Summer 2024

Damilare Olukosi, Dalia Charif, Ryan Thorpe and Marina Magnant have learned the power of social media and how it can help them as professionals. Photo by Joyce Marshall

Cover Story

The Business of Buzz

TCU students are learning to craft social media strategies that win followers and build brands.

On TCU Horned Frog Nation, a private Facebook group with more than 22,000 members, TCU sports enthusiasts gather online to interact the way diehard fans do best — they make predictions, celebrate wins, commiserate over losses, complain about referees’ calls, post photos from the game, and share articles, videos and podcasts that further fuel the conversation.

Facebook, 20 years after its founding, is the most popular social media platform in the world, with 3 billion active users each month — that’s more than one-third of the world’s population. The platform is home to more than 10 million groups, where members connect with one another based on a common interest, whether a neighborhood, profession, hobby, belief or even a disease.

“What Facebook groups allow us to do is to connect with others who share similar interests, values or have similar problems to solve,” said Guy Golan, associate professor of strategic communication. “Now think about the power of building a community with people like that.”

Golan, who developed a social media class for strategic communication majors, said that students who post consistently can position themselves as thought leaders. “I encourage them to be platform agnostic,” he said, “and to go where the audience/community is.”

But he has to work to convince them of Facebook’s value, because Gen Z tends to think of the 20-year-old platform as the realm of older generations. Often-fractious Twitter, now known as X, is also a hard sell.

Students instead gravitate toward TikTok, filled with short, funny videos, and Instagram, where users post photos and share short videos, or reels. Many students will join LinkedIn, a platform for professional networking where users post résumés and career updates.

“We try to get them to embrace social media, understanding that it could provide a platform for them to have further success, from a career standpoint in the future as well as trying to capitalize on building a brand while they’re at TCU.”
Ray Walls

TikTok came under fire when the U.S. Congress voted to require the app’s Chinese parent company to sell TikTok or face a ban in the U.S. Critics of TikTok believe the app could be used by China for surveillance or spreading propaganda, making it a threat to national security; defenders of the app see the proposed censorship as a violation of free speech.

The half of Americans under 30 who use social media to get their news concerns journalists, who find themselves competing with less scrupulous social media posters who claim to be reporting news. A 2022 survey from the Pew Research Center revealed that of respondents in 19 countries, at least half believe social media has made people easier to manipulate, more divided in their political opinions and less civil.

In spite of the risks, strategic communicators and those in any field that requires self-promotion can’t afford to ignore social media.

“There’s no way around it,” said Ray Walls ’12 MEd, associate athletics director for student-athlete experience and brand management, who educates student-athletes about name, image and likeness and serves as TCU’s NIL contact. “We try to get them to embrace social media, understanding that it could provide a platform for them to have further success, both from a career standpoint in the future as well as trying to capitalize on building a brand while they’re at TCU.”

The Student-Athlete

Damilare Olukosi, a sophomore mechanical engineering major and triple jumper for Track & Field, had zero expectations when he posted his most popular TikTok to date, which shows him dancing in anticipation of his sophomore season. Set to ScarLip’s “Blick,” a pulsing hip-hop track, the clip collected 3 million views.

“Sometimes you put so much effort into one and it really doesn’t do as well as you expect it to,” he said. “It’s always the ones you don’t expect that blow up.”

Damilare Olukosi said the popularity of a social-media post doesn’t always reflect the effort put into it. “It’s always the ones you don’t expect that blow up.” Photo by Joyce Marshall

While TikTok posts can be unpredictable, Olukosi, who was born in Nigeria, has identified some key factors. Timing is critical, he said. He likes to post at 9:13 a.m. Good music helps, too. But the main criteria for TikTok is to grab viewers’ attention in the first three seconds.

“When you have to write a paper, you have to have a hook,” he said. “It’s pretty much like that.” Olukosi hopes to become a mechanical engineer and a professional athlete supported by sponsorships. He believes the strategic use of social media can help.

TCU Athletics’ student-athlete development program has assisted Olukosi in his efforts. The department hosts mandatory workshops three times a semester on using social media and building a brand. Walls said the staff begins by helping student-athletes figure out who they are so they can tell their stories. Olukosi, they learned, is a self-taught artist.

The triple jumper began painting on his track spikes as a first-year when he was injured and couldn’t compete. He developed a process — removing the shoes’ finish, applying designs in leather paint and sealing them. Among his favorite designs is one featuring pink cherry blossoms and anime characters.

Olukosi’s shoe videos on YouTube and TikTok have drawn so much interest that he is considering a side business.

