Social Media and Society: An Introduction to the Mass Media Landscape is an excellent, timely, and straightforward resource for educators, students, and practitioners alike, including those with limited prior social media knowledge and experience.
Structure and Organization
The book has 12 chapters and is divided into three parts: “Social Media Defined, Distinguished, and Delineated,” “Communication Contexts for Social Media,” and “Suggestions and Advice for Using Social Media.” The beginning of each chapter focuses the reader on the main learning objectives and a relevant scenario from the real world, and ends with a chapter wrap-up; useful critical-thinking questions and practically-oriented activities that could be implemented inside or outside of the classroom (including online); a list of key concepts; and a list of media sources. The authors also weave relevant theoretical concepts into the book through “In Theory” breakout sections that help readers apply theory to public relations practice in society. All of these thoughtful and practical details are among the central benefits of this well-researched, visually appealing book and are among what makes this book a clear and effective contribution to the body of public relations education.
Part one, “Social Media Defined, Distinguished, and Delineated,” tackles how we define social media today, detailing the elements of Hlavac’s (2014) Social Media Pyramid – social networks, news aggregators, passion connections, video connections, thought leaders, and virtual communities in chapter one. This section also examines the “Dark Side” and the opportunities associated with social media. Chapter two on the “Dark Side” covers topics such as deepfakes, cyberbullying, trolling, fake news, privacy, disinformation, and hate speech, while also diving into domestic and foreign legislation related to social media and the negative psychological and physiological effects of social media. The final chapter in part one discusses the positive advantages of social media such as social connections, social support, the building of social capital, and the proliferation of trusted user-generated content. Chapter three covers social media’s positive contributions in research, big data, websleuthing, newsgathering, citizen journalism, and stakeholder communication, specifically through engagement. This chapter also includes ten helpful guidelines and recommendations for ethical and responsible personal and professional social media use, including: 1) “Know how the tools work;” 2) “Be aware of your social, geopolitical, and industry environments;” 3) “Evaluate before posting;” 4) “Use social media wisely;” 5) “Decide what is private and then act accordingly;” 6) “Understand the data so you can USE it;” 7) “Ask questions and self-regulate;” 8) “Consider your data collection behavior;” 9) “Don’t add to the drama;” and 10) “Take a hard line on the negative side of social media” (Luttrell & Wallace, 2021, pp. 44-46).
Part two, “Communication Contexts for Social Media,” discusses traditional and niche media and covers key mass communication theories such as gatekeeping and agenda-setting in chapter four. The remaining chapters in this section – chapters five through ten – explore the role and impact of social media across various public relations sectors, including business (chapter five), crisis (chapter six), sports (chapter seven), politics and civics (chapter eight), health (chapter nine), and entertainment (chapter ten). These chapters feature scene-setting scenarios and commentary involving Warby Parker, the CDC and COVID-19, broadcaster Mike Tirico, the Women’s March, #CaravanToCanada and #insulin4all, and Taylor Swift, demonstrating the broad relevance and importance of social media across industries and society.
Part three, “Suggestions and Advice for Using Social Media,” provides guidance regarding social media measurement and evaluation (chapter 11) and careers in social media strategy and management (chapter 12). Chapter 11 introduces readers to important concepts like organic media, paid media, vanity metrics, return on investment (ROI), and key performance indicators (KPIs), while differentiating between metrics and analytics. The authors offer details on Google Analytics, YouTube Analytics, Facebook Analytics, LinkedIn Analytics, Twitter Analytics, and Snapchat Analytics, including providing various visual figures from each platform to assist readers with understanding the concepts introduced in the text. Chapter 12 highlights the skills necessary to work in the social media field, which the authors identify as “writing; data, analytics and trend spotting; and creativity, strategy, and planning” (Luttrell & Wallace, 2021, p. 183). The authors note that those who want to be successful in social media careers must be cognizant of trends as social media evolves and they provide readers with some tools that can help them remain up to date on new and emerging developments. The final chapter is resource-rich, directing readers to a variety of supplemental websites aimed at allowing them to further enhance their professional development and experiential learning in the aforementioned skill areas.
Strengths and Weaknesses
A strength of this book is that it is written in a more informal and conversational manner than many academic works, thus making it user-friendly and enjoyable for students, faculty, and future or current practitioners, including those with limited knowledge of or experience with social media at the outset. Future editions of this book could be improved with chapters on public relations sectors such as technology, hospitality, travel and tourism, lifestyle, beauty, and fashion as social media are integral to these industries. Though this book features some examples from brands like Gucci and CoverGirl, additional standalone chapters on these popular public relations sectors would provide greater depth to an already robust resource. Furthermore, part three could benefit from incorporating content on diversity, equity, and inclusion either as a standalone chapter or by integrating this important topic into the existing chapter frameworks. Additionally, the authors may consider adding more public relations-focused theories in the future.
The authors note that the goal of the book is to “engage students as consumers and creators of social media by providing a framework for understanding and connection among social media, mass communications, and the impact on society” (Luttrell & Wallace, 2021, p. vii). They have succeeded, and I recommend this book without hesitation as a required or suggested reading in undergraduate courses such as survey of public relations, introduction to mass media, mass media and society, social media strategy, social media and society, and more. The book can be used in its entirety or adopted for its applicable sections or chapters, depending on curriculum and pedagogical needs.
Hlavac, R. (2014). Social IMC: Social strategies with bottom-line ROI. CreateSpace.
To cite this article: McCluskey, L.M.(2022). Social Media and Society: An Introduction to the Mass Media Landscape [Review of the book Social Media and Society: An Introduction to the Mass Media Landscape]. Journal of Public Relations Education, 8(3), 140-144. https://aejmc.us/jpre/?p=3261
For those seeking a career in public relations and social media, Social Media: How to Engage, Share, and Connect, by Regina Luttrell, makes the transition from classroom to boardroom, for students and instructors mentoring them, complete and somehow painless. The fourth edition is updated to reflect innovations, challenges, tools, and issues specific to today’s digital landscape for public relations practitioners.
Structure and Organization
Social Media: How to Engage, Share, and Connect is organized into three parts: 1) The Advancement of an Industry, 2) Strategic Planning: Public Relations and Social Media, and 3) Strategic Management: Public Relations and Social Media. These parts work to engage readers in 14 chapters ranging from theory to practice, ethics, and the future in a comprehensive manner to unearth the “why” behind social media strategy and not just all the “fun” things you can tactically imagine. The “why” or use of strategy is one of the key differentiators of this text in a crowded market of social media textbooks. As an educator and professional, I want students to understand why they are doing something in an effort to remain strategic, comfortable, platform agnostic and skillfully dangerous, in an ever-changing environment where social media platforms come and go–good-bye Facebook, hello Meta.
As a core text, this book is suitable for subjects or classes related to language arts, communication studies, advertising, public relations, business communications, marketing, social sciences, media studies, digital studies, political science (digital activism), and more. The work would also be an excellent partner to a main text if you would like to inject more social media into an introduction to public relations, digital media, social media, public relations or advertising campaigns class, or even a communication, marketing, advertising, or public relations capstone or internship course.
Changes to Fourth Edition
This seminal text on social media is a public relations educator staple. This book is one of the few social media textbooks updated regularly, which eliminates the normal weakness of a social media text which is that as soon as it is published, it is outdated. Author Luttrell and publishers, Rowman & Littlefield, solved that issue for instructors with their proactive updates
Features of the fourth edition include improved chapter objectives and learning outcomes, which easily align with a semester schedule; social media expert profiles and practice areas to help satisfy the “what do you do in a day” question popular among applied major program students; theory- into-practice boxes with exercises that connect back to the chapter material or updated case studies using the “diversity-first” approach–a staple in Luttrell’s books; a living Twitter community and boxes throughout the text that address “learn social media and public relations” with #LRNSMPR where students can connect with others even countries apart; a more comprehensive glossary of terminology for students and faculty to examine together; a discussion of additional social media channels (Clubhouse and TikTok); and finally, a new appendix with ideas for social media strategy guidelines and templates that allow practice in the classroom (p. 219-239).
I particularly like the digital assets in this edition which allow me to make practice handouts for quick and dirty in-class social media audits. The author uses resources from several case studies and infographics, including downloadable models on her website at www.ginaluttrellphd.com. Additional materials can be requested through Rowman & Littlefield publishing with an educator login.
