Thursday, October 31, 2013

Twtrland Offers Useful Brand Planning and Monitoring

A representative from Twtrland, a social media analytics company, reached out to me and gave me a test drive of their services.

I'm an academic and not a brand with a huge budget for such PR service companies, so I appreciated the gesture. I took some notes for my classes, and thought I'd blog an overview of the service here.

Twtrland offers analytics for Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. All can be connected for aggregated reporting, which can lead to integrated planning. There is a free version and a pro upgrade option, similar to other analytic services.

Brands can enter their brand handle as well as various versions of their brand name to get a variety of reports:

  • Audience analysis. Data is broken down in several categories--by celebrities, power users, casual, and novice; by age and gender; by top countries and cities. I especially like the breakdown of users' skills, and the audience interests with percentages in descending order for a variety of subject areas.
  • Fan base. This section gives a quick tiled view of users avatars and profiles. You can sort by followers, recent interactions, or amplifications (retweets, etc). There is also a conversations tab to see in at-a-glance view who is talking to and engaging with your brand.
  • Monitor. In addition to key words and key people, this section allows you to enter the names of key competitors--organizations and individuals--to test your game and maybe show comparison analysis reports to bosses and clients. It's the 'share of discussion' metric for social media.
  • Outreach. This tab allows you to find influencers so that you can strategize ways to engage them. This is also where your lists can be added to do analytics within your own prescribed groups of people.
There are a lot of social media platforms, and even more third-party services to help brands work and measure their efforts in this space. Twtrland is certainly one that could be considered as an option for social media specialists, as well as for public relations pros who have social media added to their long list of traditional responsibilities.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Ways of Knowing and Teaching PR

An adjunct where I work said to me earlier this semester, "we teach students so they can get jobs." Sounds simple and straightforward. But it's also a little simplistic.

Obviously, the end result for undergraduates will be to leverage their college education into a job. But  teaching is more than mere training, and college is called "higher" education for a reason. Also, most employers actually seek workers who have more than just PR skills, but critical thinking, teamwork, problem solving, and theoretical understanding that enhances strategy and initiative. I wrote about this in a recent post about Learning Assessment and PR Education.

The adjunct made this remark in the context of us undergoing searches for new professors for our faculty. The job posting has the typical "PhD preferred" language. The adjunct made it sound like PhD was a liability, as if a PhD guarantees no practical relevance. (Of course, if this adjunct had a PhD they would know not to over generalize like this).

It is true that candidate pools for jobs teaching PR tend to include young people who went straight through school and have little experience practicing PR. Then there is a batch of candidates with professional experience but no advanced degree. I should point out that the PR professors around the country largely include people, like me, who worked in the field and then later sought the PhD and became professors.

However, this candidate pool and discussion with a current adjunct got me thinking about preparation for teaching PR. In my own doctoral studies I had a research class in which the professor talked about different "ways of knowing." He was talking about the various research methods, their advantages and disadvantages, and the importance of choosing the right method relative to what research would be conducted.

With regard to teaching PR, it is important to know what you're teaching. And here also there are two primary ways of knowing. One is the traditional PhD route. Those who criticize hiring young PhDs with little work experience say that their knowledge is all theoretical. Critics say that as if theory  is a bad thing, and that reveals their own lack of knowledge about theory. Far from being impractical, theory explains and predicts behavior, and therefore is useful for giving students and deeper and broader understanding of PR and all its facets. Theory also is based not on a solitary person's experience and opinion, but multiple observations, vetted scientifically.

However, a professional who may not have an advanced degree and broad research and theoretical knowledge does offer students a primary versus secondary understanding of the field. Their experience can fuel their teaching with confidence and concreteness compared to a more abstract big picture perspective.

In short, taking terms from research, PhDs offer reliability--knowledge based on observations that are repeatable--while professionals offer a form of validity, namely face validity--that what is being talked about is grounded in reality and is actually about PR and not some other concept. Another way of saying this is that PhDs can offer quantitative and therefore generalizable views, whereas someone teaching from personal experience has a more qualitative perspective but it can't be generalized necessarily.

Since good research requires both reliability and validity, and since good research design often includes a combination of methods, it follows that a good way to approach teaching PR would involve combining these "ways of knowing." As I mentioned earlier, there are many PR professors who do have both professional experience and a PhD. But many faculties will have a combination of PhDs on tenure-track and full and part-time adjuncts who have years of experience in the field. It would be good for both types of professor to have mutual respect for the other's way of knowing, and seek to learn from each other. PhDs without much experience--or without much recent experience--should be involved with their local PRSA chapter, stay in touch with alumni to learn about their experiences, meet with local professionals, and read the trade publications as well as the academic journals. Adjuncts with professional experience should seek to see their own experience in the larger context of the field, read books and academic journals, attend conferences, meet with colleagues who do have PhDs to learn about theoretical explanations for their experience and assertions.

John Mellencamp once sang "I know a lot of things, but I don't know a lot of other things." I tell my students, you don't know what you don't know. That's a good attitude to have. In the end, the best way of knowing to teach PR is to have an open mind and keep learning.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Local and National Perspectives on Social Media and PR Education

It was an interesting coincidence that the Grand Rapids Business Journal had a local article about West Michigan colleges not offering social media degrees in the same week that the Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) PR Division tackled the subject in the current issue of the Teaching Public Relations (TPR) monograph.

