Twin Peaks Shooting: Early Thoughts and Observations on the (Lack of) Public Relations

It’s a little more than 48 hours after a biker gang brawl in the parking lot of the Waco breastaurant Twin Peaks, (killing nine, injuring 18 and resulting in the arrest of 170) and there’s barely a word from the Twin Peaks corporate office.

Sure, there was one tweet from the corporate account about 6 hours after the midday tragedy:

TWin Peaks tweet

A similar message was posted on the corporate Facebook page:

Twin Peaks facebook

Yesterday, about 24 hours after the events, the corporate office posted this on their Facebook page (you can go to the page to read the comments):

Twin Peaks facebook 2

Is that enough? I don’t think so. It’s admirable the company shut down the franchise within a day (the TABC pulled their liquor license ) but what else are they doing to contain the damage to their image?

Very little.

Looking at their Twitter account you see they still have a Major League Baseball Opening Day tweet pinned to the top of the page–folks, that was April 6.

Twin Peaks tweet 2

I’m pretty sure my students, along with any half-decent crisis communications manager would recommend they pin their tweet about the carnage to the top of their page. I even tweeted that suggestion to them several hours ago. I’ll let you know if they do it.

A company called the Chalak Mitra group apparently owned the franchise–and another one near Fort Hood–but a check of their website gleaned no information there or on their affiliate website. Bad web presence or shut down on purpose?  Their Facebook page is gone as well. The same company owns Genghis Grill, and that company’s website and social media are operating normally. (Genghis Grill has had its own problems in the past.)

So what’s a company to do in a situation like this? The franchise owner claims they cooperated with police but the Waco police claim they warned the restaurant about the possibility of violence and were ignored. Before it was taken down the local franchisee’s website apparently promoted regular “bike nights” catering to motorcycle groups.

This story isn’t going away soon. Most people don’t know the difference between a franchisee-run restaurant and a corporate-owned location–they see the name and that’s it.  When you consider my public relations motto “If the public thinks you have a problem, you have a problem” in that context, Twin Peaks has a problem. I’m sure they would love to get the signage off the side of the building while it appears as the backdrop for all the police press conferences, but they can’t get in because it’s a crime scene. It wouldn’t matter anyway–the name is out there and isn’t going away soon. The company is doing little to mitigate the damage to their name.

What would I recommend? It could be “too little too late” but Twin Peaks needs to post a message on every landing page of their website decrying the violence, confirming their closing of the Waco franchise, and offering their sympathy to the families and loved ones of those killed. They would also do well to offer some sort of assistance to the many people left unemployed by the sudden closure of the restaurant–counseling for the witnesses, a job fair, training–something that might help these innocent people get over this trauma.

After all, their own Facebook page says they are “in the people business.”

Take care of your people, Twin Peaks. There are plenty of places to eat.

The Seismic Shift in Public Relations Measurement

Over the past few years the world of public relations has gone through a radical change in the way program success is measured. The days of measuring how much space your press release occupied in the paper and calculating how much it would have cost to buy an equivalent sized ad are fading fast (for the most part). Ad Value Equivalency has been considered a bogus means of measuring public relations success for a variety of reasons. The simplest reason I cite is it assumes an ad can be purchased and placed in that location in the paper. This is not usually the case with front page stories. More important, AVE doesn’t measure any business outcomes–the number of widgets sold, for example.

The use of AVE in PR measurement has been debated for decades, and was questioned as far back as 1949. This article by Professor Tom Watson gives a history of AVE and its controversial evolution and (I hope) demise. It is still in use. Many executives and nonprofit board members insist on it because it’s simple to understand. Respected monitoring companies still use it, mainly to keep their competitors from stealing customers who insist on AVE as a measurement tool. But even they admit it’s bogus.

Things got serious in 2010 with the acceptance of the Barcelona Principles, which sound like an international treaty or trade agreement, but are the results of a major international effort to build industry consensus on measurement.

