Asking the Right Questions about PR and Social Media

Tomorrow I have an opportunity to discuss social media and how it is changing the practice of public relations with students from the University of St. Thomas’ chapter of the PRSSA.

Jessica Snell, a St. Thomas junior who is in charge of the noon program, sent me a list of questions as a starting point for discussion. If getting the right answers depends on beginning by asking the right questions, I think they’re off to a good start.

We won’t get to all of these in an hour, but if any SMUGgles have interesting answers, perspectives and stories you would like me to share with the students, please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Meanwhile, I’ll start updating this post with some of my answers to those questions.

• In what ways do you feel that the field of public relations is changing due to the use of social media technologies?

– Journalists interacting with PR professionals through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter

– It’s not just media relations, but is really public relations.

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• How are social media technologies being used specifically in the health care field?

Many health care providers have YouTube channels. Here are channels for Mayo Clinic, M.D. Anderson and MUSC. See some of our podcasting and blog offerings in the links below. We also have a Facebook “fan” page.

• What impact do social media technologies have in a crisis communication/issues management? (e.g., beneficial way to get out important info.? harmful rumors spread quickly?)

See this post on Facebook Crisis Communications and this one one Twitter and Facebook “off-label” uses. See the 35W bridge collapse group in Facebook.

• Have social/digital media technologies changed the way you work with journalists?

Absolutely, whether through Facebook and Twitter interactions or through our News Blog.

• Have social/digital media technologies changed the way you communicate with patients?

See our Podcast blog, which lets us share much more in-depth information with patients (and lets them ask questions), and our Facebook page.

• What skills do you believe are important for students to develop for projects that incorporate social media technologies?

– Start and sustain a blog

– Writing

– Shooting and editing video

– Photography

– Basic familiarity with the types of social networking tools

– Interactivity

• How do you recommend keeping up with all of the changes in the digital world? Is important to know about, and participate in every new thing to be a good PR practitioner?

– Like some foul-mouthed broadcasters need a seven-second delay, consider a seven-day or seven-week delay before jumping after every shiny new toy.

– It’s more important to think creatively about how to use new but fairly mainstream technologies instead of being the first to use a hot new tool.

– I would be remiss – given that your tuition at UST is $27,722 – if I failed to urge you to enroll in SMUG.

– Check out my Slideshare slideshows and slidecasts to see some of the presentations I’ve done (some of the slides will be similar to what I presented today) as well as some of the SMUG curriculum.

• What challenges do you believe students should be prepared to address when working on campaigns that incorporate social media technologies?

– FUD – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.

– Skepticism about how a social media slingshot can compete with mass media. Remember Goliath. Remember George Allen.
• What ethical challenges have emerged when using social media technologies in a PR context?

– Temptation to comment anonymously or “game” the rankings in Digg or on other social sites. Yield not.

• What is important for young professionals to know about our ability to measure results when using social media technologies as part of PR campaigns?

– Measurement is a significant advantage for social media as compared with mainstream media.

– You can justify based on tangible outcomes, and then have intangibles as icing.

• What is important for young professionals to know about working with clients (or management) when recommending social media strategies?

– See the FUD observation above

– Show examples of mainstream success with social media, from well-established companies and brands. The Blog Council is a group of large companies using social media internally and externally, and here is our Alltop page.

– Keep costs low and show them how easy it can be using free and/or open source solutions.

– Engage front-line employees instead of thinking all communication needs to come from the PR team.

• What types of technologies or applications should students be familiar with (e.g., Facebook, RSS feeds, Digg, Twitter, Ning, Linked In, Technorati, Google Analytics,, YouTube, blogs, podcasts, designing a Web site, etc.)?

All of the above. You need to develop an understanding for each of the kinds of tools, so you can select or recommend the right one for the job. If all you have is a hammer….

• What impact do you believe the Internet and social media technologies are having on how PR, advertising and marketing professionals work together?

• What advice do you have for helping the areas of PR, advertising and marketing work together successfully?

• Please describe a recent project/campaign that you feel illustrates how public relations is impacted by the use of social media technologies.

• What aspects of the project represent a change or shift in PR practice, and what elements remain unchanged from traditional PR practice?

I welcome any other thoughts people may have to share with students from the UST chapter of PRSSA. They would, too.

Author: Lee Aase

Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 15. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. Emeritus staff of Mayo Clinic. Founder of HELPcare and Administrator for HELPcare Clinic.

3 thoughts on “Asking the Right Questions about PR and Social Media”

  1. Hey Lee – mention to these folks three things … 1) it is still about understanding what is news (vs marketing fluff), 2) its still about relationships (blogging, twitter et al are not replacements), and 3) stay connected to their professional association – which for many will be PRSA – as they move from education to career both as a source/resource for themselves and as a contributor to ongoing development and growth of their collective profession.

    Oh – and have fun. (PS my Assn Management Company manages PRSA MD chapter so yes I feel that PRSA and PRSSA are important orgs)

  2. I agree Lee, some solid questions being posed here, that’s great to see. I remember so many of my college courses focusing extensively on communication theory without a great deal of practical implementation. From a couple schools I’ve visited to lecture, it’s been good to see professors and student groups recognizing the importance of adapting to the changing times and reaching out to figure out how it’s all playing out in the “real world.”

    I’ll quickly tackle the question posed on how PR/Ad/Marketing pros are working together.

    The social Web is obviously having a huge impact on all three of these areas converging. Once considered separate entities, you’re now seeing a bigger shift away from clients feeling they need to hire only big firms to get the job done and instead taking a closer look at the value of smaller, boutique firms that specialize in integrated communications strategies.

    Moreso than ever, it’s crucial that design folks are completely in tune with online marketing efforts just as PR folks need to be in tune with marketing efforts and how their brands are being represented across the Web. In essence, we’re witnessing the greatest success from campaigns where integrated agency efforts are 100% in sync with one another and helping to drive attention around niche, targeted communities as opposed to different agencies trying their own shotgun approach to getting attention.

  3. Thanks for you thoughts on this, Peggy and Scott. I know the PRSSA group appreciated having this additional feedback and guidance as they are preparing for careers in PR.

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