by Katie Trombetti

Dr. Stephanie Tikkanen is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Ohio University and teachings classes within the Social Media Certificate program. She graduated from Chapman University in 2007 with a BA in Communication studies and completed her MA, Doctorate of Philosophy, Communication, and Certificate in College and University Teaching at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Before serving as an Assistant Professor at Ohio University, she worked as a Teaching Assistant at UC Santa Barbara and was an Account Manager at mUrgent. Her current research program focuses on the role of new media, such as social networking sites and mobile phone, and how they affect interpersonal relationships. Dr. Tikkanen is also currently engaged in social media campaign centered around #jeffneedspuppylove as a way to encourage her husband Jeff to adopt a puppy. The reason that I chose to interview Dr. Tikkanen is very simple: Dr. Tikkanen does not teach her class the way most other professors in the social media program teach theirs. Her class emphasis is on how things work, not how you make people feel. Her classes have spent more time talking about theories, research and why something happens than do most other classes in the program. While Dr. Tikkanen’s class has mentioned personal branding, I feel that the things we have learned and will learn in the upcoming weeks about how and why things work is much more important than how to sell yourself to an employer. I firmly believe that Dr. Tikkanen’s way of teaching will be useful for more than just getting a job, but it will be imperative to keeping one.

 

So can you describe how social media fits in with your job as a professor and how it fits into your curriculum and why it’s important?

Social media in my job as a professor plays a huge role because I use Twitter in my classroom to talk to my students and it’s a way for me to kind of connect with students on a more personal level and I get to know a little bit more about you guys and have you get to know a little more about me so that I’m not just random figure at the front of the class. We also use it to advertise departmental events or any sort of events that we’re a part of so it’s a way for us to get out news and information. In terms of my curriculum, obviously I teach the social media class, so social media is going to be a huge part of what I do just because that’s what we talk about in the majority of my courses. Even when I teach a class that’s not directly related to social media, like interpersonal communication, I always bring in a unit on it because I think it’s something that is incredibly important in college students’ lives and needs to be something that they’re aware of and understand the difference between the communication that happens in those contexts and face to face contexts.

 

How did you come into social media as something you wanted to do professionally?

When I was in college I was supposed to be writing a paper about an interpersonal event of some sort and right around the time that I was supposed to be writing it I got into a huge fight with a good friend of mine and she said a whole lot of really mean and nasty things to me through a text message that she wouldn’t say face to face. She would act like everything was fine face to face and then you’d walk 20 feet away from her and get this awful text message and you were like, “What? What is going on?” So I wrote a paper about this and I ended up turning it into my senior thesis because I just found it so fascinating that people were so willing to act differently online than they were face to face. This was right around the time when Facebook was just coming out, and it really started to play a much larger role in the way that we communicated and I just really got interested in it. So I ended up going to grad school to follow that passion and haven’t looked back.

 

How do you think that social media really works in the corporate setting? Why is it important for companies to be on social media and to engage people that way?

Are you referring to talking to clients or talking to customers?

 

A customer base. Taco Bell does a really nice job.

Taco Bell is amazing; we’re actually going to talk about them in class. They’re really good. Ok so social media as a way of talking to multiple audiences is really different than say, television, because television is one way and you’re willing to put out but there’s no way for them to respond to you. You can imagine a guy sitting at home watching a football game yelling at the coach. That coach is never going to hear you. You have absolutely no impact on the game. But on social media it’s completely different, it’s a two way street. What your customers say, you can actually hear. And you can monitor what they’re saying and respond and I think companies need to harness that power, that social aspect, in a way that not only sends their messages to customers but also that lets customers know that they’re being heard as well and engages the customers within the brand, which is really important. Taco Bell does a great job of it because they’re very social and they have a really strong, clear voice and they’re very sarcastic and they’re very silly. And I think that that has made the brand a lot more relatable to other customers. But there are some other companies that maybe don’t do that as well. They put out messages but never respond. There are software systems available where you can actually monitor anybody’s Twitter feed and find out if anybody has said anything negative and it’s a really valuable tool for looking for this kind of data and addressing this kind of issue because if I, say, go to Chipotle and have a bad experience at Chipotle, I might tweet about it. Chipotle has a chance to address that. Send me a 50% off coupon or do something because now, I have over 300 followers, and I just told all 300 followers that Chipotle sucks. Are they going to listen to me or are they going to listen to Chipotle?