Contributions to Public Relations Education
As in previous editions, this edition illustrates the author’s concern for both the history and future of social media as it applies to public relations and the business case for sound strategy supported by creative tactics. The textbook bridges social media theory and practice, which by nature includes both understanding of the medium and how to “do” social media. Strategic council occurs thoughtfully and deliberately through her signature “practitioner speaks” approach included in all of her textbooks. Additionally, the book is accessible for students, professionals, and educators who might need help keeping up on the barrage of new tools, strategies, and techniques within the social sphere. Keeping up with social media trends and policy can be arduous; however, this book mitigates that work for fellow educators.
Rowman & Littlefield get it: book price shouldn’t be a barrier to education for students or for instructors. For some, the price point of this book won’t prove to be a barrier to adoption, given the $35 cost for paperback.
Luttrell is skilled at using plain language in most of her textbooks. The author understands the needs of students and strives for a favorable student experience through easy information which is neither oversimplified nor stilted. She writes in a way that is easy to read and understand, making classroom participation less of a barrier. I frequently heard students comment that they often read ahead because their interest was genuinely piqued. The text takes a complicated series of topics and makes them immediately executable to a generation that thinks they may already “know” social media. A “digital native” doesn’t equal digital expert, so this textbook improves perspectives among young professionals and makes barriers to entry in a technical field less panic-inducing.
If you have ever purchased a textbook written by Luttrell, you’ll know much of her strength lies in demonstrating practical application of theory. In this she creates a landing place for students to examine the fuzzy bits and really extrapolate perspective in order to activate or repair strategy. In this particular edition, her theory-into-practice boxes and the social media expert profiles elevate that form.
The topic of influencers is more a neutral point than a weakness for this text. That said, as influencers faced a reckoning in the last year in a COVID-19 environment with trust and ethics routinely violated, I’d like to see the fifth edition improve coverage in the area of influencer relations. Sourcing Amanda Russell’s book, The Influencer Code: How to Unlock the Power of Influencer Marketing (2021),which has quickly established itself as the “influencer Bible” within the last year, along with Northwestern University Kellogg School’s (2021) adoption of the “Influencer U” curriculum for its Executive Management program would help. Doing so would be a perfect partnership, collaboration, or extension of the textbook.
Weakness: Text Presentation
At no fault to the author–this is more a deficiency of the publisher– I feel compelled to address text presentation as a weakness. We NEED color in our textbooks. You can’t expect a student who is glued to a LED or OLED smartphone to engage fully with a text on social media when the photo examples of charts, graphs, and examples of social media (i.e., Instagram feed, tweets, Facebook [Meta] posts, etc,) are printed in the text in black and white.
Dr. Luttrell is a prolific, trusted, and well-respected author in the area of social media and offers an unparalleled framework for understanding and practical use of social media in a public relations context. I’ve adopted every edition of Social Media: How to Engage, Share, and Connect as both a partner text in introduction public relations courses, and in an introduction to advertising and public relations course at my institution. I have no qualms in encouraging others to do the same.
To cite this article: Wallace, A. (2022). Social Media: How to Engage, Share, and Connect (4th Ed.). [Review of the book Social Media: How to Engage, Share, and Connect (4th Ed.)]. Journal of Public Relations Education, 8(1), 192-197. https://aejmc.us/jpre/?p=2988
Editorial Record: Submitted September 14, 2020. Revised April 2, 2021. Accepted June 7, 2021. Published March 2022.
Michelle Groover, Ph.D. Senior Lecturer, Public Relations Department of Communication Arts Georgia Southern University Statesboro, GA Email: email@example.com
The in-class activity explores how Princess Diana’s death turned into a crisis for the British monarchy. The movie, which is interspersed with actual footage, explores how the monarchy responded following the death of Princess Diana. After watching the film The Queen the class discusses aspects of the crisis, response strategies, and how it may have been handled differently today due to social media.
Keywords: film, social media, crisis communication
Examining a real-world crisis through the lens of a film can help students better understand how to respond to real-life public relations crisis. This activity allows student to explore whether what took place was a crisis or paracrisis, the mistakes made, the response strategies used, and what they would have done if they were in the position of the Prime Minister or the Queen. Although some students may not have been aware of Princess Diana’s life or death, they find the accident and what followed to be an interesting look into how a real-life crisis was handled.
The movie, which is set shortly after Diana’s death, is a study in crisis communication and how to, and not to, address a crisis. Zaremba (2010) noted the film “illustrates how the newly elected Prime Minister, Tony Blair, attempted to defuse a developing crisis for the monarchy in Great Britain” (p. 113). Additionally, the inclusion of actual footage of mourners and the flowers outside Buckingham Palace can help to bridge the gap between what actually happened and Hollywood’s version of events.
Shift in response time
While still time sensitive, prior to social media an organization had the benefit of a bit more time to craft a response to a crisis. Birch (1994) wrote, “The one thing that is in short supply during crisis is time” (p. 33). Additionally, Fishman (1999) stated, “The level and extent of media coverage directly influences the degree of ‘urgency’ placed upon an organization to provide a coherent explanation or to undertake corrective action” (p. 348). Tony Blair, prime minister of the United Kingdom at the time of Diana’s death, gave a speech the morning she died where he historically called Diana “the people’s princess.” Queen Elizabeth did not make a public statement until five days after her death which caused some controversy among the people of the United Kingdom and a decline in her popularity (Kirby, 1998).
In today’s 24/7/365 world, organizations are expected to respond within the hour of a crisis, if not before. Claeys and Opgenhaffen (2016) discuss the term “golden hour” which is “the first hour after the scandal breaks” (p. 239). This “golden hour” is important as the organization can get its side of the story out before the media. The faster an organization, or in this case a monarchy, can respond to a crisis, the better for its image and reputation (Claeys & Opgenhaffen, 2016).
A crisis response must address the issue with as much transparency as possible, providing information to the key publics about what took place and how the organization will address it ( Millar & Heath, 2004). Further, “strategic actions in response to a crisis can enhance an organization’s legitimacy” (Veil et al,, 2012, p. 333). Rather than waiting for the Queen to respond, Tony Blair, the Prime Minister at the time of Diana’s accident, took action through his press conference and decision to speak to the media. Eventually, through pressure, Queen Elizabeth did provide a response to her public via a televised statement.
Connection to Practice
Incorporating an actual crisis example through a film provides students an opportunity to apply what they have learned about crises and how to address them. The film is shown at the end of the semester so that students can point out and discuss the topics discussed throughout the semester from lecture, readings, guest speakers, and other in-class discussions.
The 2020 Global Communications Report (USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, 2020) noted COVID-19 “taught us, future-focused PR executives must be prepared to manage unexpected events and controversial issues” (p. 12). As many crises a public relations practitioner may encounter in their career are unexpected, including Princess Diana’s death, this activity allows students to understand how to be better prepared to confront these issues should they arise.
One of the benefits of this exercise is first, the students are exposed to a piece of history (although it is a film which assumes some parts of what happened behind the scenes), and are able to identify the crisis aspects. Second, the exercise allows students to explore the various crisis response strategies used (which have been discussed in class prior to watching the film) and if, in their opinion, they did or did not work. Third, it provides an opportunity for students to explore what they would have done differently in the situation, as well as how modern technology, such as social media, may have changed the course of the discussion and the crisis response strategies employed by all parties involved.
Assignment and Implementation
Toward the end of the semester, students in an upper division public relations and crisis communication course would watch the film The Queen. By showing it at the end of the semester, which takes two class periods to watch, students can apply what they understand regarding what constitutes a crisis and the various crisis response strategies. Further, students witness a “crisis in action” without the stress of having to handle it themselves.
If teaching a crisis communication class, before watching the film, the professor should cover the following topics over the course of the semester:
Definition of crisis
Difference between a crisis and paracrisis
Identifying the trigger event to a crisis
Responding to the crisis
Identifying the appropriate crisis response strategy(ies) to apply in a situation
Identifying an organization’s audience(s)
Identifying and selecting a crisis management team and spokespeople
Ethical communication prior to, during, and following a crisis
Monitoring throughout the crisis
Evaluating the situation post-crisis
Having discussed and read this information throughout the semester, students should be able to discuss how they believe the crisis addressed in the film was handled and what they would have done differently. Through written responses discussing the following questions, students can work out the best response strategy in their opinion and determine how they would go about implementing it if this were to have happened today. They are also able to demonstrate how, if at all, they understand the concepts which have been discussed throughout the semester in this application exercise. Students would need a minimum of one day to work on this assignment before submitting it to the professor for grading. It should be submitted prior to the next class meeting day following the viewing of the film to facilitate the debrief in-class discussion. The professor can then elaborate on the responses provided, which enables a more in-depth class discussion around the crisis itself and recommendations they have for crisis messaging during and after the event.
