BYU Comms debuts social media lab

From left: Professor Joseph Ogden and students Stephanie Smith, Genny Hickman and Lauren Kutschke monitor social media tools. Communications students and faculty meet for class to learn how to use social media analytics and other digital tools in the new Y Digital Strategy Lab in the Brimhall Building. (Sebastian Meyer) 

BYU was a seemingly deserted campus on a Saturday evening except for a few BYU students and faculty who were busy monitoring social media posts for an event happening almost 700 miles away.

The new addition of the Y Digital Strategy Lab in the BYU School of Communications allows students to gain digital and social media experience while they work on projects for real clients. Its latest project was the OakHeart Country Music Festival in Thousand Oaks, California.

The lab helps students gain valuable experience that prepares them for the technology-influenced communications industry.

Y Digital debuted Spring term, providing the first opportunity for students to enroll in the new class. The term started off with a project for Mountain Dew that took place during the NASCAR All-Star Race on May 20.

Public relations professor Joseph Ogden approached the School of Communications dean 18 months ago and said the public relations faculty wanted to “re-conceptualize” the public relations lab and change it into a “social media, digital engagement lab.”

Funding came quickly and reconstruction began thanks to donations from alumni, friends of BYU and various companies.

Students work with programs like HYP3R, Crimson Hexagon and BuzzSumo to carry out social media and digital marketing campaigns for contracted clients. Y Digital Director Adam Durfee said the lab is a unique experience for students.

Y Digital Director Adam Durfee said the lab is a unique experience for students. “This is a very big opportunity offered at very few other universities for students to learn how to do this type of work,” he said.

Durfee is a graduate of the public relations program at BYU and has spent five years working in social and digital marketing. He said investing in learning more of the digital side of public relations helped him feel important early in his career. He’d been teaching part-time as an adjunct professor but was recruited to join the full-time staff to teach and oversee Y Digital’s operations.

Ogden said the public relations industry trends are leaning toward digital communications. Y Digital was created to give BYU students a competitive edge when entering the professional world.

“Our goal was to become the leading place to learn digital communications in the world,” Ogden said.

The public relations curriculum is changing to incorporate a social media aspect into every class. Y Digital will be available to all communications majors and will allow teachers to use different tools, teach students a different skill set and enhance projects the students are able to do for companies, according to Ogden.

“We knew that proposing this lab and working with some of these companies would totally change what we’re teaching and how we’re preparing students to make a difference in our field,” Ogden said.

Public relations student Stephanie Smith decided to take the Y Digital class to help with the rebranding. Working with the programs and tools available in Y Digital makes communications quantifiable, according to Smith.

“It gives you good experience and you’re able to touch base on a lot of different aspects of PR,” Smith said.

Y Digital will have its grand opening in September. The lab is currently in what Ogden labeled as “phase one,” but Ogden said there are at least three phases planned with the likelihood to have five phases planned by the end of Fall Semester. All phases are planned to continue to develop strategies and gain more resources to help the students.

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