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Alumnus Helps Students Learn the Power of Social Media Marketing

DePaul business alumnus Marshall Hamilton may have graduated seven years ago, but he’s still making an impact in the classroom.

“Marshall has been a kind of silent hero in bringing Sprout to students,” says Chris Hjorth, a marketing instructor at the Driehaus College of Business. “This is a unique opportunity students are getting, to be able to walk away from a class with hands-on experience in a tool like Sprout that is used in companies all over the country.”

DePaul business alumnus Marshall Hamilton
DePaul business alumnus Marshall Hamilton

Hamilton (BA ’12) is director of sales strategy at Sprout Social, a Chicago-based software media company that helps brands reach and engage their audiences, manage their social media accounts, and capture and measure digital marketing data.

It’s been a year since Hjorth and Hamilton first teamed up to develop ways to integrate Sprout’s software into Hjorth’s popular social media marketing course for undergraduate and graduate business students, a course that often sees long waitlists when she teaches it every quarter.

Hamilton didn’t know Hjorth back when he was a student at DePaul, but he did know Jacqueline Kuehl, director of the business college’s Digital Marketing Program. It was she who had initially reached out to him inquiring about opportunities to utilize Sprout as an educational tool in the classroom. Kuehl soon introduced Hamilton and Hjorth so they could work together, and the partnership continues to this day.

“DePaul more than a lot of other universities does this well. It recognizes that classroom experience needs to be combined with real-world experience,” Hamilton says. “I feel passionate about helping DePaul bridge that gap and felt this was the perfect two-fold opportunity. I could give back to a community I care about while also help us at Sprout learn more about how we can operate in the educational space, as it’s an area we’re interested in exploring.”

Mining Social Media Data

With Hamilton’s help, Sprout became a part of Hjorth’s marketing course in two important ways. First through its publishing tool, which students use to create, manage and publish social media posts, and second through its listening studies, which, Hjorth says, are critical to effective social media marketing.

Senior Instructor of Marketing Christine Hjorth
Senior Instructor of Marketing Christine Hjorth

Listening studies involve scraping conversations between consumers on social media, primarily off of Twitter since the conversations need to be public. Then Sprout organizes those conversations into metrics from which companies can pull insights for their brand. “It’s like the world’s biggest focus group because you’re listening to conversations that allow you to pick up trends that can give you ideas about content and strategy,” Hjorth says.

Using Sprout, students in Hjorth’s course have been able to conduct listening studies as part of class assignments. “I can tell them: do a listening study on something general like coffee, or I can be more specific and ask them to do a study on how Dunkin Donuts’ new marketing campaign is doing. Either way, students get this great first-hand experience in listening studies and also in data analytics,” Hjorth says. “There’s so much data out there, and its huge for students to have access to it and learn how to develop insights that are actionable.”

Students see the value in it, too. “I definitely enjoyed the Sprout Social listening work,” says Lauren Morten, a Kellstadt Graduate School of Business student who took Hjorth’s class in fall 2020. “It was so valuable to practice my social listening skills in real-time and on a real-life dashboard that I will likely use in my future career.”

The second element of Sprout’s platform that students are using is its publishing tool. Learning how to create content calendars and craft social media marketing content, students have been able to take it a step further and learn how to publish their posts using Sprout’s platform.

“It’s practical hands-on experience, but it’s also more than that,” says Hjorth, “Knowing that this type of software exists in the first place and understanding its power and potential is just as valuable.”

Hamilton agrees: “Social media used to be an afterthought within businesses, but now its role is more complex because it’s tied directly to revenue. Helping students understand that is important because your experience with social media as a regular user is different from your experience with social media within a professional business context.”

“I could have talked about listening studies or explained how publishing works on a social media management platform,” continues Hjorth. “But I could have never shown students how it works, or had them practice it themselves, without Hamilton’s help. I’m grateful DePaul has such a large and active alumni network we can tap into to open these doors for students.”

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