Sharing Best Practice in Digital PR Education

I took part in an interesting (and eye-opening) workshop yesterday at Leeds Metropolitan University, Sharing Best Practice in Digital PR Education. Organised by Leeds Met and the Higher Education Academy the day was a sort of sounding board for the state of digital PR education in higher education with some case studies and workshops you can see my slides below or over on Slideshare).

I started taking notes but then gave up and just tweeted the majority of the event. You can find a Storify of the day here.

I did however, jot down some of the most interesting findings from a number of pan-European research projects that are currently underway:  Euro Communications Monitor and the European Communication Professionals Skills and Innovation Programme.

I was typing while listening so didn’t manage to grab the exact stats but these (and more data) should be available on the respective websites.

European Communications Monitor insights:

  • Dealing with digital/social media is second top issue for European communicators (survey respondents consist of 2,700+ senior PR practitioners across 43 countries; mainly in-house in global/big businesses)
  • Data shows they believe they’re currently doing online stuff (quite tactical) but weak(ish) on i) developing social media strategies; ii) evaluating social media and iii) developing/understanding legal frameworks . Some additional weakness in terms of engagement, i.e. “initiating dialogue with online stakeholders”
  • Also shows strong agreement that social media changes perception of organisation – both externally and internally (!)
  • Strong agreement that digital gatekeepers are relevant for PR, e.g. bloggers, community managers, consumers on social media (!)
  • Big gap between perceived importance of social media issues and implementation – i.e majority agree social media issues are vital, but the comparative number of practitioners doing anything about it is lower
  • Mobile dev is biggest gap among practitioners

ECOPSI insights (this survey is a more qualitative investigation and focuses on practitioner competencies). The data specifically refers to Social Media Managers and it seems my only two notes include:

  • strengthening visual story-telling is a key need
  • as is managing ‘real-time’ communications

 

 

Want to send a postcard via Twitter?

I’m a big fan of blurring the or crossing the boundaries between online and offline materials.Take, for instance, the fantastic Newspaper Club or the simply outstanding The Iraq War: A Historiography of Wikipedia Changelogs. So, why has it taken so long for someone to create a ‘Tweet to postcard’ service?*

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The agency Brands2Life have done just that as part of their work with at800 – the organisation raising awareness of the issues the 4G network might bring to Freeview users. Their email informs me that if you send a tweet with the hashtag #at800postbox at800 they will print the personalised message onto a traditional postcard and deliver it by post for free.

Really nice idea, although as it’s been described as a “PR stunt” by one Twitter user I suspect that it won’t be a permanent service. Shame really.

* I’m sure I’ve read about a similar service sometime in the past few years

CIPR Guide to Social Media Monitoring: new publication

I’m really pleased to say that the CIPR has launched its new Guide to Social Media Monitoring today. I’ve been responsible for co-ordinating and contributing to the Guide which has been written collaboratively by members of the CIPR’s Social Media Panel. I’ve embedded the document below as well as provided a bit of context and background to its origins.

From personal experience as well as evidence from CIPR member feedback it is clear that social media monitoring (SMM) is a key issue for PR practitioners at the moment. And while many practitioners know SMM is increasingly important, they don’t necessarily know exactly what monitoring entails, which tools and technologies are good for certain tasks and how to integrate it into wider strategies and practices.

So this became the primary driver for the document: we wanted it to explain what SMM is, what tools are available (both free and paid-for), how they work – and how they differ from other social media management platforms – as well as provide an overview of some of the leading tools in the market.

But we also recognised that in order to be practically useful we needed to add some wider organisational context around the tools and technologies piece. So, the guide also features sections covering how to build a business case for monitoring, how to set monitoring objectives as well as how to develop organisational workflows to get the most out of monitoring. The ultimate aim of this is PR practitioners will be empowered to make sense of SMM, recognise its potential and apply it to their organisations.

Wrapping-up PR and Disruption: Bringing theory and practice closer together?

Just getting around to reflecting on the great conference, PR and Disruption: Embracing and Surviving Change  we held last week at LCC.

