Social Media: Under Construction

On Wednesday, July 9, Terry Morawski and I collaborated on a social media presentation for the Greater Fort Worth chapter of PRSA:

Under Construction

Social Media: Under Construction

Social Media Under Construction (PDF)

Social Media: Under Construction (PPT)

Social Media: Under Construction (Slideshare)

I am looking forward to reading the comments and feedback from the attendees.

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Who are the people in your Twitter-hood?

Using Twitter for PR efforts should not be seen as a suggestion, but rather a necessity.

Now, in no way am I advocating PR professionals join Twitter and start pitching away at any and all journalists they find. This is a bad idea and will get you blocked faster than you can say, “SPAM-a-lama-ding-dong.”

What I find necessary are the useful things about Twitter that every PR person can and should use:

  • knowledge finding
  • personal branding
  • community engaging
  • relationship building
  • idea banking
  • advise seeking

If you keep some of these things in mind, I believe PR people will start to get more out of Twitter than you previously thought possible from this useful application that asks the question, “What are you doing?”

Why do I believe this? Because our organizations or clients are made up of people and not pitches. Todd Defren of PR Squared puts it this way:

In the Social Media era, getting better at Public Relations means getting better at the Relationships, not the Publicity. [emphasis added]

If PR people believe the statement above, then we can be better at putting into practice the statement below:

…public relations builds relationships and creates an ongoing dialogue of interaction and involvement with an organization’s target audiences and those who influence those audiences.

How do you use twitter? Are you using your twitter-hood to its potential?

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

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.

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.

School districts could Twitter too

twitterI believe there are useful applications of Twitter (and other microblogging sites) for school districts.

I recently started using Twitter after listening to Geoff Livingston at a Ft. Worth PRSA luncheon earlier in the year. He was helping us understand how to integrate social media into communications plans (and sell a few copies of his book, Now is Gone, which is really an excellent read.)

I became hooked on this online tool. I started noticing many organizations using it as well for various uses (DFW Airport, CNN, Red Cross, etc.) and I began to think that school districts could (and probably should) use this microblogging tool for updates. As more and more people become aware and use social media tools like Twitter, it is imperative that school districts go where the people are to get stories out.

We setup the Mansfield ISD Twitter account and began with a few posts. We were met with mild success so far without much in the way of publicity. The only thing done at first was a soft-launch in the district’s blog. This received a mention in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Education Blog. We even received a nice tweet from a follower.

Our communities are quickly coming around to using new media tools. It is our job as communication professionals to move forward (or in some cases keep up) with the conversation.

So how do you get some Twitter love for your district? Try some of these resources:

I suggest using Twitter to post general (read: useful) happenings, articles, pages, etc. from a district’s Web site. Plus, consider using a “tweet” (yes, that’s really what they are called) to give updates in the event of problems that tend to arise. I’d like to see if others are considering or are currently using Twitter in this way.

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…