“On social media, we encourage student-athletes to dig deep into their personal lives, their values and the message that they want to get across to their audience,” Walls said. “When you understand who you are, you can build your brand around that.”

Olukosi earned an NIL deal promoting a country song for Sony Music. He’s also paid through TikTok’s Creativity Program Beta, which challenges people with more than 10,000 followers to create videos that are more than a minute long. But Olukosi said he’s focusing on the quality of his audience rather than on acquiring followers.

“As good as social media is to grow things, you should be careful what you post,” he said, mindful that he represents his school. “You can’t just post recklessly; you’ve got to post with purpose.”

A TikTok video about his track fails, Olukosi said, resonated with followers who are athletes. “I noticed I was able to inspire and connect with people,” he said, “by also showing my flaws.”

The Journalist

Shortly after The Princeton Review declared TCU to be home to the happiest college students in the nation, junior journalism and communication studies major Ryan Thorpe, an intern with the TCU social media team, set out to prove it.

Together with senior education major Lia Perez, he walked around campus with a microphone asking students, “Are you happy?” (Spoiler alert: They are.) The resulting Instagram Reel on TCU’s main account earned 52,000 views and nearly 4,000 likes.

A popular social-media post, Ryan Thorpe discovered, is one that is liked, shared and tags others. Photo by Amy Peterson

As a social media intern, Thorpe has learned to come up with videos that he knows students will enjoy and be quick to engage with — by liking, sharing and tagging friends — which prompts more views.

“It’s real student responses,” Thorpe said, “and it’s what actual students want to see.”

TCU social media interns meet once a week and volunteer to take on assignments as their schedules allow. The job has earned Thorpe press credentials to TCU football and basketball games, allowing him to capture and share content from the field or floor, and front-row seats to campus comedy shows and concerts. Like many in his generation, he doesn’t mind being on camera when needed.

Amy Peterson, TCU’s assistant director of social and multimedia strategy, said that students benefit from learning on-camera skills. “It also works really well for us,” she said, “because we need a lot of talent to be in the TikToks, to be on camera, to be the face of TCU.”

Thorpe learned how to use video editing software in his Introduction to Visual Journalism class. In News Production, he finessed his video-editing skills while creating news packages for class — projects later broadcast by TCU News Now, a show from the student-run outlet TCU 360. One such project, produced with junior journalism major Delaney Vega at the beginning of the 2023 football season, focused on three football players who transferred from Alabama to TCU.

The same video production skills involved in journalism — interviewing, producing, filming and editing — also make for high-quality social media content; pointing a phone and pressing record doesn’t produce the same results.

Balancing so many video assignments through his internship has given Thorpe enough experience to streamline his process. “I have a vision before I step out onto the field to actually grab stuff,” he said. “And I’ve taken that with me into my class to make my news packages.”

Thorpe is leaning toward a career in digital media, which could mean working for an agency, a sports organization or a media outlet. “The skills that I’ve learned to create a good, coherent, well-built and visually appealing story — I think that’s going to go so far,” he said. “I’m definitely going to be able to wrap my head around whatever is thrown at me.”

The Actress

By the time Alicia Nolley ’23 graduated with a degree in acting, she had developed another skill — running social media for arts organizations.

When she was new to TCU, Nolley said, a faculty member asked students what they wanted to see improved about the theatre program.

Alicia Nolley helped the TheatreTCU Instagram profile grow to 31,000 visits in 2023, an increase of 25 percent. Courtesy of Alicia Nolley

“We all talked about how we’re not as discoverable as some other programs.” The next semester, Jessica Humphrey, assistant professor of theatre, put together a social media plan. She plotted out topics to share and assigned the creation of posts, including photography, writing and design, to student helpers. Nolley volunteered.

“I think it is important to have the student perspective guide our social media channels,” Humphrey said. “They know what trends are happening, what is important for prospective students to know.”

Growth has been steady since TheatreTCU joined Instagram in February 2020. In 2023, the account tallied more than 31,000 profile visits, a 25 percent increase over the previous year.

TheatreTCU’s social media platforms — which also include Facebook, TikTok and YouTube — now serve to promote its program and productions. An annual student-produced video welcoming the incoming class gets thousands of views. “Booked & Busy” posts celebrate student appearances in professional productions. Alumni spotlights laud graduates including Alex Vinh ’18, who recently joined the national tour of Wicked.

The efforts have also succeeded in attracting prospective students. “We hear all the time, ‘Oh, I saw you on Instagram,’ ” Humphrey said. “It is a huge part of our recruitment.”

