This Area of Concentration examines the strategic use of digital technologies for communication professionals. Digital communication tools are an important part of the modern communication workplace. This concentration addresses how to use the Web and social media to reach out to diverse publics and how to incorporate digital with traditional communication campaigns. Courses include effective Web design and strategy, public relations in the digital age, using digital and social media, and devising a digital strategy for a non-profit organization.

Area of Concentration Courses

A minimum of three courses are required to earn this Area of Concentration within the MA in Communication degree.

Have you ever doubted whether you are doing the right thing as a communication researcher or practitioner? Regardless of whether you realize it, you base your professional decisions and subsequent actions on morals, referring to them in different ways. For example, you may turn to your inner compass, organization’s values, or professional codes of conduct. This course will not give you quick and easy solutions; however, it will help you learn how to use an ethics framework with confidence as you move forward in your career. In particular, you will learn how to consider the one or more moral problems related to a situation, facts, options for moving forward, and values to consider throughout the process. Readings will draw from fictional and non-fictional literature, news and popular media, and industry and academic research. Not only the instructor but also other communication professionals will deliver lectures. Throughout the semester, you will work as an individual and in groups to use your critical thinking to complete various activities, including reflection, discussion, presentation, and writing based on current, real-world case studies. Your experience will culminate with a final project.

This course is designed to give students an opportunity to learn about strategic online approaches and techniques affecting and influencing public affairs. During this course, students will develop the knowledge to: Distinguish between public affairs and other forms of communication, such as public relations, Describe the different components of digital public affairs communications, Conduct basic outreach and adhere to ethics guidelines, Propose and choose from the most effective public affairs tools and tactics to achieve a client’s goals, Describe the role of stakeholders and create a target list of issue stakeholders for an issue-based organization or corporation that practices corporate social responsibility, Create a comprehensive public affairs influence plan.

Marketing and communication are changing. The levers that we have pulled for years to sell products and services, change behaviors, and advocate for causes, no longer work the way they did. As trust in media and marketing plummets, trust in our peers, friends, family, and colleagues rises. Today we recognize new influencers in the people sitting next to us. Now, sparking a digital conversation is just as important as crafting messages, forming partnerships, and driving media coverage. Call it influencer marketing or brand stewardship in the network age; it’s all public relations. This class covers how to design impactful public relations strategies in the age of digital influence and, ultimately, how to support business imperatives more effectively through public relations.

No president will ever be elected again without an internet strategy. Mobile phones and Facebook are being used to organize mass protests. Thanks to YouTube, two Senators lost elections, and bloggers took down former CBS anchor Dan Rather and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Clearly, the world of political and issue campaigns has changed in the digital age. In this course students explore new strategies possible in a networked world and learn what it takes to be a digital political strategist.

From charges of fake news to viral hoaxes that spread on social media after breaking news events, it's crucial to understand and judge the credibility of the news we consume. In what has become a 24-hour news cycle, news consumers need to have the necessary skills to navigate the digital media landscape, assess the credibility of the news organizations that produce stories, determine authenticity on social media, and gain insight into how reporters produce their work. This course aims to provide these skills through a constantly updated guide to a rapidly shifting media landscape. We'll consider current challenges, including journalism's collapsing business model, the role of platforms such as Facebook and Google, and the loss of local news and the impact of the resulting news deserts. We'll also review the guidance of leading media critics, and attempts by news organizations to engage their audiences using newsletters, events, and other methods. And we'll read and assess a wide range of stories and sites, from niche news gatherers like The Information, to upstarts like BuzzFeed and Vox, to legacy sites like the The Atlantic and the New York Times.

Students examine the primary reasons non-profit organizations exist, and the unique communication challenges they face in reaching their audiences and motivating their desired behaviors. They will examine leading trends in 21st century communication, and assess how non-profit communicators can capitalize on these trends for the benefit of their organizations. Finally, they will devise practical solutions to one or more of a non-profit “client’s” challenges, using one or more of a wide variety of communication tools offered in the current media landscape.

You have 3.5 seconds to capture a web visitor’s attention. How do you make sure your website entices them to stick around and learn more? This course examines how compelling web content is essential to engaging visitors and driving their behavior. We’ll explore writing styles appropriate for B2B and B2C websites and blogs, and work with a variety of content formats, such as videos, infographics, contests, polls, and more. Using the website as the hub for content, we’ll cover techniques for driving web visitors to your site with inbound and outbound content marketing strategies. We’ll discuss the intersection of search engine optimization, social media and content marketing and the importance of an integrated approach to content creation and distribution. Lectures and exercises draw on real-world examples from a variety of industries. By the end of the semester, students will be able to create and execute a comprehensive content marketing program.

