Social media skills go to head of the class

Real-life proficiency in this area is becoming increasingly vital to PR students and their professors.

Sarah Reigstad, a student at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication, recently deployed the social media skills she learned in class to help jump-start her career. Eva Keiser, adjunct professor at the school and SVP at Risdall McKinney PR, says Reigstad has an administrative job with local restaurant group Parasole Holdings. After learning of Reigstad's social media studies, its marketing team asked her to show them how Facebook and Twitter could aid promotional efforts.

“Students can mentor [older] people,” says Keiser. “It gives them a good advantage in the workplace.”

As demand for such skills grows, it's increasingly important to teach social media in PR classes. Keiser has integrated it by requiring students to interact with her through various sites, including Twitter. For example, she posts reading assignments there and requires students to post things for her.

Keiser says an in-depth social media class is also offered now, but that social media will be integrated into all classes going forward.

Karen Russell, associate professor at the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, notes that social media is currently integrated into all classes. She notes that professors must become immersed in social media before incorporating it into their curricula. Russell posts assignments and links to required reading on a dedicated delicious.com page. All students must have a Twitter account, while her PR administration class has its own blog where students post book reviews.

“Blogging book reviews may not seem like... a [big] deal, but one author commented on one student's review,” she adds. “They're learning how easy it is to find something and how to interact with people on the Internet.”

All of Russell's students are also required to use PROpenMic.org, a social network with more than 3,600 members worldwide for students, professors, and PR pros. The site was created by Robert French, instructor in Auburn University's Department of Communication and Journalism.

French, who started teaching online activities as early as 2000, prefers the term “emerging digital media” to “social media.” All his students use PROpenMic.org and all have individual blogs on PRblogs.org, another site French created on the Ning.com platform.

His students also use Twitter to find and follow people who are pertinent to what he's teaching. Research class students, for example, follow PR researchers such as Katie Paine.

Since 2007, Grady College and Porter Novelli have sponsored “Connect,” a PR and social media conference, and the college also hosted Edelman's 2008 digital boot camp. Russell organizes “Connect,” and students covered last year's conference using Twitter, videos, and podcast interviews. They even created a blog (Ugaconnect.wordpress.com).

Russell also invites guest lecturers, such as Bert DuMars, VP of e-business and interactive marketing at Newell Rubbermaid, into the class. Keiser agrees that students should have exposure to different perspectives on using social media. Guest lecturers in Keiser's classes have included pros from Weber Shandwick and Best Buy, as well as Julio Ojeda-Zapata, reporter and author of Twitter Means Business: How Microblogging Can Help or Hurt Your Company. French also hosts guest experts, including David Meerman Scott, author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR.

French, Keiser, and Russell all use supplemental texts, such as Scott's book and Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, by Charlene Li.

“Students have to study it and they also have to do it,” French says. “They're... doing things in the digital realm, but really they're writing and creating collateral. [It's] not so much a big change as it is using new and emerging strategies and tactics that employers [will] want.”

Technique tips

Do

  • Use social media to interact with students
  • Establish social networks for classes
  • Teach social media applications of traditional PR

Don't

  • Miss chances to learn from experts
  • Rely on textbooks; assign supplemental books as well
  • Teach social media without using it yourself

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