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Faculty Q&A with Eric Hoffman

Sep 29, 2014

Eric Hoffman has only just finished his first year at Flagler College, but the associate professor of communication is wasting no time making an impact.

After spending time teaching at universities such as Washington State, Barry and Florida State, Hoffman quit teaching to pursue work in strategic communications, a field he has a doctorate in. After five years running his own media company, Hoffman decided to come back to his first love of teaching. 

Since coming to Flagler, Hoffman has been published in a top-level college health journal for his study of the effects of social media on drinking and has helped a group of college students make the roads a safer place for bike riders. 

Flagler Magazine had a chance to chat with Hoffman about his whirlwind first year.

Q. You have a doctorate in strategic communications from FSU and plenty of teaching experience, but tell us more about your life in the field.

A. After four years at Barry University, I had the opportunity to go work for the Harris Corporation, which is a major Fortune 500 company. I worked in their digital automation division working with clients like Sirius XM radio, ABC, NBC, CBS and Comcast. When you’re watching TV at home, everything is automated. What we did was run those systems. After that, I took what I learned and started A&H Media, which allowed local businesses to use sort of that same system. So you’d come in to a car dealership and watch TV, but along with that you’d also see ads and messages from the business you’re at. I still have an ownership in the company, but I made the decision to go back to my original love of teaching.

Q. Back in April you were published in the Journal of American College Health for research you did investigating the impact that social media advertising by alcohol marketers has had on college students. Tell us a little about that.

A. There was a paper produced by the University of California Berkeley that raised an alarm about all these alcohol companies using social media to market their product, but they didn’t really provide any empirical evidence to that being the case or the effect it had. I decided to take this on to see how drinkers, and primarily students, are taking to these messages. 

Q. How do you study something like that?

A. First we did a pilot study to kind of determine which questions would really get to what we were looking at and administered it to around 100 students. We looked at our results, refined the questions and then did the study at two different schools, a private school on the east coast and a public school on the west coast. We asked questions like if they drank, used Facebook or interacted with alcoholic brands on Facebook? Then we measured their drinking behaviors and their beliefs on drinking, measured their social media use, as well as their social media use with alcohol brands.

Q. What did you find?

A. There is a connection. Keep in mind that just the act of using social media has no impact on drinking, but if you use social media to connect with brands on social media, like being friends with Budweiser on Facebook or following Jim Beam on Twitter, you are more likely to consume more alcohol and think about drinking more often than the average college student.

Q. Besides being published in a health journal, how can this information be beneficial to others?

A. I think for one, it helps physicians understand the drinking behaviors of college students. If they work with patients who have drinking problems, this can be of use to determining factors of that. But I think an even bigger use is for health communicators or those who help put together health communication campaigns like anti-drinking campaigns. They now understand that social media has an impact and they can craft their messages in a way that sort of counteracts that effect. 

Q. Besides your own research, you’ve been able to work with students to do some of their own. Can you tell me a bit about One Road?

A. One Road is a bicycle safety campaign that’s sponsored by the North Florida Bicycle Club and run through Flagler. What we learned was that Duval County and Northeast Florida are actually ranked as the most dangerous place to ride a bicycle in the United States. There are more bicycle deaths per capita here than in any other city in the country. So with that need, we created a complete marketing communication plan and called it One Road. It’s not just educating motorists, it’s also educating those on bicycles so that everyone can share the road safely.

Q. How much of the work has been done by students?

A. All the work. All the presentations we’ve had to do. Flagler students are doing it all. Students presented the campaign to the Jacksonville Transit Authority. They run this project. I’m always looking for ways to incorporate practical projects in my classes and this seemed like a great way for my students to learn how to create a marketing communication campaign and give back to the local community at the same time.

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