Unprepared for PR in a Social World?

College rocked, don’t get me wrong.  I studied hard, did well in school, and developed lasting relationships. I traveled abroad to Morocco, studied difficult material, and learned of concepts that challenged the mind. As I walked from graduation, I had a sense that I was the most marketable person ever! I had a Communication degree with concentrations in Public Relations and Communication Studies from Marist College. I was ready to sit back and watch companies come crawling to my doorstep.

Six months later, that hasn’t happened. I’ve previously blogged about my feelings on why HR should recruit in a similar manner to sport recruiters, however, this goes much more in depth.

Colleges and Universities must change their educational curriculum to promote social media

I have a traditional Public Relations example for you.

How, should a company react in the aftermath of a catastrophe, such as the BP Oil Spill?

In a traditional situation, a PR specialist would state, go directly to the press and come clean with it. Let the press know that you are going to clean up the spill, and, if anything, make the water cleaner than it was before. In 2000, that would be the correct course of attack, now, that’s not enough.

A fake BP Twitter account hit the web and garnered more followers than the legitimate source.

Public Relations (along with Advertising, Business, Internal Communications, Graphic Design, Photography, Programming etc. etc. etc.) lends itself to social media usage. We no longer have the simplicity of speaking at the media and the public. A blogger or vlogger can maim a company’s image.

This means two things.


PR professionals need to become Social Media Strategists and have plans/know how to adopt the second something goes wrong. Forget about 9-5 work days, it’s 24 hrs from now on. They must be on every social network ready to interact if there is need.


PR students need to be versed in EVERYTHING.

We know about press kits, organizational behavior, and writing for the media, but what about…

Social Media Platforms 

Google+, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, foursquare, digg, StumbleUpon, Blogger, WordPress, Commonred, Flickr, Myspace, Basically, if it exists, be there. So much of social media is knowing how to adopt. Students should know that, regardless of whether a company is on that social media site, the company probably will be discussed. Furthermore, if it isn’t being discussed, the company should stimulate conversations and attempt to generate more business.

Graphic design

 I’m not saying how to design an elegant piece, just to know terminology and a basic understanding of photoshop, Gimp, or other editing software

Video creation and editing

Videos on YouTube are no longer expertly creating. Look at Wine Library TV  or a slew of other webisodes that are created using a flipcam. Knowing the importance of viral videos is as important as learning theory.

Web Design

HTML, CSS, Javascript, etc. How can a person promote an idea, market online, or succeed in this competitive job environment when they think that “padding-bottom” is the amount of fat in someone’s rear?


While it is not as necessary as it once was, due to the growth of SMO (social media optimization), SEO should be covered.

Google Analytics (and other systems for analysis of data)

Understanding analytics is key. I love that Marist is adopting this strategy and this is definitely a step in the right direction

The existing COM 375 Public Opinion course, which is based on a model of monitoring general trends in public opinion, has become outdated. Current public relations practitioners must be able to apply a variety of research methods and Web-based analytics (e.g., Google Analytics, Facebook Insights) to analyze behaviors (outcomes) as well as opinions (outtakes) of increasingly diverse publics

To read the other changes Marist College made, click here

What about a Social Media Minor or Concentration in Communication?

Southern New Hampshire University offers an MBA in Social Media

I understand that change takes time, finances, interest, and faculty. Here are some answers to questions

Will there be interest? YES! Social media continually changes the landscape. The school embraces social media in the form of foursquare, Twitter, and Facebook, an approach that would have been unheard of 10 years prior.  Furthermore, school clubs, organizations, and students are incredibly active in social media. My fall ’10 PR Case Studies class with Professor Mark Van Dyke covered this very subject.

Who will teach? Many professors at Marist already fully engage in social media platforms. It is taboo to call someone an “social media expert”, but many professors are adept to educate others on the subject. Due to constant changes, being a professor of social media will be incredibly difficult. Being on the cutting edge is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

Are there textbooks? Sort of. Really, there are books that have a short shelf-life. Some of my favorites are Engage by Brian Solis, The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk, and Meatball Sundae by Seth Godin.

What sort of classes should there be/what will they discuss? Well, according to Marist’s new course listings, social media is being covered in most of these new proposed classes. However, I would add a class in Writing for New Media, or Interacting in a Social World. A course covering online “netiquette” and harnessing Web 2.0 for networking is necessary.  Students are somewhat unaware that the Halloween Party they attend tonight will be available for their employer to see tomorrow. I’ll happily write up a curriculum.

As I mentioned previously, Marist is adopting. My senior year, I took Organizational Writing Professor Tim Massie. His course showed the necessity for writing skills in traditional and new media. Fortunately, for students, this writing class has been moved to sophomore year.

I have been adapting the strategies I mentioned before to compete with other candidates for positions in PR. Knowing those skills sets you far above the competition.

I have a lot of hope and love for Marist and other institutions that are seeking to remain on the cutting edge of education. As technology progresses, all fields of study will need to adjust to a changing social landscape

What changes have you seen or not seen in education regarding social media?

Did you feel prepared after graduation?

UPDATE Thanks to KDecks finding this article

“Colleges and universities are not teaching the skills they need to survive in this environment,” said Doug Weaver, the founder and chief executive of the Upstream Group, a company that provides digital training to publishers and agencies. While some universities have advertising and marketing concentrations, “the traditional media sales or ad skill set was not built for this,” Mr. Weaver said. “You need a hybrid.”


2 thoughts on “Unprepared for PR in a Social World?

  1. Andrew,

    I enjoyed your post, which was very insightful and thought-provoking. I’m grateful that you learned so much from your Marist education … and I agree that Marist and other colleges and universities can and should do more to equip students for what will be expected of them in their professions. Problem is, given the rapid changes in things like communication technology and the time it takes to develop or revise academic programs it’s tough to keep courses completely up to date.

    I agree with your call for more emphasis on strategy, measurement, design, etc. This is something we wrestled with when revising our PR curriculum at Marist (thanks for including a link to our final product, which we will start to bring on line in fall 2012). However, it’s impossible to fit everything you need in a curriculum governed by credit hours. If you had to take all the courses that you need to prepare for the “real world” you might never get out of college to join the “real world”!

    Good reading list, too. I would recommend adding Eric Qualman’s “Socialnomics.” It’s an interesting read and focuses on the relevance of relationships that underlies social media.

    Final words: Don’t get too frustrated about not having a job. You have the misfortune of graduating in a tough economy with historically low employment rates. That doesn’t mean you won’t find a job, it may just take longer to find what you are looking forward. Read this New York Times article for more about this: http://nyti.ms/srPa1U. Meanwhile, keep up your job hunt, but enjoy the relative freedom of not having to go to work everyday and check off some of the items on the list of things you would like to do in life, outside work.

    Hang in there … and thanks again for the blog post — good, strategic move!


    Mark Van Dyke
    Associate Professor, Communication
    Marist College

  2. Thanks for the comment, Mark.

    I am very glad that Marist chose to adjust its curriculum to the changing times. I am sure there are many schools that are far behind. I just saw today that Brian Apfel was appointed Director of Social Media for the Admissions office. Definitely a good step for the school

    What’s interesting and I wish I had conveyed in the post is that Social Media is not specifically a PR, Advertising, or Internal area. Instead, itis becoming an entirely new area within Communication.

    As for Socialnomics, I probably should have included that. Read is a couple months ago and I enjoyed it. I’ve been reading just about any SM book I can get my hands on.

    Thanks again!

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