Communication students create media campaigns for local organization

In a January 2020 event, University of Miami students sail with Shake-A-Leg Miami participants. Photo: Evan Garcia/University of Miami
By Barbara Gutierrez

In a January 2020 event, University of Miami students sail with Shake-A-Leg Miami participants. Photo: Evan Garcia/University of Miami

Communication students create media campaigns for local organization

By Barbara Gutierrez
Students in the Internet and Media Activism class provided Shake-A-Leg Miami with several ways to increase awareness of the work it does to help children with disabilities enjoy the waters of Biscayne Bay.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Shake-A-Leg Miami—an organization that provides children with and without disabilities the opportunity to have sailing and sports experiences on the waters of Biscayne Bay—had to shut down.

But the closure created an opportunity for students in the University of Miami School of Communication. They created an online television channel for the nonprofit group so that young campers could enjoy activities virtually—and still have a connection to Shake-A-Leg Miami and the outdoors.  

Now, as Miami-Dade County begins to return to some sort of normalcy, students are again helping the organization to bolster its communication and reach a broader audience.

This time, students from the School of Communication’s Internet and Media Activism class were broken into four groups to design content that will help the community learn more about the organization’s work, according to Michelle Seelig, an associate professor who teaches the class.

Prior to the class, Seelig met with Harry Horgan, president of Shake-A-Leg Miami. Horgan was interested in drawing families and veterans back to the water. Many of them had some anxiety about returning to group activities.

“He tasked the students with advocating content that will help people learn more about the healing qualities of the marine environment, in a safe and social distancing manner,” Seelig said. 

The task fit the class’s mission, which was to examine the role of the internet and media in shaping social reform to document several social issues including poverty, human rights, and inequities.

The students approached their tasks with the goal of providing Shake-A-Leg Miami with a more modern social media presence, interactive promotional materials, exciting visual elements, and access to social media influencers who could help them reach a wider audience, some of the students explained.

Many of the team members agreed that although Shake-A-Leg Miami has a social media presence, its website could be better organized and easier to use. One student team created a prototype that transformed the group’s Instagram site, creating different categories for visitors to engage in and even provided a prominent button, which would make it easier for visitors to donate funds.

Student Adolfo Oliveira and his team were asked to come up with ideas to generate greater recognition of the organization, as well as to identify fundraising opportunities. His team proposed the idea of collaborating with local businesses, including local realtors and stores that sell sports apparel.

“We feel they should target a very diverse group of people because that way they are throwing out a wider net,” Oliveira said. His team’s plan also included reaching out to social media influencers like Kelly Slater, a Florida surfer with more than 2.7 million followers on social media platforms, and Gesias Cavalcante, a Brazilian martial arts expert who is also popular in South Florida.  

As a way to let parents know that Shake-A-Leg Miami has created a safe summer camp for children, one of the team’s created a fun, colorful social media campaign called “Make New Friends.” It included short, catchy videos of past camp members talking about their experiences.

To increase awareness of Shake-A-Leg Miami, another student team designed a contest—“Show ’em what you can do Miami”—for people to become more engaged. The contest, which would be promoted through social media, would ask participants to upload a one-minute video and a statement about what they can do on the water. The hashtag #MyShakealegMoment would be attached to each post. The winners would win a trip sailing on Biscayne Bay with Shake-A-Leg Miami.

“We want to show the whole world how amazing differently abled people are and how they can participate in things that maybe people could not believe they could,” said Corbin Graves, one of three team members who worked on the contest.

Shake-A-Leg Miami also provides services to veterans. Another team devoted its time to coming up with ways the organization could attract more veterans. Among the suggestions they had was that the organization needed to reach out to the community with a more robust media campaign and that it needed to enhance its Veteran’s Day activities. The team also suggested that Shake-A-Leg Miami could benefit from reaching out to social media influencers who are veterans.   

Horgan was impressed with all the proposed projects and suggestions provided by the student teams.

“They were all great,” he said. “There is something to be said about young people doing this kind of outreach. Their vision is more colorful and fun.”

Horgan is now trying to figure out how to integrate some of the projects into his organization’s social media platforms. He is working with Seelig and others at the School of Communication and plans to hire summer interns who can begin to help implement the social media campaigns.