Public relations professionals and educators are facing some of the same challenges in and out of the classroom. One of the biggest facing educators today is the rapid evolving use and implementation of social media in campaigns and the workplace.. These changes are happening quickly and at times, are very hard to keep up with in providing students readings, assignments, and case studies for them to explore, analyze, and apply in their class activities and internships.
Social media research within the public relations field is moving into a core area of focus for the field, profession, and even in the classroom in a few cases. Just in the last several years, there have been several research studies focusing on the use of social media tools among public relations professionals and the current status of social media research, but the missing part of the equation is to explore what are the tools, assignments, and platforms professors are using in and out of the classroom to fulfill the expectations and needs of young public relations professionals as they enter the workplace.
In addition to this growing challenge is to explore what are some of the assignments and other potential activities that could be used to better articulate and educate students on the growing expectations, challenges, and opportunities available for them in working in social media.
Social media is not just a tool or “fad” to be reckoned with. Social media does raise some new challenges and opportunities for public relations educators to consider. First, the barriers of time and location are cut down to real-time interactions for engaging dialogues, live updates from guest lectures and presentations, sharing updates about the classroom topics, and providing a virtual window into a class for practitioners, future employers, and brands to follow, listen, and engage in dialogue with.
Second, the intense speed of social media has captured the attention from both practitioners and educators to potentially build a bridge to bring forth new ideas, applications, and partnerships to the table. Practitioners are looking for talent that can properly communicate seamlessly across multiple platforms, research and apply analytical data, monitor and listen to audiences, express empathy and formulate sustainable relationships, and engage in ethical and legal practices consistent to the guidelines set forth by the profession.
Next, social media education needs to be further supported by both practice as well as the university. Many researchers are discouraged with doing research in teaching for tenure purposes. However, this is an important area of research that has a direct impact on not only the pedagogy and PR education literature, but these assignments, studies, and case studies can be applied directly to how prepared students will be in their new roles entering the public relations workplace. Instead of being discouraged to do such research, educators should be encouraged to further pursue the best practices and benefits for educators, students, and practitioners through theory-based and practical research studies. In addition, educators can further explore the underlying influences technology for cognitive, behavioral, and affective learning objectives in public relations education.
There have been many researchers who have actively engaged in exploring different equations associated with social media inside the classroom. Dave Remund (University of Oregon) and I have explored the nature of social connectors in the classroom as well as the implementation of evidence-based practices (EBP) with colleague Kathy Keltner-Previs (Eastern Kentucky University). Remund and I pointed out in the capacity of a social connector, a scholar helps identify and address gaps existing between traditional public relations education and the dynamic demands faced by new professionals in the field with the strategic implementation and application of emerging media platforms and tools.
As professors, we have to adaptive and meet students halfway when it comes to social media education. We have to acknowledge there are tools and platforms we may have a strong sense of expertise in, but we have to be open to the possibilities we can become students as well and learn from our classes. It’s about proposing a social media education collaborative economy to translate in and outside of the classroom. Leadership within the classroom structure is crucial for implementing a strong sense of culture and community within the classroom for professors, especially when it comes to incorporating a tool that many students feel they are “experts” in.
Being an expert in the field consists of living, breathing, and educating yourself in the field each and every day. Understanding the nature of these trends and focusing on best practices for initiating certain life long learning behaviors among students will benefit them sustainably by providing them an opportunity to apply strategic applications and uses for new tools and platforms arising in social media. In addition, as professors, we have to set our expectations high for what we want to expect from our students entering into a classroom that either integrates social media as part of classroom dialogue or assignments, or even if the class is a dedicated course in social media. We have to recognize the various myths, perceptions, and expectations that come with each of these proposed uses of social media for campaigns and research studies.
Brands are also recognizing the collaborative social education economy needed to make sure students are prepared, confident, and able to succeed in these new demanding roles in public relations. One of these brands that has translated their focus towards higher education is Hootsuite. Hootsuite’s higher education program, Hootsuite University, is an established program free for professors to incorporate and is in most social media classes already. Hootsuite University allows students to get access to lessons, quizzes, and become certified in Hootsuite to add another credential to their resume in this area.
In summary, teaching or incorporating social media into the classroom is hard work, but staying top of the new trends, understand and incorporate creative thinking among students for strategic uses of emerging platforms, and exploring the overall changing profession of public relations in the classroom with social media will help prepare students as they enter the workplace for their future internships and positions. Social media implementation in classes is not a replacement for the traditional foundational practices for public relations pedagogy. In fact, social media implemented within enhances the engagement among students on the respective class topics while empowering them to apply these for networking and creating and curating information for community involvement and building in the field.
By exploring these new tools and providing hands-on applied experiences while discussing key conceptual issues arising in the new digital landscape, educators are embracing and setting forth a new educational paradigm of a social education economy in and out of the classroom that enhances the overall experience for the student, profession, and professor. Social media in the classroom is a win-win situation for all parties involved in the public relations field.
Karen Freberg, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at University of Louisville in Kentucky. Follow her on Twitter @kfreberg.