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Archive for the ‘Social media and PR/IMC’ Category

I was looking out a restaurant window last Wednesday evening when an SUV pulled up and stopped in the parking lot. Mom was apparently letting her two daughters out to enter the restaurant while she parked the vehicle.

I could see one daughter, a high schooler I’d guess, opening the side door to help her younger sister out. They both came around the back of the SUV and crossed the parking lot in route to the front door of the restaurant.

Like ducks in a row, the older led the younger. The older girl, about 15 or 16, was texting like crazy as she walked unconcerned across the parking lot. Her little sister, who could not have been more than 4 years old, was doing the same thing on what I assume was a toy cell phone.

There’s the future, I thought. That is, if fortunately for them, no speeding vehicle shortens their days, because each was too absorbed in her texting to notice little things like oncoming traffic.

But it’s not just young people. A dear friend from Canada told me that at an early movie this past Saturday night, her party noticed a young man sitting alone using his Blackberry throughout the movie.

In Japan, 20 percent of high school girls have not only one, but two, cell phones, and some own even more. These teenagers stay on the phone “all the time” as one of them put it.

The Pew Research Center finds that 75 percent of Americans ages 12 to 17 own a cell phone, and the age at which kids  gettheir first phone is dropping. If what I saw at the restaurant is any gauge, it is dropping really low.

Pew reports that 66 percent of users use their phones for texting. It is sometimes carried to extremes, like the Japanese teenagers who use Ziploc bags to keep their phones waterproof while they use them in the bath.

Web 2.o technologies are extraordinary. We are able to communicate in ways we could not have imagined just a few years ago. But what does it all mean? Just because we can text in the shower, does that make it a desirable thing to do?

What concerns me most is how technology is used by my mostly Millennial Generation students now and in the future. Web 2.0 technologies are exciting and capable, but harnessing them to be useful in strategic communication/public relations is essential.

There is much to know about such topics as using social media to successfully support integrated marketing communication programs.

The conflict will accelerate: businesses believe Millennial Generation students are inherently tech-savvy and hire them expecting quick results. Not so. They are not.

And to be honest, college prep is lagging way behind. We must find more and better ways of preparing students for the real world of work they will face.

Innovative waterproofing to allow shower texting is funny, but not being able to deliver the requisite technological skills on the job isn’t.

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A line from my favorite poem, To Lucasta, Going to the Wars, says, “true, a new mistress I now chase…” 

That fits me now. I have started a new blog as part of my doctoral studies in Instructional Technology at Towson University. My first love is and always will be More With Les, but the new blog allows me to focus on education and instructional technology in a more scholarly way.

But at times, there will be some correlation and overlap. Since I teach Mass Communication, PR Track, I will be writing about communication/PR/IMC on occasion. 

For example, I just posted some thoughts on technology standards in the comm/PR world. In it, I write about usage policies for social media, concentrating on corporate Weblog policies. Since that might be of interest to MWL readers, I wanted to tell you about it.

The new blog is named Les Potter on Education & Instructional Technology. Please visit and leave a comment at any time. I welcome your feedback.

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Media are merely vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition (Clark 1983).

 Take that, you teachers who use instructional technology in the classroom!

 For those of us who study the effective and efficient use of instructional technology, Clark’s words are startling. Is this true?

As an instructor in Mass Communication, PR Track, I see a parallel question with education’s use of media and media used in communication/PR.

 For trained communicators like me, one other name comes to mind — Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan is famous for saying, “the medium is the message.”  The focus is on the medium itself not so much the content of the message.

It’s Clark versus McLuhan in a steel cage grudge match.

If Clark is correct, then what matters in education? Perhaps it’s the teacher, the quality of instruction, the subject matter, what is presented, but not necessarily how it is presented. Clark argues that the media teachers use only conveys instruction without helping student achievement.

If McLuhan is correct, then the message content is less important than the medium conveying it. That seems to fit with today’s fascination with social media. The traditional media that communication/PR professionals have used for decades now seems to be foresaken for social media.