The Business Journal article (self disclosure: I write the "PR and Media" blog for noted that it "checked in" with all local colleges and universities and that none offer a social media degree. The article included perspectives from faculty at only two of the colleges--Calvin and Davenport--but the comments were relatively universal--that there is not enough substance to offer a full degree or even a course in social media, that existing theory and practice can and should be applied and adapted to social media, and that social media concepts and assignments can be integrated into existing courses.

That matches the national scale views of educators as well as practitioners as reported in the TPR monograph. Professors are cautioned not to get caught up in chasing "shiny new objects" or bogged down in the tactical how-to instruction for each new app and platform. Some of these tech tools advance so rapidly that professors would have to change syllabi several times a semester. 

It was encouraging to read in the monograph that practitioners encouraged professors to teach theory--existing PR and communications theory as well as recent research on social media use and affects--before blending that knowledge with practice. Students should learn not just how to use social media, but how to use it on behalf of businesses, nonprofit organizations, and other clients. This changes the consideration of how to teach social media--professionally, with strategic insight fueled by empiricism and theory and not mere tactical proficiency.

Some of those "old" concepts that need to be applied to social media practice? Here's a quick run-down of concepts and principles that have been taught in existing courses for years:
  • Research--students should be taught how to use social media to gain knowledge of public attitudes, issues, trends. 
  • Objectives--don't just use social media because it's new and cool. We saw a lot of disasters when web sites were new. Have measurable objectives, as in what you want to accomplish for an organization in terms of public awareness, attitude, or actions in response.
  • Strategy--who you reach out to, how you reach them, what you say, the frequency with which you say it, what platforms you choose--all of these and other questions should be carefully considered given the objectives above. If you don't have a strategy, you are just pushing content into the crowded social space. Some old and newer theories are the basis of smart strategy in social media.
  • Tactics--we do teach tactics in existing courses. Social media should be seen as supplementing and not necessarily replacing existing communication tools. Also, social can be integrated with them and courses updated to include them, such as a media relations class now including social media and multi-media news releases, pitching bloggers, integrating hashtags at events and other ideas.
  • Evaluation--I would argue that the emphasis on evaluation has received as much buzz as social media in PR circles. Students need to know that clients, colleagues, and bosses will expect this. This is true of all PR efforts, but particularly social media. Research shows many executives still see social as a frivolous waste of time. Students need to know how to prove the affect of their social media efforts in terms of meeting organizational objectives.
Of course, I'm open to change. In 2006 when Twitter was new, I was the one telling students about it. Now students tweet me before I've had them in a class, and they reach out on many other platforms. I didn't see Twitter and other social media coming or becoming this popular. There may come a day when I have to throw out the syllabus and craft an entire course on social media. 

Then again, the time may come when such a suggestion sounds as ridiculous as having a full course on the fax machine.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Two Books Offer Insights to Investor Relations Pros

I recently caught up on some reading, and on my stack were two short books about investor relations. Investor relations, or IR, is a growing specialty within the broader public relations field. Some consider IR to be distinct from, rather than part of, PR. That may be why there is a National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) that is separate from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

Either way, there has been an increase in the number of communications professionals who work full-time or at least in part in investor relations--and it's not all about numbers as the books I read show. One book is by a PR practitioner and the other by a PR professor. Both offer a helpful insights about investor relations.

"Managing Investor Relations: Strategies for Effective Communication" by Alexander Laskin gives an interesting history of investor relations, its current practice, and projections about its future. Laskin, a PR professor at Quinnipiac University, does a good job of giving the big picture about the subject.

"Investor Relations: The Art of Communicating Value" by Jeffrey Corbin takes a practitioner's approach with steps to communicate specifically in the investor relations realm. The practical advice includes breaking down the typical types of investors and what they look for as well as the tactics to reach them.

Both books were a helpful read, confirming some things for me and adding some perspective and savvy in other areas. I have refreshed some lecture notes for the next time I address investor relations.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

'Father of PR' Was British, Not Bernays, Book Says

Public relations history is one of my interest areas, just as a curiosity and one area of my research as an academic. So I was fascinated to stumble across an article in the British newspaper the Guardian about Sir Basil Clarke, whom the article calls the "Father of Public Relations."

Now this is interesting for several reasons. For one, I had always heard that name given to Edward Bernays in various books and articles about public relations history. I've always taken that with a grain of salt, because historians try to avoid the "great men" fallacy, which is to tell the history of a profession through the life and experience of just a few famous examples. Indeed there are many others who should be taken to account, including Ivy Lee and my personal favorite, Arthur Page, not to mention countless others who were pioneers even though lesser known.

But I also know, from reading the proceedings and from this past summer attending the annual International PR History Conference, that there can be too much of a U.S. bias in PR history. The Guardian article doesn't say that Clarke is the Father of British PR; it proclaims him as the father of PR, period.

I'm not going to debate whether PR was "invented" by Clarke or Bernays, or anyone else. It's just interesting to see another example of an early pioneer of the profession, and one in a different cultural context. Clarke and Bernays were contemporaries in the sense that both were working in what we would now call "public relations" in the early 1900s. Both also dabbled in government propaganda, before the name acquired its nasty connotation. Like Page and Lee, Clarke also came from a background in journalism. He also was similarly fascinated with the prospects for public relations as an emerging profession.

It's good to know history, especially about one's profession. It's especially good to know it broadly, always encountering other individuals and national contexts. For that reason, I think I may buy the new book about Clarke referenced in the article for an insightful read.