Overall we had some great feedback (Storify here), but below are a couple of my key take-aways from the day:

  • Putting academics and practitioners into the same room is a great way to start bridging the divide between theory and practice (mainly abut the way in which we talk about the same things in different terms but also, more importantly, about the changing ways in which some of the key themes of the industry are understood)
  • Practical skills training, such as film-making, infographics, app development, are in demand among practitioners (handy for us as a university with graphic design, publishing and TV/film departments!)
  • Given the popualarity of the ‘face-off’ debate stream and discussions on Twitter there seems to be a real appetite among the industry (practitioners and academics alike) to discussion what’s happening in the industry and how to best deal with it. But where are these debates being held? Who’s facilitating them? Who’s listening? And what are they doing about it? We have our own ideas which we will be working on…

But, don’t just take my word for it. We have a couple of great post-event reflections from participants, including key note speaker, Oyvind Ihlen’s hand-grenade casually chucked into the room: “PR shouldn’t be measured”; Paul Seaman’s argument that PR should be leading economic change and renewal; Arun Sudhaman’s great insight on how changes in the media business should be changing the way brands communicate and Heather Yaxley’s post offering a great summary of the day’s main themes.

Hopefully it’s clear that there was a lot to take in from the day – and we’ll hopefully be getting more reflections and reviewsin the days to come. In the meantime, we’ll be continuing to plan how we can bring the industry and theory closer together. Leave a comment or drop me an email if you have any ideas – I’d love to hear them!

ICA Pre-Conference: ‘Power through communication technology’

I sat in on an interesting ICA pre-conference session earlier this week that sought to identify and address a series of questions around the issue of power and communication technology in a globalised society. There were a good range of speakers and topics up for discussion, including:

  • Michael L. Kent, University of Oklahoma, USA – Taking a Critical Look at Technology in Public Relations: We Have an App for That
  • Dean Kruckeberg, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA – Another Inconvenient Truth
  • Erich J. Sommerfeldt, University of Maryland-College Park, USA – Social Media Silos and Civil Society: A Role for Public Relations in Contemporary Development Communication Efforts
  • Katerina Tsetsura, University of Oklahoma, USA – In @ We Trust? Public Relations Realities of Fake Online Personalities
  • Chiara Valentini,  Aarhus University, Denmark – Social Mediars: The New Online Stakeholders for Public Relations?
  • Stephen Waddington, European Digital Social Media Director at Ketchum and President-Elect CIPR – Public Relations and New Communication Technologies – A Professional Perspective

 

I’ve embedded a Storify stream above for tweeted highlights but it’s I’ve added my own post-event reflections below:

  • Stephen Waddington remarked that many of the academics there were notably pessimistic about the potential of social media. I think this was partly due to the way the session was framed – and there were some definite critical perspectives explored, but there was also a number of pragmatic questions asked about social media which is needed. Some, such as whether communicators are measuring their organisation/client’s ‘sociability’ or building small, deep networks around customers/stakeholders, are being realised in certain areas; meanwhile other critical questions, such as attempting to unpick  social media’s role in driving a deeper marketisation of society, are worth exploring further
  • There was some agreement that scholars need to move beyond existing models of PR and communications when exploring social media. Stephen Waddington highlighted the apparent unsuitability of Grunig’s work to social media (despite Grunig’s protestations to the contrary) while Erich Sommerfeldt highlighted the centrality of technology and technological affordances in mutually shaping personal and organisational identity and behaviour among activist groups. I mentioned Bruno Latour and Actor-network Theory which offers a really interesting account of the role technology plays in mediating society. These are issues largely far from PR and communications scholarship and need rethinking as a matter of urgency
  • It also occurred to me how many participants – certainly those from US-oriented universities – have read their Marx. There were two particularly impassioned critical accounts of technology and its potentially negative role in society from Dean Kruckeberg and Michael L. Kent. But some of the most pertinent points and questions raised (e.g. technology’s role in creating social and economic precarity; in further reorienting social relations around capital/the market, etc) are squarely addressed – or least acknowledged – by Marx and groups of contemporary Post-Marxist scholars, including Terranova, Beradi, Negri… even Castells
  • Finally, speaking of Castells… while he had his name dropped a few times there was a definite dominance of interpretive research. Giddens’ Theory of Structuration was covered extensively by Erich Sommerfeldt and Chiara Valentini invoked Alan Kirby but a bit more theoretical underpinning of some of the ideas discussed wouldn’t have gone amiss (but then again, I am a bit of a theory fan)

 

Is the NSA ‘whistle-blower’ news a damage limitation exercise for a bigger story?