Working from that document, the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications just released The PR Professional’s Definitive Guide to Measurement. The entire history of its development is long, and thoughtful. This is not a snap judgment by any means. It’s a seismic shift in communications evaluation. And it applies to social media as well.

A vocal proponent of outcome-based PR measurement is K.D. Paine, whose blog, The Measurement Standard, is a must-read for anybody in a field even remotely related to public relations.

Back in June she posted about The Conclave, a group of cross-industry professionals hammering out vendor-neutral standards for social media measurement. While these are not finalized yet, it looks like the world of public relations and the world of social media are getting their respective acts together regarding evaluation.

Originally posted on the Eagle Strategies blog, the class blog of the social media course I teach in the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas.

Why I’m changing my Academic Integrity Policy

After three and a half years of teaching at the university level, I still haven’t become as jaded as some professors.  I still think college students are in college to learn in order to flourish in a professional field of their choice after graduation.  Maybe I think the majority of students are like me—people who worked hard, partied too much on occasion, put all their focus on major courses and sometimes let the electives slide, while doing it all honestly. Granted, I was in college in the ‘70s, when computers were mainframes available only to the computer science majors, and photocopies cost up to 25 cents each and smelled funny.  Cheating was never anything I considered, and I’m guessing plagiarism was hard to catch and prove in the days before Google, Turnitin and online plagiarism checkers. The most widespread cheating I heard of in my undergraduate days was selling tests to students in subsequent semesters of that class.

My grad school days in the ‘80s weren’t much different. I was one of the few students in my program with a home computer, built in a garage in Richardson, Texas and running on an 8086 processor, the gold standard of the time. DOS was my friend and Windows was a curiosity. 
The campus computer lab was a bank of terminals connected to a mainframe, used only by students in classes with data analysis requirements.
Our department was innovative because we had a small computer lab with fewer than 10 Apple IIc computers available for our use.

These computers, along with first generation MacIntosh computers on faculty desks, were bought by a visionary faculty member with his personal funds and donated to the school. (I fund a scholarship I named after him.)

By then the cost of a photocopy was down to 10 cents a page, but Internet access was not widely available. If you wanted to do an online search you scheduled time with a research librarian who worked with you on key words to do a CompuServe search. The annotated bibliography and abstracts were then printed for you, and you got a deal if you could wait until 2:00 a.m. when bandwidth was cheap.  I paid $35 for one search and was accused by other students of paying someone to do my research—it was only when the chairman of the department, who had given me the online assignment for our readings class—stepped in to defend me that the criticism died down.

But I digress.
Today, students in classrooms have any number of gadgets available to them with access to the Internet and social media via cell or wifi. While some faculty still insist students turn off everything but their cardiac pacemakers and insulin pumps while in class, I have abandoned that battle.

I know in the days of paper, pen and cassette tape recorders I could zone out, doodle in margins, work on other assignments and generally ignore a professor without a smartphone, computer, tablet or MP3 player to distract me. So instead of fighting it, I tell them “You have a choice about how much you get out of this class. All I ask is that you be considerate of me, your fellow students and guest speakers. I also retain the non-negotiable right to shut you down if I realize you are working on an assignment for another class, Facebooking, or shopping online.”