Learning on the job was a big part of Nolley’s experience, but theatre majors also receive social media guidance in the classroom. Humphrey teaches Professional Seminar, in which seniors build their websites with headshots, résumés and YouTube videos.

Aspiring actors, like other performing artists, might spend as much time selling their talents as they do rehearsing; building a following on social media can help. Actress Sophie Turner publicly credited her role in Game of Thrones to her popularity on the platforms.

“If you’re a name online,” Nolley said, “you often have a higher chance of getting cast because you’re going to bring in your audience to their project.” Nolley is now a digital marketing management master’s student at the University of Westminster in England. In addition to acting, she envisions a future helping arts organizations build audiences through social media marketing.

“My dream is to work for a theatre in London,” she said. “I just love the arts; talking about it online and creating content for it has become another outlet for me as an artist.”

The Marketer

On her personal TikTok, senior marketing major Dalia Charif went viral for a cheeky photo montage of Top Gun: Maverick star Miles Teller, whom she met at the Indianapolis 500, set to Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away.” The clip, featuring her kissing a photo of Teller, garnered 2.4 million views.

Charif has been using social media since middle school, and she believes those skills will be incorporated into almost any marketing job in her future. Her Digital and Social Media class with Elijah Clark, an instructor of marketing in the TCU Neeley School of Business, helped her transition from social to professional influence.

Dalia Charif uses a professional headshot for her LinkedIn profile to help raise her chances at landing new employment, a tip she learned at TCU. Courtesy of Dalia Charif.

Clark said that during his semester-long class, students begin to understand the difference between personal posts and corporate social media. While being informative and funny can be successful in either realm, he said, marketing professionals have more to consider. “We have to stick to brand standards,” he said, explaining that everything from logos to color palettes to messaging must align with the company.

In his class, Clark assigns a semester-long project to create a digital marketing plan for a small business. “And that I think is really practical,” Charif said, “because that’s what we’re going to be doing in the real world.”

Charif and her team chose Rockwood Go-Karts & Mini-Golf in Fort Worth. The group created a social media calendar with suggested posts, such as showing a young customer with a promotional keychain. They also shared a storyboard for a 30-second video for use on social media, designed to give viewers an authentic look at customers having fun. The team advised Rockwood to post consistently at strategic times and to tag organizations likely to book the venue, including TCU Greek organizations.

In a different class, Clark helps his students build or improve LinkedIn profiles. Charif took his advice to include a headshot with some personality — she’s pictured in business attire with a warm smile — and to keep text professional.

Charif’s updated LinkedIn profile outlines her many accomplishments, including a 2023 internship with Rogue Marketing Agency. Among her tasks at Rogue was creating posts for Vogel Alcove, which helps families experiencing homelessness in Dallas. To engage viewers and inspire potential donors, Charif created emotional posts showing young clients playing and shared data about homelessness and its impact on education.

Last November, Charif shared the news on LinkedIn that she landed a job with research firm Gartner, which has a long list of Fortune 500 clients. Clark’s comment on the post? “Slay!”

The Entrepreneur

Real-world experience has taught Parker Burross, a junior strategic communication and political science major, that a business’s social media content needs to be genuine, consistent and fun.

One of his social media clients, the co-owner of Parker County Beef Co. in Springtown, Texas, wanted help launching his efforts to sell directly to consumers. While some of the company’s social media focused on the future of agriculture or using dry ice in shipments, the most popular post was a TikTok Burross created of the fourth-generation cattle rancher pretending to be stuck in his freezer trailer.

“I really was just another Gen Z kid that thought I knew everything about social media. Taking strat-comm classes has refined that because I can do my elevator pitch to a potential client, get a meeting and then a week later walk in with a strategic communication plan.”
Parker Burross

“A lot of people take it way too seriously, and it doesn’t seem to work for them,” he said. “It’s about finding ways to express your brand voice in a really fun way. That’s how you get people to fall in love with your brand.”

In a fall 2023 meeting of his Social Media class, Golan, the strategic communication professor, made a case to his students for using Facebook groups to build trust with an audience.

Burross shared with the class that because of his work doing wedding photography, video and social media content creation for couples, he’s a member of the DFW Weddings Facebook group. There, he follows industry trends, gathers visual inspiration, establishes trust with prospective clients and occasionally offers specials on his services.

In high school, Burross began working with clients at his family’s Paradise, Texas, wedding venue, the Barn at Twelve Acres Ranch. He first offered free services shooting photography and video and uploading Instagram posts and TikToks for couples who wanted their celebration shared but didn’t want to spend their wedding day editing videos and images. Soon he had paying customers.

