UW News

April 22, 2010

Master of Communication in Digital Media Program kicks off Media Space

The problem: The Seattle International Film Festival had been using social media to spread the word about its films, but efforts had been piecemeal rather than highly organized.

The festival is like lots of other organizations that want to use Twitter, Facebook, iPhone apps and the like, but aren’t sure how best play individual pieces or orchestrate the concert.

Enter Hanson Hosein, Scott Macklin and their students at the Master of Communication in Digital Media Program. They’ve inaugurated Media Space, an open-source, online platform for students and clients who want to use social media more effectively. Media Space is also new turf in the Communication Building.

“Digital media is very much in turmoil, so companies and nonprofits are trying to figure it out. Our students, many of whom are professionals, are also trying to figure it out, so we figure we should all figure it out together,” said Hosein, who directs the MCDM program.

Hosein and Macklin, who’s associate director of MCDM and chief technology officer for the UW College of Education, are bringing clients such as the film festival to their students, who then devise strategies for social media. The program is 10 years old but has grown and accelerated in the last three. The long-range plan, Hosein said, is for students and their professors to take clients from defining problems to implementing and evaluating solutions, all in the context of MCDM classes.

To help publicize MCDM and explore ways social media can expand good ideas, Macklin, Hosein and their students hosted a TEDx symposium earlier this month at Pacific Science Center. It featured people such as Gaetano Borriello, a UW professor of computer science whose research includes ubiquitous and mobile computing; and Ron Krabill, an associate professor in Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences whose recent projects include short media pieces by South African students during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

MCDM students conceive best ways to use online resources, but they had needed an offline home, a physical place to meet, particularly with clients. Media Space is a room next to Hosein’s office equipped with couches, chairs, four white boards and a small conference table with a computer monitor.

Peter Luyckx, 39, a former web producer for Microsoft and an MCDM student, welcomed the space. He’s one of three MCDM students who created the social media plan for the film festival last year. “Offline meetings were important for us,” he said, “but we were always having to find spots to meet.”

In conversations with festival personnel, Luyckx and his research partners Rebekah Peterson and Suna Gurol learned that along with uncertainties about social media, the festival typically had less than a month between announcement of the film schedule and the festival itself. They also simply wanted more buzz, more conversation with festival supporters.

The MCDM team devised a 12-page strategy that includes evangelists to spread the gospel: festival season ticket holders willing to tweet about the films, thereby creating conversations among filmgoers and making them feel part of the events. The team encouraged festival staff to join the conversations, answering questions and providing information when needed. Other MCDM work included a better web site and a Facebook page more visitor-friendly.

“The biggest takeaway was conversation about our social media platform. We wanted dialog with people,” said Jessica Toon, director of marking and communications for the festival.

The project was pretty taxing, according to Gurol, a 43-year-old Web producer for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center and mother of an 8-year-old. For personal reasons, she has taken a leave of absence from MCDM but intends to come back. The program, she said, “is a lot of work but very doable. I don’t get as much sleep as I’d like, but the work is really fun, so that makes up for lack of sleep.”