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PR and Social Media Colliding

Posted At: April 9, 2008 1:08 PM
by Aaron McKevitt, Contributing Writer

As another throng of public relations students line up to graduate this summer, employers will be looking to hire young men and women with specific skills. In many cases, these are skills employers do not have on staff. Some of these skills have been expected of new hires for years, while some have not.

Today, one of the newest aptitudes that employers of PR practitioners desire, if not expect, is that of ethically using social media as a PR tactic.

Social media can be described as communication technology tools that encourage community. Examples include Twitter, Flickr, WordPress, Facebook, MySpace and other online, interactive media.

“I can definitely say we expect new hires to have a good understanding of social media tools and how to use them effectively,” said Phil Gomes, vice president of Edelman Digital.

In a 2007 study conducted by the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, surveys showed that social media is increasingly becoming a staple in the way businesses communicate. According to the survey, two-thirds of Inc. (magazine) 500 companies claimed social media as playing a “very important” or “somewhat important” role in their business and marketing strategies.

“You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube,” Gomes said. “Different [social media] tools could be a fad, but the overarching trend is here to stay.”

This is why Edelman, the world’s largest independent public relations firm, created a conference to teach social media skills to upper-level public relations students—the Edelman Digital Bootcamp.

The premier Bootcamp took place March 1 at the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga. Students from throughout the Southeast worked in teams to perform mock campaigns led by the Edelman facilitators.

Educators from the region convened and focused on sharing ideas and encouraging the adoption of social media in more communication curricula. Gomes spoke to the educators about how to use social media tools. A separate panel brought together four PR professors in a roundtable format to discuss specific social media assignments other educators could incorporate into their core PR classes.

“It’s been wonderful,” said Eileen Perrigo, APR and instructor from the University of West Florida. Perrigo participated in the educators’ track of the conference.

“I’ve met a lot of knowledgeable people who integrate social media into their classes,” Perrigo said. “When I go back to West Florida, I’m going to take what I’ve learned here and integrate it into my classes.”

Dr. Kaye Sweetser, assistant professor of public relations at UGA, also participated in the educator track of the conference.

“As more organizations begin to adopt social media tools like podcasts, blogs and social networking, we as educators have to make a commitment to the industry to deliver,” Sweetser said. “Time and time again, I’ve heard professionals from the public relations industry say that they are looking for our graduates to leave college trained and ready to know how to use social media tools ethically in their practice. An event like this shows the joint commitment of Edelman and Grady College to ensure ethical practices of social media integration.”

As the educators are beginning to add the curricula, students are eager to soak up the new knowledge.

“The client scenario gave me insight into real-world situations,” said Kelly McNichols, a sophomore from Chicago, Ill., majoring in public relations at UGA. “Working with Edelman was a great networking experience as well as a learning opportunity.”

Edelman intends to expand its Digital Bootcamp to other college campuses across the nation in what it hopes will become an annual event.

“Social media continues to grow in importance,” said Erin Caldwell, senior account executive at Edelman. “The professional world has a need for these skills and the academic world needs to respond. The Edelman Digital Bootcamp is trying to jumpstart this process. We’re trying to get the ball rolling on producing generations of PR students that will be properly equipped with these skills.”

“It’s gone really well, so far,” Caldwell said. “There’s certainly a lot of interest on doing another Bootcamp at some point in the future.”

To learn more about the Edelman Digital Bootcamp, visit

As a public relations educator, how are you incorporating social media into your classroom instruction?

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