So far, I haven’t had a problem. In fact, topics come up in class discussion that are settled through someone Googling the answer to a question or tweeting the link to an article cited. (Yes, I allow, even encourage live tweeting of class lectures, especially when I have guest speakers.)
So what does all this have to do with academic integrity? I’m not sure. I just enjoyed reminiscing about my college years.
My academic integrity policy has always followed my university’s policy, which provides several options for punishment. In most cases I file the report so it goes into the kid’s permanent record, and allow them to re-write the work. This is because many students mistakenly feel it’s OK to copy from their client’s website. (My PR students all must find a nonprofit organization to work with for all their writing projects.) In professional practice using material from the client’s website may be acceptable, especially if you also wrote the website copy, and want to keep a unified tone to your messaging. But my PR classes are writingclasses, so I need to know students can write, not copy and paste.
In a few rare and extreme cases, the penalties have been much greater. In one case I repeatedly warned a student about non-attribution of sources before finally nailing him/her for quoting book reviews from without attribution, and without finding the original source. I gave the student a zero on the assignment, and explained the policy for appeal, but the student never appealed. I guess he/she knew he/she was guilty and figured it wasn’t worth it.
In another case I busted a student for dual submission, which is submitting a piece from one course to another course without permission from the second instructor. This student’s excuse was that the first submission wasn’t graded because it was off topic, so he/she figured it wouldn’t hurt to submit it to my class the next semester. That wonderful little tool Turnitin flagged it, and it took a visit to the Dean of Students office for the student to realize my offer to let him/her re-write the assignment was an exceptionally generous offer—most professors would have given an automatic F on the assignment, if not the class.
This semester, however, convinced me to toughen up my stance, despite the liberal options offered by the university’s Office of Academic Integrity.
The project in question is a final project representing a significant percentage of the final grade in a required course. It’s also a group project.
Grading one component of the project I noticed a sudden change in the writing style and quality—as if someone else had written it. It was too polished, compared to the rest of the work in the piece. It also sounded vaguely familiar. I went to the Turnitin submission box and found the upload was incomplete, with this section omitted, so I typed the passages in question into a Word document and uploaded it to Turnitin.
Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner—a direct download from a website without so much as a change in the font.
My heart sank. It always does in situations like this, which mercifully are rare. But when it happens I feel betrayed, I feel the client has been betrayed, and I feel sorry for the student who, for whatever reason, chose to cheat. The other students in the class who did their own work are also betrayed.
Fast forward past the paperwork, the documentation, the unpleasant meeting with the group in which one student finally took full responsibility and begged me to not punish the whole group, past the hostile tweets and lengthy emails begging me to reconsider and offering “proof” of innocence that actually incriminated the student even more. These emails eventually turned dark and accusatory, full of Bible verses and accusations of bullying, racism and favoritism. Threatening comments made in another class made their way back to me and the administration. An appeal to the department chair and dean changed nothing—the student in question received a letter grade lower than his/her group members on the final project, which I felt was fair.
What transpired next was, I’m sure, the polar opposite of what the student hoped for. Yes, I got a “talking to” by the dean. And as much as that student hoped I got into trouble for singling him/her out for cheating, the “trouble” I got into was for being too nice.
You see, everybody above my pay grade felt I should have, at the least, given a ZERO for the entire project, which would definitely have resulted in a failing grade for this student. Most felt I should have given an automatic F in the class for the cheating, even though it was a portion of a project
I explained that with all the talk about retention I’ve resisted failing students in the past. I pointed out that I liked to turn these cases into teachable moments for the students, to turn them into better professionals. But in this case, with a student who showed no remorse, I decided to agree with the department chair and dean and take no prisoners in the future.
You cheat in my class, you’re done. You flunk. University policy allows for sanctions for “deliberate or negligent” instances of cheating. From now on, the sanctions will be the toughest possible. If they’re overturned on appeal, fine, but you’ve got to prove you didn’t cheat, and I don’t accuse anyone of cheating unless I have incontrovertible proof.
Yes, I’ve been too nice for the past three years. The vast majority of the few students I’ve “busted” for plagiarism have been contrite, admitted their sins, and never repeated them. But all it took was for one student to refuse to take responsibility for his/her actions and appeal up the food chain for me to realize being nice to students like this is a disservice to the honest students who do their work and pass or fail honestly. It’s a disservice to all in academia, and retention pressures notwithstanding, I refuse to lower the standards and pass someone who doesn’t do their own work. Plagiarism is a firing offense in the field of journalism. I’m not preparing students for the profession if I let them get away with it in school.
It’s a shame that one student (with administrativeencouragement) pushed me to this extreme, but it’s the right thing to do. Honest, hardworking students who do their own work in good faith won’t feel like the value of their degree is diluted by those who are only trying to get by in order to get a degree they didn’t really earn.

If I were Manti Te’o’s publicist….

