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Summertime, when the learning is easy

25 Jul

Feedly It's late July. I've noticed people apologise when contacting me in case they're interrupting my holiday. So what do educators do when the students have left?

I'm not taking much official holiday (for one week at the start of September I'll be off-grid: staying on an island with no electricity, no running water, no mobile phone signal, no shops…). But life certainly does slow down in the summer and there's scope for more spontaneity as the mood and the weather allow.

There's still work to be done. The undergraduates may have left, but postgraduates and professionals still need supervising and assessing. For the tutors, the deadlines never end.

But there is more time for reading and thinking. I've just read Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus and Lucy Laville and Neil Richardson's Develop Your PR Skills. I'm looking through the new third edition of Anne Gregory's Planning and Managing Public Relations Campaigns and the newly-published Yahoo! Style Guide and I'm catching up with Communication Power by Manuel Castells.

Online there are new tools to try and skills to learn. HootSuite has been my preferred social media dashboard for a while but Feedly looks a promising way to gather and display news, blog posts and tweets (see screenshot above).

I'm up-to-date with submissions to Behind the Spin – so am keen to receive more contributions from any students and graduates not on the beach. We welcome summaries of your dissertations and are also publishing tales of graduate job-seeking struggles and successes.

Macnamara on media and the future of PR

13 Apr

Cross posted from Behind the Spin.

The 21st Century Media (R)EVOLUTION: Emergent Communication Practices
by Jim Macnamara
410 pages, Peter Lang, 2010

MacnamaraThis scholarly book is an important – but complex – contribution to the literature on PR and social media. So let’s start by unpicking the book’s title.

Macnamara tries to steer a course between the utopians heralding a major media revolution and the dystopians who see declining standards all around them. Hence the ambivalence over whether new media should be considered revolutionary or evolutionary. Then there’s the concept of emergence: as he explains it, ’some media and systems of communication are mutating, becoming self-organizing, and evolving into wholly new forms… Emergent media owe as much to chaos theory as to evolutionary systems theory’.

The cited example of emergent media is simple enough: the unanticipated rise of text messaging on mobile phones. Then the author complicates it by saying the trend emerged  ’because of a ground-up bifurcation led by teenagers’. The author is a professor of public communication – and his desire to profess to his academic peers is evidently more powerful than his desire to communicate to the general reader. This book belongs on the media studies shelf in university libraries and will be read with most enthusiasm by research academics.

Continue reading

It’s not about people, it’s about conversations

16 Feb

Here's the crucial way Twitter differs from other forms of communication (post, email, phone, face to face). With the other forms, you first find the person you want to communicate with, then direct the words at them.

With Twitter, the people are almost impossible to find first. They use aliases, they compress their real names, even the best directories are hit and miss. Besides, they're probably not paying attention. As for lists, they don't list people – they simply list fragments of conversations.

So, with Twitter, you can't find the people first. You have instead to find the conversations either through targeted searches or through a laborious process of following and listening. Once you find the conversation, you're likely to find people interested in it.

If you think this sounds familiar, it echoes the 'situational theory of publics' articulated by James Grunig a quarter of a century ago. Publics form around issues; people gather around conversations. It may not be intuitive, but it makes sense.

The trouble with Twitter

11 Feb

It should be about conversations (or 'two-way symmetrical' dialogue in textbook speak). But there's something asymmetrical about how Twitter is so often used.

Perhaps the problem is with the concept of 'following'. By following a celebrity, or a publication or a brand, I'm signing up for an asymmetrical relationship with little prospect of it becoming an equal conversation (symmetry).

Students and other novices often struggle to find the right balance. Are their tweets suitable for the public domain, or would they be better on a more private social network? How to develop from a personal comment on my activity towards a contribution to a public discussion?

Here are two useful posts from US academics aimed at PR students:

Via PROpenMic

Meet Generation F

5 Feb

Facebook In the week Facebook turned six and announced its membership had passed 400 million, it's time to review what we know of the Facebook generation (Gen F).