Just a quick post on the NSA/PRISM story that broke last week highlighting two great articles that I happened on over the weekend and which – I think – set the appropriate tone for any robust discussion of the issues involved. You can also possibly identify a hypothetical scenario that might imply the recent NSA leak is a damage limitation move by the US Government. It’s a bit far fetched and based on supposition and limited evidence but worth pointing out anyway.

Firstly, ZDNet has a great analysis of the current situation which highlights the likely reality that Facebook, Google, Paltalk et al are probably telling the truth when they assert that they knew nothing of the PRISM programme. ZDNet’s reasoning for this requires us to go back to a slightly earlier story (also published by the Guardian) that revealed how the US Government’s NSA has been hoovering up social media – and presumably other online – data passing through network provider, Verizon, infrastructure at least since 2001. This original story was published a day before the Guardian broke it’s big NSA ‘whistleblower’ story.

ZDNet’s argument is that the Verizon story is much bigger than the NSA one. As it points out:

One by one, nearly all of the named companies denied knowledge of either knowing about PRISM, or providing any government agency user content, data or information without a court order or a search warrant.

But during that time, almost everyone forgot about Verizon. It’s the cellular and wireline giant that makes the whole thing come together.

According to ZDNet, Verizon – or more specifically, Verizon Business Network Services, is a Tier 1 network provider. Tier 1 providers are, in ZDNet’s terms, “the main arteries of the Internet” and there are only about 12 Tier 1s in the world “including AT&T, Level 3, and Sprint in the U.S.; Deutsche Telekom in Germany; NTT Communications in Japan; and Telefonica in Spain”.

Tier 1 networks function as privately controlled networks that help deliver business or mission critical data around the web. Unlike the publicly owned, distributed infrastructure of the web which will route data the most open way. Tier 1 networks ensure data is sent quickly and efficiently. Their private ownership, in short, guarantees quality network service to their customers – which is why the like of Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, etc use them. Hopefully you can see where this is going…..

With access to such a high-level network, it doesn’t take much for the NSA to legally tap into a US-owned/based Tier 1 network such as Verizon and subsequently harvest all the data as it travels between personal devices and the business (e.g. Facebook). Add to this fact many data-heavy platforms, such as Google and Facebook store cached user information within the cloud on the same network service and it becomes quite easy to see how a simple intercept can give the NSA lots and lots of private data.Not only that, but it can do this without Facebook, Google, etc ever knowing or even (presumably) needing to give their consent.

So far, so good. But where does Edward Snowden  come into it?

Well, such a question is picked apart by Lauren Weinstein in this great blog post. He queries a number of claims that supposedly support Edward’s motivations – ones which I had trouble taking at face value too. He rightly points out:

Snowden’s situation brings with it some real head-scratching questions.I’m immediately struck by Snowden’s current choice of Hong Kong as a place of refuge. He says the choice was based on their “spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent.” I’m not entirely sure that he’s talking about the same Hong Kong I know, which is actually part of China, operates only with China’s sufferance, and — we can logically assume — is saturated with Chinese Intelligence. […] We’re also told that Snowden is “lining the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping,” and “puts a red hood over his head and laptop to avoid cameras capturing his passwords.”

I’ll admit to being puzzled by such actions. Neither of them are likely to negatively impact skilled eavesdroppers in any significant way, given the tradecraft available today.

