The new semester begins tomorrow, and with it comes a new assignment for me. I’m taking over the “Public Relations Online Tactics” course from Michele Ewing, who has created and shaped it over the past 24 months. Michele’s will be a hard act to follow, but follow it I must.
Because the class comes with a huge grading load and a steep learning curve (on the tech side), I’ll have less time for ToughSledding over the next 4 months. But maybe I can use this space to share the lessons that come from coaching a group of digital natives on the use of digital media.
This challenge might worry some folks my age, but I’ve been experimenting with online media, 1.0 and 2.0, as long as any of these students. While they were chatting on IM and stealing music with Napster, I was studying and observing the whole phenomenon. I think I can hold my own with these kids, but we’ll know for sure come May 2, won’t we?
You can help me with the class, and I trust you will. While the syllabus is in place, the course is in constant motion. So please let me hear your ideas on what a course covering online strategies and tactics should include. Keep in mind that Kent State is a professional program that prepares students for jobs as PR professionals. Everything we do is based on strategic analysis and measurable results.
“Audience-Objective-Strategy-Outcome” is our mantra. And while we love to play with the new digital toys, we aren’t distracted by them.
Here’s a list of the core elements of this course, followed by a list of the hands-on projects that later become part of the students’ portfolios.
The course examines/dissects…
- Analyzing and writing for online publics
- Monitoring and tracking online media, including blogs and social networks
- Integrating online and traditional strategies & tactics
- RSS feeds and aggregators
- Responsible search engine optimization
- Tagging and bookmarking
- Blogging as a strategic communication and research tool
- Social networks as strategic communication tools
- E-newsletters to serve vertical audiences
- Intranets and wikis and where they fit
- Website navigation and usability variables
- Online media relations/blogger relations
- Online newsroom planning and content
The course includes hands-on experience with:
RSS Feeds. Students set up an aggregator to monitor blogs and websites related to strategic public relations and report useful content to the class via online discussions.
Blogging. Students create blogs focused on specific areas of PR and post 10 times over 12 weeks. They create and implement a plan to build readership, but without resorting to trickery such as blog memes and selfish link-baiting.
E-newsletters. Students use content management software to write and design a newsletter for a student organization.
Podcasts. Student teams take on a real-world client and create a 5- or 6-minute podcast to support the client’s objective. The experience goes from research and concept to final production and presentation to the client. (We don’t yet have a video component here, and that’s a weakness we must address.)
Newsroom critique. This segment calls on students to analyze and dissect the online newsroom of a large corporation or organization and produce a report that points to strengths and weakness while making recommendations for improvement.
Since grad students make up half the class, I’ll ask them to research and report on case studies in the strategic use of social media in public relations practice, with a special emphasis on measured outcomes. I have a vested interest in this assignment, as it’s the focus of my sabbatical research next fall. Grad students also will read “The Cluetrain Manifesto” and participate in online discussions about this seminal work.
I know. I know. It’s too much for one course — way too much. But that’s the digital world. It’s overwhelming. We’re in the process of migrating segments of this class to other skills classes within the program. E-newsletters will end up in “PR Publications”; online newsrooms and blogger relations will go to “Media Relations & Publicity.”
Our challenge is to integrate emerging NEW-media content without sacrificing important OLD-media content, as much of it remains relevant to PR practice. We’re blessed in that our new, $21-million facility here at Kent State — the envy of PR and journalism educators everywhere (blatant plug) — has the tools to support us.
Yep, since Tim Berners-Lee empowered us with his World Wide Web, we’ve all been working longer and harder. That’s not going to end. No matter how hard we try, we’ll never catch up — never, never, never. But we must stay in the race, even if it means losing some sleep.
Ten years ago, I didn’t have a wireless laptop. If I had, I would never have envisioned writing blog posts like this one on a Sunday morning. Instead, I’d be having coffee with the beautiful lady in the kitchen and talking about our favs in the NFL playoff games. She’s watching them now. I’m editing this post.
So maybe this class should start with a segment on how to avoid compulsive online behavior, you know, digital addiction. Sadly, I’m not qualified to teach that part.
Update: Rob Jewell offers an excellent perspective today for PR professionals thinking about moving from the business to the classroom. If you’re one of those, check it out. 1/14/08.