This was also the week when commentators have realised that social networks and microblogging are more compelling among this group than old-fashioned blogs.

Our guide to Gen F is Stephen Davies, citing the One Young World initiative. Read his post.

My contribution to the discussion was to ask a group of first year students attending a 9am lecture about their media and communications usage so far today:

    95% had sent or received a text message
    10% had made or received a voice call
    70% had listened to the radio
    5% had watched TV
    30% had used Facebook
    0% had used Twitter
    20% had read a newspaper
    0% had bought a newspaper

Wispa it quietly

21 Jan

It's been ironic reading so many positive comments about Cadbury, in a batch of essay assignments, in the week its directors recommended the proposed acquisition of the business by Kraft.

Wispa One comment in particular seems worth revisiting. The now-famous bring back Wispa campaign was cited as a good example of relationship management (in the way the company apparently did a U turn and responded to its customers' wishes). The same campaign is also named by Phillips and Young as a good example of  'groundswell' – using social media channels for campaigning purposes.

What if it's neither of these? What if the bring back Wispa campaign was an example of an old-fashioned PR stunt out of Barnum & Bailey, or from Grunig and Hunt's bad old press agentry/publicity model.

You see, our transparent age of social media is meant to make the old-style PR stunt ineffective (unacceptable too). So it's awkward to find an example of it working so well – and the source of the campaign being able to cover their tracks.

So, based on a nudge and a wink more than hard evidence, I name Borkowski as the PR brains behind the Wispa campaign. (He continues to deny it publicly but he's probably made the commitment to do so to the client). Let's please stop using it as an example of the crowd versus business. It's an example of PR orchestration simulating (and stimulating) public opinion. We think we're so sophisticated, but it seems we're still suckers for the old gags.

Freddie Starr ate my wispa.

The rise of the community manager

11 Jan

I've been monitoring the emergence of the community manager role for some time, but it's good to be able to put names and career trajectories to it.

New Media Age reports that ASOS social media manager Ilana Fox is leaving next month. She was previously community editor at The Sun and before that she had a similar role at The Daily Mail. At ASOS, she led the launch of the ASOS Life community. (Via Vikki Chowney)

Prediction: 2010 will be the year of the blog

22 Dec

IainDale'sDiary You might think I'm five years behind the times, but the impact of technology is not linear, nor is it always predictable.

The Economist tells how commentators predicted in the 1840s that the telegraph would challenge newspapers. Instead, faster transmittal of news led to the era of the great newspapers.

Today, newspapers face bankruptcy. As The Economist article concludes:

The internet may kill newspapers; but it is not clear if that matters. For society, what matters is that people should have access to news, not that it should be delivered through any particular medium.

So we don't have a crisis of news; we have a crisis of news distribution and the need for a viable business model.

Here's my thinking about blogs. The first phase, championed by Blogger, Typepad and others enabled easy personal publishing. Yet growth in and buzz around personal blogs slowed as first social networks (like Facebook) and then microblogging (Twitter) satisfied most people's needs for expression and interaction.

Blogging hasn't gone away, but it has become less visible as the early adopters have been exploring new new tools. Yet quietly, this personal publishing platform has been developing into professional publishing. Open-source WordPress has been leading the way in this, as personal blogs give way to group blogs and sophisticated content management systems.

This development should not be surprising as it has a precedent. Newspapers emerged from the explosion of pamphlets enabled by the printing press (a disruptive technology in its day). At first, these pamphlets were personal and amateurish; in time, they became more professional and evolved into the newspapers whose names we're still familiar with.

So, in predicting that 2010 will be the year of the blog, it's not personal, amateur blogs that I have in mind. It's well-researched, professional blogs in specialist niches such as politics and business. The UK general election campaign will provide a local boost to the political blogs, and the challenge of the recession will boost the adoption of low-cost approaches to marketing and communications.

