Implementation of Active Learning Techniques in an Undergraduate Public Relations Course: Comparing Individual Social Networks and Brand Communities

Primary author: Corrie Wilder

Primary college/unit: Edward R. Murrow College of Communication
Campus: Everett


This paper describes an in-class social network mapping activity that serves as an overview of social identity and social objects—the building blocks of a social network. Active learning techniques were used to introduce the concept of personal networks, brand communities, and the role of public relations professionals in fostering relationships. The social network mapping activity illustrated the application of the following theories: Travers and Milgram’s (1969) “the small world problem,” Tajfel’s social identity theory (see Tajfel & Turner, 1979), and Granovetter’s (1973) “strength of weak ties.” It prompted students to consider which individuals are in their networks and how they are connected through unique social objects. Furthermore, they determined where audiences overlap and weaker network ties reside and related these connections to the development and nurturing of a brand community. Through active learning exercises that included quick-writes and manual social networking mapping, students visualized how various connections use social objects to create communities. They ultimately learned that messages spread further and faster when shared through weak ties that bridge otherwise unconnected communities.