Aside from this peripheral detail, Lauren then questions as to why Snowden’s revelations are such a big news story. Again, he rightly points out that the material of the leak is nothing that privacy, technology and civil liberty campaigners haven’t been pointing as likely outcomes of various US legislation for a while.

More importantly, he draws attention to the media narrative that the NSA has secret or covert access to big social media platforms. He asserts: “The PRISM documents have been widely touted as “proving” that NSA has “back doors” into the servers of Google, Facebook, and other firms, through which NSA could query and extract personal user data without interaction or control from these firms themselves.

Such a perspective, he argues, is wrong based on his own insider experience and knowledge of these firms. This position is supported further by the ZDNet analysis.

So, combining the two blog posts we get to ask the question: is the ‘whistle-blower’ / social media handing over your personal details simply a useful PR angle for the NSA to divert attention front he earlier, much more significant story that it is routinely and legally siphoning much more data via its Verizon (and presumably other US Tier 1 providers) wiretaps? Maybe.

I suspect this is little more than a hypothetical reading, but it would be good to get more insight into the background to the story – along with greater information on the following issues: What was the source of the Verizon story? Was it part of Edward Snowden’s material? When did Snowden come forward?

PR and Disruption: Embracing and Surviving Change

It’s been little while since I last posted – and one of the reasons for this is because I’ve been helping organise a one-day conference exploring future directions for public relations.

PR DISRUPTION logo Teal 1The event, PR and Disruption: Embracing and Surviving Change, takes place on 10th July 2013 at LCC in central London and aims to generate debate and reflection about PR’s identity and the future role it should play in the contemporary world, characterised by disruption. You can book a place here.

More specifically, the day will explore and map the knowledge, strategies and skills that communication professionals need to operate successfully and – ultimately – transform society. But we don’t just want the conference to be a talking shop so there will also be a series of workshops encouraging delegates to learn the skills necessary to survive in a disruptive world.

Speakers and participants will include:

This great line-up and others will be involved in delivering by a range of keynote presentations in the morning, followed by three parallel streams in the afternoon: ‘face-off’ debates, case studies and the practical workshops. The complete list of speakers is on the conference website and a full itinerary can be found here. The day wraps up with a drinks reception and networking.

We’ve kept costs deliberately low as we are well aware of the time and budget limitations people have at the moment, so full-day attendance is £125 (inc. VAT) and half-day (morning or afternoon) is £75 (inc. VAT). On top of that I can offer a 10% discount on the full price. Just book via the alumni rate and enter ‘SCblog’ when prompted for ‘year of graduation’. What are you waiting for? Book a place now: http://bit.ly/PRdisrupt

As a footote, the event is designed by the BA and MA academic course team here at LCC to help shape the future direction of the PR discipline at LCC – and ideally – create a theoretical and practical platform from which we can establish a research institute that will be positioned to explore PR from its wider societal and cultural perspective, rather than just as a business function. The idea being – ultimately – to push forward the conceptual agenda and help organisations and practitioners (from multi-nationals to grassroots movements) better navigate and deal with the challenges and complexities of the modern world.

Exhibition: Propaganda: Power and Persuasion

The British Library has a fascinating exhibition opening today. Titled Propaganda: Power and Persuasion the exhibition runs from 17 May to 17 September 2013 and – quoting the BL’s website – “explores a thought-provoking range of exhibits” that will make you look anew at “the messages, methods, and media used by different states – discovering how they use propaganda through time and across cultures for both power and persuasion.” Sounds good.

The exhibition resonates well with a great book I’m reading at the moment, Public Relations and the Making of Modern Britain, which reappraises the origins of public relations in a British context. The author, Cambridge Leverhulme Fellow, Scott Antony, argues that contrary to common misconceptions of its hard-nosed Bernaysian origins, PR in the UK emerged from a distinctly cultural and governmental agenda. Education, information and ‘improving’ society were imperatives baked into PR from the outset, Antony argues.