There's another factor in this trend. For many individuals, social networks and Twitter are alternatives to blogging. For the more professional bloggers, these networks provide valuable 'push' channels for attracting readers and encouraging the creation of communities of interest.

We've long been familiar with the role of the public relations practitioner as content creator. There's work here for those who are far-sighted enough to establish strategies and rationales for blogging engagement along with robust systems for writing, editing and moderation, while avoiding the obvious pitfalls of ghost-writing and the constant conflict between transparency and disclosure.

Then there's the emergence of a new role: the public relations practitioner as community engagement manager (with a blog one possible hub for the community).

My PR books of the year 2009

16 Dec

Here's my end-of-year list of the most notable books I've read about – or relevant to – public relations this year. (For the record, here's my list from the year before).

In truth, I've found much less to be excited about this year and it's perhaps telling that my top two are both updates of books first published around a decade ago. But the primary emphasis on PR and social media with a secondary emphasis on global public relations does fairly reflect developments in our industry.

  1. Cluetrain  The Cluetrain Manifesto, Tenth Anniversary Edition, Doc Searls et al. Yes, we all now know that 'markets are conversations'. But it took the Cluetrain authors to come up with the most cogent critique of their own work: markets are also transactions – and relationships. A thought-provoking addition to the original manifesto (still freely available online). Sadly, it lacked further analysis of public relations, which claims to be the discipline which manages relationships (see next book). (Also see my review.)
  2. Online Public Relations, David Phillips and Philip Young. For this much improved second edition, the UK's internet PR maven David Phillips was joined by university lecturer Philip Young. Together, they have written a sophisticated and challenging book in which PR is conceptualised as relationship optimisation. (See my review.)
  3. Global Public Relations: Spanning Borders, Spanning Cultures, Alan Freitag and Ashli Quesinberry Stokes. What good timing! In the depths of a recession precipitated by failures in the financial system, and with doubts about the extent of western imperium, this was just the time to bring out a book challenging the anglo-centric view of public relations. An important academic text. (See my review.)
  4. Communications and behaviour change, Mairi Budge and others. This freely available and well-designed electronic booklet comes from the UK government's Central Office of Information. It draws on psychology to address the tough question surrounding communications for social good: how to get people to change their behaviour.
  5. Personal Reputation Management: Making the internet work for you, Louis Halpern and Roy Murphy. A practical guide, not an academic text, but it's not without concepts and an understanding of history. This book usefully applies branding principles to personal reputation, and search engine optimisation techniques to an individual's online presence. (See my review.)

Unpopularity contest

4 Dec

I'm about to blog Here's why social media for students should be an unpopularity contest. Because the question is: are you a leader or a follower?

There's immense social pressure on people to conform: young adults feel it most strongly, as is evident through their choice of clothes, music, sports, drinks and so on.

But surely social media encourages like minded people to gather together. Surely it promotes conformity. Consider those Facebook profile photos where the individual is indistinguishable from the herd.

We are tribal animals, so it's a good ploy to conform to the rules of the tribe. To an extent, yes; but it's a competitive world out there, and we can't win every race. How best to equip youself, if not to win, at least to finish the race?

I think it takes some non-crowd behaviour. It comes down to individual application. Are you an outlier?

Glancing at the entrants to Euprera's social media awards 2010, and thinking about those who are putting themselves forward, I realise how hard this is. Starting a blog is easy (no harder than setting up a web mail account); keeping one going, in a social media landscape where Twitter is more immediate and social networks are more rewarding, requires hard work and outlier traits.

I'm not involved in choosing winners (and don't even know why this blog appears among the entrants), but I suspect the winners will demonstrate focus, commitment and dedication (solitary, not tribal, qualities), but will also have the social skills to connect and coordinate communities.

To stick with Malcolm Gladwell, there will be something of the connector, maven and salesman [sic] in them.

There's still time to enter the Euprera awards. Go on, make yourself popular through your unpopular obsessions.

Photo by Julia Roy on Flickr