 

What companies right now do you think are really doing a good job with their social media?

So Taco Bell does a really excellent job. I think Old Spice actually does a pretty good job on social media. They’ve got a really clear and distinct voice. Companies like Oreo actually do a pretty good job of addressing current events. So they’ll look at new products that are coming out and they’ll Tweet about it and incorporate their own brand into that. And I see a lot of clothing companies that do a really good job with this too. One in particular that I really like is Hello Holiday, which is just a very small company based out of Omaha, Nebraska and they sell clothes. But they have the most amazing social media presence I’ve ever met. Full disclosure, I emailed them and they were actually a guest speaker in this class last semester. But they’re really, really good.

 

So on the flip side, who do you think is doing an exceptionally bad job or you think has really just dropped the ball on their social media?

The vast majority of airlines. Airlines are on of the number one things that people complain about on social media. I don’t know if you’ve ever spent any time there, but people are stuck at airports and they go on their phone and they complain about it. I think there’s a large portion of companies that don’t do anything to address those complaints. They just use a form message that just kind of automatically sends but it’s not personalized in any way. I think they could do a way, way better job at that. There was a viral video a while back about United Breaks Guitars. Because this band, they watched their guitars being thrown and United wouldn’t actually pay for them, for the damage. Because they video taped it out the window and saw a guy chucking the guitar and they saw the guitar break. They had it on video and United wouldn’t pay for it. It went viral and United had a really terrible response to it. They could have used that opportunity to make a really great PR statement and they didn’t.

 

I’ve definitely angry tweeted at airlines, and I’ve definitely tweeted at airlines good things.

And nobody gets any response!

 

I got a response on the good one. They were like, “We’re happy to help!” The other airline was just silence.

It’s not surprising at all. I think that they do a terrible job.

 

What kind of research should companies be doing before they launch a social media campaign? What do they need to do to prepare?

I think it’s really important to understand your target demographic and know what your audience is actually looking for. Taco Bell uses Snapchat and they send them at 3 AM because that’s people want Taco Bell and they understand that. If they sent Snapchats at 8 AM it’s not going to be quite as effective. So they need to understand target demographic, what they’re looking for, and how they use that medium is really important.

 

How do you think companies can get ahead of their competitors on social media? What do you think specifically on social media platforms that they can do to get that one up?

Data mining. Keeping an eye out for any sort of responses that relate to them. I was just talking with someone earlier this week who works for Cisco and they actually give this software and promote this software that will help look for all the references to, say, Chipotle or to whatever company. That gives you the edge to being a little bit more proactive when responding. It’s not just if I tagged @Chipotle “You guys suck”. But if I mention it and don’t tag them they can still find that information and be a little bit more proactive.

 

What do you think the biggest social media trend for 2015 will be?

That’s really tough to say. I think one of the biggest things you’re going to see, and this is something you’re kind of seeing already, but I just think it’s going to happen even more, is an increased focus on visual content. Videos, pictures, even short things. Because what you’ve seen in the growing trend is that content is getting shorter and shorter and shorter. Our two minute YouTube videos became six second Vines and I think that that’s just going to continue. Evidence via the growing popularity of Instagram, Vine, these photo based things. And the fact that Twitter just integrated video into their thing. I think the visual aspect of social media is really going to continue to grow: I won’t even say that it’s not there now.

 

What advice would you give to someone who’s trying to get into social media? Who’s trying to become a social media specialist?

You need to read. All the time. And just be constantly connected. There are a ton of different trade magazines you can read, there are people you can follow on Twitter, organizations you can follow on Twitter, going to conferences. Just staying informed of what the current trends are is really, really important so that you can sound knowledgeable when you present these things.

Dr. Tikkanen’s information is important on several accounts, the most important being a clear direction for those entering the social media world. It is absolutely imperative that you do research not only while planning your campaign, but while conducting your campaign. A social media campaign can get off the ground fine and well, but if you can’t track what happens from there, what’s the point? Using technology to track your campaign is just as important as planning it. This tracking can manifest itself through your interactions with your customer base and can help you improve your social media on all sides. Paying attention to what is going on will get you places you might never have thought your campaign would go. Doing your research and staying engaged all the way through the campaign will be your key to success.