PRWeek was media partner with Edelman for a recent education summit on new media. The program focused on digital innovations and problems, and was designed to arm professors and department chairs with tools and information to integrate into their classrooms and curricula.
We became involved because of what we see as a great need for a more consistent new-media presence in academic communications programs. Some students seem to have little notion that the social networking platforms they use regularly, the stuff they post or watch on YouTube, and the way they are now consuming news are keys to the larger phenomenon that is going on in the profession, and in marketing as a whole. I've spoken to a few colleges recently and have been a little surprised that some of the classes are not touching on new-media platforms in greater depth. I have been more surprised that some students do not recognize that they are their own best focus group, or laboratory, for how the environment is changing.
Some programs are not recognizing the resource their own student populations provide, either. "Innovation has to be from the bottom up, not just the top down," says Richard Edelman, Edelman CEO. "[Just as] the newly minted graduates can push changes at agencies, that might reflect on professors, too. They can learn from their kids."
The summit was also a lesson in the obstacles for educators in making changes to traditional programs. For example, how do you know what is important enough to pay attention to? Well-paid trendspotters are not on hand at every institution to help identify what will stick and what will not. Educators have to spend some of their already overextended time reading innovation blogs, as well as analyst reporters and the business pages.
Educators also have to navigate the whole blurring of the lines between what constitutes a journalist, a blogger, a citizen journalist, an opinionated customer, and every other possible Web permutation or interpretation of someone who posts content. One professor in attendance asked about the guidelines for encouraging her students to blog. "Are they blogging as journalists or as marketers or as 'citizens'?" she wanted to know.
It's a great question. What are the rules for each - or are rules no longer de rigueur? Do we expect the student population to experience and participate in new media as ordinary folk, or do they go in with an agenda and a list of dos and don'ts?
There are some questions like that that still need to be explored because they have no adequate answer. But there are two glaring messages here. One is that the student population - and, in particular, the communications student population - is a great resource for understanding new-media behavior, but primarily it needs direction in order to understand how these things apply to the wider PR world. The second is that we all need to be much more active about making sure that happens, so that the industry continues to attract the best, and they are equipped with the tools they need to do the job as it continually changes.