• 04May
    Categories: media Comments: 0

    Last Friday I had the opportunity to talk to Steve Goldstein at our local NPR station, KJZZ, about the role of social media in shaping public opinion and activism surrounding Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, SB1070. ┬áThe segment was shorter than originally planned, due to breaking news about the boycotts organized against Arizona and Arizona-based businesses, but I had a good time.

    (In case the embedded audio doesn’t work, here’s the link to the Here and Now show with Steve Goldstein.)

    I used several different tools to research social media activity for the segment, although we didn’t get to discuss the results of most of them. The Twitter Positioning System (TPS), for example, showed me that discussion of the bill was taking place all over the country, although it was naturally much more concentrated in the southwest and Arizona in particular. SocialMention, which looks at a vast range of both textual and visual social media channels, showed me that there was a core group of passionate people discussing the bill by name, whereas the general topic of “Arizona immigration” was something far more people were interested in–although most only to the point of commenting on it in passing. Viral Heat, a (fairly inexpensive) paid service, breaks down online discussions by source: Twitter, not surprisingly, proved to be the liveliest font of conversation about the issue, followed by Facebook and YouTube. When the last caller asked about YouTube, I was disappointed that the lost Internet connection prevented me from clicking through on Viral Heat to identify the top users posting videos on the subject.

    Technology is wonderful, but sometimes unreliable. And none of these tracking sources is infallible: the sentiment ratings on Social Mention, for example, need to be taken with a grain of salt, since no software can detect sarcasm. But we do have access now to vast stores of information about at least a segment of public discourse, as well as many tools that can give us a rapid general analysis. While they’re no substitute for more rigorous research, they’re fun to play with and can give us a useful starting point for discussion, in ways that would have been unimaginable even a few short years ago.

  • 24Mar

    Yes, that’s a buzzword-y title. (Also: uh, hi. It’s been a while. I’ve been busy.) It’s the official name of a course I’m offering this Fall, on the Tempe campus of Arizona State University. Unlike my classes at the Cronkite School, it’s open to all majors. It’s also capped at 129 students, so there’s plenty of room.

    In the course catalogue, the description reads simply, “Covers topics of immediate or special interest to a faculty member and students,” which doesn’t really say much. So I thought I’d post some more details about what I have planned. Not a syllabus (yet), just a statement of intent, so to speak. If you’re an ASU student looking for an elective, think about MCO494! I’m very excited to have the opportunity to really explore the world of social media from a variety of perspectives.

    The short and snappy description, if you’re in a hurry, is this:

    This class will explore and critically analyze the social, cultural, legal, ethical, economic, and technological dimensions of social media tools from Facebook to FourSquare, Twitter to Flickr, and beyond.

    More detail after the cut.
    Read more »

  • 02Mar
    Categories: teaching Comments: 0

    Today I gave a brownbag talk about using social media in the classroom. I focused not on why people might use these tools for teaching, but on the how, since I think having a good understanding of the latter can help answer the former. And I have no ambitions of being a social media evangelist–there are plenty of situations in which other tools are not only available, but do the job better.

    Of course, in the case of teaching in journalism, public relations, mass communication, and related fields, sometimes part of the purpose is to make students aware of what tools are out there, and give them some practice using these tools in appropriate ways. In this case, instructors sometimes find themselves working outside their comfort zone, since they may not be familiar or entirely comfortable with (or convinced of the utility of) certain forms of social media. Even though I’ve spent lots of time online in the past *cough* years (okay, fine, let’s just say more than a decade), I still don’t know everything that’s out there, and I have my personal preferences.

    My presentations don’t lend themselves well to Slideshare, since I use very little text and prefer to fill in most of the content orally. So it’s difficult for me to share everything I discussed. However, I’m happy to post the contents of the handout I gave, which has some sites and resources about social media in general, a few specific to journalism or public relations, and a couple specific to educators. Hopefully there’s something useful in here, anyway. I’ve also tossed in a few sites I mentioned or showed in the presentation but didn’t include in the handout.

    Note: I do talk a little about directionality as one of the criteria for assessing a social media tool, and deciding whether and how to use it. The terms I use are familiar to most public relations scholars, but might seem strange to others. In particular, people often struggle with the difference between two-way symmetrical and two-way asymmetrical modes of communication. In brief, asymmetrical communication takes place when people can give feedback, for example in the form of comments on a photo or blog post, but it’s difficult to engage in real back-and-forth dialogue. Blogs that offer threaded comments make symmetrical communication more likely, although what really takes place depends entirely on the people involved. I think one-way and multi-way communication are pretty self-explanatory.

    So, here’s the list of resources:

    Read more »

  • 24Dec
    Categories: teaching Comments: 8

    (Note: There is something wonky going on with the formatting here, and I can’t figure it out. I’m sure it has something to do with the CSS.)