But are communication/PR professionals missing something? My best friend Communication Consultant Extraordinaire Robert J. Holland thinks so. Writing in his blog, Communication at Work, Robert says:

Communicators are still drooling over social media. We want to know everything about it — everything, it seems — and we want to figure it out fast so all our peers will be in awe of us. And before long, we’ll realize that social media are pretty much like all the other communication vehicles out there and we’ll move on to the next thing. For now, however, we’re still in the high hormone stage.

I think Robert nails it. The communication/PR profession’s fascination with social media as the newest and greatest may blind us to the importance of the message and to a proper media mix.

But what about Clark’s bold statement about media and instruction? For educators like me, especially Mass Communication instructors and anyone who wishes to use instructional technology effectively, is the media we use that unimportant?

I don’t think so. I think the media we use is important in helping students learn. But as Robert B. Kozma (2001) says, “whether or not a medium’s capabilities make a difference in learning depends on how they correspond to the particular learning situation — the tasks and learners involved — and the way the medium’s capabilities are used by the instructional design.”

Back to communication/PR, where the (social) media is the message. Holland says:

Too many of us have become obsessed with social media, treating them as if they’re the last cute girl (or guy) that will ever come our way. It’s clouding our judgment and we’re losing our grasp of the fundamentals. I get that social media have changed communication forever. I get that social media have caused a significant shift in how organizations engage and interact with their stakeholders. I get that it’s important for communicators to have a working knowledge of social media including some technical skill. I understand social media’s impact and importance. Last summer I told my public relations students that the change in communication brought about by social media was like that of the Gutenberg press.

To summarize, here is the situation:

  • In education, some argue that media merely conveys information without helping students learn.
  • In communication/PR, some argue that the media, especially social media, is all-important.

For a communication/PR instructor like me, I must find common ground. I think that common ground is captured in the following, which I will call “Lester’s Manifesto”:

I will use instructional technology that helps me create a two-way symmetrical dialogue with my students to help them learn. I will use all relevant media that helps me teach my students successfully. Media in all forms are a tool, whether used by an educator or a communication/PR practitioner. Each medium has its own characteristics. Each has a proper use. No one medium is better than all the rest. In fact, I firmly believe that a well-thought-out media mix is always better than heavy use of a single medium, whether the use is in education or communication/PR.

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As stated in my previous post, I attended the IABC World Conference June 5-10 in part to see old friends on the IABC staff and from the membership. In addition to professional development, one of the greatest aspects of my career-long IABC membership is the friendships I’ve made with people worldwide.

I treasure my conversations with these people, some of whom I only see once a year at conference. Although we stay in touch via various means during the year, nothing beats face-to-face interaction with people you respect and care about.

The main purpose of IABC’s World Conference is professional development. In that respect, this was an excellent conference with top programs and speakers. The program was substantive and balanced and provided something of value to all communication/PR practitioners who attended, no matter their level of experience or job description. IABC is a master of excellent and timely professional development programs. Without IABC, I could not have been as successful in my career as I have been. I have the highest respect and affection for IABC’s staff.

For most actively involved IABC members, the networking opportunities are a tremendous plus of the conference. So, did I find those fulfilling F2F experiences I so wanted to find?

Yes and no. What happened?

For one thing, attendance was way down perhaps due to the weak economy. My session on strategic communication planning and management was well-attended, as were the educational sessions I attended. But overall, the numbers simply weren’t there.

The presence of social media, as expected, was all-pervasive. I took time to observe what was happening around me. Conference attendees act very much like my Millennial students with their cell phones and PDAs, but my students are not allowed to use these devices in class. The moment students leave class, the cell phone/PDA goes into action. Conference attendees feel no such constraint; they sit in sessions and use cell phones, PDAs, and computers with impunity and wild abandon. When out of sessions, you see many people sitting alone using technology rather than talking with people.

The typical in-session scenario is this: a person attends and tweets a session for his/her followers. Or, an attendee blogs about the session while the session is being conducted. Then, there are the text messengers who carry on conversations while in a session. Countless others feel compelled to check for messages every few minutes or to surf the Web.

