teach strategy & research, not shiny objects

Everyone is talking about social media in PR. And not just techies. Even the dinosaurs in VP-level PR jobs know they have to figure it out to stay relevant.

Juxtapose this to the next generation of practitioners professors like me have sitting in our classrooms right now. These students know the tools and want to use them professionally, but they just don’t really have the best grasp on the practice of public relations at this point to make it really work.

And so we’re in a gray area right now.

We have the establishment grappling with understanding the tools and the future work force fumbling to turn their playgrounds into professional PR places.

That’s where professors come in.

Perhaps rightfully so these days, a staple component of nearly every campaigns class capstone project includes social media.

But we have to be careful.

We have to try to bridge these two perspectives – the wise strategic capability of the establishment in how to practice excellent public relations with the understanding of ethical and quality integration of social media tools where appropriate.

We don’t use it just to use it, we use it when the research shows that is where the audience lives.We use it as a tool & tactic to meet our goals & objectives, we don’t create a separate strategy for it.

Here’s an example from my own teaching this week. Most everyone who knows me personally knows that I’m a total Twitter addict, but when my campaigns team this semester discovered that Twitter is not among the social media in which their key publics reside, my heart will just have to break a little & they’ll downgrade their Twitter engagement plans to focus on tool that really does hit the mark. Hurt as it may, Twitter isn’t the vehicle to successfully communicate this message.

Compare that with the research done by the most recent UGA Bateman PR competition teams, led by my colleague Dr. Karen Miller Russell. Last year her Bateman team did a video showdown on YouTube with local middle schools and this year they created meaningful testimonials of “people like me” from high schoolers who are just coming to realize how they can make their college dreams a financial reality. [Plug!! To see all the videos from this UGA Bateman team, visit their YouTube channel.]

As the bridge between today and tomorrow, PR professors have a big responsibility. We have to be able move beyond “shiny object syndrome” that captivate many with regard to social media, & we have to identify how the tactical use of social media fits into the overall traditional campaign strategy.

So my plea to PR professors comes down to 3 easy requests:

  • Don’t wing it when it comes to integrating social media into the curriculum. Approach it as you would any other serious topic in the syllabus.
  • Ask yourself how integration of the social media tactic fits into the strategy, do research to find out which social media spaces your target publics are in, then most importantly understand the unique varying culture that occurs in different social media spaces.
  • Know ethics backwards & forwards, & spend time talking to students about getting the lay of the land before jumping in.

Why am I writing this post covering the obvious? Well, simple. I’m seeing my peers teach their students “how to use social media” & they are getting it wrong.

So, professors, do your homework before you assign homework to your students. There is a lot riding on this & we need to get it right.

[This was cross-posted on the PR Profs blog, sponsored by the NCA PR Division]

4 Responses so far.

  1. PR Profs says:

    […] 03 2009 [This was cross-posted on so this is mass […]

  2. This touches on an important point that’s as relevant in the field as it is in the education arena. Seasoned PR professionals are often overwhelmed by the technology, as well as the vast array of tools out there. Younger account execs may possess the knowledge and skills to make use of the latest social media tools, but don’t necessarily understand how to use them effectively. The bottom line is that, as with any other communication tool, it’s critical to identify the goals before launching into a campaign. Once we understand what it is we want to accomplish we can select appropriate social media to communicate our message.

    A second and related problem is that with the rise of social media, the nature of communication has changed from the one-way messaging of TV, radio and print to a two-way exchange, in which everyone has a voice. We can’t apply pre-Web 2.0 strategies to the world of social media. Campaigns that use Facebook or Twitter or what-have-you as simply another forum in which to “pitch” an audience are doomed to fail. The value of social media for PR is that it allows us to build relationships (and again, these relationships are meaningful only when we know our goals), and as a result, if we’re effective, develop a following that will spread our message further than we could ever do on our own.

  3. Kelli Burns says:

    Hi Kaye,
    I was on the New PR Wiki and came over here to check out your blog. I’m a UF Ph.D. as well who is now at USF. I was curious what you meant when you said that some of your peers are getting it wrong when it comes to social media. I don’t teach campaigns, so maybe you are referring to students who are throwing in social media just for the heck of it. I would like to think that a lot of your peers are doing it right as well.

  4. Kelli Burns says:

    I admit that I read your post backwards and now I see more clearly what you are referring to.

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