Social media are increasingly considered by the public relations community (scholars, educators, professionals) as a ‘separate thing’, different from mainstream. Is this really so? And, even if it is… do you think it is advisable for us, mostly educators, to nurture this ‘separation’?
The reasons why I write this are at least two:
a- subjective: those of us who conceptualize and teach public relations mostly belong to a mainstream media generation…therefore we tend to emphasize and even overstate the discontinuity (i.e. the single individual as a medium);
b-objective: the understanding of how, if and for what social media works is still at an early stage.
From an educational perspective, if integrated into a mainstream media course, it would risk -many say- getting in the way of the thinking, the rationalizing, the teaching and the practicing of traditional media relations, which in my view are considered excessively important, when in fact recent research results on professional practice in many countries are believed to be in strong decline (see the three researches presented at the recent Euprera 2008 Congress in Milano).
So it would appear to be better to keep the two separate, also considering that there are very few teachers out there ready to teach social media relations and those that exist, are probably not ready to teach mainstream media relations.
The consequence however could be a ‘ghettoing’ of social media, which by the way is also happening inside organizations, with the result of ‘specializing’ youngsters to practice in a narrow and much too segmented approach to the profession.
Yet, for youngsters (college and university students) social media today is an emotional and cultural given.
If adults separate the subjects in different courses, students will tend to competitively select amongst the two and I imagine they would find social media as more interesting, attractive, ‘cool’ and ‘awesome’.
This, in turn, is likely to produce a benign (?) neglect versus mainstream media, which is really the last thing we need today, in a period in which the fabric of representative democracy, of whom traditional media remains a major pillar, is being increasingly questioned and considered more of a bother, a pain in the ass rather than a value by our political and organizational leaderships.
Many of these would undoubtedly prefer to govern by simply polling representative samples of their influential publics, and staging virtual town hall meetings with ‘the people’, rather than being involved in those complex and interest based negotiations with elected officials which help us distinguish between populist and representative democratic practices.
In short, I would favour a full integration of the subject of social media relations with mainstream media relations.
Having expressed this view, it would also seem to me that one ‘different’ or ‘out-of-the-box’ perspective could posit the following.
Ever since the second part of the 19th century (Barnum), public relations practice has also based, and continues to base, its fundamentals in the organization of pseudo-events, as the late American contemporary historian Daniel Boorstin wrote in 1965 in his pamphlet ‘The image: or what’s happened to the American dream?’
He called them pseudo because they are artificially created by organizations to attract influential publics (many from mainstream media), in physical spaces where the convenor expresses news, arguments and contents in the hope that the convened will hopefully (third party endorsement) forward to larger publics.
The advent of social media has, very importantly, made possible for public relators to develop and refine their ‘architectural’ competencies in creating, beyond the physical ones, also virtual ‘spaces’, where carefully segmented stakeholder publics are attracted and convened in order to engage discussion, conversation and negotiation while exchanging knowledge and experiences amongst themselves as well as with the convening organization (i.e. the public relator as an architect and facilitator).
Thus, by integrating mainstream and social media relations, our added and competitive value becomes the quality of the spaces we are able to create and of the relationships we are able to develop and consolidate.
From this perspective, it would seem to me to be worthwhile to integrate media (social and mainstream) relations with the organization of virtual and physical event creation, and put it all under the umbrella of stakeholder relationship governance (advanced) and stakeholder relationship practice (entry level).
Related post: PR Educators Debate Compartmentalizing Social Media (my 2 cents blog)