What is happening here? What does this all mean? 

Twitter is definitely the current darling of the social media glitterati. So many people tweet sessions that a presenter’s message is magnified perhaps a hundred or a thousand times or more. Session tweeters say they are “reporting” on the event for others out there in the Twittersphere who could not attend. Tweets are re-tweeted, and the word spreads exponentially at 140 characters a pop.

For example, I was part of an invitation-only think tank on social media, and during that half-day session, fully one-fourth of the 30 participants were using their computers or cell phones or PDAs the entire time. One participant who constantly reported on the event from his laptop was asked why he stayed on his computer talking about the session with people who were not invited rather than “being fully there.” He replied that he was there, but he felt responsible to share the event with so many others who weren’t.

Okay. If you say so. When it came time to report findings of their small group work, he totally missed the assignment and went off on so many unrelated tangents as to draw laughter from the other participants. Perhaps his followers in the Twittersphere got better from him.

Critics of the practice say, “But you are not listening. You are tweeting.” Defenders of the practice say they are listening and listening even more closely so as to be able to tweet salient points.

Whatever your viewpoint, Twitter changes the rules of engagement for speakers and conference attendees. Some savvy presenters encourage tweeting during the session and display the tweets as the session progresses. That way, you can see an underlying full, rich discussion happening in real time simultaneously. The essence of the session can be shared with a much wider audience. The presenter may become Twitterlebrity.

Twitter followers who are in less-than-interesting or relevant sessions can leave to attend one that is tweeted to be more lively and interesting. Twitter adds a bold new dimension to “session surfing.”

No doubt Twitter is the current force to be reckoned with. I am anxious to see if it will be the same at next year’s IABC World Conference in Toronto.

I’ll try to be in Toronto to roam the halls in search of meaningful conversation. But in the meantime, see you on Twitter. I’m at http://twitter.com/LesPotter

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Three Dog Night nailed it: One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.

Many who decide to leave employment to fly solo in communication/PR/IMC often find it lonely. One day you have the camaraderie of fellow workers; then you are on your own with no one to talk with or to share ideas and/or approaches.

I believe that the potential loneliness and feelings of isolation among independent consultants, sole proprietors, and/or solo practitioners should be considered before a person decides to pursue entrepreneurship. I have had many conversations over the years with friends and colleagues who feel the same way.

I left corporate America in 1998 to start Les Potter Incorporated, my consulting practice.  LP Inc. was chartered in the Commonwealth of Virginia as an S Corporation, or a sole proprietorship. That means I was it. If I did not attend my staff meeting, then 100 percent of my employees were absent.

As many who strike out on their own, I did not want the expense of an office at first. I worked from a well-appointed home office to save money. In so doing, I spent hours and hours alone. I am fine with that, a monk working alone in my cubicle with only classical music from my Bose Wave radio breaking the silence.

But others are not. There are many aspects of running a business successfully that entrepreneurs must deal with. But I believe that potential solo practitioners must take into consideration the lack of interpersonal contact that comes with the territory.

If you decide to go it alone, then allow me to offer some lessons learned to help you cope with the loneliness.

First, examine what you need to be fulfilled in your career. Are you mentally and emotionally prepared to go it alone? Can you truly stand to work alone away from day-to-day collegiality? If so, then proceed.

Some suggestions for those who decide to go it alone:

