For the past few years, I have been teaching an undergraduate level course on social media for public relations at St. Edward’s University. When I first developed the course, I was a little worried about sharing insights about social media with a generation who lives on Facebook and rarely leaves the house without a cell phone, laptop or MP3 player. After all, aren’t these students the “digital natives” — the experts on everything social media? What I discovered while teaching this class is a lesson I believe is worth sharing because of its implications beyond the academic world.
I’ve noticed that our first impression of a social media technology often gets in the way of us being able to perceive its full potential. We tend to view these technologies with a rather narrow lens, and choose to see them as either a tool or a place for community, but rarely as both. Students, for instance, often define social networks such as MySpace or Facebook exclusively as places to hang out and stay in touch with friends. This initial perception makes it difficult for them to think of social networks as strategic communication tools. Twitter, I think, is facing a similar problem. It tends to get framed primarily as a tool for getting a message across and much less as a vibrant community of networked people sharing stories and links. Becoming a successful social media player in the public relations field requires a more comprehensive approach — one that encompasses both views. I’m hoping The Digital Impact Conference: Learn How to Profit From New Media will give all of us an opportunity to explore the multifaceted and transactional nature of social media.
By Corinne Weisgerber, Ph.D., assistant professor, communication, St. Edward’s University (Austin, Texas) teaches a variety of public relations classes and serves as the PRSSA chapter advisor. Corinne has been studying computer-mediated communication and how people form relationships online since the beginning of her doctoral studies at the Pennsylvania State University. Her current research interests include new media, pedagogy, and health communication. Corinne also developed one of the first social media for public relations classes – a course in which students explore emerging social media technologies and study their application in contemporary PR practice.
Join Weisgerber for “Tweet Your Way to Success: How to Use Twitter to Connect With Your Audiences” at PRSA’s 2009 Digital Impact Conference: Learn to Profit From New Media, on April 30-May 1 in New York, NY.