This is a form of communication the PR industry is still getting to grips with and is considered by many to still be in its infancy. Some businesses don’t understand it, whilst others try to avoid it. It must therefore be considered a difficult subject for a university lecturer to teach to future PR practitioners.
I have just finished the second year of my Public Relations degree at Sunderland University. This was one of the first universities to include a social media module in the syllabus.
It isn’t a core module on any one course but can be selected as an optional module to assist in completing the 120 necessary credits needed to pass the year. My tutor, Philip Young, recommended everyone taking the PR degree should take the social media module as their optional choice.
At first, I didn’t get it: why would I want to complete a 12 week course on learning how to use Facebook and Twitter? Why write a blog? No one will be interested in what I have to say for a multitude of reasons.
For one, it isn’t just Facebook and Twitter. It’s Delicious, Digg, Flickr, blogs, micro blogs, YouTube and more.
It’s also not just about what these channels are – it’s about how you can apply them to help execute your overall strategy.
It’s also about looking after your client/employer and protecting them from the dangers the online world has created. The internet and Web 2.0 have changed everything by exposing businesses and causing them to be more transparent – whether they have a company website or not. It is the practitioner’s job to manage this new level of transparency.
At the beginning of the module, we were introduced to all of the different social media channels. We created accounts and browsed around some of the more prominent channels. We also discussed and then created our own blogs. We set objectives for what we wanted to achieve and decided who we would like to reach as our target audience.
My girlfriend is from Sweden and has recently moved over to Newcastle to live with me. My blog’s main objective was to find other Swedish people living in Newcastle, so I blogged about the differences between Swedish and English culture. Half of the module was practical while the other half was based around theory.
Before completing this module I didn’t expect there to be any theory in social media. Now I know it’s not just Facebook.
I had to read many books and blogs just to keep up to speed with the classes. When the essay questions came around at the end of the semester I was relieved I’d taken on this extra reading.
So how is it different from other PR classes?
The biggest difference is that it’s new and it’s rapidly evolving. A lecturer can’t plan a few weeks ahead let alone 6 – 8 months. This year we used WordPress to write our blogs and signed up to Google Reader for RSS updates to provide us with content and ideas for our blog. In six month’s time new and more improved channels may have overtaken the previous ones.
During our module, Toyota had a PR disaster when they had to recall cars due to faulty brakes. We looked at how they could counter all of the criticism they were receiving from an array of different social media channels. You can’t plan for Toyota to have a crisis; it just happens.
As a lecturer, you need to be able to adapt and change your lesson plan quickly.
Crises happen, it happened with Toyota last year, it’s happening with BP right now, and there is no doubt someone else will fall victim to the same thing in the coming months.
What our Social Media class gained that other haven’t
If someone types my name into a search engine they will find me. Through my social media class I have carved out an online identity which I wouldn’t have had otherwise. If someone wants to know a little more about me they can check out my blog. During the module I feel that my writing has improved and that I developed my own voice as a blogger.
I am also now more aware of variety of different social media channels than could assist me in a PR campaign. I couldn’t have figured these things out on my own. Attending two classes a week to ask questions and learn other new things has helped me to develop my skills and knowledge in the subject.
A special guest came to my university not too long ago to give a talk on social media. He is a managing director of two successful PR companies – one in the North-East and the other in London. He said that for him, the hiring process didn’t begin by looking at a paper copy of an applicant’s CV anymore. Rather, he would find someone through their blog or by viewing their profile on LinkedIn.
PR is changing and social media is growing. The subject should be made a core module so that every person from every university can have the opportunity to learn as my class has.
As I said earlier, some businesses don’t understand it, while others try to avoid it. Yet the PR industry needs people that have a strong grasp of social media. The job market is tough right now and competition between graduates is high. I think this puts me and my social media class one step ahead of everyone else who didn’t take the subject.