Aside from helpfully taking contemporary definitions of PR full circle, such a conception chimes wonderfully with the rest of the BL’s exhibition narrative:

“It is used to fight wars and fight disease, build unity and create division. Whether monumental or commonplace, sincere or insidious, propaganda is often surprising, sometimes horrific and occasionally humorous. […] Propaganda: Power and Persuasion is the first exhibition to explore international state propaganda from the 20th and 21st centuries. From the eye-opening to the mind-boggling, from the beautiful to the surprising, posters, films, cartoons, sounds and texts reveal the myriad ways that states try to influence and persuade their citizens.”

Tickets are £9 (under 18s free) and concessions are available. Check it!

Demos’ Virtually Members report is virtually useful

The centre-left [sic] think-tank, Demos, has a new report out presenting some interesting insights about the virtual ‘membership’ of the UK’s three main political parties. Titled, Virtually Members: The Facebook and Twitter Followers of UK Political Parties, the briefing paper is the latest publication to come from Demos’ Centre for Social Media Analysis. I’ve embedded the full paper below:

Virtually Members by Simon Collister

Despite, however, the snazzy name and Demos’ past reputation for leading-edge research into social media (I can remember attending a number of briefing events about social media and political engagement back in 2009/10) the report feels fairly lightweight – even if it is a vaguely dressed up corporate sponsorship vehicle for Tweetminster which provides the authors with analytics technology.

For example, in 2013 after two US election cycles and a UK general election with social media playing a central part; the coalition embedding edemocracy into parliamentary process; not to mention the numerous examples of social media empowered social movements, such as UKUncut, 38 Degrees, etc, the report’s opening statement hardly sets the pulse racing:

“The internet and social media are having a profound effect on British politics: it will re-shape the way elections are won and lost, how policy is made, and how people get involved in formal and informal politics.”

Equally disappointing is the report’s focus on evaluating social media quantities (fans, followers, etc) for main political parties and attempting to equate these with some comparable measure of party membership. Didn’t we move beyond such quantitative fixations years ago? Even with caveats adopting such a straw man position risks undermining the overall findings – which do make some salient points about political participation and mobilisation – from the outset.

More worryingly, I can’t see any attempt in the analysis to account for the spam followers we know most (if not all) Twitter account accrue; not to mention the phantom ‘Likes’ Facebook (or third parties) seem to generate, thus boosting fans and skewing quantitative analyses. And this isn’t a particularly low key phenomenon at the moment.

Maybe I’m being overly harsh, but a failure to acknowledge and engage with the messy realities of social media in a post-IPO world make the Demos paper difficult to take too seriously, which is a shame as the CASM (and the team behind it) appears to have a lot of potential.

Nic Newman’s Journalism, Media and Technology Predictions 2013 is a must read

I missed this when it first came out but Nic Newman‘s Journalism, Media and Technology Predictions 2013 is a must read.

There’s lots of detailed fascinating insight and analysis with case studies and examples and I’ve shared the executive summary below:

  • The coming year will mark the BIG switch to mobile computing. It will overtake desktop use for news – in turn driving more mobile first media
  • Improving video capability and data graphics will be a major theme for news organisations aiming to engage audiences using better screens and faster connections
  • Live pages, live streams and live workflows become a key focus in newsrooms – with newformats emerging for bite-sized news
  • The phablet is coming – a mix between a smartphone and tablet. Mid sized screens andaffordability will hit the sweet spot for many consumers
  • We’ll see a further deepening of the social revolution across all platforms – accompanied by a growing debate about the implications – privacy, control and all the new skills required to manage it (we said this last year but it is worth repeating)
  • In technology expect big advances in gesture control (LeapMotion), indoor location, 3D Printers – and the beginnings of wearable computing
  • More disruption in banking & finance, retailing and higher education as the Internet revolution begins to bite

While the document is really an analysis of the media and journalism sector it doesn’t take a leap of imagination for PR professionals to recognise the impact the predicted transformations will have on communications planning. There may well be  future post in this – distilling the technology-led disruptions re-shaping the media/journalism space and what it means for PR practitioners. For now let’s just note that Nic’s prediction that at least two UK national newspapers will go behind paywalls in 2013 has already come to pass!