The winter issue of The Shield was distributed on Wednesday, and I'm very proud of the work produced by our Rochester College students. This is the first academic year that we've produced The Shield as a combo student newspaper/yearbook. We cover events and issues, people and opinions, and have fun too. The Shield is strong evidence of the talent and commitment of our student editors, writers and designers. I'm very proud of the work you all do!
My reading the past few weeks has focused solely on one area: social media! I'm concentrating on how organizations can use social media to communicate with their target audiences.
Once upon a time, an organization used traditional methods to converse with its audiences. A PR professional would work with mainstream media, local community groups and internal print publications to get out the message.
Wow, times have changed!
Social media is revolutionizing the way organizations communicate...and the way they listen. First, what is social media? A simple definition is "using the internet to facilitate conversation between people." Now, we must think about having conversations with members of our audience instead of broadcasting or marketing to them. We now can communicate in a two-way conversation at all times.
This new reality means that the era of the PR professional is really taking hold. We listen, we communicate well, and we care about our organization AND our audiences.
PR is often misconstrued by the public at large, but PR is all about truth. Here are three foundational rules for PR with current examples.
Rule #1: Do The Right Thing. If you or your organization continues to "do the right thing" and to communicate your good intentions, then you typically will have a strong reputation among your community and various publics. For example, Kellogg's announced a recall of Keebler and Austin products containing suspicious peanut butter on January 16. It was a voluntary recall, and at the time, Kellogg wasn't positive that its products were tainted, but Kellogg cared about the possible safety of the consumer. Kellogg was the first company to do this...before the FDA had completed its investigation. Many other companies soon followed suit. Kellogg put the safety of its customers before its own bottom line. Kellogg did the right thing, and in the long term, that will increase its bottom line.
Rule #2: If You Don't Do The Right Thing The First Time, Admit To It. Be Apologetic And Sincere. Face The Consequences. OK, people and organizations make mistakes. That's a given. It's how you react to the mistakes that really counts. So you messed up. Doing the right thing means that you confess, you apologize and you pay the consequences. If you don't take these steps, check out Rule #3.
For examples of Rule #2, let's look at Michael Phelps and Alex Rodriguez. Winner of eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, Michael Phelps returned to America as a hero. Within months of his return, though, a photo made its way to a British tabloid showing Phelps up-close-and-personal with marijuana paraphenalia. The story and photo soon exploded throughout the airwaves, the Internet and in major publications throughout the world. Phelps was widely criticized for his behavior and for letting down all the youth who look up to him. Very quickly, Phelps released a statement apologizing for his behavior. We can question whether he or his agent wrote the statement; we can question his motivation; but we can't question the correctness of his action. If you make a mistake, fess up to it and be apologetic. Get back into the pool and work hard!
Let's move on to Alex Rodriguez, arguably the #1 player in Major League Baseball, even if he does play for the NY Yankees. Sports Illustrated published an article claiming that A-Rod used steroids for several years in the early 2000s while playing for the Texas Rangers. As with the Michael Phelps story, the media coverage was intense. Following Rule #2, A-Rod admitted to using steroids and publicly apologized. He conducted a long interview with Peter Gammons and then held a press conference during spring training. While I don't completely buy his excuse that he was "young" and that the atmosphere around him was loosey-goosey, I do think his statements are correct PR steps.
Rule #3: If You Don't Do The Right Thing, And You Cover It Up And Lie, PR Will Not Help You! There are so many examples of this (Kwame Kilpatrick), it's hard to know where to start! Let's look at the recent example of Stewart Parnell, president of the Peanut Corporation of America, who knowingly supplied contaminated peanuts to corporate clients. The salmonella-laced peanut butter killed nine people throughout the United States, and thousands of products have been recalled by various suppliers. It looks like Parnell knew about the contamination and released his peanuts any way because he put profit over public safety. Parnell is in such a mess now that when he appeared before Congress to answer questions about his actions, all he could do was take the Fifth. PR methods will not help him now because he did not do the right thing at any time!
I've always been a reluctant, sporadic user of Facebook. Why? I just didn't think I had the time to interact on the site. So I log on a few times a week, mostly when an email is sent to me alerting me to the fact that someone has added me as a friend or written on my wall. I've posted photos on my Facebook site after special events or trips, but I haven't found a way to make it part of my daily routine.
In October, I attended the PRSA International Conference in Detroit, and the main buzz of almost every presentation I attended was about Twitter. A few weeks later, I set up my first Twitter account. I didn't really get it at first, but now I "tweet" quite often and always follow other "tweets." Why my enthusiasm for Twitter? It seems to be a "hub" for information that I'm seeking as I prep for classes or investigate a trip or find out about the latest happenings with the Detroit Tigers. I can follow news organizations, social media experts, and other users who post relevant links to information that I'm seeking.
I guess it boils down to this: I care more about information that is relevant to my life and my work than I do about whether a Facebook friend has cleaned her kitchen that day or found a new favorite song. I like both sites, but right now, Twitter is my favorite.
One of my dilemmas as I get up to speed on using Web 2.0 for public relations and personally is: How do I teach social media to students who already know more than I do about the topic? But I guess my answer is this...They use it more on a personal basis, but I'm not sure they know how to apply the powerful tools of the Internet for business purposes. Students know Facebook in and out...better than I'll ever know it. But do they know how to use it for an event or for an issue? I think some of them are on the right track. But my goal is to challenge them to think beyond their personal use of Facebook so that they will start thinking about the broader uses of Web 2.0.
I'm starting this new blog to communicate with my students at Rochester College outside of the classroom. I'll post PR Hall of Fame and Shame, my thoughts on daily PR events, and all things social media. I hope this will be another good way to communicate!
I'm an assistant professor of communication at Rochester College. I specialize in teaching public relations, media writing, publication design and media studies. I'm trying to learn as much as I can about new media strategies.