Don’t be mad, be good

On Sunday, June 1, 2008 legal analyst Andrew Cohen of CBS spoke out on former White House Press Secretary, Scott McClellen’s new tell-all book. In his report, “The Flak on Flacks,” Cohen accuses PR professionals of making a living on untruths. He even calls out PRSA’s ethics. National PRSA responded. Cohen responds. And the arguing rages on, and on, and on.

First off, I disagree with Cohen’s sweeping generalization of PR people as liars. I was pleased to see a quick response by PRSA through the letter plus e-mails to membership keeping us updated. But it is hard to argue with the perception of public relations as a profession in society.

I’ve read where maybe the public relations profession should have a PR campaign. I don’t think this is possible. I don’t see how anyone could change societal views of public relations any more than I think people will start thinking highly of politicians, lawyers, used-car salesmen or journalists. We are viewed in a negative light. There is no denying this. People see us using “spin” to cover up problems.

I fall under the broker paradigm of public relations: An intermediary between an organization and its stakeholders to find mutually beneficial solutions. (Tip of the hat to Kami Huyse on her insightful post.)

What I do know is this: I can only control what I do as a communications/PR professional to influence how my sphere of influence sees my profession. I hope when people look at me and the work I do, they see a credible and honest professional who keeps in mind the best interests of my organization or client.

I should not/will not apologize for trying to make my organization or client look good for stakeholders. It is up to me to accomplish this task with integrity and not lie. We would better serve our profession by striving to be better at our profession including an adherence to its ethical standards.

Photo Credit: nouQraz

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Social Media for Newbies, Act II

If you are anything like me, and you find social media tools fascinating and the communication potential for your organization growing, please consider yet another video to help explain the big picture.

The folks at Common Craft did it again: Social Media In Plain English

Along with having another way of explaining Social Media, now I want some ice cream too!

The changing landscape of Public Relations

I am proud to be a public relations professional. Some outside people might scoff at the idea of being in PR. They (like many people I would guess) have an antiquated idea of public relations.

There is a great song by Jimmy Buffet, Public Relations off of the Don’t Stop The Carnival album about Norman Paperman, a Broadway press agent who is in need of an awakening:

Up every morning, out every evening
Hustling for headlines, that’s what I do
Table at Sardi’s, grappling for gossip
Working the press for a mention or two
I never acted like some nervous rookie
Right form the start I was hot as a cookie
I was a numero uno
What a debut

Chorus:
Public Relations, Public Relations
Boozing and schmoozing, that’s what I do
PR’s my vocation
And I’m a sensation
Public relations

Such hullabaloo

Chorus:
Public Relations, Public Relations
Ego inflation, that’s what I do
Isn’t it wonderful, isn’t it fabulou
Public Relations, such hullabaloo

While humorous, the song’s lyrics say what many people may think about PR.

We should not forget the bread and butter of our craft (especially in media relations). However, with the changing communication landscape PR professionals need to be better equipped at integrating social media.

So what does it mean to practice PR? According to the “bible” of public relations, Cutlip, Center and Broom’s definition:

Public relations is a management function that seeks to identify, build, and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and all of the publics on whom its success or failure depends.”

Mutually beneficial relationships

Relationships should be nurtured and grown over time. As a PR professional, I need to seek out and adapt to ways of reaching my organization’s community.

I like the idea of getting rid of the word “users” and replacing it with “guests”.

I agree that we need to be more efficient.

I think Jason Falls is on to something when he asks “Can Advertising Truly Be Social?”

And even though he specifically targets agencies, Todd Defren’s post Five Thoughts on the Future of Public Relations should get the rest of us thinking.

I once read the following:

Don’t confuse revolutionary change with evolutionary change.

In this case, the evolutionary change must come from the PR practitioner. Keep up or get left behind.

Social Media for the Newbies

I recently spoke at the School PR in North Texas group (North Central Texas region of the Texas School Public Relations Association) on the topic of Social Media for School Districts. I received some very good feedback from members. I also noticed a look of eyes that were glazing over at some of the ideas presented.

I think most everyone present had heard of social media in some form or another but maybe had not tried it themselves. There was even a point were it seemed that social media was being confused with social networking and that social networking had a bad rap in society. Public perception problems with MySpace tended to be where the certain group members turned their attention. (Note: social networking is a type of social media.)

This discussion had me thinking during the presentation that I was speaking to individuals with very different levels of engagement with social (or new) media. I realized that for school communication/PR professionals, we need to work to bring as many people as we can to understand the new forms of community engagement.

I’ve decided to find and bring to you dear reader a few quality, ground-level explanation-type links or ideas for the Social Media Newbie. There is no shame in being a newbie, in fact be proud of wanting to be a learner and expanding your communication repertoire.

Up first, Social Media by video:

I am a huge fan of The Common Craft Show. These guys are great explainers. They call it “sense-making for the masses.” There is a collection of videos called In Plain English, where seemingly difficult concepts are explained in, well you get the idea. Check out their In Plain English Videos covering the following: Blogs, Social Networking, RSS (Feed Syndication), Social Bookmarking, Wikis, and for fun check out Zombies.

Here’s the Common Craft Show Video: Blogs In Plain English:

When you are ready to move on, check out Social Media Strategies covering “the basic ingredients of social media.” Then proceed to archived lessons. Not all of the videos will cover aspects pertinent to school communications, but having the individual knowledge will only help make you a more effective communicator.

I’ll find more to add to the collection, but I would encourage you seek out other new media basics so we can get closer to speaking the same languages.

New Media for School Districts

Being Social has its benefits!

How do you engage your district’s community?

How much do you rely on the traditional media to reach your community?
School PR people can have some fun with new media, but where does one begin?

