Tips for Teaching Social Media Strategies to PR Students

Prof Dr. Uma Bhushan*

The fundamentals still matter

It’s the message, not the medium – Tweeting, Blog or Facebooking an uninteresting message won’t make it more attractive to the media or the public. Students still need to learn how to conduct research and use their results to develop persuasive messages before deciding on the best tactical placement for that message. Remind students that professional writing remains important, and compelling copy is essential. “Social media has changed PR writing by using briefer, more informal and more impactful messages that seek to attract followers. Also, even though they’ll likely spend more time staring at a screen than their PR predecessors, students still need to learn how to build relationships as they would with traditional media. Public relations focus on relationship scame long before social media arrived.

Build basic web skills

Students need to learn basic digital media literacy. That means a working knowledge of how search engines operate, the basics of Netiquette how to present a story visually and a general idea of social networking beyond Facebook.

Learn digital by doing digital

This is a good place to deviate from the textbook in favour of hands-on work. Instruct students to set up and use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, as well as start blogs. Teach them how to write an effective Tweet. This also applies to you. Consider blogging and join Twitter, even if you are only planning to blog or tweet

About classroom activities.

Students learn through hands-on experience and studying real-life examples that work. Have them observe the online tactics of their favorite companies and write a short paper discussing what they noticed. The electronic PR class should continually evolve to reflect changes in how social media is being used in the field.

The PR profession has yet to figure out how to use these tools effectively, as they require a much higher level of involvement on the part of their audiences than traditional PR tactics.

In media relations classes, go beyond teaching student show to write pitch letters to writing pitch e-mails that are less than 60 words. Class projects should include developing social media newsrooms, instead of traditional reporter-oriented Web newsrooms. News releases aren’t just for the news media anymore. Press releases are appearing on blogs, in Twitter feeds and on Facebook pages. There are times that coverage on an influential blog might be more desirable than a traditional media hit. Having students research and write a pitch for these blogs provides a more contemporary take on the traditional media pitch assignment.

Legal matters

Working with online social media in a classroom environment provides plenty of relevant case study material to discuss copyright, trademark and privacy issues. This is also a good time to make the point to all students that online activity leaves a trail visible to everyone: future employers, parents, graduate school admission officers, etc. Emphasize the importance of examining their online presence and eliminating undesirable comments and images before the job search begins.

Guest lectures

Discussing social media is a great occasion to bring in a guest speaker. Find someone from a local company who is successfully using social media, even if the person isn’t a PR professional. This person can help students understand the opportunities and challenges that these platforms present.

Not right for all situations

It is important for students to understand that just because social media is an option it is not always the right one. It is one of many tactics available to PR professionals. While young practitioners appreciate the two way nature of social media conversations, they still need to recognize how both social and traditional media relations contribute to the big picture of PR strategy.

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