Book review, social media strategy, teaching social media

Required Class Reading: Nonprofit Social Media Strategy

9 Comments 10 October 2013


Developing a syllabus for Social Media Strategy is extremely challenging. This semester I’m teaching a graduate-level class in Social Media Strategy at Marlboro College in Vermont. The most challenging part of the curriculum development was making editing decisions on what ideas and concepts to teach…and what I had to regretfully leave for another class. The class is a 1-credit class, not a full 4-credit course, and which imposed limitations on the amount of allowed assigned reading and homework.

The first thing I considered was what one *must* read when thinking about strategy. This produced a very, very long list. Ultimately, I developed the reading list based on the desired knowledge outcomes for the students, which included developing a personal learning network, understanding network strategy and other seminal theories, and knowing how to create, implement and measure a nonprofit social media strategy. To that end, I chose readings and books that focus on both the theoretical and practical elements of developing a strategy.

Ultimately, I designed the course readings to include two required books for purchase, and many blog posts, journal articles, slideshows, and book excerpts. I chose to assign the entirety of Beth Kanter and Allison Fine’s The Networked Nonprofit, and Allyson Kapin and Amy Sample Ward’s Social Change Anytime Everywhere. (You may read my review of Social Change Anytime Everywhere here, and my Q&A with Allyson and Amy here.)

I also included chapters or partial-chapters from many of the books in the top photo, along with blog posts, presentations and journal articles. Students are reading short book excerpts:

Groundswell – expanded and revised edition 2013 (Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff)

Switch (Chip & Dan Heath)

Here Comes Everybody (Clay Shirky)

Content Rules (Ann Handley & C.C. Chapman)

Civility In the Digital Age (Andrea Weckerle)

Fierce Loyalty (Sarah Robinson) – and you may read my review of her book here

If I were to expand this class I would definitely add the entirety of either the updated version of Groundswell or Personal Connections in the Digital Age (Nancy Baym). Both are truly wonderful, offering both a practical and theoretical understanding of how to use social media for connected change.

I regretfully decided to set aside many books, hoping to use excerpts from them when teaching a full-credit course. These are also full of worthy and valuable content to read:

Tribes (Seth Godin)

Momentum (Allison Fine)

Likeable Social Media (Dave Kerpen)

Engage! or The End of Business As Usual (Brian Solis)

Humanize (Jamie Notter & Maddie Grant)

Buzzing Communities (Richard Millington)

Bowling Alone (Robert Putnam)

There are new books coming out every day, and it’s difficult to keep up. There’s a lot of so-called “required reading” for professionals in the field, nonprofit connectors, and social media change-makers. In the end, what makes you more effective in your work is what is most valuable. This list is one attempt to define required reading for mission-driven students of social media (taking a one-credit course on strategy), and does not in any way pretend to be all-inclusive, given the reading limitations for this class. My dream list of required reading is for another post!

  • Rachel Dearborn

    Great list. Bookmarked and definitely adding one or two to my own reading list. Another I’d suggest, if you haven’t already read it, is Contagious, by Jonah Berger. It distills the what and why of social sharing, and has been hugely informative in my work as a social media campaigner.


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    I haven’t read Contagious, or know of it, so thank you Rachel. I’m going to order it today!


  • Debra, I am so thrilled and honored that you selected Social Change Anytime Everywhere for your class – and I hope you let Allyson and I know if we can ever help with anything! Thank you 🙂


    justin adkins Reply:

    As one of Debra’s students, I LOVE Social Change Anytime Everywhere. It is great. I am a website developer for small businesses and non-profits. I have already suggested it to 4 of my clients!


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Thanks so much for the feedback. I’m sure Amy’s thrilled that you are recommending it! It is a great hands-on book for any nonprofiteer.


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Of course! It’s been a big hit with the students, and I will let them know that.


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  • melindalewis

    I’ve read at least part of all of these, and many are on my highlight list too. I am really interested in how you’re organizing the course, how you’ll help students apply their learning and reading to their practice, how you’ll navigate the distance, where it exists, between their individual social media strategy autonomy and the constraints of their organizational contexts, and how you’ll build a community of practice within the course, especially across sectors. As someone who teaches adults (but not about social media) and believes in the online social space, this is like a dream mashup…and THE PERFECT JOB for you! Lucky students!


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Melissa, I could not have asked for a more PERFECT JOB, as you so wonderfully put it. I loved teaching this course, loved the students’ desires to learn and use social media, and loved putting the syllabus together. Of course, halfway through I thought of two other “must read” books for the course — does this happen to you, too? I’m really looking forward to revising the curriculum based on learnings from teaching the first time, and potentially revising the structure of the course. The best part for me was the “flipped classroom” experience: active and interactive learning during the synchronous in-person weekend intensives, and reading/discussion forums online the rest of the month.

    I’d love to schedule a time to talk more about teaching and share with each other. I have always admired your thinking and I’m positive you’re a fabulous professor to have!



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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