As students are watching the film, encourage them to take notes on the crisis elements they witness throughout. Once the film ends, on the second day, provide students the following discussion questions and ask them to submit their responses to them thoroughly, demonstrating their comprehension and understanding of crises and the content of the film:
Is this a crisis or a paracrisis? How did you determine this?
What was the trigger event for the crisis?
Could the crisis have been prevented?
What should have been done to prepare for this type of crisis (the death of a royal/non-royal)?
What crisis response strategies did you notice?
What did Blair and his team do well? Need to improve on?
If you were in Blair’s role, what would you have done differently/the same?
If you were the Queen, would you have waited so long to respond? Why/why not?
Do you think the people of the UK believed Queen Elizabeth and her statement? Why/why not?
Diana died in 1997 when social media did not exist; if this were to happen today how do you think this would have changed the management of the crisis and the response to it?
How would you have responded to this event if you worked on the public relations team for the Prime Minister? For Queen Elizabeth? Explain your response.
The key learning objectives for the written assignment are to: 1) Identify the trigger event for this crisis; 2) Identify the crisis response strategies implemented in the film; 3) Discuss what the various parties did well and needed improvement regarding the crisis response; 4) Discuss how social media may have changed the crisis response by the various parties involved.
The written assignment is evaluated by the student’s ability to accomplish the following: 1) to demonstrate knowledge of the types of crisis response strategies; 2) to identify the crisis response strategies used; 3) to effectively discuss the crisis response strategies and what they would have done in the situation; and 4) to edit and proofread their response prior to submission. This assignment counts as 5% of the total grade in the course.
The author has observed that students seem to enjoy learning through watching and discussing this particular film. The author has also found this activity has helped students better identify the various crisis response strategies which have been discussed throughout the semester. Additionally, the students have been able to apply their public relations knowledge to this situation pulling not only from the crisis course, but from courses including social media, writing, and others. One challenge has been some students not effectively or completely answering the questions posed. One way to address this has been after grading the written assignment the professor uses the next class meeting to hold a debriefing to discuss the questions with the class. The debriefing also allows the professor to further discuss the crisis strategies and responses and lets students hear the perspectives of their classmates and continue the discussion. Finally, this debriefing permits those students who did not provide complete or effective answers to discuss their thoughts verbally.
Following the debriefing with the class, students remarked how they enjoyed the use of outside media to talk about and make clearer the topics which had been discussed in class. Others stated the group discussion allowed them to see other classmate’s point of view and build off each other when determining the course of action during and following a crisis. One student stated it was their favorite assignment as they were able to learn how to deal with a crisis on such a large scale, and how an institution like the British monarchy could recover from such a crisis.
As technology continues to change and evolve, other questions could be added to the list of discussion questions provided such as questions related to international public relations. A variation of the assignment could be having students discuss the questions in groups in class to develop a response, then with the class as a whole. These discussions could count toward in-class participation points for those who participated in the conversation.
Birch, J. (1994). New factors in crisis planning and response. Public Relations Quarterly, 39(1), 31-34.
Veil, S. R., Sellnow, T. L. and Petrun, E. L. (2012). Hoaxes and the paradoxical challenges of restoring legitimacy: Dominos’ response to its YouTube crisis. Management Communication Quarterly, 26(2), 322-345.
Zaremba, A. J. (2010). Crisis communication: Theory and practice. M.E. Sharpe.
Editorial Record: Original draft submitted November 11, 2020. Manuscript accepted for publication December 16, 2020. First published online September 2021.
Melissa B. Adams, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Public Department of Communication Appalachian State University Boone, NC Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nicole M. Lee, Ph.D. Assistant Professor School of Social and Behavioral Sciences Arizona State University Tempe, AZ Email: email@example.com
This exploratory study examined the analytics knowledge and skills agencies seek in new digital public relations hires and extends recent research on the topic of strategic communication analytics education. In-depth interviews were conducted with 14 senior managers at O’Dwyer’s 2019 Top Independent Agencies. These professionals identified the analytic training and tool knowledge most desired in new hires. Results show that basic education in analytic measurement and data analysis is necessary preparation for the digital job market and that communication managers seek new hires with strong critical thinking skills with the ability to gain insights from multiple data sources. Effective communication of analytic insights and awareness of their implications for the organization or business were also noted as highly-desirable skills.
Keywords: public relations, social media, analytics, evaluation
Public relations, as both practice and discipline, has been described as being in a state of reinvention due to the availability of digital data metrics and the rise of social media communication as strategic organizational communication (Daniels, 2018; DiStaso & Bortree, 2014). Consequently, public relations practitioners and researchers have discussed the need to include social media metrics and analytics education as part of public relations programs, to examine how it is being incorporated into classes, and to develop learning goals and pedagogy to support the process (Anderson & Swenson, 2013; Kent et al., 2011; Stansberry, 2016; Wiesenberg et al., 2017). Researchers recently proposed a concise list of learning outcomes for undergraduate courses (Ewing et al., 2018).
The dashboard reporting model adopted by marketers and advertisers is now the expected norm in public relations practice as is the use of common evaluation language of digital measurement (click-throughs, conversions, etc.) However, effectively communicating analytic insights using industry language is often a struggle for both practitioners and academics due to the unfamiliar terminology (Sanchis, 2019) and the fact that this technology is relatively new and constantly evolving (unlike traditional research methods). The advent of new digital measurement guidelines such as Barcelona 2.0 has also contributed to the urgency of the need for public relations curriculum to evolve and include analytics training as part of the new standard (Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications [AMEC], 2015; Commission on Public Relations Education [CPRE], 2018).
Therefore, public relations educators are challenged with the development of analytic skills and digital measurement knowledge in order to incorporate training into existing curricula. This scramble to “skill up” to meet the needs of students and demands of the job market means that there has been a great focus on attaining certifications, but little research has been done to determine if this training aligns with the actual needs and expectations of the profession. Although recent research has noted that the skill set of public relations instructors should be updated to address digital media skills and measurement, there are differences in opinion between academics and professionals on how and what should be learned to bridge this gap (Shen & Toth, 2013). In addition, because digital public relations evaluation includes multiple social media and content metrics, experience using basic analytics tools and social media research methods to develop holistic performance insights would provide students valuable training in critical thinking, and would help them understand how such measures contribute to better understanding organizational publics (Kent, et al., 2011; Stansberry, 2016; Waddington, 2017).
More recently, public relations educators have called for an integration of analytics training at the programmatic and course levels to address this need. Analytics education should be incorporated into existing curriculum such as public relations campaigns capstones and not just taught as stand-alone courses or as part of social media courses only (Adams et al., 2019). Just as social media practice is now deeply integrated into public relations practice, analytic thinking and analysis are increasingly important and therefore, this training should be included in core courses as well as social media management courses (Adams et al., 2020).
Considering the challenges of keeping up with the technology and the differing opinions on digital measurement training within academia, this exploratory study was designed to identify the analytics knowledge and skills that public relations agency managers expect and value most among new hires. The study also extends recent research (Ewing et al., 2018) that recommended analytics learning outcomes by comparing those outcomes to practitioner expectations in the current job market.
Specifically, this study attempted to answer the following research questions: What analytic skills and training are agency professionals seeking in new hires? What specific social media listening and analytics tools and certifications are most valued by agency managers? And, what emergent skills or training are becoming necessary in digital analytics?
Public Relations Measurement and Reinvention
A number of evaluation frameworks have been promoted for public relations in the years preceding digital practice, including those that incorporated media effects metrics (awareness and intent for example), business measures such as “ROI” (return on investment), and the tabulation of various outputs (including AVEs or Advertising Value Equivalencies) (AMEC, 2016; Lindenmann, 2005; Michaelson & Stacks, 2011; Watson, 2012). So many measures and evaluative frameworks have been proposed in public relations scholarship that Lindenmann argued that there were ample measures available for use—the issue was instead for practitioners to do a better job of getting management to recognize and support public relations efforts (Lindenmann, 2005). However, as social media and “new media” became part of professional practice, practitioners were challenged with how best to measure and report their effectiveness, and academics have struggled to keep up with evolving digital communication platforms, terminology, and best practices (DiStaso & Bortree, 2014; Freberg & Kim, 2018; Sanchis, 2019; Zhang & Freberg, 2018).
In her overview of new media research in public relations, Sandra Duhé (2015) identified the theoretical applications and extensions that have been explored in academic research since the dawn of digital public relations practice. Theoretical contributions to crisis communication, two-way communication, and ethics have been published in public relations journals in numerous studies. However, Duhé’s exhaustive survey does not mention how digital public relations measurement has been studied or how these new measures have influenced recent research or theory-building. This is not an oversight; instead, this omission simply points to the need to reconceptualize public relations measurement as an integrated element in digital media —measurement that is immediate, continuous, and easily accessible.
