Marketing Class Competition Pairs Students with Golin's Pros

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Communications company Golin’s first interaction with the Naveen Jindal School of Management proved so positive that the “we’re going to need to hold on to a lot of résumés,” Brittany McKone, director of analytics in Golin’s Dallas office, said recently.

Her comment came after a team of five students won a Golin-sponsored marketing class competition to analyze Twitter data in a search for “accelerants of relevance.” The term encompasses all the traits that lie behind a piece of news spreading widely, quickly — “going viral” — on social media.

“An accelerant is basically a cause of increased retweeting,” Jordan Brooks, a member of the winning team in the spring Predictive Analytics Using Statistical Analysis Systems course, said. “We were looking at the trajectory of content in regard to retweets and attempting to find the causes of increased numbers of retweets and/or faster retweets. More retweets equal higher relevance.”

Twitter provides access to its historical data, and there is a lot of it, both useful attributes for detailed analysis, McKone said. “Also, Twitter can be a driver for trends.”

“Accelerants that students studied included as many as 30 variables,” said Zayd Mabruk, a Jindal School business administration and marketing alumnus (BS '12, MS '14) who now works at Golin as an analytics associate. He initiated the company’s connection to the school through his JSOM mentor, MS in Marketing Director Alex Edsel.

“I wanted students to gain exposure to a realistic project they might face in their early careers and apply their classroom knowledge in a unique way,” Mabruk, BS’12, MS’14, said. Tweet topics, content words, geographic origin, user gender, user influence, time lapses between tweets and re-tweets, and more were all fair game for closer scrutiny.

(From the left:) Golin mentors Stephanie Matthews, Mark Ward, Emily Jones, Margaret Aprison, Laura Remson and Zayd Mabruk with Dr. Haruvy and the winning students, Junhao Huang, Jordan Brooks, Xiaoge Xiu, James Ballard and Heeseung Lee

Over the course of the spring 2016 semester, McKone and Mabruk helped to design a project that would work well with in-class instruction, partnering with Marketing Professor Ernan Haruvy. Haruvy, who dreamed up the competition, said he relied on “a high level of interaction between students and Golin managers” to help drive the contest. Winning team members earned $175 and a tour of Golin.

“The representatives from Golin did a nice job of communicating areas of interest for them and their business needs as well as what would be less useful for them,” Brooks said. “We used this guidance to make sure our insights were actionable for them.”

In the end, Brooks and his teammates “won by focusing on the first hour of Tweets,” Haruvy said. Brooks, James Ballard, Junhao Huang, Heeseung Lee and Xiaoge Xiu concentrated on “which [media] outlets accelerate fastest, which demographic variables predict story virality, developing detailed perceptual maps — diagrams that visually display user responses — on news outlets to understand where to promote a story, and proposing a ‘Message Resonance Language’ map to identify words a story’s constituency will respond to.”

“We used different techniques such as text mining, cluster analysis, regression analysis, time-series analysis as well as graph and chart output,” Brooks said about the skills Haruvy taught and the class put to use.

The effort mattered to Golin, which brands itself as “the relevance agency,” because there always is a need, McKone said, “to understand how to drive relevance for clients. The most important thing is being proactive in telling stories that really matter in the right moment in time.

“How can we start predicting what stories will go viral? How do we select the right outlets? Who do we pitch to? How do we pitch to them? What do we pitch?”

McKone and Mabruk believe data scientists could be a great addition to Golin’s unique model to better answer these questions. The agency created the G4, which introduced the benefits of specialist communities, as opposed to hierarchical models, to the communications space. These communities include Explorers who deliver insights and measurement through research, analytics and planning; Creators who generate ideas and design and produce creative content to bring those ideas to life; Connectors who engage consumer and business audiences across earned, owned, shared and paid media; and Catalysts who lead the business, grow client relationships, drive change and champion campaigns. Data scientists like the UT Dallas students who took part in this program would work in the explorer community at Golin.

Working with the Golin team helped Brooks and his teammates discover the importance of relevance; a concept which has been critical to the agency’s success.

Eager to partner again with Golin, Haruvy said the competition “exemplifies the philosophy of teaching in the Marketing Area, with emphasis on high student exposure to industry leaders and real-world experience.”

Brooks’ take-away was that “the hands-on experience with real data and a real company will be hugely helpful as I look to begin my professional career in analytics.”

—Kris Imherr

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