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WNC Broadband Project Social Media Campaign 

Belle Kozubowski and Tristan Lashea

Department of Mass Communication, University of North Carolina at Asheville

MCOM 495.003: The Internet and Society

April 28, 2022

Research:

After the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for stable and reliable broadband connectivity across the country has become increasingly more apparent. With school, doctors appointments, work, and even family dinners shifting online it became even more clear that internet connectivity is a crucial part of being able to thrive in our society. According to the Pew Research Center in a survey of US adults conducted between 2000 and 2021, there has been nearly a 10% increase in rural broadband connection between 2019 and 2021 alone, but rural communities throughout the United States continue to be the least connected across the board. The WNC Broadband Project specifically focuses on rural communities within Western North Carolina, with the goals of expanding access and education. 

Before continuing our research, we consulted the WNC Broadband Project’s mission statement to see what topics from that might help to shape and cultivate our campaign. In this preliminary research, two major things that stuck out to us are that the group “aims to provide information” and “advocate for an inclusive broadband strategy,” according to their mission statement provided on their website. These ideals certainly helped to narrow the focus of our research, while making sure that our campaign was in alignment with the goals of our community partner. 

One major component of our campaign and of the research that we did was about finding approachable and understandable definitions for basic broadband terms. When we began this course, neither of us had a very clear understanding of what broadband was and all of the different aspects of this sector, so creating a baseline knowledge of broadband terminology was crucial to the creation of our campaign. Some of the first places that we looked for comprehensive broadband definitions were the WNC Broadband Project’s blog section and NC Broadband, which is North Carolina’s broadband and digital equity office. Some of the terms that we defined included the six types of broadband, the digital divide, and digital natives vs. digital navigators. These terms were the most helpful to us in our own understanding of the broadband sector so we wanted to be sure to offer clear definitions in our campaign. 

Throughout the course we had the opportunity to hear from a handful of pertinent guest speakers, including the chair of the WNC Broadband Project, Dr. William Sederburg. When he spoke with us, Dr. Sederburg underscored that mapping is a huge issue across both the state and the nation. In our research, we came across many different broadband maps, which made things a bit confusing. Sara Nichols from the Land of Sky Regional Council also came to talk to our class and discussed mapping with us, and the NC OneMap that she showcased was much more helpful and comprehensive than most. In Western North Carolina alone, between 11% and 39% of those who completed the surveys that drove the NC OneMap said that they didn’t have access to “general, phone, and farm” broadband. Although it varies between counties in WNC, it’s clear that there is a definite lack of stable connectivity for many residents in the area and in the state in general. 

Some other major aspects of broadband connectivity that we came across while conducting our research were education and homelessness. According to the WNC Broadband Project’s 2021 Policy Priorities, “roughly 13% of the public-school children do not have internet at home” and “between 35 and 40% cannot get adequate high speed broadband for educational purposes.” While these statistics only include those polled in Western North Carolina, we know that across the state and nation there are issues with broadband and education, which is typically referred to as “the Homework Gap.” According to North Carolina’s office of broadband and digital equity, the Homework Gap is specifically how the digital divide affects school aged children. Another issue that we researched is the lack of action in getting low-income or homeless individuals ways of getting internet access. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than one in six people have no internet access. Not only is internet access necessary to live and function in our society today, but it is also critical for education, job searching, and telehealth. Based on the information from Allconnect, with COVID we have seen the dependence we have on having broadband and those who have been left behind the progression of the digital age.  Individuals in low resource situations rely on public wifi from libraries, restaurant parking lots, and coffee shops all that have limited hours and transportation access (Supan, 2021).

Objectives: 

This advocacy campaign utilizes social media to educate communities within Western North Carolina and hones in on the need for awareness about broadband in general and the issues that accompany it. The campaign highlights information regarding broadband access, navigating online platforms, and the need for expanded broadband access in rural areas. The thread that connects all of these aspects is the importance of education about broadband and the impact that accessibility has on our communities. One major cornerstone of our project focuses on the digital divide and how we can work to decrease the lack of knowledge that people have around broadband in general. This social media campaign and multimedia package explains the digital divide, empowers individuals to care about mending that divide, and offers comprehensive resources to educate people in the community about what they can be doing as individuals.

One of our two main objectives for this campaign is to increase the understanding of broadband in general. When we began this course, we didn’t have a very clear understanding of what broadband truly meant and all of the inner workings of that sector, so we expect that through our campaign individuals in Western North Carolina will be able to use the WNC Broadband Project’s social media as a jumping off point to understanding more about what kind of connectivity is available to them. Our target audience for this objective of our campaign is Western North Carolina residents who are uneducated about broadband, including both those who currently have access and those who don’t. While it certainly will be more challenging to reach those who don’t have access, our hope is that as the WNC Broadband Project’s social media presence grows, they will also become more well known and recognizable as the advocacy and education group that they are.  