Social media has forced academics as well as practitioners to rethink PR as a digital practice requiring new conceptualizations of public-organization communication (Daniels, 2018; DiStaso & Bortree, 2014; Stansberry & Strauss, 2015) and research and evaluation (Daniels, 2018; Kent, 2001; Macnamara, 2014a, 2014b, 2018; Macnamara & Gregory, 2018).
The last decade has brought a host of new measurement frameworks, tools, and standards to support the evaluation of digital public relations campaigns. Perhaps most significantly is AMEC’s (International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communications) announcement of the Barcelona Principles in 2010. The result of an international collaboration, the seven principles address the affordances and challenges of social media communication and refocused evaluation on outcomes rather than simple outputs (AMEC, 2010). The principles note that social media efforts should be measured, and AVEs (Advertising Value Equivalencies) should be abandoned as they are not public relations (AMEC, 2010).
Following the announcement of the Barcelona Principles, scholarship on the history of public relations measurement traced the progression of traditional measures (outputs such as counting media impressions) to the incorporation of business measures in the 1990s (such as KPIs or key performance indicators) and their integration into the more holistic, outcomes-focused, digital evaluation framework (Macnamara, 2014a; Watson, 2012). One problem noted was the fact that social media platforms and the tools designed to manage and measure social communications all used different types of measures (Marklein & Paine, 2012). This issue was acknowledged in discussions of valid metrics for social media during the 2012 Social Media Conclave and the development of social media standards for measurement proposed by the Digital Analytics Association in 2013 (Macnamera, 2014b). New evaluation models also included the holistic perspective afforded by the Barcelona Principles to include outcomes as well as outputs and consider qualitative measures and methods such as social listening (Macnamara, 2014a, Macnamera & Gregory, 2018).
Due to the rapid evolution of digital media platforms and the adoption of social media in professional communication, the Barcelona Principles were expanded in 2015 to focus more on “what to do” rather than “what not to do,” according to David Rockland of Ketchum and AMEC working group member (Rockland, 2015). He explains Barcelona 2.0 as more holistic overall to account for all of professional communication (not just public relations) and to include qualitative methods in recognition of the need to understand context and color in social media conversations (Rockland, 2015). “Barcelona 2.0” retained the original emphasis on impacts and outcomes of communication campaigns and recognized the further integration of public relations, advertising, and marketing functions within organizations (AMEC, 2015; USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, 2017).
The processes of reinventing public relations evaluation are still in evolution (Schriner et al., 2017). This study of Silver Anvil Award winners discovered that many of the campaigns still placed less emphasis on outcomes and more on outputs and some still included AVEs as a measure. The authors argued for the further incorporation of more holistic and robust measures, especially regarding social media evaluation that should account for online conversations and community engagement (AMEC, 2015; Schriner et al., 2017).
Digital Public Relations Education
Considering this evolution of the profession, the need for new best practices and the demand to measure efficacy, digital public relations education research has understandably focused on teaching social media tool knowledge, professional certifications (Freberg & Kim, 2018; Kinsky, et al., 2016; Stansberry & Strauss, 2015), and the expansion of professional ethics to address the realities of digital communication (Bowen, 2013; DiStaso & Bortree, 2014; Neill & Schauster, 2015). However, recent studies and industry experts have also pointed to the need for public relations education to focus on core public relations skills training such as writing and strategic thinking as social media and its digital measures continue to develop to account for interactivity, engagement, and conversational contexts (Anderson & Swenson, 2013; Neill & Schauster, 2015; Tam & Kim, 2019). This call to retain focus on core public relations skills in the age of social media practice reinforces findings from Paskin’s (2013) survey of 113 communication professionals. According to Paskin, interview results showed that:
“…skills such as writing, communication and strategic thinking over more novel skills, since these new skills depend on mastery of the basics. In essence, the results can be interpreted as showing that public relations professionals surveyed still expect, above anything, that graduating students receive a solid education of the basics skills before moving on to newer technical skills.” (p. 252)
According to the most recent Commission on Public Relations Education report, research and analytics was one of the top four needed skills for entry-level hires according to both practitioners and educators (2018). Research and analytics, data analytics, and measurement and evaluation were also the three most desired areas of knowledge as noted (CPRE, 2018). Therefore both analytics and digital measurement skills training and knowledge acquisition were at the top of the list of needs for public relations education according to the study.
Krishna et al.’s survey of public relations practitioners also confirmed that writing is still generally acknowledged as the most essential skill for new hires, but research and measurement skills were also noted as very important, especially among early career respondents. This study’s findings support those of the most recent CPRE report and underscore the continued importance of writing skills, yet they also indicate that employers desire new hires with creative, critical, and analytical thinking abilities, as well as problem-solving and measurement experience (CPRE, 2018; Krishna et al., 2020).
Clearly, professional communicators are seeking a blend of skills in new public relations hires—both traditional skills such as writing and strategic thinking—with the addition of some experience in analytics and data analysis (Freberg & Kim, 2018; Kim & Freberg, 2016). According to a PRWeek report by Daniels (2018), industry professionals mostly looked for analytic thinking ability in new hires as well as the ability to write well and produce digital content. Considering the industry desire for a blend of traditional skills and digital analytics experience, it has become clear that there is an increasing need to incorporate analytics and data analysis into the public relations curriculum.
Analytics in Public Relations Education
Although basic skills are still highly regarded as the necessary “core” of public relations training by industry, the need for understanding analytic measures and expanding strategic thinking has been called for by both scholars and the industry. Indeed, building from Barcelona 2.0 and the changing profession, researchers argue that there is a strong need for analytics and data analysis to be introduced into the public relations curriculum (Chung & Taneja, 2016; Kent et al., 2011; Kim & Freberg, 2016; Stansberry, 2016).
Many traditional measures and evaluation frameworks are still useful, but others are troublesome in digital public relations contexts. For example, AVEs are still appearing in award-winning campaigns or as revamped new media measures (Schriner et al., 2017; Waddington, 2017) when more holistic analytic measures that account for context and social media communication between publics and organizations are available for digital campaign components (Ewing et al., 2018; Kent et al., 2011; Schriner et al., 2017). Despite Lindenmann’s 2005 argument that there are ample tools to use to measure public relations efforts, the evolution of digital platforms continues to spur the development of new digital tools and measures.
Additionally, as practitioners have had to expand their basic skills to be able to evaluate social media efforts and communicate digital insights to management, digital analytics have increasingly become a key component of industry training and the public relations curriculum. Analytics ,which is the method of logical analysis according to Merriam-Webster, is (in the simplest terms) the analysis of aggregate data. Analytics is the practice of considering multiple points of data or metrics (outputs) to arrive at insights and recommendations for reaching business goals or in the case of public relations, desired communication and relational outcomes.
Social media and web analytic tools such as Google Analytics have user-friendly interfaces that support both interpretation and communication of metrics and insights by novice as well as experienced communicators (Tam & Kim, 2019). Analytic data is especially helpful in social media listening (research) and evaluation as organizational digital platforms support real-time data collection, and insights can be gained quickly (Tam & Kim, 2019). This insight into audience social behavior is critical to digital public relations practice as it allows messages to be adapted or revised to address immediate needs as well as changing trends (Chung & Taneja, 2016; Wright & Hinson, 2017) and captures the impacts of online conversation on organization-controlled media such as the company website (Kent, et al., 2011). However, academics often struggle with how to approach analytics and digital evaluation pedagogically as many of the reporting tools and analytic platforms are proprietary, allowing only paid access, and social media sites continue their rapid evolution, making it difficult to keep up with the latest developments (Ewing et al., 2018; Freberg & Kim, 2018; Zhang & Freberg, 2018).
Methods for teaching digital public relations were investigated by an early proponent of analytic research and analysis (Kent, 2001), with the utilization of data from the internet taking center stage. Ethical issues such as tracking customer’s buying habits and personal preferences were the focus, and assignments for a curriculum were proposed (Kent, 2001). This initial inquiry has expanded as the need for strategic and analytical thinking in practice has grown in alignment with the use of digital marketing and communications management suites such as Marketo and social media management and measurement tools like Hootsuite. Competency in analytics and such tools as evidenced by certification has been incorporated into public relations, advertising and marketing courses as studies have noted that this training provides young professionals with an advantage on the job market as employers seek evidence of social media and content management skills (Kent at al., 2011; Kinsky, et al. 2016; Freberg & Kim, 2018).