  • If you have not already, join IABC and/or PRSA and attend monthly meetings. That not only gives you regular social interaction with fellow professionals, but also is valuable for networking and business development.
  • Volunteer for IABC/PRSA committees, functions, etc., for the same reasons as above. Plus, it builds your credibility and expands your resume.
  • Become active in civic groups for the same reasons that it is advisable to be active in professional associations.
  • Volunteer for a nonprofit organization, a cause-related entity that is doing good in your community. Not only will you get the satisfaction of helping advance the human condition, but you will have social interaction, valuable networking, and possible business development.
  • Find a place away from your home office at which you can work around people. For example, find a wired Starbucks or a pleasant restaurant and hang out there. Make it your remote office. Get to know the barristas, staff, and regular customers. You’ll have a sense of community that rivals any corporate atmosphere. But, coffee shops and restaurants are really in the real estate business — they sell space. If you hang out there taking up valuable space, be fair and support them with meaningful purchases.
  • Social media is great for helping with loneliness and feelings of isolation. There are a zillion communication/PR/IMC blogs in which you can be part of a community, learning and giving and sharing all along.
  • Social networks like PR Open Mic and MyRagan are ideal for building a sense of community. Plus, these networks are excellent for connecting with other communication/PR/IMC professionals and sharing knowledge for continuous professional development.
  • Our little pal Facebook is great for keeping in touch, too. I love it for just that reason.
  • And don’t forget email and telephone calls. Reach out to others when you feel lonely or isolated.

Reminds me of another song. Take us home, Carole King.

When you’re down and troubled
And you need some loving care
And nothing, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night

You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there
You’ve got a friend

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As the 2008 Summer Olympics in China begin, brace yourselves for the zillions of references to “public relations”. I dread it.

True, this has begun already. An example is the Olympic Torch Relay that some call a “public relations disaster” for China.

China’s winning bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics is incredibly important to the country. By hosting the Olympics, China plans to show that it is a major player on the world stage, a modern economic powerhouse, as if we didn’t know that.

But some fears of China as host have become reality. In submitting its winning bid to the IOC in 2001, China promised open access for journalists so that they could cover this Olympics as they would any other Olympics. Not so in reality, say early accounts. There appears to be a clash of what freedom of the press means to journalists and what it means to Chinese officials.

Internet access is tightly controlled, and many Websites are blocked. Also tightly controlled are what reporters can visit and who they are allowed to talk with. So much for promises of openness.

In terms of PR, China’s effort to be seen in the most favorable light possible is undermined by its efforts to control messages and images. What pains me is to have “public relations” applied to any of this. There are enough people in the world today who disrespect PR. Applying the term “PR” to any aspect of China’s efforts at controlled self-promotion is deeply troubling.

A free and open media is significant to the ethical and effective practice of public relations. The truth is that much of the news that appears in the media comes from public relations sources.

Publicity is uncontrolled information, meaning that once any information prepared by PR professionals leaves the hands of those professionals, that information is at the mercy of a free media’s decision makers. These folks choose what they do with the information — run it, ignore it, or edit it and run it.

But when the media uses information from PR professionals, in whole or in part, it runs as if the media outlet created it, thereby giving the message a much-valued status called “third party endorsement”. That simply means that media using the information gives it credibility and validity. Though great media coverage is hard to obtain, it is highly prized for this reason. Plus, it’s free. Some call this “earned media”.

When media is controlled by the state, and only approved messages and images are allowed, then that is not public relations, but propaganda. China may wish to persuade the world that it is what it wishes to be seen as, but its heavy-handed control of media is not helpful. Persuasion as a PR tool is acceptable when done ethically. Persuasion uses communication to win people over. Persuasion is used ethically in reputation management all the time.

But there is a distinct difference between persuasion and propaganda. Propagandists try to tell people what to think.

Any PR Principles class, professional association, or PR textbook will define PR as a management function that seeks to establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its publics. That cannot be accomplished by manipulation, control, and coercion.

Truly effective public relations needs a free and open media. And a free and open media needs public relations as a source of worthwhile information. This is the truth that we must not forget in the coming weeks.

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10. I read David Murray’s blog Shades of Gray, got scared, and changed my major to Kinesiology.

9. I think blogging is a fad and will go away.

8. I kan’t type wurth a krap.

7. WordPress is too expensive.

6. I’m a effin dumb ass,  so why prove it to the world by blogging?

5. My mother might read it.

4. My mother might not read it, then I might not get any comments.

3. My instructor does not require me to blog for a grade.

2. I can’t ask my instructor “how long does this need to be?”

1. OMG! WTF! blogs like fkin gay, i’m like too busy texting my bff.

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