    Last semester, students in my Public Relations Campaigns class were responsible for maintaining a class blog on trends and issues in PR. The main goal of the assignment was to allow them to get their feet wet in social media, encourage them to read a variety of PR blogs, gain experience writing in a format unfamiliar to most of the students, and provide a forum in which they could discuss professional topics. I taught two sections of the course, and each section was broken into teams for their larger client projects. Teams from both sections contributed to the blog, which was also a way for them to interact amongst themselves despite being in different classes.

    I didn’t provide many guidelines for the assignment, since my main purpose was to get them writing, and I didn’t want us to get bogged down in rules. Teams were required to post once a week, and individual students to comment on at least two posts by other teams. They were required to include at least one link, preferably to a public relations blog, and to explain the significance of their chosen topic to public relations. That was basically it. As a result, the quality of the posts was uneven, but at the end of the semester most of the students noted that they had enjoyed the assignment and learned a lot from it.

    Next semester, the assignment is going to change considerably. For one thing, we are in the process of creating a microsite for our PR program within the larger school web site, and the student blog will be featured content. This greater visibility means that readership is likely to be wider, bringing in casual visitors to the site, potential students, local practitioners, and others. Furthermore, due to recent curriculum changes, more students coming into the class are likely to have a basic understanding of the mechanics of blogging and some experience with maintaining at least a personal site. And finally, although I incorporated plenty of social media into the course last semester, this time around I want to make sure that SM practices are even more deeply embedded into the course content and assignments. Somewhat paradoxically, I’m convinced that doing so will help prevent some of the “have hammer, will find nail” effect that leads students to attempt to incorporate social media strategies and tactics into their campaigns in ways that don’t really suit the client’s goals and objectives.

    Since I try to give very detailed explanations of my assignments, outlining both the purpose and my expectations, I’ve been working on the assignment sheet for the new and improved class blog. What better place to look for feedback than among fellow PR bloggers? Details of the assignment are tucked away below, and your input is welcome.
    Read more »

  • 24Nov

    Despite my embarrassing neglect of this space over the last few months, I’m neither dead nor trapped under a heavy piece of furniture–unless you count the metaphorical heavy furniture of a busy new job and numerous research projects in progress. To compensate a bit, and also for my personal records, I thought I would write a bit about this year’s NCA conference. I’m currently sitting in the San Diego airport waiting for my flight home, so it’s all very fresh in my mind.

    This year’s conference was a short one for me: given last week’s Cronkite Week celebrations, particularly the luncheon on Friday to honor our award recipients Jim Lehrer and Robin McNeil, I didn’t get to San Diego until Saturday. I was supposed to arrive early in the morning, but fog caused such serious delays I didn’t make it to the Manchester Hyatt until around noon. So I missed both the Top Papers session and business meeting for the PR division, unfortunately. Read more »

  • 31Aug

    I really enjoyed Shel Holtz’s video/slide presentation on social media in organizations; I plan to assign it to my students in a few weeks. I think he does a good job of explaining the potential benefits of knowledge sharing and relationship formation that can come from active use of social media.

    The first time I taught a college class, I was surprised to learn that many students in the so-called Digital Generation had relatively little awareness or understanding of social media tools and their power. I found myself having to radically revise my assumptions about how much time most students spent online, and what they were doing. This was a few years ago, when the number of tools was limited, but I continue to find similar reactions even now, and even though I’m working with a somewhat different student population.

    These days I’m working on a project on Twitter, which I’ll be discussing at NCA in San Diego as part of a roundtable jointly hosted by the PR and Organizational Communication divisions of NCA. When I mentioned Twitter the other day in class, I discovered that none of my students had heard of it. I certainly don’t expect anyone to know of every social media platform that exists–I showed them the Conversation Prism developed by Brian Solis and Jesse Thomas, while admitting that there were plenty of services shown that I’d never heard of–but I think of Twitter as pretty high-profile. Once again, my assumptions needed revising.

    I’ve been active in social media for many years, since well before the term “blog” was first uttered, and have always found there to be a divide between those who “get it” and those who don’t. For me, with a background and interest in organizational knowledge sharing and internal communication, the benefits seemed immediately obvious from the start. But it’s been an uphill battle: back when my online practices were limited to personal interaction, I would frequently encounter the “What’s the point?” question from less technology-minded friends. Then with clients, who were sometimes enthusiastic about the technology but not about the regular writing and communicating part, and sometimes vice versa. And now with students, who may or may not be active users of Facebook or MySpace, but who struggle with the idea that they need to know how to use social media effectively as part of their toolkit as professional communicators.

    So I continue to be surprised by what students know about social media and what they don’t, and to be challenged by figuring out ways to illustrate the professional usefulness of these services. Shel’s video is a good start.