However, only recently have scholars begun to examine how digital analytics have been included in public relations courses. Ewing et al.’s 2018 study examined public relations course syllabi and the results of a Twitter chat on the topic to consider the skills and concepts included in these classes, as well as what learning outcomes (related to analytics) and what social media methods and certifications were included. The authors found that despite the critical need for positive student learning outcomes for analytics training, few of the syllabi they examined contained clear competencies (based on their wording).
“With the growing efforts to measure and evaluate digital activities, analytic competencies were a natural focus for social media and communication courses. Thus, it was expected that courses would have clearly identified learning outcomes for students related to digital analytics. However, few courses had outcomes specifically mentioning analytics. While educators embedded analytic concepts and training within their courses, the wording of their learning outcomes did not reflect the focus on digital analytic competencies.” (Ewing, et al., p. 70)
Based on their study findings, ten analytics learning outcomes were proposed for educators to consider including in their syllabi and incorporating into future courses including using analytics tools and technologies to capture data, generate reports and glean insights and obtaining Hootsuite and/or Google Analytics certifications (Ewing, et al., 2018).
Recent research on the topic has also illustrated that students who had passed the Google Analytics certificate tests were highly interested in learning more about analytics (Meng et al., 2019). Additionally, Brunner et al., (2018) examined public relations job advertisements to identify skills and knowledge desired in new hires and found that most listed managerial skills such as project management. These researchers noted that knowledge of measurement and social media strategies and analytics would fall into the category of desired “managerial skills” listed in some job postings. Similarly, other recent studies have confirmed that professional public relations managers want to hire individuals with digital analytics and management training (Bajalia, 2020) as well as strong writing, critical thinking skills, and basic business acumen (Krishna, et al., 2020; Meng et al., 2019; Ragas, 2019).
The current research project builds on this previous study in an effort to identify which (if any) specific analytics skills and training industry professionals were seeking in new hires. Three research questions were developed to expand Ewing et al.’s initial investigation into analytic training incorporated into communication courses, while taking into consideration recent arguments for the need for both traditional skills and expanded strategic thinking and digital analytics training in public relations curriculum. Specifically:
RQ1: What digital analytics skills and training are agency professionals seeking in new hires?
RQ2: What specific social media listening and analytics tools and certifications are most valued by agency professionals?
RQ3: What emergent skills or training are becoming necessary in digital analytics?
To answer these research questions, a series of respondent interviews with digital public relations and communication managers at leading agencies was conducted in February and March of 2020. The 2019 O’Dwyer’s listing of the top independent agencies was used as the sampling frame. Researchers contacted public relations, digital media, and analytics professionals at the top fifty agencies of the O’Dwyer’s list via direct email and LinkedIn direct messages with focus placed on practitioners who did analytics work and hired or supervised entry-level professionals engaging in analytics work. A total of 14 respondents participated in telephone interviews with the two primary researchers. Their job titles included Chief Analytics Officer, Senior Digital Strategist, Senior Vice President of Social and Digital Media, Senior Advisor, and Digital Account Executive.
After Institutional Review Board review and approval, researchers conducted the interviews using a standard interview guide (see appendix) that included questions regarding the respondent’s role at their agency, skills they most want to see in new hires, and any emergent skills or training they believe are becoming necessary to the profession of digital public relations and campaign measurement.
With the participant’s permission, all interviews were audio-recorded. Interviews averaged 24 minutes in length and totaled over five hours of recorded data. After each interview, the recording was transcribed verbatim resulting in 96 pages of single-spaced text.
Coding and Analysis
Following transcription, both researchers analyzed the interview data to identify themes related to the three research questions. This thematic analysis, which followed Smith’s (1995) five-step process, was both inductive and deductive in its approach. It included specifically identifying responses corresponding to analytics education outcomes from previous research (Ewing, et al., 2018) but also allowed for emergent themes. The researchers independently read all transcripts multiple times. The transcripts were first read through without taking notes; upon the second reading, researchers highlighted sections relevant to the research questions and listed topics or codes relevant to the research questions. The researchers worked together to collapse these codes into broader themes or categories. Finally, researchers reread the transcripts to identify exemplar quotes that demonstrated the themes.
Results indicate that the analytic skills and training most valuable to these professionals are not tool-specific certifications, but rather critical thinking and general measurement or analytics knowledge. Respondents also noted the need for new hires to have a general understanding of how analytic measures and metrics relate to business and organizational goals. This extends to having the mindset to consider public relations outcomes as both results and potential opportunities that organizations might leverage.
Even though some certifications were noted by professionals, few felt it was important for new hires to know how to use specific tools. Instead, they noted that it was more important to understand the measurement concepts behind them. Although there was little consistency among respondents regarding preferred analytics tools, most professionals reported that Google Analytics was valued more than other platform experience or certifications. When asked about emergent skills, professionals noted that a basic understanding of digital marketing measures and influencer marketing is valuable in today’s digital agencies where integrated campaigns are generally the norm (USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, 2017). Respondents also noted the emergence of more holistic measures for earned media such as story “trending” and “resonance” or pull-through.
Each of these study findings is discussed in more detail in the following section, arranged by theme in relation to the specific research question addressed. Anonymous respondent quotes are included for illustrative purposes.
RQ1. What analytic skills and training are agency professionals seeking for new hires to have in regard to analytics?
Four common themes emerged from the interviews to address this research question: critical thinking, general measurement knowledge, general business knowledge, and effective communication of data insights.
One of the most consistent themes to arise during the interviews was the perspective that critical thinking and problem-solving skills are more important than skills or experience using any specific analytics platform. All study participants commented in some way to underscore the importance of critical thinking in digital public relations and the need to provide students with integrated learning opportunities as part of their preparation for the job market. According to one respondent:
Kind of what I look for is… are they thinking about best practices, but also, can they? Do they think in terms of, “Our clickthrough rate was up this month compared to last month—what does that mean?” You know, are they thinking about, “How do we track compared to sort of generic benchmark rates, or how are we looking compared to the same time last year? What does that mean for them?”
Another interviewee similarly noted:
It starts with being a good information consumer and a sort of literacy—we have no shortage of data! It’s a matter of can these individuals look at data and understand what it says and maybe what it doesn’t say (or) what we might be able to determine from it…
General Measurement/Analytics Knowledge
This theme is related to critical thinking but many professionals commented on the need to have a general understanding of research and measurement that is not necessarily tied to specific online metrics or tools. Several interview respondents pointed out that it is just as important for digital communicators to understand what tools or specific metrics can’t tell you as much as what they can tell you, such as being able to gauge engagement more holistically via content or website analytics versus relying on simple social media metrics. This finding aligns with critical thinking skills as they relate to the development of analytic skills and the ability to develop actionable insights from data. One participant described this as well as the need for knowing what questions to ask of the data:
It’s really about understanding what the metrics mean. So, yes, we need to understand, especially if it’s an issue of understanding digital what sessions are, you know, where traffic is coming from, time on site, engagement, impressions, all of that. It’s really important for people to understand …”What does that mean?” So, you could say our site traffic went down this month, but the client doesn’t necessarily share that (understanding). OK, why? What does that mean? What can you tell me from that? What if we do that differently? Being able to take those tools, read them, and yes, pull the numbers — but then understand what that means, and what we should be doing about it.
Several of the professionals specifically noted the need for new hires to have a general understanding of how analytics relate to specific business goals and be able to communicate this effectively with clients and managers. For example, one respondent noted this as understanding what metrics should be used to illustrate public relations impacts, “A lot of what is really important for us is making sure that we’re communicating with clients the right metrics, but also the appropriate ones (for) PR.” Another respondent described this ability as synthesis:
We really want to make sure that, you know, any new hires are able to synthesize sort of the business objectives that we see from our clients—be able to convert those—and kind of translate those into a holistic sort of tracking and analytics approach. So, for us, a lot of times that means incorporating everything from social media to Google Analytics …
Effective Communication of Data Insights
Another common theme was the importance of professionals being able to effectively communicate the data they gather using analytics tools. Specifically, the need to explain findings to clients and answer client questions was mentioned by multiple professionals. This ability to derive and effectively communicate insights and make data-driven recommendations to clients and management emerged at some point in all of the 14 interviews conducted for the survey. As one study respondent argued:
At a minimum, I would expect people coming out of college to understand that there is context so that you’ve got to understand how to get/pull it out of the numbers and then analyze them, not just spit out a bunch of numbers.
