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Social Media Success: A Matter of Framing

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.

Corinne WeisbergerBy 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.

About the author

Corinne Weisgerber, Ph.D.


  • Corinne,

    I think you make some terrific observations about social media. To add to your point, I have found with my own students, they are all practitioners of social media techniques in varying degrees, but when pressed to define or explain the persuasive power and implications of such technology they are completely buffled. They have not connected the dots at all. Wish I could attend the meeting in New York–I’m sure it will be illuminating.


    Astrid Sheil, PhD
    Cal State University San Bernardino

  • Astrid,

    I think that if you grew up online completely immersed in social media – as some students have – it is far more difficult to step back and consider the full potential of these technologies. In this sense, being a digital immigrant might actually have its benefits.

  • Corinne,

    You raise some interesting points. As a “digital native” social media has become a very present and active factor in my life. As you mentioned, Facebook has become a tool to stay in touch with friends and simply be sociable. However, I think more and more students are beginning to view it differently.
    The School of Journalism and Broadcasting at Oklahoma State Univeristy started its first social media class this semester. Bill Handy, our instructor, has taught my class the importance of being social media adept – for job advice, job search and simply for fun.
    Check out class-created social media Web site, We’d be thrilled if you and your students would join our network!

    Thank your for your insight,

    Cortney Hicks
    Public Relations Senior
    Oklahoma State University

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