Friday, June 22, 2007

PR academics may be smarter than you think

Following the PRWeek/Edelman academic summit, Julia Hood's column (subscription required) in PR Week suggests that students can push academic programs, and employers, to understanding new media behavior. She suggests that students "are their own best focus group, or laboratory, for how the environment is changing."

But they also need "direction in order to understand how these things apply to the wider PR world." She charges both academics and employers with being active in making sure these things happen. "I've spoken to a few colleges recently and have been a little surprised that some of the classes are not touching on new-media platforms in greater depth," she writes.

Well, she hasn't been to UGA. Not only do our students use social media -- YouTube, Facebook -- but they also recommend it to many of their clients (last semester, for example, my Campaigns students set up a sample blog for the Home Depot Foundation and showed the UGA Department of Intercultural Affairs how to use Facebook for a student promotion). I assign students to do research on blogs in PR Comm and have them post comments on PR blogs in PR Administration. Kaye Sweetser asks them to design pitches for bloggers in her sections of PR Comm and is teaching a Social Media class for people who just can't get enough this fall. And, let's not forget the 30 students who spent 3.5 months keeping up their PR blogs in my Campaigns class. (By the way, 2 more have posted -- Kristina on the Peabody awards and Kelly on her new job at Coca-Cola Enterprises -- so we're up to 1/6 of the class.) Lynne Sallot attended the academic summit, so I'm sure she's got a lot to talk about in her classes next fall. And the New Media Institute, which is part of the Grady College, offers a certificate program that many of our PR majors complete.

So Grady's ahead of the curve. Big deal. Josh Hallett makes the point that a lot of people are behind the curve--and not just in the professoriate. The more important point is that there IS a curve.

Academics will "get it" when it becomes important enough to the practice for us to invest the time and energy to learn about it. Bill Sledzik blogged about PR professors (not) blogging, and I made the point then that there's no external incentive for learning about social media -- no money, no tenure, not even a certificate (what academics usually give each other when there's no money). I'm being a little snide here -- of course PR professors want to keep up with the field so we can teach their students well. But we have to balance a lot of competing demands on our time, and social media just haven't reached the proverbial tipping point yet.

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When I left Edelman's New Media Academic Summit earlier this month, I was wondering what it will take to convince the academic gatekeepers that our work with social media should be considered in the tenure & promotion process. No, you shouldn't get a lifetime appointment because you have a blog, but as measures of blog impact and credibility improve,we can make a case that these sites add to the body of knowledge and to our stature as educators/scholars.

It's easy for me to say. I earned tenure a while ago. And while I could still stand for promotion to "full" at some point, it's not that important to me. What I do know is that our involvement in social media has made a huge difference to our curriculum here at Kent, and I know the same has to be true at UGa. And sadly, that "teaching" component means very little to tenure & promotion committees.
What is a little galling is that PR Schools are teaching 'New/Social media". In the UK Bournemouth, Sunderland and Leeds Met among others have very comprehensive modules that teach both online strategy and practice. Not all academics blog and there is no reason why they should but among the Bournemouth PR teaching staff five lecturers blog and most Twitter as well.

Teaching includes using wiki's as a teaching tool which allows for 'walled garden' experimentation with blogs, podcasting, RSS, widgets, SEO, VoIP, virtual environments and much more (in my case 26 different channels for communication) - and that is just for first degree courses.

These Universities are also pioneering new forms of PR management practice too. By example the use of risk analysis and multi-channel, multi-touch strategies and tactics.

The economic and organisational impact of social media is also taught.

Academia is already a long way into New/Social Media but also recognises it has a lot more to do to aid understanding of the digital tsunami our students now face.
Hey, Bill, maybe we need to organize a junket to Bournemouth to see David ... now there's a program that "gets it" !!!

Seriously, David, I'm hoping to attend the World PR Festival next year and would love to visit and find out how you do what you do. And your last point was the same as mine -- there *is* a curve, and it's just now starting to become visible.
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