Posted At: September 21, 2009 1:28 PM
by Niki Gautier
Mama always said not to judge people, but in this case, Mama is wrong!
I had the chance to sit with Sharon Nichols, a third-year law student at The University of Alabama who has become a public relations inspiration. Nichols has won a prestigious award from the American Bar Association for her blog, has created a Facebook group that now has more than 400,000 members and has published a book coming out on September 29, all before her 25th birthday.
Nichols, originally from Troy, majored in philosophy and political science at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. Last year, she won first place in the student category for the American Bar Association Journal’s “2008 ABA Journal Blawg 100.” She started her blog in college to write about political commentary. However, it turned into commentary about her law school experience once she reached The University of Alabama. The blog is named after one of her favorite southern sayings,“Thank you, ma’am.” Nichols said she started it as an outlet for her writing, and it became something with which people could relate.
“Surprisingly, it wasn’t planned that way,” said Nichols. She updates her blog around three times every day, “depending how often interesting things happen.”
Nichols is able to utilize her blog for employment opportunities as an archive to show some of her writings. However, her impressive award has also “hurt” her in law school. She said that some professors, knowing what she has accomplished, stop her in class when something funny happens and tell her she can’t write about it. However, all was said in good humor.
She suggests that all public relations students start blogging, or at least get into some kind of social media.
“If there’s one topic or area that they’re most interested in, those seem to be the blogs that do the best,” Nichols said. She also said when trying to make your blog popular, “it helps to link it every chance you get.”
Before Nichols’ success with her blog, she started a Facebook group called “I judge you when you use poor grammar.” She came up with the idea when she was passing a store sign that said “Applications Excepted.” Nichols took a picture and posted it on the Facebook group, which continues to allow others to post grammatical errors they have found in public. More than 7,000 pictures with grammatical mistakes on signs have been posted on the group page.
Nichols recently published a book called, I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar, based on her Facebook group. She received a call from a reporter of TheNew York Times who wrote an article about it. After the article was published, an agent called her, and together they pitched the idea of the book to different publishers. St. Martin’s Press decided to publish the book that will soon be released. The book includes 250 pictures, and she is working on licensing the pictures for other purposes.
Nichols said using correct grammar is a very important part of public relations because “people are always making judgments in their head about you … Words are the foundation, they’re how we communicate with each other. It’s important to be precise. They’re how people perceive you.”
Although grammar is very important to Nichols, she claims that she doesn’t judge people in conversation or through text messaging.
“I give them a pass because everybody messes up sometimes,” said Nichols. “I mess up, too.”
Nichols said she learned that how you communicate is important at a young age. Her grandmother was “a real stickler” about grammar, and her father is a pastor who has to speak publicly all the time.
Nichols describes success as “when you’re happy and fulfilled with what you’re doing and can make a living off it … I’ve definitely been successful in life so far!”
She advises all PR students to utilize as much social media as possible.
“It may seem kind of redundant to update your Facebook status all the time andTwitter, or similar things, but each one reaches a different type of audience,” Nichols said. “You should take advantage of all the free tools that are out there.”
Nichols’ book releases on September 29, and you can pre-purchase it now onAmazon.com. Finally, I am happy to say that Nichols herself said that she never noticed any grammatical mistakes on my part through the interview. Thanks, Mama!