Our other objective is to increase the awareness and visibility of the WNC Broadband Project and the work they are doing. In doing our research we found that there are many different resources for broadband information, which can certainly make it confusing for lay-people who are trying to get a better understanding of the sector and the issues that face it. The WNC Broadband Project is in a unique position as they are an advocacy and education organization instead of a broadband provider. Our target audience for this objective of our campaign is Western North Carolina residents in general, but specifically those who might be able to take on an advocacy role within their personal communities. We believe that it will take those at the top of the food chain who already have access to solid and reliable internet to help the WNC Broadband Project continue to expand their presence. Appealing to this specific sect of the population in WNC will also help to spread word of mouth about the WNC Broadband Project and increase visibility. 

Our timeline for this project and for both of our objectives is to follow the standard social media campaign running time which is three months. Over the course of the three months, WNC Broadband will be able to use our content creation, resource guides, and branding assistance as tools to get more people to engage with the WNC Broadband Project and also gain more knowledge about broadband.  

Programming: 

Message Design

In order to have an effective campaign we needed to create a catchy and evergreen slogan that would follow the topic of broadband and the lack of awareness on the social issue of internet access. After trying a few word combinations we found that “WNC Broadband Now” was simple yet memorable as well as brought forth a need for action to the target audience of residents in Western North Carolina which is our goal. Having our campaign message be aesthetically pleasing to look at is beneficial to establish the branding that our social media toolkit provides as well as makes the message easy to remember.  

While trying to make sure that our campaign message is retainable we found the elaboration likelihood model in a social media context specifically to be the most useful in informing our understanding of how people process information. The elaboration likelihood model is used in order to evaluate how people are going to process information mainly in psychology but is applicable in other fields such as mass communication theories. In the case of our campaign we looked into how having an ELM framework interrogated in our content was effective in guiding our message. Based on a study that specifically looks at ELM and social media use, the best way to be certain that the information is being processed by social media consumers is through a dual-route, which includes both a central route and peripheral route (Teng et al., 2014). Based on our second objective, we hope that individuals will take action to get involved with the WNC Broadband Project through their engagement with this campaign. This goal is supported through our emphasis on the central route of processing and persuasive messaging. The central route focuses on creating a meaningful message that has lasting change with an audience that is capable of high motivation and deep processing in order to invoke the action that we want them to take from our message (O’Keefe, 2013).

Campaign Tactics

We used multimedia campaign materials to create a full and well rounded variety of content for our campaign as tools for WNC Broadband Project. This included social media graphics, campaign logo, personal profiles, podcast, and resource guides as well as extra tools such as a brand kit and a Linktree. Our toolkit will mainly consist of social media graphics that WNC Broadband can post throughout the campaign timeline. Before beginning our content creation, it was really important to our campaign to create a cohesive brand toolkit. When creating our campaign, we used these guiding questions: 1. Does the campaign message clearly communicate the overarching goal to raise awareness of broadband in Western North Carolina?,  2. Is the visual design aesthetically pleasing, professional, and consistent with the message?, and 3. Do the components of the campaign work together? We started by looking at the existing colors that the WNC Broadband Project uses on their website, and expanded those with some more neutral supporting colors. Our final colorways included blues, green, and grays. When deciding on our font choices, we wanted to remain consistent with the professional typefaces that were already employed on WNC Broadband Project’s website and social media platforms, while also emphasizing readability and accessibility of information. We didn’t want to make things too feminine or masculine, so we chose Woodland as our main font, with Arsenal as our supporting font, and any other typeface was Playfair Display. 

Screenshot of WNC Broadband brand toolkit from Canva Pro.

Social Media Info

While our content is catered a bit more towards Instagram, it can certainly be used effectively across social media platforms. When Marc Czarnecki shared the social media analytics with us for the WNC Broadband Project, it was clear that the group’s Instagram presence was in need of the most attention. The WNC Broadband Project’s Instagram account has 67 followers and the content that’s been posted isn’t very tailored to the platform, with confusing messaging and large time gaps between posting. In addition to our campaign hashtag, #WNCBroadbandNow, and #WNCBroadbandProject, we’ve curated some more hashtags that can be used across platforms to increase engagement and visibility for the campaign content. Some of these hashtags are already in use on the WNC Broadband Project’s social media, but we also did further research to see what other broadband organizations were including with their social media content. These hashtags include: #BroadbandForAll, #BroadbandAccess, #Infrastructure, #PublicWifi, #WNCBroadband, #DigitalInclusion, #DigitalDivide, #RuralBroadband and #CallToAction. 

Campaign Budget

As well as creating campaign content, we decided to look into the cost of creating “takeaways” for the WNC Broadband Project to use if they go speak to different groups, table, or hold conferences. Some things that we know are very popular include stickers and tshirts, so we thought it would be worthwhile to estimate the cost. For our budget, we chose to stick to about a $400 investment. Over the three month period of our campaign, different aspects of our budget could be purchased instead of having a lot of up front purchases, so it can be made more manageable depending on what kind of funding is available throughout the year. 

