Seven continents, 7 billion people — one global community united in challenging violent extremism.
That’s the concept behind the #7Strong brand that University of Arkansas at Little Rock business students created in an advertising development course taught by marketing and advertising Professor Gary Geissler.
The brand and related initiatives were so compelling that the team was selected as one of only two finalists from the United States in the global competition.
Geissler practiced with the five-member UALR presentation team in preparation for a trip to Washington, D.C., that started Jan. 30 and continued with the Wednesday, Feb. 3, Facebook Global Digital Challenge. A team from Finland ultimately won the competition, but the UALR squad was the highest ranked American entry in the contest. In addition to participating in the competition, the team presented its concepts to leaders at the FBI headquarters and even met President Obama during one of the squad’s visits.
Facebook and U.S. Department of State officials partnered with EdVenture on the contest as part of an initiative to counter global digital recruitment of groups such as ISIS.
UALR students chose the focus of their social media campaign based partly on research that suggests collaboration and equality alarm violent extremists.
“They fear that people will unite against them and cooperate and collaborate,” Geissler said. “The idea of #7Strong is that there’s strength in numbers.”
The UALR team’s primary focus for delivering the message was on social media, including Facebook, Vine, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, and Vimeo, and team members used traditional print ads, fliers, and banners to support that campaign.
While this was the first time UALR competed in the challenge, Geissler’s past classes have drawn accolades.
In 2013, a team from the course won a national marketing campaign contest sponsored by Taziki’s restaurant chain, beating out numerous larger schools. Then in 2014, another team from the class earned a first-place finish in a national AT&T brand competition.
“I’ve had good success with that class the past two years,” Geissler said. “I think success brings success.”
The competition for the global contest was the stiffest a UALR team from the class has faced, said Geissler, who mentioned that schools such as Boston College, Michigan State, Massachusetts, Connecticut, USC, and UCLA had participating squads.
“We’ve already beaten out some good teams from well-known universities to make it this far,” Geissler said.
He noted that many universities recruit students for these types of competitions.
“One thing that I’m really proud of is that I’ve just taken the students who signed up for the class and worked with them,” Geissler said.
Students in the global competition created the brand #7Strong, but they also introduced a variety of initiatives to support the effort to combat extremist recruiting.
“It’s not going to end overnight, so we have to have short-term and long-term initiatives,” Geissler said.
One of the short-term initiatives was a #RaiseAFlag campaign that encourages social media users to flag and report inappropriate content.
Geissler invited members of the FBI to speak to his class, and one of the problems they highlighted was that terrorist groups use social media to recruit and then “go dark” — moving the rest of the conversation to secure, private sites.
“The key, then, is to catch them and stop them early before they go dark,” Geissler said.
Geissler said organizations such as the FBI have had a positive response to the #RaiseAFlag campaign.
The presenting team also was invited to the White House for a national security briefing and to a reception with Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii.
“This program really has the potential to go global; there’s no doubt about it,” Geissler said.
Photo: Professor Gary Geissler practices with the presentation team in his advertising development course at UALR