A second interviewee elaborated further, noting the need for contextual understanding of metrics:
Know that context is important…. at the minimum because I think a lot of times what I’ll see from younger people or less experienced people, I should say, don’t come in and spit out a bunch of numbers and reports and it’s completely meaningless. You know, especially, our clients will look at a 12-page report and go, I don’t know what the hell any of this means. Give me twelve pages of numbers and expect me to be impressed. You know, I would rather have one page of insight. And even if the numbers are bad, tell me that. Tell me what you’re going to do to fix that and tell me what they need.
RQ2. What specific social media listening and analytics tools and certifications are most valued by agency professionals?
Two dominant themes arose from the interviews concerning the second research question: general knowledge of native platform analytics and social media management and listening tools. As previously mentioned, many professionals did not feel that it was important to know how to use specific tools, but rather to understand the concepts behind them and to be able to learn on the job. Once again, interviewees noted that it was the ability to draw actionable insights from the analytics drawn from various platforms was the most important thing they desired to see in early career professionals.
Interview respondents were asked to evaluate the usefulness of certification in various widely-used social media measurement, web analytics, and native platforms analytic tools on a five-point Likert-type scale where 1 was less important and 5 was the most important. Although most of our analysis was qualitative, this quantitative portion allowed us to directly compare different tools. Results showed that Google Analytics certifications were highly valued (M = 4.08, SD = 1.00) as was Hootsuite and other social media management certifications (M = 4.25, SD = 0.75) as were evidence of Facebook and Twitter training (M = 4.33, SD = 1.15 and M = 4.00, SD = 1.35).
However, Instagram training (M = 3.75, SD = 1.29) was perceived as less valuable than Facebook and Twitter certifications due to these platforms’ more developed analytics and reporting capabilities.
Proprietary platforms such as Brandwatch’s Consumer Research (formerly Crimson Hexagon) and Meltwater were perceived as “nice to have” but not as important as Google Analytics training (M = 3.42, SD = 1.44).
General Knowledge of Native Platform Analytics
Most professionals felt it important for students to understand the basic reporting or insights offered by each platform but didn’t feel knowledge beyond basic familiarity with the back end of social media platforms was needed. As one professional described:
We really want someone to know how to use a media tool …how to use Google Analytics to analyze how your page search is running, know how to use a tool that Facebook has to make sure that your program is running… We (are) technologically agnostic. So, we don’t necessarily just use HubSpot, or just use Marketo. We like to cross-platform…. So, again, it’s not one specific tool, but it’s an understanding of how tools work and how to take those tools (and using critical thinking) to say what they mean—what can I get from some of these analytics?
Social Media Management and Listening Tools
Unsurprisingly, there was little consistency among respondents regarding specific tools —they reported valuing what they used at their agencies (as illustrated in the simple frequencies reported). However, during their interviews, professionals repeatedly returned back to note that that Google Analytics was valued more than any other platform knowledge or certification due to their opinion that this training and experience is highly-transferable toother platforms and digital measurement in general. One respondent explained:
So, whether it’s, you know, Google Analytics certification or Google ad certification…as long as they had some level of looking at the numbers … the platforms. I mean, they have their own quirks. But being able to look at a table of numbers that are being reported out from something and think about that is a skill that translates well across platforms. If you kind of get it for one, you can it’s easy for you to get it for others.
Another professional used an example from a recent hiring process to describe their thinking:
(One) of the branches of my team is hiring for a junior right now. And we were doing a resume review a week ago. There are a few folks that have Google Analytics on their certification section and we definitely pull them out for a second look because it was two things. You can use that certification for the team at large. But it also speaks to a candidate’s interest in sort of broadening their expertise so that they can speak, not about (not just) having experience (with) something, but actually credentialed experience. Hootsuite certifications I think are nice, but don’t really move me much in terms of giving someone a second consideration for an interview, (but) Google Analytics—absolutely.
Google Data Studio (and the introductory certification) was mentioned by several professionals due to its ability to integrate with Google Analytics and Google 360 platforms. Professionals noted it as a useful tool and because the need to produce visualizations for reporting is an increasingly important skill for young professionals to master.
I would take Google Data Studio (training). It’s really important because it lets you analyze a bunch of data layered on top of other data. You get a little bit more insight. No one ever talks about that is so important.
RQ3. What emergent skills or training are becoming necessary in digital analytics?
Finally, study respondents discussed some of the emergent skills that are needed for new professionals. Of those mentioned, new earned media measures such as “resonance” and a desire for new hires to have basic knowledge of integrated marketing and measurement including influencer marketing emerged as the most prevalent themes in the interviews. We also asked about the importance of storytelling skills specifically regarding storytelling with data (visually) and a few respondents noted that as a desired skill (but not as critical as being able to understand and communicate data-driven insights).
Influencer Marketing and Integrated Marketing Measures
In terms of emergent skills or what they see as becoming important in the industry related to analytics, several participants brought up influencer marketing and the need to evaluate the success of such partnerships. One of those individuals explained:
I would say that influencer work has become and continues to become incredibly important. That’s something that I wish I would have learned more when I was in school or maybe during internships. It was one of the areas that I really didn’t have a whole lot of experience with when I entered the job force. And so, a lot of people think like, “Oh, you’re putting together an influencer program, like you can find a certain type of influencer that has like five hundred thousand followers and they’ll benefit a brand!”
But they don’t necessarily understand that they might have five hundred thousand followers but the percentage of how many followers the person has that are actually real people might be significantly lower, their engagement rate might be incredibly low. So, learning how (to do) influencer work…(has) been a main focus (recently). It’s something that I think is pretty important.
Message Pull-Through or Resonance
Rather than just look at media placements, one professional spoke at length about his agency’s work to help understand how earned media messages are resonating with their publics—basically, what impacts were discoverable beyond simple conversation or tabulation of media placements. This professional argued:
With the amount of noise content data out there and with a lot of the sameness that’s happening (and I’m speaking specifically to B2B enterprise techs that I work with) there needs to be something that helps a brand stand out and that’s where the traditional comms work of narrative development comes in. So how do you create something that’s compelling, that people are going to remember that they’re going to be drawn to? And so, it’s if you can include that in a metrics analytics standpoint, of message pull-through. Where is it resonating? What’s resonating? And if it is—is it resonating with your key audience? I think the larger kind of context in terms of … really looking at integrated campaigns and understanding how you can take the results from earned media, repurpose those into other types of channels in terms of owned content, in terms of your owned media and paid media—to then be able to retrieve the level of measurability that kind of earned media lacks. Right. So, I think that more and more we’re going to be looking at earned media as part of a more holistic view.
Storytelling with Data
Several respondents noted that rather than just reporting numbers, having a deep understanding of how to use that data to “tell the story” in a manner that both management and clients can understand is highly valued. Respondents were not just referring to visuals (such as Google Data Studio) but the ability to effectively communicate insights based on the data itself. As one explained, data storytelling is not synonymous with visual storytelling:
I think that it’s important to be able to tell a story with the data—like using data to support a point of view or argument or to disprove a point of view or argument. In terms of the graphics that you use, I generally feel like that’s definitely secondary. I mean it certainly helps…. But I think the most important thing is being able to tell the story with that data, because if you’re having a good presentation meeting with the client, they’re not looking in the slides anymore, they’re looking and talking to YOU.
In summary, study findings supported several of the recently recommended outcomes for public relations analytics education made in recent years, specifically, training students on basic measurement, and analytic reporting and analysis (CPRE, 2018; Brunner, et al., 2018; Ewing, et al., 2018; Freberg & Kim, 2018; Kent et al., 2011; Krishna, et al., 2020; Stansberry, 2016). Results also support the need for increased focus on teaching critical thinking, possibly via activities interpreting and communicating analytic insights using “live” analytics data (Meng, et al., 2019), as well as the integration of analytics training into existing courses (Adams et. al, 2020; Adams, et. al, 2019). This may be accomplished by working with a class client or nonprofit partner who is willing to provide access to their analytics account, or by simply using demonstration databases made available for such training (such as the Google Analytics Merchandise data).
Additionally, arguments for the continued focus on other core public relations skills (effective communication and writing) were also supported as these competencies are just as required in digital practice as they ever were (Anderson & Swenson, 2013; Brunner, et al., 2018; Daniels, 2018; Paskin, 2013). Continued evolution toward more holistic measures of public relations and digital communication using analytics was discussed by all 14 of the study respondents, and AVEs were used by two respondents as a specific measure that should not be taught (or used) in digital campaigns following Barcelona 2.0. These findings echo recent calls by researchers that the process of public relations evaluation is evolving and that digital professionals have abandoned this earned media measure (Schriner et al., 2017; Waddington, 2017).