The Manti Te’o girlfriend story has more legs than a centipede. Every time I turn on a sportscast, check my Twitter feed or a sports page, the story has changed. It’s now more twisted than that pile of chargers, Ethernet cables and other electronic peripherals in the bottom drawer in the den, and is evolving faster than a mutated virus in a science fiction film. Based on the many news reports and blogs I’ve read about the fake girlfriend hoax, he’s definitely got a PR problem—one that could affect his career in the NFLbefore it even starts.

I almost missed this story. I was wrapped up in the first week of classes and consumed by the Lance Armstrong confessional, which will probably be a future blog post.  All of a sudden this guy from Notre Dame was consuming the sports world with the most bizarre story since the balloon boy.
Here are the undisputed facts: Manti Te’o is a big deal at Notre Dame. It was reported that his grandmother and girlfriend died within hours of each other, eliciting much sympathy in the press last fall. The South Bend Tribune, Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports and other media gushed about his bravery in the face of adversity.  He was on ESPN Gameday talking about the tragedy. He was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, and we all know an inspirational story can influence voters for any award. He came in second, and Notre Dame went on to play Alabama in the National Championship game.
Fast forward to Wednesday, January 16, and Deadspinbreaks a shocking story: The girlfriend didn’t exist. This is where it starts to get weird.
I can’t possibly keep track of the twists and turns in this story. Apparently Notre Dame knew about it in December, but for reasons still unclear kept it from the public. Te’o’s denials of knowledge and involvement started to morph, and various family members had conflicting quotes. Did he meet her? Or was she just an online relationship? Not sure when we’ll know the truth, but the speculation in the press and online range from accusations of Te’o cooking up the scheme to gain Heisman votes to his creating the fake girlfriend to hide the fact that he’s gay. Since the admitted perpetrator of the hoax is apparently an acquaintanceof Te’o, it’s not preposterous to think the hoax was planned for reasons other than “catfishing” a prominent athlete.
Te’o did an off-camera interview with ESPNin which he admitted he embellished the story, and at this writing it has been announced that Te’o and family members will sit down with Katie Couric on Thursday, January 24th.
Where am I going with this? I’m not sure—because the minute I post it, the story will take another turn and this blog post will be out of date.  But right now, Lance Armstrong has more credibility. Oh yes, there are writers who are saying Armstrong and Te’o are very similar, but I disagree.
Why would I say Armstrong, who finally admitted to doping throughout his cycling career, is more credible than Te’o? Because Armstrong has been completely consistentfrom Day 1. His story never varied. For more than a decade he has vehemently denied he used any performance enhancing substances. Whether he is a sociopath who believes his own lies, or was so arrogant he felt he would never get caught, at least the guy was consistent. Most liars get caught up sooner or later by conflicting stories or some slip-up that forces them to come clean. Not Armstrong. His ability to come up with a story and stick to it is admirable. Politicians could take a page from his playbook. But I digress….
If I were Manti Te’o’s publicist—and I’m not, his family has hired Matt Hiltzik as their publicist. He represents, among other folks, Alec Baldwin, Don Imus, Glenn Beck, Justin Bieber and…Katie Couric.
Manti Te’o could learn a thing or two from the disgraced Armstrong’s confession to Oprah. This blog on CNN points out a number of things that Armstrong did wrong.  As the article says, getting caught is just the beginning, and blaming yourself is not sufficient. Manti Te’o and those who follow him would do well to learn from the mistakes of arguably the most famous athlete of the past decade.
So if I were Manti Te’o’s publicist? I’d tell him “Come clean—NOW.” If you’re gay, say it. It’s darn time a major sport had an openly gay player, much less a star. I know being Mormon, and going to a Catholic school makes that admission more difficult, but go for it. Somebody will “out” you eventually. That’s news that should come from you, and nobody else.  If you were in on the hoax, say so, but tell us why. If you didn’t know about it, admit you’re gullible, but be believable when you do it because nobody believes anybody with a degree from a school like Notre Dame could be so naïve.
This will be a tough one for Manti Te’o and Notre Dame to overcome. The questions will linger for a long time. Unlike the Lance Armstrong fiasco, this scandal doesn’t threaten to demolish (or reform) an entire global sport. It does threaten to undermine the credibility of one fine university’s athletic department PR team as well as the entire sports journalism community, which fell for a hoax hook, line and sinker, and never once did the kind of fact checking taught in Journalism 101.

