HIllary Smith M ’20    

Smith’s niche leads to published digital accessibility research

The story of Hillary Smith and Clemson University begins with childhood visits to South Carolina.

Every summer, Smith visited Greenville, South Carolina, from Youngstown, Ohio. Passing by Clemson on the way to Lake Keowee with her family, she knew where the University was but never thought she would end up working there.

Smith attended Youngstown State University as an undergraduate, initially majoring in chemistry. She eventually decided to switch to marketing.

“While working at a bridal shop, I started their   social media when it was a newer idea,” she says. “When I was trying to decide what to do next, my husband told me to try (marketing). I changed my major, and since, it’s just stuck.”

After graduating, Smith worked at places that led   her to apply for a social media position at Clemson. This fall will mark her seventh year on the social media team. As the assistant director of social media, she delves into social media analytics and develops paid social media strategies. 

Finding a love for social media and her job, Smith enrolled in the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business’ Master of Science in marketing program in 2019. She discovered a passion for research and met Mary Anne Raymond, Thomas F. Chapman ’65 Distinguished Professor of Leadership and professor of marketing, with whom Smith still works today. 

“Before graduating from the program, I wanted to get involved in research with a topic that aligned with my job,” Smith says. “Something based on trends I was seeing in social media and that people weren’t paying attention to. I talked to Mary Anne about her research and mentioned my interest in digital accessibility. We started working together and haven’t stopped since.”

The pair submitted a proposal in 2019 to the American Marketing Association and Public Policy Conference, presenting virtually in May 2020 and in Austin, Texas, for the 2022 conference. At the 2022 Society for Marketing Advances, they presented part of their research regarding alternative text, an accessibility attribute that describes images for low-vision or blind users. Their paper won Best in Track.

In the fall of 2023, their work was published in a special edition of the Journal of Global Scholars of Marketing Science. After five years of work and feedback, in December 2023, their digital accessibility research was accepted by the Journal of Advertising Research.

“It’s funny how things happened the way they did,” Smith reflects. “All the pieces fell into place. It wouldn’t have been possible without the opportunities I’ve had  at Clemson and my support system.”

Fun Fact: Smith was invited to attend the 2023 Transformative Consumer Research Conference in London. During the event, she wrote a research paper about the different levels of user curiosity with an international cohort of marketing experts.

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