We broke up the budget into three different categories, the first being general merch (stickers and tshirts) to help spread the word about the WNC Broadband Project. We estimated that purchasing these stickers through Print Place would be the most cost effective for a larger amount; for 500 stickers it would cost about $22. In addition to having stickers as merch, we also calculated the cost for t-shirts, which ended up being about $130 for 65 crew neck shirts from Underground Printing. Then we looked into the cost for making specialized postcards that could be sent to WNC residents or politicians about specific broadband opportunities or advocacy. For 500 customized postcards from GotPrint, it would cost about $28.50. Finally, we estimated the cost for some social media assistance, including a Canva Pro subscription and a possible social media intern. For a year long subscription to Canva Pro it costs $120 and for about an hour a week of social media help it would cost about $8 per week. The WNC Broadband Project could also look into bringing an unpaid social media intern on, which wouldn’t cost them anything. Overall, the estimated spend for this budget would be $396.50. 

Implementing the Campaign 

When it comes to implementing this campaign, we planned for it to take place over a three month period. Before the campaign begins, it’s important to understand the baseline analytics. Then, during the campaign, we have graphic posts available to post every week, with a goal of organic content to be posted every other week. This organic content could be current events, meetings, or relevant progressions in broadband issues. During this time, analytics should also be monitored and recorded each month. Finally, once the campaign is completed, all analytics can be compared and plans can be made for future posting and engagement. 

Evaluation:

As this social media campaign is posted, we anticipate there will be an increase in social media engagement across social media platforms. When we were planning for this campaign, we recognized Instagram as being one of the weaker platforms that the WNC Broadband Project is on. Although our content can certainly be used across platforms, we hope to see the most growth on the WNC Broadband Project’s Instagram profile. In addition to Instagram being one of their smaller social media platforms, it allows for some of the most growth across the campaign timeline. Some challenges that may arise as this campaign is rolling out is that there could be a possible disconnect between those who are interested in the content and engage in it and those who might showcase a willingness to actually work with the WNC Broadband Project. 

Stewardship: 

Throughout the timeline of our campaign, we hope that it will uphold WNC Broadband Project’s goal of responsibility for providing transparent and accurate information. In our content creation, we remained cognizant of where we were sourcing our statistics and definitions. We hope that this campaign will help to foster a relationship between the WNC Broadband Project and residents in Western North Carolina who are interested in getting involved. These individuals can be both those who already have access and those who don’t as this education and awareness campaign is applicable to all levels of broadband understanding. Through this campaign, we hope that our objectives will encourage individuals to become more aware of the importance of internet access in our society today, and especially in Western North Carolina. We hope that by increasing awareness of the WNC Broadband Project and their goals, we can help to close the digital divide and encourage viewers to think more critically about their broadband access. 

References: 

NCDIT Broadband Infrastructure Office. (January 5, 2021). Broadband Survey Data (General, Phone, and Farm). NC OneMap. https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/4096f70b64474e85a6646969902e514d

NCDIT Broadband Infrastructure Office. (2022). The Digital Divide. NC Broadband. https://www.ncbroadband.gov/digital-divide

NCDIT Broadband Infrastructure Office. (April 2018). Homework Gap in North Carolina Report. NC Broadband. https://www.ncbroadband.gov/data-reports/homework-gap-north-carolina-report

O’Keefe, Daniel J. (2013). The SAGE Handbook of Persuasion: Developments in Theory and Practice: Chapter 9. SAGE Publications. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_SAGE_Handbook_of_Persuasion/6cE5DQAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=elaboration+likelihood+model+central+route&pg=PT143&printsec=frontcover 

Pew Research Center. (April 7, 2021). Internet/Broadband Fact Sheet: Who has home broadband. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/internet-broadband/?menuItem=89fe9877-d6d0-42c5-bca0-8e6034e300aa

Swenson, K., & Ghertner, R. (2020). People in Low-Income Households Have Less Access to Internet Services

Supan, Joe. (June 30, 2021) Homelessness and the Digital Divide: What It Means and How to Help. Allconnect. https://www.allconnect.com/blog/technology-and-homeless#digital-dividehttps://aspe.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/private/pdf/263601/Internet_Access_Among_Low_Income.pdf 

Teng, S., Kok Wei Khong, & Wei Wei Goh. (June 24, 2014). Conceptualizing Persuasive Messages Using ELM in Social Media. ResearchGate; Taylor & Francis (Routledge). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271672002_Conceptualizing_Persuasive_Messages_Using_ELM_in_Social_Media 

WNC Broadband Project. (2020). About. WNC Broadband Project. https://wncbroadband.org/aboutproject.php

WNC Broadband Project. (2020). Broadband 101. WNC Broadband Project. https://wncbroadband.org/broadband101.php

WNC Broadband Project. (2021). WNC Broadband 2021 Policy Priorities. WNC Broadband Project. https://wncbroadband.org/docs/WNCBroadbandPolicyAgenda2021.pdf


MCOM’s Audio-Only Podcast of Nikolai Wise
MCOM Nikolai Video 1 ‘Filling the Gaps’
UNCA Mass Communication Class Project with Nikolai Wise, Video 2 – Western North Carolina Broadband Project
MCOM Nikolai Video 3 – Municipal Broadband