns. The final portion of the project was to create a professional business proposal and present it to the class and panel of judges. Student were encouraged to reapply ideas that United Way used in the past but revamp them, coming up with new ideas and coupling them with online engagement.
"The experience was as close to on-the-job learning as I have ever encountered," says Bethke. United Way is reviewing the team project to consider future implementation of some of the ideas presented.