Great advice for students

Wow, has it been this long since I posted to this blog page? Well, it’s been too long. I’m back, to share a bit of wisdom from a fellow college prof. I can’t say it any better than Professor Janni Aragon can.

While grading student papers, I make comments (no names mentioned, unless it’s a shout-out about something fantastic) about grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other fun stuff via Twitter.  I usually keep Tweetdeck running with several columns open, since my students often contact me via Twitter when they know I’m online.

If you’re not familiar with Twitter, there’s such a thing as a hashtag, which is simply a “#” (pound sign) put before a key word. People following that hashtag, but not necessarily you, will see that tweet. It’s a great way to make new friends on Twitter. Sports fans do it all the time during games (#Cowboys, #BigBlueNation, etc.) and commentary on breaking news often spawns hashtags (#Gaza is trending as I write this). Look for plenty of tweets with hashtags during awards shows, reality TV shows, major events and speeches by the President. I have a hashtag for each of my classes, to clue the kids in when I’m specifically addressing them as a group. They also use the hashtags to share links to articles with each other.

One of the hashtags I routinely follow is #grading.  Teachers all over the word commiserate, vent, or brag via this hashtag. They sometimes share weird things they read in student papers. It’s a little stress release, and is also frequently the source of useful information for teachers and students alike. Today was one such day.

I glanced up and saw this tweet from Sean Irwin, who is a PhD student in geography at the University of Victoria in BC.

 He was re-tweeting a link from Janni’s blog, and it caught my eye, because it addressed many students’ concerns when they get graded papers back.

I read it, commented on it, re-tweeted it and am now sharing it here for you because Janni is one wise woman.

I hope all students know it’s not about them, it’s about their work. Yes, I presume there is a teacher/professor/TA out there somewhere who hates a kid and makes it personal, but we’re all pretty honest, and try to be fair.  Remember that the next time you get a paper back that looks like someone bled colored ink all over it. It’s for your good.

And don’t be afraid to come talk to us, either. We might just like you even better.

Reflections on Martin Luther King Day, with a nod to social media

Today we celebrate the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was a young child when he was leading change in America, and I’m sorry to say very few people in my family were impressed with him or his message. Perhaps it’s because my parents were older and grew up in a different time. My dad was in a segregated military; my mother grew up in a family where “colored people” were servants. I know my mother died without ever having a meaningful conversation–one between equals–with any African-American person, but she was always kind and polite when she encountered them. She cautioned me that “they are different.” Daddy mellowed in his later years. He loved soul food and had a diverse collection of fishing buddies and fellow woodworking craftsmen that he could hang out with despite Mother’s concerns about what other people would think.

