INST 408N –Becoming A Social Media Influencer

Anyone can register for this 3-credit class at
Graduate version (600-level) will be posted soon

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course students will be able to:

Understand and interpret social media analytics

· Generate high quality photos and text content for social media

· Implement strategies for building engagement with social media content

· Build influential social media profiles

Readings and Online Resources:

There is no required text for this course. All readings are free and available online.


35% homework assignments

30% participation in online discussions

35% final project

Course Schedule

1. Social Media Platforms

a. Topics: a tour of social media platforms, the capabilities of each, and the influencers and communities there

b. Example Assignment: List 3–5 general areas you care about and may want to create an influential profile (e.g. mine are dogs, running, my research, maybe travel). For each area, find 3–5 influencers on at least 2 different platforms. List the name, handle, and provide a few sample posts of each. Briefly describe what you like or don’t like about the account. Would you follow these people?

2. Popularity: types of popular content and popular accounts

a. Topics: Memes, threads, live video, popular sharer (e.g. Kale Salad) vs. popular original content

b. Example Assignment: Create an account on at least one platform dedicate to a topic where you want to be an influencer. This will be your project account for the semester. You will be allowed to change later if your strategies shift, but that will put you behind.

3. Engagement and social media analytics

a. Topics: ratios, engagement rates, interaction types; strategies on frequency, and timing of posts

b. Example Assignment: Analyze a set of analytics drawn from several influential accounts. Which are getting the best engagement? What accounts for the difference?

4. Content: Creating good posts

a. Topics: Photography basics, themes and tropes, audience testing captions, etc.

b. In-Class exercise: Critique several posts I’m considering for my accounts

c. Example Assignment: Create a high quality post. Share with class for critique

5. Content: Communication

a. Topics: Communications research on tone, branding, selecting the right topics

b. Potential Assignment: Find 2–3 accounts each on Twitter, Instagram, and one other platform on your topic of interest.

c. Example Assignment: Choose 3–5 influencer accounts in your space. Answer a series of questions about their tone, interaction, branding, and communication style

6. Content: Connecting to Communities

a. Topics: Strategies for establishing a place in the online community you care about. Commenting, liking, direct messages, etc.

7. Propagation: How things spread in social networks

a. Topics: epidemiological models on how things spread and how to translate that into strategies for creating viral content online

b. Readings: Chapters on propagation from Analyzing the Social Web (Golbeck)

c. Assignment: Create a post and gain 10,000 likes in 1 week

8. Content: Monetization

a. Topics: How to find sponsors, responding to offers of paid content, requirements for labeling sponsored content; merch

9. Engagement: Paying for Followers

a. Topics: Buying likes and followers, boosting posts, paying for shares; rules on platforms, risks, and benefits

b. Case Study: Caroline Calloway

10. Content: Copyright

a. Topics: Basics of IP and copyright; what can you use or borrow and what is prohibited; risks of mixing other people’s content; finding the original source for attribution/permission; how to protect your own IP

b. Example Assignment: Find a popular image in your topic area and trace it back to the original source

11. Case Study: Dog Twitter

a. Topics: Interview and Conversation with Matt Nelson of We Rate Dogs and Thoughts of Dog

12. Case Study: Top Brand Accounts

a. Topics: Studies of brands the do social media right. Wendy’s, Moon Pie, Steak-umm, etc.

13. When things go bad: popular, malicious accounts

a. Topics: alt-right, anti-vax, and other harmful content pushed by influencers

b. Topics: Brands who take tone-deaf steps to get attention. 9/11 memorials, using popular hashtags without attention to context (e.g. hashtag about the location of a mass shooting to sell a dress)

c. Dealing with trolls and criticism

Policy on Academic Misconduct

Cases of academic misconduct will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct irrespective of scope and circumstances, as required by university rules and regulations. It is crucial to understand that the instructors do not have a choice of following other courses of actions in handling these cases. There are severe consequences of academic misconduct, some of which are permanent and reflected on the student’s transcript. For details about procedures governing such referrals and possible consequences for the student please visit

It is very important that you complete your own assignments, and do not share any files or other work. The best course of action to take when a student is having problems with an assignment question is to contact the instructor. The instructor will be happy to work with students while they work on the assignments.

University of Maryland Code of Academic Integrity

“The University of Maryland, College Park has a nationally recognized Code of Academic Integrity, administered by the Student Honor Council. This Code sets standards for academic integrity at Maryland for all undergraduate and graduate students. As a student you are responsible for upholding these standards for this course. It is very important for you to be aware of the consequences of cheating, fabrication, facilitation, and plagiarism. For more information on the Code of Academic Integrity or the Student Honor Council, please visit

Special needs

Students with disabilities should inform the instructor of their needs at the beginning of the semester. Please also contact the Disability Support Services (301–314–7682 or DSS will make arrangements with the student and the instructor to determine and implement appropriate academic accommodations. Students encountering psychological problems that hamper their course work are referred to the Counseling Center (301–314–7651 or for expert help.

Prof @ UMD iSchool, computer scientist, social media analyst

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