PR + Web 2.0 + Teaching equals one real mashup

In January, I took over as an adjunct instructor in the capstone “Campaigns” course for PR majors at the local university. Three hours, one night a week. Piece of cake.

After all, I had 15 years in the PR practice since graduating from that same university with a journalism degree. Lots of experiences to pass on to these pliable young minds. My plan: make the class exciting with a cool social media spin. I’d be brilliant (thumbs in suspenders). It’d be fun.

Who could have known the extent to which a social media focus would challenge the traditional PR pedagogy. When I talked to faculty, the conversation took on a “oh how cute” sheen. The students scarcely had a conception of what “social media” was, and OMG, you mean we have to, like, APPLY it in REAL LIFE PR?!!! After the first two classes, I would have settled for Second Life.

We all persevered, hopeful that the team-based nature of the class would inspire the ol’ Higher Order Thinking Skills to kick in. Then I started seeing it–those moments when a face would light up, expression intent on my stumbling monologue. A raised hand. An honest-to-god social media “connection.” And one-by-one, I’ve witnessed those moments on each face.

But then I look at them and know the field they are going into is much different than the one I faced in the mid-1990s, back when a lot of the internet was still text-based. In the last couple of years, the learning curve has steepened within a rapidly changing spectrum.

I’m constantly getting research through RSS about how traditional media methods are dying, and only have to look into the magic mirror of my computer screen to watch it happen: a canceled local newscast here, a defunct newspaper or magazine there, a radio show transitions to a podcast …

Even my friends losing their jobs in these fields don’t really perceive how “the conversation” is drowning out the talking head. And they don’t get it when I point out that folks don’t go online to read about the latest murder, robbery, car wreck or house fire.

In PR, we’ve always had to be used to the idea of understanding highly technical concepts in widely disparate fields, then plan a strategy to communicate the information to a dozen audiences via two hundred “target” media outlets. Ah, those sweet simple days.

In the wake of Web 2.0, PR folks are the new working mothers of the world. We nurture our audiences in our social media cribs (a.k.a. networks) and instill in them the confidence to join the conversation hoping for some as-yet-undetermined benefit when they “grow up.” Oh yeah, we still have to fill our traditional roles if we want to keep Big Daddy happy in the boardroom (geez, did I just write that?!).

We get to be IT too. Which actually suits my substantial grouchy side when a reporter calls to ask why the YouTube video in my SMO press release hangs up his browser. Next time, I’m going to tell him to move over and get a real job.

So will my students gain any benefit from my johnny-come-lately social media spiel, or will they just get confused and decide their jobs at McDonald’s are a safer bet? Were it me at that age, I’d have opted for the latter. But then–about once each class–I glimpse another moment of connection.

And I know someday when I’m an old PR geezer, put out to pasture because I broke my hip making the leap to Web 224.0, they’ll still be making me proud.

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