How do we help those new to social media?

Stuart Bruce asks whether “trade associations get social media“, which I think has linkage to the recent postings about becoming a social media expert. 

It is both ambitious and laudable to put together advice, such as the updated CIPR social media guidelines – however, it is impossible to cover all the eventualities that need to be considered, especially where legal regulations apply. 

Of course, anyone new to social media need to avoid falling into the pitfalls that those who’ve been before them have made.  So, guidelines and looking to those with a track record of practical experience and/or engagement in social media, are useful.

Undoubtedly, PR practitioners need to understand social media and how it impacts on their activities and organisations.  This is an exciting opportunity but one fraught with dangers.  A Twitter entry by James Andrews of Ketchum recently got him into trouble with client FedEx – showing how even someone with experience can become an immediate case study.

However, case studies themselves become simplified, taken out of context or exist as a myth to convey a particular message.  So you’ll hear people talk about Wallmart’s Fake Blog (flog) from 2006 as a cautionary tale, whilst last year’s Cadbury Wispa revival is touted as showing the power of social networks. 

These are the social media equivalent of Exxon Valdez and Tylenol – which is a dangerous learning methodology for PR practitioners.  Life in PR (or online) isn’t as simple as a couple of case studies or even a set of rules might imply.

PR practitioners not only need the guidance for themselves, but to produce policies for their organisations.  Intel publishes its social media guidelines within the legal information area of its site.  Based on principles and rules of engagement, there’s still a lot to take in here.

Craig Whitney, The New York Times’ assistant managing editor who oversees journalistic standards, has published a policy for social networking sites (via Judy Gombita), showing it isn’t just the PR world that is struggling with the emerging online scene.

Are such guidelines helpful to those new to social media?  In companies are they part of an education programme, or policies intended to prevent or catch those who reveal more than they should?

How do those PR practitioners who are new to social media best find out how to engage?  Is it enough for them to attend a training course or lurk around blogs like Greenbanana?  How can we help others to “get” social media?

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

9 thoughts on “How do we help those new to social media?”

  1. Two questions for you, Heather:

    1) Given that you are a CIPR educator, about what percentage of overall class time do you spend on guidelines (particularly ethics) regarding social media?
    2) Were you asked/did you contribute to the updated CIPR social media guidelines?

    (I would hope that any CIPR educator who was also actively involved in social media would have been approached about contributing.)

  2. Judy,

    In respect of the first – it is probably a similar approach as for ethics/guidelines for non social media practice. That is, I would not talk about either without emphasising what is ethical – but also questioning students on what we mean by ethical. Obviously knowing about and adhering to guidelines and codes is only one approach to ethics, and as an educator, it would be wrong of me not to point out the other considerations. After all, there can be good reasons for breaking a rule, even a law.

    I was not asked to contribute to the updated CIPR social media guidelines.

  3. Hi Heather, this is an important and timely topic. At the University of South Florida, our public relations students do not have a social media course available to them. As a result, a colleague and I take it on ourselves to infuse the courses we teach with social media. For example, my colleague has students create a public blog for a “Writing for Public Relations” course. In my classes, I use a private blog system and ask students to read current articles and analyze them. I use a private system so that the students feel that they can answer honestly without the whole world seeing it.

    Our hope is that by creating online communities among these aspiring professionals, they are forced to tackle issues that they will someday (soon!) address as professionals. Rather than worry too much about guidelines or case studies, I want them to “feel” what it is like to be part of an online community, then begin thinking about the strategy behind an organization using social media.

    Since most young people I teach either blog or follow blogs, I anticipate that their personal experiences, combined with the formal work they complete in classes will give them the kind of “hands-on” experience that prepares them for actually using this stuff for business purposes.

  4. Bob,

    Picking up on the “hands-on” approach (which is what got me into blogging in the first place), I felt challenged by students today asking me about Twitter to finally do something about being active in that space too (much to Judy Gombita’s amusement as I’ve been dismissive of it previously).

    I’m thinking of how I could use Twitter beyond “micro-blogging” to enhance my students’ understanding and experience of social networking/media. I suppose at the least, I can point them in the direction of news and other interesting discussions that are happening in that space.

  5. Hi Heather, your Twitter remarks mirror my thinking, though I haven’t jumped in yet. I know I should, but I don’t have time to keep up with yet another social media tool. That said, my former students now working as professionals blast me all the time for not getting on the Twitter train.

    From what they tell me, they use Twitter to follow journalists and hone their pitching skills, based on the limited content one can post. My very best former students report that they are using social media as you indicate…to create spaces for interaction that are more informal than the traditional e-mail pitch or phone call. The limited characters of Twitter also helps professionals cut to the heart of messages, which I think journalists respect. If a communicator can’t say it in 140 characters, then perhaps the message isn’t clear enough.

  6. I’ve not yet found journalists to follow, but will ask my motoring media contacts who I know blog (or read blogs) if they are on Twitter and how they use it.

    I’m following some general media sources and a couple of celebrities as I thought it was very interesting to see how they are using media since they are the “new influencers”. I’ve noticed one press office (BBC) but would like to find more as I think that would be interesting to see how Twitter is used by a press office not just by individuals.

    The thing with social media is that on the one hand it is more personal and casual, but on the other, PR professionals are never off duty. The knack of connecting with media both socially and professionally isn’t new, but online perhaps needs a bit more care. Afterall, everything you Tweet is open to all.

  7. Try this list for a start :-):

    One more Twitter note. One thing I’m experimenting with is a separate “Comments” Twitter feed fed off the back of the Comments RSS feed that everyone has, as a way of letting people follow comments via another channel/helping interaction. I’m expecting short term subscribers for particular posts when comments take off.

    btw I can’t see your Twitter feed prominent on this page.


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