There is a difference between talking to and talking with. It should be understood that social media, when applied correctly, like a conversation, is talking with a community.

New Media (or social media) can be categorized into 7 main types
[From Kami Huyse’s Communication Overtones blog: If the Shoe Fits…Social Media in Seven Boxes]

I. Publishing Platforms: These consist of platforms and tools that allow the author(s) to set the content of the initial offering. Most offer a way for others to comment on the content and include RSS feeds to syndicate the copy

II. Social Networking Sites: These sites allow users to interface by becoming friends and/or sharing favorites. They allow the individual user to have their own space, while also incorporating links and other connections to other users

III. Democratized Content Networks: These sites allow all users to contribute equally, usually with some sort of ability to vote for the best content, or to override, in the case of Wikis, previously submitted content.

IV. Virtual Networking Platforms: These often require third-party interfaces to participate (though some can be accessed through the browser), and consist of a virtual reality experience with other users.

V. Information Aggregators: These are publicly available, machine driven aggregators of niche content, usually with some human editing (such as adding RSS feeds) involved in the process.

VI. Edited Social News Platforms: These are sites where users recommend links and can make comments on the stories that make it through the human editors

VII. Content Distribution Sites:
Sites that allow the user create, collect and/or share content and distribute by providing RSS, code and/or e-mail options. Widgets would also fall into this category.

In School PR we can start by focusing on Categories I and II. (The others might have some school PR use and commenting on their uses is highly recommended.)

I. Publishing Platforms
Blogging – A school district official blog can be a great place to get the conversations going. Think of the district’s Web site as the source for information and a district blog as the water cooler, around which you engage in more of an opportunity for conversation

[Example from Mansfield ISD’s Your Mansfield ISD blog]

The basic idea behind the Your Mansfield ISD blog is that if your home is located within our district boundaries, our schools are your schools. And let’s face it – a school district is a large organization with lots of moving parts…Our goal with this blog is to simplify many of these complexities and also key you in on many of the great things that are going on.

Some considerations when starting a district blog: Do you have blogging policies/guidelines? Will commenting be turned on/off? Note: this one will make administrators nervous. What will you do if/when your staff decides to blog?

Podcasting – Podcasts from a school district can be integrated and, like blogging, become part of any effective communication plan. Many teachers are already using podcasting to engage students in and out of the classrooms. School PR people could explore this option at a district level as well.
[Example Grapevine-Colleyville ISD Off The Page Podcast.]

II. Social Networking Sites
For many school districts sites like YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, etc. are likely blocked from student/staff use because of potentially inappropriate content. In a few cases, sites such as Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn, etc. are left open. I am not going to argue for or against any social networking site’s being blocked/unblocked at this point. But, when this opportunity arises I would encourage school PR people to explore the potential for district use. Consider creating a Facebook, Ning, or even MySpace profile for your school district.
[Example: Mansfield ISD uses Twitter: http://twitter.com/mansfieldisd, related post on districts using Twitter.]

These new media tools can be used to deliver relevant and useful content to communities in a format that is either already gained in popularity or continues to be on the rise. Either way, catching up or keeping up with social media’s impact on school communications is at least worth looking into or even worth jumping into with both feet.

Don’t forget the online pressroom

I planned to present a round-table session covering Online Pressrooms at the 2008 Texas School Public Relations Association Conference in Houston, TX in February. However, life has a way of adjusting plans. What I wanted to tell attendees was that an online pressroom wasn’t a luxury that school districts could take lightly, but rather an integral piece of a Web site.

An online pressoom can be used as a simple and effective gateway to the important pieces of news and announcements for a school district’s stakeholders: parents, students, staff, community, and media. Notice that I put the media at the end. This is intentional because the traditional media should not be the primary way a school district gets its message out. If managed correctly, a school district’s Web site will be the first place the community will go to get accurate information. They may get stories (good/bad) from the media, but our communities should be engaged directly, not indirectly via our media friends.

School districts and their PR/Communication professionals should be maintaining online pressrooms on their Web sites. It can be called many things (Press Room, News, News Room, District News, News & Media, etc.) but it must be easily found, easily read, and easily updated.

In an article in PR Tactics, Ibrey Woodall cites an annual survey conducted by TEKgroup International, which was distributed via email to more than 5,000 journalists. Among the elements of an online press room most important to the respondents were press releases (92 percent), a search module (85 percent), PR contacts (84 percent) and product information (76 percent) – for school districts, this may include information about the board, administration, general district info, etc.

Some district’s are already doing a pretty good job with this:

There are more but you get the idea. Get more online pressroom samples and other useful links.

Just remember to include the following:

  • Put the emphasis on information and navigation
  • Complete PR contact information
  • Make the title of the release a link to the full text
  • Don’t remove your old releases

This is certainly not a complete list, rather some things that usually get left out. Bottom-line: no district’s site is complete without the online newsroom. Get the basics down, then move on to the Social Media Newsroom…

Let’s get started…

People are social creatures and long to communicate. Clearly I am not breaking any new ground in anthropology, sociology, or biology. What I hope to deliver is an interesting if not entertaining take on communication, public relations, education, and anything else that strikes me as interesting along the way. My jump into the blogosphere stems from a recent decision to get off the sidelines and play with some social media tools in order to hone my communication skills. Should go along nicely with my other skills. You know, like nunchuku skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills…

As a school PR guy, I believe there obvious opportunities for educational institutions to use the online tools that are available to engage communities. More to come on this later. I don’t agree with the notion that our educational system is broken, specifically public education. I believe public school districts are doing what they can with the resources they have been given, under the requirements thrust on them by state and federal decisions. I’ll probably get into some of this later as well. That’s it for now.