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“I have a homework assignment about PR…”

I love spending time with students on campus and as the end of the semester draws near, I get a lot of questions about the role of pubic relations at NC State and in our society.  It’s an especially busy December for us, but I wanted to post a quick response to a request earlier this week.  Sometimes short and sweet is the best way to go, eh.  Let me know what you think.  And please understand, this is not intended to be a full discourse on public relations.  Just a “thought of the moment” kind of response to a student’s questions.

STUDENT:  I have a homework assignment for which I have to ask PR professionals some questions about their experiences with social media.  If you could answer them for me in an email, I would really appreciate it!  The questions are below:

1)      How has social media changed the way public relations is carried out professionally?
Social media is just a tool, like the typewriter, camera or video recorder.  It provides yet another way to “distribute” messages and influence audiences.  Here at NC State we have incorporated social media in a variety of ways to help tell our story.

2)      What social media applications do you use most often?
Twitter is the most successful tool we have.  We use Twitter to inform the media and other interested parties about research and discovery (aka ‘news’) at NC State.  We also post event updates, general information, etc., on Twitter.  We also use Facebook for much the same purpose.  Facebook gives us more flexibility however.  We can post longer story lead ins, photos, and videos.  We also have a YouTube Channel for NC State, though it does not receive as much attention from us as the other two.  And then there’s the Web.  Not necessarily a social media tool, but without it, we’d be nowhere.  We post everything to the Web using a variety of university Web pages and sites.

3)      How do you engage your stakeholders in conversations using social media?
Like I said earlier, social media is just a tool.  We use it in much the same way we used printed news releases, email and video stories in the past.  It is another way for us to tell the story of NC State to a variety of audiences.  And each tool is different. Twitter, because of its 140-character limit, provides a headline, if you will, that directs people to a Facebook page or Web site that contains more information about NC State.  Facebook does the same, but using more words, pictures and sometimes, video.  I think it’s interesting that we use social media tools to get people to attend events and activities where they do actually see and interact with people . . . face-to-face.

4)      What are the strategies and specific measures that you use to evaluate your social media efforts?
Our measurement is typical.  We monitor traffic to our Twitter site, our Facebook fan page, and our Web sites.  We have not made a concerted effort to measure our “ROI” or return on investment in the form of student recruitment or dollars contributed to the university.  We plan to take a deeper look at the real “value” of social networks with the next class for Fall admissions.  We’re going to be using social media to help increase the number of out-of-state students we enroll.  We’ll be able to monitor how much we spend on Twitter and/or Facebook, then see if the activities have any impact on enrollment.

5)      How do you use social media to promote long-term relationships with stakeholders?
The Alumni Association has a Red & White for Life blog that seeks to build that relationship.  The blog provides new information and news, while providing a look at the past in photos and stories.  We also believe that once someone starts to follow NC State — and interact with the university and their friends — we’ve taken a first step toward creating a long-term relationship.  If we are successful in providing interesting and useful information through the various social media outlets available to us, we’ll has created that long-term relationship, or at least, started the relationship.

6)      Some have said that social media is transforming public relations into a customer service role rather than an organizational counseling role.  How do you see social media affecting public relations work?
Social media is just a tool.  When you are developing your short- and long-term public relations plans, you’ve got to include social media, just like you’d include media relations, speeches and special events.  It is a better tool for customer service than anything in the past however, and if it can help us in that area, it’s even more powerful.

7)   What does the future hold for social media and public relations?  Will it continue to be important for job seekers?  What new technologies do you see emerging?
At the bottom line, public relations is all about managing an institution’s reputation in the marketplace. The need to be active and aggressive in managing reputations is growing more important everyday.  That’s partly due to social media. When (if) an organization stumbles, it’s likely to be broadcast across Facebook, Twitter and YouTube within minutes or hours.  The public relations professional needs to be ready to respond to these types of challenges.  Building a strong reputation before anything like this happens is more important than ever. Responding quickly if there is an issue, must happen at light speed.

Public Relations also must play a role at the head table helping institutions develop programs and activities that are in the best interest of stakeholders within and without the organization.  All institutions and corporations have a responsibility to those around them and the public relations function can help an organization or institution develop those roles; that sense of “what we stand for” in society.

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