EastBay Today

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Posted July 3, 2019

Launching R-Evolution

Cal State East Bay program helps local startup build out social media plan

When partners Cardum Sage Harmon and Marcus Adéshima Penn traveled to Cuba earlier this year, a sense of wonder awakened in them. Standing with Harmon’s son in front of political revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s mausoleum in the colonial Cuban town of Santa Clara, Harmon and Penn felt inspired to do something life-changing. Their long journey to this foreign country made them realize traveling is more than just taking a vacation. Traveling, they said, can be about culture, relationship-building and learning.

Soon after returning to the Bay Area and feeling enthusiastic to create something positive, Harmon and Penn founded R-Evolution: Dialogues in the Diaspora, a startup dedicated to providing a formative travel experience for African diaspora descendants who wish to connect with their heritage. The startup’s mission is to deliver international trips to individuals and families in order to encourage an interest in history and ancestry, build community bonding and inspire spiritual awakening.

Members of the Cal State East Bay social media program pose for a photo with Cardum Sage Harmon and Marcus Adéshima Penn, founders of the startup R-Evolution: Dialogues in the Diaspora.
Courtesy of R-Evolution

“We developed this startup to reach people who want to connect with their culture on a stronger level,” said Penn. “We’re very passionate about this because it can be a cultural health journey for others like it is for us.”

Over the several months after their trip to Cuba, Harmon and Penn developed a partnership with an Oakland nonprofit and began taking steps to establish their vision. They developed a blueprint and reached out to various business and nonprofit contacts. But one critical component was missing: a social media plan.

And this is where Cal State East Bay came into play.

Through a mutual friend, Harmon and Penn connected with Kim Legocki, the university’s social media marketing program director and professor. The Certificate in Social Media Marketing program, run through the university’s Continuing Education, is a six-course program providing students with training in practical and strategic components of social media marketing. Legocki’s class offered to assist R-Evolution with a social media plan, which Harmon said was one of the greatest gifts she’s gotten.

“We knew the class was going to give us tips and they ended up exceeding our expectations,” she said.

Penn added the information the pair received from the class “was immeasurable and invaluable.”

To create the marketing plan, which counted as their final, students from the spring cohort met with Harmon and Penn to find out about the startup’s goals, who their target audience is, which social media platforms they’d like to utilize, and who their competitors are. They then created a 52-page social media marketing document for R-Evolution, which they presented to Harmon and Penn on their last day of class. The comprehensive report even included analytics, legal policies and ideas for future social media posts.

“We came into this very fresh and green and this marketing report solidified what we are doing,” said Penn. “This document is our marketing bible. We’ll use it to apply for loans and it can help us show our idea to a potential funder. And all the students were very thorough and respectful and affirming. We felt cared for.”

One such student who took part in gathering information for the report was Johanna Lobaton. She was assigned to focus on current social media trends and advise the startup on how they could achieve success through specific proposals. Lobaton said the experience was educational and she will benefit from it in her current marketing job.

“Working on this final was really good because you use everything you learned in class,” she said. “It gave me a hands-on experience of what it’s like to have a client and provide them with a good strategy, meeting them and getting to know them. It was good practice.”

One other student who participated in the practicum was Brian Rawson, who found the project to be a rewarding challenge. He helped develop a brand voice and recommended which travel images would better suit the startup.

“The challenge was that the travel that’s out there tends to be about tourism and adventure and we wanted to try to reflect what [R-Evolution] is doing, which is a deep, soulful exploration of one’s heritage that happens through travel,” said Rawson. “I had to make hard choices about what to include and what to leave out before giving the finished product, and it was thought-provoking and stimulating.”

So far, Harmon and Penn have already began implementing several strategies the marketing plan recommends, such as using certain hashtags and specific images in their social media posts. They also learned how to create and post a Facebook advertisement. 

The class suggested they make grassroots efforts to engage with the community for further outreach and promotion, which Harmon and Penn said they’re currently doing. They plan on using their newly-acquired knowledge to promote their first two overseas trips: Ghana in December and Cuba in February 2020.

“This marketing plan helped us clarify our mission and made us think of things that we hadn’t before,” said Harmon. “All the research the class did was a great experience. We’ve walked away with something that will help us immensely into moving us forward.”