Like many white Americans during the civil rights era, my parents expressed fear. Seeing large crowds of black marchers singing “We Shall Overcome” scared them, and they, like many of their peers, thought that song meant “they” wanted to take over America and marginalize white people. The news media in those days–remember, we were limited to three TV networks, some radio and our daily newspapers–didn’t do a good job of explaining what was going on.  My parents never went to college, so they made their assumptions based on high school educations from small towns in southern Indiana. I’m pretty sure the thought never entered their minds–or that of those teaching them–that all people are truly equal, and no race is superior to any other.
Somehow, despite growing up in a world where the “N” word was freely used, I never understood why “they” were different, other than their appearance. My first questioning of this came in kindergarten. I had a new blue dress with a really pretty front detail that was different and stylish. To this day I remember what that dress looked like, down to the white topstitching and button trim.  The first time I wore it to school there was another girl in my class wearing the same dress. She was African-American and wore her hair in braids with matching blue barrettes.  The teacher had us both stand up in front of class to show off our matching outfits, then we resumed our normal activities.  I remember playing with that girl on the playground during recess. She was really nice and we had fun together in kindergarten.That evening at dinner I related the story to my parents. I remember the sidelong glances at each other, and Mother cautioned me not to get too friendly with her, but nothing much else was said.
The dress disappeared from my closet and I never saw it again.  
When we moved to a small town in Kentucky a few year later the city schools had just been desegregated. My school had their first Black student, a young boy in 2nd or 3rd grade. I overheard the teachers talking in the halls about what to do about him. It was as if he needed special education or something because he wasn’t white. I never understood what the big deal was, but I felt empathy because I was the only Catholic in that school, and the teachers didn’t know what to do with me, either.
Small town America in those days was more isolated than it is now. Limited communications kept ideas concentrated in one geographic area, and didn’t allow for much in the way of additional perspectives. There was no Internet to provide a wide world of ideas. Anybody who was different in any way was viewed suspiciously. I never met a foreign-born person until I was a senior in high school. College exposed me to foreign students and a desire to travel and see what the rest of the world was like, but I never felt like any person of another race or ethnicity was any better or worse than me. Somehow, without being openly defiant, I rebelled against my parents by becoming more open minded. Perhaps it’s because I was bullied and treated badly for being an outsider in a small town, and a Catholic in an environment where we were treated with great suspicion.
In the 1970s Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment and President Richard Nixon endorsed it. It was never ratified by the required 38 states, despite an extension of the deadline, and several states that did ratify it rescinded their ratification. Even though the amendment has been introduced in every session of Congress since 1982, the sad fact is, it will probably never pass. Because the wording is interpreted to include the LGBT community, conservatives are working hard to keep the amendment dead in the water.
Remembering back to the political rhetoric and rumormongering of the ’70s I can only imagine what the ERA ratification process would be like today with the popularity of social media and its ability to spread fear. One of the more sensational arguments against the ERA was a belief that it would make separate men’s and women’s restrooms unconstitutional. I can only imagine how that falsehood and others presented by organizations like Phyllis Schlafly’s  Eagle Forum would go viral and mutate into a constitutional monster that would distract media pundits and politicians from actual governing issues.
All of this reminiscing is a rambling introduction to a great blog I read today from Radian6, a media measurement firm. This blog provides an excellent assessment of how the late Rev. King and his organization might have used social media. It’s also a useful outline of social media strategies that could be employed by any activist organization seeking to make an impression on a wide audience.  I think anybody with an interest in civil rights (or any kind of activism) as well as social media can use it as a guide.

Using social media for life

It’s almost a month since graduation. I’ve watched the kids walk across the stage, written letters of recommendation to employers and graduate schools, and tried to provide moral support and advice to job hunters while celebrating the relatively large number of recent grads (compared to last year) who are gainfully employed in their field.

The NBA playoffs are over and the Dallas Mavericks won, in a shade of blue very similar to my beloved UK blue—with a Kentucky alum on the coaching staff and another in the communications office.

I went to two funerals in two days—one for a beloved colleague who died too suddenly and too soon, the other for a dear former pastor who was one of the most amazing men of God I’ve ever known.

I’ve also re-landscaped half the back yard, dealt with foundation leveling at our house, continued the archeological dig through the “junk room” we inherited, and kept vigil on a wren’s nest (with 5 babies) directly above the front door, all while trying to get caught up on sleep, swimming, and summer office work. I’m trying to brush up on my Spanish, too, for a second mission trip to Patzun Guatemala. Sometime I’ll act on the paint samples taped to the walls inside and outside the house and start painting.

It’s been a busy month of summer vacation—but I can tell this summer vacation will be too short. I still have a zillion things on my personal “to do” list, a stack of books to read (paper and e-reader), projects to finish, and I try to spend a couple of hours a day monitoring new trends and technologies in social media and communications. The learning and preparation for the next semester never takes a break.

