31 August, 2016
The Liberal Art University in Hong Kong
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Prof Ada Wong, Assistant Professor of the Department of Marketing & International Business, is one of the recipients of this year’s Teaching Excellence Awards for her contributions to the teaching of social marketing at Lingnan University.

For many people in Hong Kong, social marketing is a fuzzy concept. Is it marketing that relies on social media? Or is it perhaps related to multi-level marketing that needs someone to take advantage of his/her social network to make sales?

To Prof Wong, it is neither of those. She says, “social marketing is about applying the principles or theories of marketing to promote positive behaviour and give back to society.”

Prof Wong has been teaching the course, ‘To Care About Our Society - Social Marketing’, for the past four years.  When she started with Lingnan, the head of her department had asked to her create a new cluster course subject so that business students could fulfil the university’s service learning requirement. “It was a challenge for the department,” she says, “because in business we are always talking about how to earn money, not helping others.”

As it turned out, she was not the first to try her hand at creating a syllabus on the subject. A previous colleague had produced a social marketing course before her arrival but it was about marketing using social media, not social marketing as it has come to be known.

“I changed everything except the title,” says Prof. Wong, “and I was very glad to have had it accepted as an established subject.” 

With the introduction of the course, Lingnan became one of only two universities in Hong Kong to offer a social marketing programme (the other is Hong Kong Baptist University). For Prof Wong, teaching the course was a leap into the unknown. “I had been teaching core marketing subjects such as international marketing and services marketing to business students, but this was very different.” 

Challenging, but rewarding

One of the requirements of the course is to participate in community service projects in conjunction with community partners. Every year, there is a different theme, such as helping mentally challenged people to integrate into society or working with the Police to prevent youth crime. Traditional marketing techniques such as the Ten Step Model are used to plan and organise the activities.

Some students, however, are under the misapprehension that her course will be an easy way to gain required credits. “I always tell the students at the beginning it’s going to take a lot of time because you will be creating a project that will involve working with the community and with groups such as the disabled, mentally challenged or the elderly. I need to prepare them psychologically.” 

Teaching the course is also very demanding for Prof Wong, as it requires a great deal of her time organising projects with community partners. Additionally, because the students are representing Lingnan when out in the community she becomes personally engaged in every project to ensure the reputation of the university is upheld.

But for Prof Wong, the effort is well worth the effort. “As teachers we don’t always know the outcome of the programmes we teach, aside from the exam results. In this course, the students themselves change, you can feel their passion, and we can immediately see some difference in the positive influence they have on society. This is something not every teacher can achieve.” 

The impact of the course was particularly evident after a one-day event for senior citizens organised by the students with the Social Welfare Department. After helping the elderly learn how to use social media such as WhatsApp and Snapchat, one elderly woman gave the students a warm hug and thanked them profusely for such a wonderful day. Later, they also received messages of appreciation from family members of the elderly.

“I was crying as I was so touched,” says Prof. Wong.

Another touching moment came when Prof Wong asked some of her students to write short lines of recommendation in support of her nomination for the Teaching Excellence Awards. Expecting just 2 or 3 lines from a few students, she instead received about 20 letters, all quite long, saying they had never had this kind of teacher before in their lives.

 “For me, this made teaching the course so worthwhile,” she says, “even if I hadn’t won the award.”