Specifically drawing from and building on the 2018 study by Ewing et al., results from this study further validate the following proposed learning objectives for public relations and communication analytics courses:
1) to identify the importance of online data in strategic planning and validating ROI;
2) to use analytics tools and technologies to capture data, generate reports and glean insights;
3) to articulate definitions and measurements of social media engagement and website traffic;
4) to apply basic numerical and statistical concepts to evaluate, plan, and implement strategic digital tactics;
5) to apply concepts and theories in presenting findings and in creating visualizations to share with management/client and;
6) to become Google Analytics certified.
Other elements of the authors’ recommended outcomes were supported by the results of this study, just not as strongly or consistently. For example, although Hootsuite certification was certainly a desirable skill for most of the professionals interviewed, evidence of training in any other social media management platform (HubSpot, etc.) was also mentioned as just as favorable. However, when discussing management platforms at length, respondents repeated noted that Google Analytics training produced the most transferable knowledge and skills in their estimation.
These results reinforce the call for analytics and basic digital measurement training to be incorporated into the public relations curriculum (AMEC, 2015; CPRE, 2018; Kent et al., 2011) as well as basic social media research methodology (Stansberry, 2016); however considering these results, special emphasis should be placed on critical/analytic thinking exercises using real data and not tool-specific knowledge. In addition, our results support recent calls for public relations students to gain knowledge in business and financial basics so that they can better understand how their efforts impact their organization’s bottom line and support their work with other managerial functions (Ragas, 2019).
Limitations and Future Research
The current study was limited by the number of interview respondents. Although all 50 of the O’Dwyer’s top agencies in the sample were solicited for participation, only 15 professionals had responded positively before the early March 2020 onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic and therefore only 14 interviews were completed before major disruptions occurred prohibiting further participation during the study’s timeframe.
Future research on the topic of analytics training in communication and public relations courses might consider how critical thinking and data analysis are actually being taught and how these activities or lessons relate to Ewing et al.’s (2018) proposed learning outcomes. Considering that this study’s findings also support the scholarly argument for use of real data in such training (Kent et al., 2011; Stansberry, 2016), certifications obtained by watching videos and taking quizzes must not be the main pedagogical approach to meet course learning objectives that require analytic and critical thinking.
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Can you tell me (in general) about the analytics skills and training you look for new hires to have who come to you from college public relations or strategic communications programs?
(Category-Measuring results) Building from that, what types of metrics do you think are most important for new PR professionals to understand? (Feel free to use any terms specific to reporting or tools.)
(Category-Measuring results) Do you think it is important to differentiate between volume metrics (# of retweets) and engagement metrics (sharing, commenting)?
(Category-Understanding context/critical thinking) How important is it for new hires to understand the context of analytic data and critical thinking? For example – is this something you expect them to learn “on the job” through experience or do you expect them to be able to interpret analytic data from the beginning?
(Category-Using tools and listening) What social media monitoring and analytic tools do you believe are most important to learn? (I’ll list some for you, on a scale from 1 to 5 with 5 being absolutely essential, give me a number of how important you feel that tool is for students to learn.)
Google Analytics _______________
Google Adwords _______________
Facebook analytics _______________
Twitter analytics _______________
Instagram analytics _______________
Crimson Hexagon _______________
Other (interviewer to note) _______________
(Category-Storytelling) How important is it for new PR hires to be experienced in storytelling skills (ie. Visualize data in meaningful ways or using data in digital storytelling/writing)?
(Category-Emergent Skills) Are there any other analytics or digital reporting skills or certifications that you SPECIFICALLY look for in new hires? Please describe if so.
(Category-Outcomes) Considering your most recent hires that graduated from a public relations or strategic communication program, were there any skills or training lacking from their experience? If so, can you describe?
(Category-Emergent Skills) Finally, are there any other skills or knowledge related to analytics that you feel are becoming necessary in professional practice?
Editorial Record: Submitted to AEJMC-PRD GIFT Competition by Feb. 21, 2020. A blind copy was peer reviewed by the PRD Teaching Committee, led by Chair Chris McCollough, and selected as a Top GIFT. Top GIFT winners were notified on April 1, 2020. First published online on August 15, 2020.
Melissa Adams, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, public relations Appalachian State University Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This assignment was designed as an in-class workshop for public relations students, working in “agency teams,” as part of their senior capstone campaigns course. For the first stage of their campaign proposal (also referred to as “book”) development, students are required to research the online publics of the client organization. This work builds upon the information shared during the client briefing and helps students prepare for doing primary research of their own prior to campaign development. This assignment illustrates the value of digital research methods to understand who is already following the organization online and how they are engaging with them and their content. Finally, this assignment provides students with the opportunity to dig into analytic data and work as a team to analyze findings and develop profiles of key publics––much in the way one would in a professional agency setting.
To do this assignment, students work individually to complete the worksheet but sit together to discuss it as part of their previously formed agency teams. This arrangement allows students who may have had some exposure to online audience research or Google Analytics to assist teammates who do not, and it provides the instructor more freedom to move around the room to help each team or answer questions as needed. Each student must have access to WiFi and a device with internet access capability to complete the assignment.
Student Learning Goals
This assignment will help students gain knowledge and cultivate skills in the following areas:
Build research skills through the use of secondary data analysis (Google Analytics and social media accounts).
Develop analytic acumen through the synthesis of multiple data points to develop profiles of organizational publics.
Understand how to perform a basic social media audit for a client.
Gain experience working with actual client organization data to develop a campaign addressing current business/organizational goals.
Connection to Public Relations Practice and Theory
Understanding how to access, analyze, and synthesize digital data to provide insights into client publics as part of campaign planning and evaluation is a necessary skill in digital public relations. This assignment mimics basic research activities I performed in the industry as part of campaign planning, which involved analyzing new client social outreach and messaging issues. The assignment may be used in any public relations or social media course focused on strategy and campaign planning. However, the client must provide access to its analytics account to the instructor, which is a minor process requiring less than a minute of their time. As Google Analytics is a free service for all but the very largest organizations, it is commonly used by nonprofits as well as small to medium-sized businesses to track their online engagements and campaigns. Therefore, most instructors should be able to identify clients who use the platform. If for some reason instructor access is not possible, the assignment may easily be adapted to rely on Google Demo Account data.
In preparation for this assignment, students take part in an instructor-led tour of the client’s Google Analytics account and data to familiarize themselves with the platform and standard reports. Special emphasis is placed on the overview reports for demographics and social media traffic. This tour takes place just after client discovery at the start of the course as we discuss the research stage of campaign planning and students read the “Formative Research” section of the assigned text (Smith, 2017).
The reading complements a short lesson on public relations research and supporting theory, including the situational theory of publics and the four levels of activation publics (Grunig & Hunt, 1984; Grunig, 1997). The lesson notes that campaigns may target non-active publics and that through analysis of social media and analytics data, we can start to identify these levels of activity in the client’s online audiences. This theoretical connection is extended by asking students “Who is missing?” in relation to the client’s online publics. Thinking about inactive or latent publics as simply “missing” from the online data helps students understand that it is often just as important for practitioners to know who they are not reaching online, as it is to know about who they are, as those publics may be key to the organization (Hallahan, 2020). This critical consideration is incorporated into the assignment as a search for missing publics. Following this lesson and discussion, students are then ready to start their research, and the assignment serves as the official “kickoff” for their campaign project. Students access client analytics via a generic Gmail account set up by the instructor for this purpose and conduct searches to identify client social media accounts for observational analysis.
Evidence of Learning Outcomes
Learning outcomes for this assignment are evidenced during the in-class workshop and in the students’ written research chapter of their client campaign proposals. Additionally, students are asked to prepare and present a short research report to their classmates following data collection and analysis for the research phase of the project. The research presentations allow students an opportunity to observe, critique, ask questions, and provide peer feedback and ideas for improvements. Finally, evidence for the efficacy of this assignment has been indicated in course evaluations as students noted they appreciated the opportunity to develop “real world” experience to understand how Google Analytics and social media auditing may be used in public relations research. Evidence of both positive learning outcomes and the value of the assignment have been provided by former client organizations through anecdotal feedback at the end of the semester following student presentations and review of final campaign proposals. According to one former class client, student research produced as part of this exercise included some “eye-openers” that helped them move beyond assumptions about their online audiences.
Grunig, J. E., & Hunt, T. (1984). Managing public relations. Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Grunig, J. E. (1997). A situational theory of publics: Conceptual history, recent challenges and new research. In D. Moss, T. MacManus, & D. Vercic (Eds.), Public relations research: An international perspective (pp. 3–48). International Thomson Business Press.
Research Objective: Develop basic descriptions of the organization’s publics using Google Analytics and the client’s social media accounts to research.
Time to complete: 45 minutes to 1 hour.
