Five principles that are important in social media and can influence or inspire how we teach public relations:
- Collaboration. If people are now expected to understand how to harness collective intelligence, it's important for them to learn how to operate in a collaborative environment. An example is the collaborative literature review project I used in my special topics social media class, inspired by Michael Wesch.
Narrative. I've been referring a lot to Henry Jenkins's notion of "transmedia storytelling" lately. We've always needed to teach students to tell stories about products, people, issues, etc. but the new media environment forces them to tell stories across multiple platforms. I like Jenkins's discussion of transmedia storytelling because it suggests telling different parts of the story in different places (movie, game, Web site, etc. -- he uses "The Matrix" as an example) tailored to the medium. My students experimented with this idea in their book report blog on Jenkins's Convergence Culture. Applying this concept to PR would mean NOT taking a press release and making a podcast of the press release being read out loud. Instead, a press release might link to a video that has a human interest story related to, or maybe just briefly mentioned in, the press release -- either could stand alone, but together they tell a bigger story. I'll be experimenting with this next time I teach PR writing.
Online identity production. I refer here not just to online branding (personal or product) but to actual production of identity along the lines discussed by danah boyd in her study of teens on MySpace. Transparency and authenticity are important parts of this discussion -- how do you construct a personal or corporate self in an environment with those expectations? What do you say, or not say? Looking at examples like the Dell Twitter feeds, where a person and a brand are both identified (such as @LionelatDell, who tells me that there are about 200 Dell employees tweeting now, although not all with the xyzatDell username), or the Rubbermaid blog, where different people write brand-based stories from their own lives (disclosure: Erin is a Grady alum), will help students understand the blurring of personal and professional as well as the work of creating an authentic identity.
Culture. Of course students need to understand online culture and expectations. They need to learn to enter an online space treading cautiously, stopping to understand how the community operates and understand its norms and expectations before they start blasting their own thoughts and opinions. But culture also means attending to the inherently cross-cultural nature of communication on the Web. I learned this one the hard way when I complained about the cold winter weather on this blog, and an Australian reader reminded me that it was summer there. Yes, I had ignored an entire hemisphere. Since then I've tried to remember that anyone can read what I post. This is even more important for someone representing an organization, particularly a multinational organization, in a time when communication automatically extends around the globe. I haven't figured out any particular way to teach this, but would welcome suggestions.
Entrepreneurship. I listened to Tina Seelig's podcast (but I'm linking to the video because there are visuals involved) and got really energized to think about how entrepreneurship can be taught in PR. I'll be doing some sort of experiment with it in PR Administration next semester and will report back then.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and input.