So why am I rambling on like this? Because as much as technology has evolved and made our lives “easier,” we still have to do stuff the old fashioned way. Flower beds needed to be re-built, holes dug, plants watered and mulched. Social media couldn’t do that for me, although it could help me find good deals on plants, tools and supplies, and is helping me figure out what varmint is chewing on my Turk’s Cap plants.

Social media helped spread the word about the two fine people who died, and connected all of us with memorials and funeral arrangements while sharing fond memories.

Foundation repair still involved men digging holes, installing piers and jacking up the house, although social media helped us find recommendations and reviews of potential contractors.

Social media didn’t help me pick out paint colors, and it won’t apply the paint but it did lead me to good instructions for painting over 1960s-vintage wood paneling. And when we found a number of interesting vintage articles in the junk room, social media and the internet helped me find out the history and value of those quirky items.

Social media is making it easier for me to keep up with trends and bookmark source material for my fall classes, which I’ll start planning in August when I return from Guatemala. Social media is also helping me locate donated school supplies to take to Guatemala, and to connect with those group members I don’t know yet. Coffee Break Spanish Podcasts are a big help in refreshing my bad Spanish.

Social media connected me with a local bird expert who reassured me the wrens wouldn’t abandon the nest as long as we minimized our time on the porch.

I could go on and on about how social media is useful in my everyday life. It’s not just for marketers, not just for sharing party pictures, and not just for sharing links to articles I want my students to read. In my life, at least, social media and the internet have become my “go to” sources for the mundane as well as the more exciting aspects of my life.

How are you using social media for your everyday life?

Blogs my students write

It’s no secret I love my students. Well, maybe to them it is, because I do have to use tough love to get some of them to reach their potential.  I hold them to the highest professional standards, and rarely cut them slack on their work. You see, the vast majority of my students are seniors, most in their last semester before launching their careers in the “real world.” I can’t baby them as I prepare to kick them out of the nest.  But I still love them and cry at graduation because I know that’s the last time I’ll see many of them.

At the end of the semester I ask them to write blog posts summarizing what they learned in their classes.  They’re always good, and they provide me valuable feedback I wouldn’t get on a standard student evaluation.  Some of them wax nostalgic, some are inspiring, but all show the students’ newfound maturity as they face graduation. 

Some blogs are particularly memorable, and I wanted to take this opportunity to share two with you.

Alisha Andrews (@alychele on twitter) has been in a bunch of my classes, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching her develop as a writer and strategist through two PR writing classes, an ethics class and a social media class.  Besides her good work, she’s got the most infectious smile, and no matter how bad my day has been, one glimpse at her grin makes the gray clouds part and the sun come out.  So it’s no surprise to me that her blog about Journalism 4460–a required PR Communication class that just about kills me along with the students–hit the nail on the head.  This could easily be the first page of the syllabus next semester.

Reading this blog post took me back a year to another post by former student Sarah Minton (@sarahalisa18 on twitter), in which she expounds on how one knows they’re a PR student at UNT. Enjoy! Sarah was in two of my classes–the infamous Journalism 4460 and my ethics class. Sarah was the Outstanding PR student for the 2009/2010 school year, and another student who was a joy to be around. An avid football fan, she’s famous for striking the Heisman Trophy pose as she walked across the stage at graduation last December.

I’m looking forward to following both of these bright young ladies’ careers, and hope they keep blogging–and making us laugh–for many years to come.

The overwhelming responsibilities of teaching social media

I’m finding myself a little overwhelmed these days. Like my students, friends and colleagues, life is suddenly overwhelming. There are simply not enough hours in the day or days in the week to get everything done. If I didn’t have a husband who knows his way around the kitchen and laundry room without a map, I’d be starving and look like a homeless person. Teaching three writing classes and one graduate PR class is too much for one mortal, but somehow I’m doing it, although I’m constantly terrified I’m not serving my students well. And then there are the faculty committees, and the few outside activities I allow time for. The house isn’t as clean as I’d like it to be, but it’s livable. The dog and cats still recognize me, and that’s good.