In this class students learn about multiple social and digital media tools, such as blogging, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, along with platforms to manage social media content and understand social media analytics. Students apply what they learn by developing a social media campaign for a company or organization that they choose. Each week, students learn how to use social media tools to effectively tell an organization’s story. Students also learn the theories behind why social and digital media shape the ways that customers, advocates, audiences and consumers are interacting with influencers and organizations. By the end of the semester, students will be able to not just answer, but inspire, the inevitable questions: Why should we care about social media? How can we put social and digital media to work for our personal and organizational brands?

This course will teach you how to critically evaluate media, create effective visual communication by identifying key elements of a visual message, and apply relevant theory as it relates to visual message design. This course provides an overview of the approaches and strategies communication practitioners use to incorporate media literacy in their practices. This course will address the following questions: What is media literacy and how does it relate to visual communication? How can visual media be used effectively to promote strategic messages or positive change? How can we critically evaluate the quality of visual messages and create effective and ethical visual communication?

In today’s complex digital media environment, companies and organizations expect communication practitioners to possess advanced social media management skills. Students in the Advanced Social Media course will gain in-depth knowledge in social media ecosystems, social business models, and digital media policy and law. In addition, students will have an opportunity to analyze quantitative and qualitative data to extract audience insights; develop and implement strategies; create engaging content and messages; and ultimately become skilled social media practitioners. Prerequisites: Students must have completed either 480.601 Intro to the Digital Age, or 480.637 Using Social and Digital Media prior to taking this course.

Communication professionals must often grapple with issues of whether and how their fields are regulated. These concerns are magnified for organizations working in global contexts, forcing practitioners to consider issues of censorship and regulation within multiple jurisdictions. Knowing these rights and boundaries allows professional communicators to protect their work as well as to serve their audiences most effectively. Using the United States as a starting point, this course will explore legal trends and issues that affect communicators and their audiences while also comparing to international regulations.  

Media outreach is a critical piece of any strategic communication effort. This course prepares students to build, implement, and measure earned media programs that achieve policy, business and philanthropic objectives. Class lectures, guest speakers, readings and assignments give students an understanding of the priorities and expectations of various types of contemporary media, and how to successfully engage them through research-based strategies and tactics designed to reach key audiences.

Integrated marketing communication (IMC) breaks down the traditional advertising, public relations, and marketing silos by challenging practitioners to apply the optimum mix of media and message to motivate target audiences to act. An increasingly complex digital environment supports the need to embrace IMC as a comprehensive approach. In this course, students learn what IMC is, its relevance in an online world, and how to apply the appropriate communication channels and messages based upon audiences’ needs and the business realities of marketing campaigns. During the semester, students develop a toolkit of steps to follow to attain marketing success. Through simulation exercises, case study analysis, and self-directed reading, students develop a results-oriented and measurable marketing campaign proposal.

This course demonstrates the important role market research—and the use of existing data to better understand audience and environment—plays in the overall campaign process. This course will focus on the integral steps that facilitate target audience definition and how to extract a keen understanding of this audience and its interactions within its environment to develop effective campaign strategy. The course’s structure and various assignments will often mimic a client/consultant relationship to ensure a real-world experience. To that end, the instructors will play the role of “client” in many instances, asking students to articulate how an assignment or deliverable contributes to the overall goals of the campaign.

Washington D.C. is home to thousands of organizations attempting to influence public policy. Associations, foundations, think tanks and private lobbying firms are all competing for the attention of policymakers and the public. These groups invariably need competent communicators who can help them cut through jargon, crystallize their messages and strategically communicate with the key audiences imperative to advancing their policy goals. This course introduces students to the deliberate process organizations undertake to speak out on issues and exert influence over the policies that have the potential to impact them and the way they do business. The class will cover how organizations conduct advocacy efforts and how communication is used as a tool to advance policy change. Students will gain a practical understanding of how policy groups and communications professionals operate in the field.

Today’s communication environment calls for a good understanding of the process and methods of nonfiction filmmaking. This course introduces students to nonfiction storytelling in the motion picture medium, from conceptualization to writing to production. Using smartphones, simple production equipment and editing software, students will produce their own videos and be prepared for real-world production with professional crews.

This course explores the various ways communication professionals can use entertainment to educate people and encourage them to adopt and enjoy improved life styles. Throughout history, stories, drama, poetry, music, dance, and other entertainment formats have been used to enlighten and educate both adults and children. In today’s society, the channels of communication are ever increasing. This course investigates ways in which education can be subtly but effectively worked into both new and time-honored genres of entertainment to foster positive behavior change.

Students should be aware of state-specific information for online programs. For more information, please contact an admissions representative.

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