While at TCU, he successfully pitched content creation services to Electric Cowboy, a local country dance bar he was frequenting. Today, Burross Media Management, which includes a freelance graphic designer, videographer and editor, typically juggles between six and 12 clients. Burross said that his team, by creating consistent, targeted social media content, is taking a chore off of clients’ plates.

“Parker is an entrepreneur,” Golan said. “I have several students who own businesses, and they take what they learn in my class and apply it to their business on Day One.”

“I really was just another Gen Z kid that thought I knew everything about social media,” said Burross, who hopes to attend law school after graduation. “Taking strat-comm classes has refined that because I can do my elevator pitch to a potential client, get a meeting and then a week later walk in with a strategic communication plan.”

The Lead Intern

“And the winner of the Bluebonnet Battle is … TCU!!!” An Instagram post on TCU’s main account celebrated the win against Baylor with a slideshow of images showing the action on the field and in the stands, including SuperFrog dancing with TCU Showgirls, Dutchmen in purple-and-white striped overalls and fireworks capping the victory. The post garnered more than 4,600 likes.

Marina Magnant said that her time interning for the TCU social media team was instrumental in landing a job with Goldman Sachs in New York City after graduation. Courtesy of Marina Magnant

Marina Magnant, a senior supply chain and marketing double-major who serves as lead intern for TCU’s main social media accounts, was behind the camera.

“She has attended every home football game to capture photos and videos to share with TCU’s community,” said Amy Peterson, assistant director of social and multimedia strategy. “Her content is consistently some of the highest performing on our social media accounts, specifically her sports coverage.”

The international student from Portugal said her position with TCU’s social media team, run by Peterson and Mya Thatsanaphon, TCU’s social media specialist, paved the way for a full-time position in marketing with Goldman Sachs in New York City after graduation.

Magnant has become a skilled photographer, using one of the university’s professional cameras for events and gleaning tips from Peterson, a longtime photojournalist. For quick turnarounds on game days, Magnant relies on her iPhone. She switched service providers to get better reception at Amon G. Carter Stadium so she can share big moments immediately — as when TCU beat Iowa State to go 12-0 in the 2022 season.

“The content was posted right at the second that it was happening since it was such a huge moment for TCU,” Magnant said, adding that the experience inspired her honors thesis about how universities leverage athletic success to make strategic branding decisions.

With four years of experience, Magnant now arrives at major events like commencement with a storyboard vision in mind of what she wants to post.

“I have an idea of how many student and parent testimonies I want for the stories, how much of the ceremony we’re featuring and key moments that are happening, like at the December 2022 graduation when Max Duggan walked across the stage and a SuperFrog graduated and took off the head on stage,” Magnant said. “Being prepared ahead of time allows for the content to be generated and posted in an organic yet organized manner.”

Damilare Olukosi, Marina Magnant, Ryan Thorpe and Dalia Charif, seated, have grasped onto social media to help built their brand as they head into the workforce. Photo by Joyce Marshall

Know Thy Audience

From the beginning to the end of the semester in Golan’s Social Media class, as in Clark’s class, students experience a paradigm shift. They might arrive talking about numbers of followers or viral views on their personal accounts without being able to define their audience or goals. “We try to prioritize research and data over creativity, and strategic planning over virality,” Golan said.

Professional use of social media, he said, isn’t about acquiring the most followers — success requires consistency, along with a focus on relationship-building.

“I don’t want just anybody to follow me for any reason,” Golan said. “I want people following me because I provide value to their community.”

Students don’t have to look far for creative examples of connecting with a specific audience; TCU’s rabid fan base is a perfect case study. During the 2022-23 season, TCU Football’s social media team began posting victory videos on X, formerly Twitter; many were so hilarious, weird and original that fans checked X at the end of each game to see what the social team thought of next.

Jon Petrie, coordinator of creative video and photo for TCU Football, was behind the series.

One of his efforts, after TCU beat the Texas Longhorns, was a video showing upside-down horns (those on animals, movie characters and even musical instruments — but no cattle) flashing to the country song “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas.” Sports Illustrated dubbed it an “expert troll job” in its end-of-season online roundup celebrating the videos.

The videos found their way to Facebook, where members of the Horned Frog Nation group delighted in the silliness and snark.

Meanwhile, on X, TCU Football followers wrote, “Keepin it classy while trolling. It’s masterful memery,” and, perhaps more to the point, “How can you not want this to win?”