But what do we really need to do? I just spent two hours on Tweet chats with online friends, students and strangers from all over the world. I got some good ideas, but is my life changed by these information exchanges? Probably not. But it’s one of those things I “have” to do. And who makes me feel like I have to do it? I do. It’s self-inflicted overachievement torture.

I’m also feeling overwhelmed because I’m trying to absorb every detail about social media that I can find before classes start in January. You see, I’ve been asked by the faculty to teach a much-needed social media class at UNT. It’s much needed because PR and advertising students are expected to know social media applications and strategies before they graduate. But at the beginning of this semester, a large proportion of my students didn’t have a Twitter account, weren’t blogging, and still don’t know about Digg, Delicious, and Google Analytics. They start internships and come to me in a panic because their supervisors expect them to take over social media for the clients. They’re overwhelmed, too.

There’s simply too much information out there for one person to know and disseminate to eager young minds. So that’s why I’ll be crowdsourcing many aspects of the social media class next semester.

Why should that class be based on one person’s point of view? You can’t tell me there’s one human being anywhere who knows everything about social media and its strategic uses. The topic is a moving target, changing and evolving like rapidly mutating cellular material. I expect my students will be contributing as much to the class as I am, along with my expert guest speakers. 

Isn’t that the point of social media? To share and disseminate information? To work in communities with the expertise of the best and brightest coming to the forefront?  I look forward to their input, which is why I’ve already set up a Facebook page (Eagle Strategies) and a LinkedIn group. Get them started early. Start the conversation now, so it’s up and running by the first day of class. Bring my professional friends into the conversation.  We all learn from each other.

I’m not feeling as overwhelmed now.  I’ve decided to facilitate the social media class rather than teach it.  Because the learning will come from the doing, and I can’t make them do, only facilitate what they’re doing.

Let me know what you think.

Pope Benedict’s lesson on strategic communication

I came home from Sunday Mass today and opened up the Dallas Morning News to this headline: “Pope to Priests: Go forth and blog.”

On the feast day of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists and writers, it’s a timely announcement. While I’m the first to admit that John Paul II would be a very hard act to follow, Benedict XVI has shown a remarkable interest in using new media to spread the Gospel, and he has a broad following among youth. The Vatican now has a YouTube channel, a papal Web portal (Pope2You) and an iPhone APP, although I don’t think he’s playing “Farmville” on Facebook.

In his message the Holy Father states that a mere presence on the Web is not enough, and he implied knowledge of strategic communications that I’ve not witnessed from the Vatican before now. It’s almost like he’s taken my “PR Communication” class, in which everyone must have a blog.

In fact, this directive is part of the Pope’s message “The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word” announcing the theme of World Communications Day on Sunday May 16.

Now I’m pretty sure the Holy Father isn’t expecting our pastors to replace their homilies with a blog, nor do I see us texting in confession any time soon. But it is encouraging to see the strategic use of social media being endorsed by the leader of the world’s largest Christian denomination. When he says “The increased availability of the new technologies demands greater responsibility on the part of those called to proclaim the Word, but it also requires them to become more focused, efficient and compelling in their efforts” he’s also describing what all communicators should be doing: Targeting the message to the audience and using appropriate tools.

The pope reminds priests (and us) that social media can be used to build “a vast and real fellowship” which is a lesson all of us in the communications field should know and use to the benefit of our clients. The document reminds us that the prophet Isaiah envisioned “…a house of prayer for all peoples” (Is 56:7) and suggests that we can use the Web much as the “Court of Gentiles” was used in the Temple of Jerusalem–as a place “for those who have not yet come to know God.”

While I’m not sure the Holy See would appreciate my secularizing their message, the truth is social media is already being used by marketers and issues managers to build awareness of their products and causes, and to engage a loyal community in fruitful discussion and activism to mutual benefit. Recent tragic events indicate that radical Islamists are already on the Internet bandwagon in order to strategically proselytize and recruit people to their cause. So I think it’s good that the Vatican is taking some cues from the real world and encouraging the use of social media by those on the homefront of spiritual leadership.