This assignment helps provide the foundation for the Publics Analysis in the Research section of your campaign proposal.
Assignment: For this assignment, you willanalyze the client’s publics who are visible on owned social media accounts. You will also use Google Analytics to look at traffic visiting their website. Note the demographics represented and try to identify (by predominance) the primary public and secondary public currently engaged with their online efforts. Be sure to answer all the questions noted in the instructions!
Give each public a distinctive name that describes them demographically or by their interests (example: “Local enviro-loving millennials”). Record these on your worksheet. Also make notes of any observations about the behavior(s) of these publics that might inform your campaign (example: most engagement on the weekends). We will discuss our analysis during our next class. Be sure to turn in your worksheet when finished. (You may use the reverse of this worksheet or attach an additional sheet of paper if needed.)
Note any “missing” publics (example: ages, genders, locations the client serves that are not represented in current followers and traffic reports. (By “missing” publics, I’m referring to any groups not represented in the data we can access––but could be a target public that the organization desires to reach out to. Remember our discussion of active vs. inactive or unaware publics?)
Social Media Analysis Instructions:
Using the client website or Google search, identify ALL of the client’s social media accounts. (In addition, once these are found, go ahead and follow them (put yourself in the stream of the client’s social media communication!)
Record the metrics from their platforms (example: 22,002 Facebook followers).
Look at their social followers (user profiles)––who are they? Click on user profiles to see what you can see. Are they students? Employees? Where do they live? Try to discern some basic demos from these profiles, as well as where they live, interests, etc. Make notes on the back of this page.
Then, try to find the most popular topics and/or posts. What is the conversation about? What content has generated the most comments or interactions (shares, etc.)?
Examine at least two months of social media data. If possible, examine more (six months) to gain even more insight into their social audiences.
GA Analysis Instructions:
Log into Google Analytics (Gmail account – ____________ @gmail.com /password = _______.) BE SURE TO LOG OUT OF YOUR GMAIL & ALL GOOGLE ACCOUNTS (including Drive) FIRST!
Look at one year of data. Also look at demographics and simple data like time of day the website receives the most traffic. (To change dates, click on the dates in the top right and a box will open.)
Where does most of their web traffic come from? (Go to “Acquisition” – then “Source/medium.”)
How much of their traffic comes from social media and which platform drives the most visits? (“Social”– then “Networks.”)
REMEMBER – the goal of this assignment is to gather information for your publics research. The more detail, the better! Let me know if you need help with Google Analytics or anything else.
WORKSHEET – Please record your metrics and audience description notes below.
In the last 15 years, a veritable explosion of social media channels has entered and forever changed the practice of public relations. What does this mean for public relations educators? Well, if you are committed to preparing students for careers, it likely means you are constantly evolving your pedagogical approach. While our ethos of ethically building mutually beneficial relationships remains foundational, preparing students for the digital landscape means that we, as professors, need to consider how this fast-paced environment impacts students’ ability to think strategically and effectively produce content. In fact, the most recent Commission on Public Relations Education report (2018) indicates that employers are most concerned about what entry-level practitioners can produce and do, including writing for the web. Further, the report indicates that social media is the most highly rated technology-curriculum topic by practitioners.
In the book, Social Media for Strategic Communication: Creative Strategies and Research-Based Applications, Karen Freberg (2018), associate professor of Strategic Communication at the University of Louisville, takes a comprehensive approach to preparing students to produce social media content and enabling them to compete for industry positions with a social media focus. In the book, Freberg draws both on research and practitioner insights from various disciplines. Focusing on strategies, behaviors and mindset, the text is both a guidebook and resource for professor, practitioner and student alike. Based on her own research, experience teaching social media and significant professional connections, Freberg’s text takes the guesswork out of how to approach and teach strategic social media.
Book’s Composition and Organization
The book is thoughtfully organized into three parts, first focusing on foundations, followed by strategies, and concluding with careers. In the first part, Freberg frames strategic use of social media as both an art and science, then takes the reader through the ethical and legal considerations of communicating on social media. At the conclusion of part one, the text reinforces the importance of research by reviewing social media monitoring, listening and analysis. This framework is then built on throughout the remainder of the text.
In part two, the focus is on strategy-based campaign planning concepts ranging from audience segmentation and writing for social media to budgeting, calendaring and evaluation. Importantly, Freberg does not propose that strategic planning for social media is different from public relations. Instead, she expands on foundational concepts taught across the core of public relations curriculum. For instance, the first chapter of part two of the text takes readers through the strategic campaign planning process using language that should be familiar to any public relations student. The following chapters dive more deeply into each step and expand on the topics in a social media-specific context, including areas such as influencers, creators, managing and curating content, and common writing mistakes on social media.
In part three, the focus is on ensuring the reader understands the pervasive role of social media by covering specializations as diverse as entertainment, crisis communication, sports, nonprofit, health care and international communication. Concluding in this way allows the reader to consider how all they have learned could be applied in different disciplines and myriad interests.
Book’s Strengths and Weaknesses
As you read this review, you may be asking yourself if a book published in 2018 can remain relevant and current. The answer is yes. Rather than focusing on platform features and trends, this text offers a clear framework for developing a strategic mindset. For example, each chapter of the text begins with a “Humans of Social Media” feature that introduces the reader to thought leaders in the field. Rather than aging like so many social media case studies, these interviews provide industry relevant insights that frame the chapter content.
The utility of the text is further strengthened by the use of tables and figures that break up what could be dense reading and provide quick reference to key concepts. For example, tables that provide a comparative glimpse at performance metrics reinforce the importance of advanced and behavioral metrics as compared to basic metrics (e.g., likes, followers). Other tables offer examples for students to reflect on (e.g., sample vision statements, sample content calendars), while others offer templates for their own efforts (e.g., social media audits, content templates). Further, the thought questions and exercises that conclude each chapter offer ready-made discussion prompts and assignments that apply chapter learning outcomes to real-world scenarios.
One critique of the text could be the lack of emphasis on paid social media strategies. There are presently a few pages dedicated to the topic in the budgeting section of Chapter 10. Additional passing reference to paid content is included in relevant chapters. However, I would argue that with algorithms limiting organic reach, this topic is central to a strategic social media mindset. To overcome this limitation in my own courses, I have supplemented with digital certifications and simulation-type activities that provide a more well-rounded view. A more comprehensive discussion of the role of paid social media seems an appropriate addition for future editions of the text.
While the book provides an in-depth review of important topics like ethics and legal fundamentals, a second area for improvement would be an enhanced focus on diversity related content. For instance, including accessibility guides and multicultural perspectives would be valuable in the sections focused on understanding the target audience. Additionally, examples that highlight model approaches to equity focused social media communication would help students understand best practices. Further, lifting up diverse voices in the “Humans of Social Media” profiles and resources would also improve students’ understanding of strategic social media careers.
Who Would Benefit from Reading this Book?
When considering textbooks for a strategic social media course at my institution, I compiled a comprehensive list and narrowed the options to four possible texts. I then gathered a group of a dozen students from varying classes across the public relations curriculum and allowed them to review and offer their thoughts on the options. The students unanimously chose the Freberg text because of low cost and ease of reading, as well as features like interviews with industry insiders, tables that synthesize key topics, and an abundance of resources. I shared their sentiment and the text has now been used with high praise from students and instructors alike for three semesters.
In addition to a foundational text for social media courses, the practical insights and research-based approach of this book makes it appropriate for instructors looking to supplement their other public relations courses or activities. For example, I have referenced chapters related to monitoring, listening, and analysis in a research methods course. The book’s sections on strategic planning, budgeting, evaluation, and calendaring provide an additional resource for students developing campaign plans, such as those for the capstone. The content related to writing offers supplemental insights for a public relations writing course, or sections of a broader writing course seeking more specialized modules. This text is also useful outside of the traditional classroom. For example, the professional branding content has proved useful as part of programming for the Public Relations Student Society of America at my college. Also, I have encouraged graduates starting careers with a social media role to purchase the text as a reference guide.
Overall, this text has been well worth the financial investment for me, my students, and my graduates.
Commission on Public Relations Education. (2018). Fast forward: Foundations + future state. Educators + practitioners: The Commission on Public Relations Education 2017 report on undergraduate education. http://www.commissionpred.org/ commission-reports/fast-forward-foundations-future-state-educators-practitioners/
Note from the Editor-in-Chief: We are pleased to share Volume 6, Issue 1, which offers our readers three research articles, two teaching briefs and two book reviews. The articles cover a variety of topics: public diplomacy training around the world, a comparison of expectations for PR graduates made by practitioners at different levels in their careers, and suggestions for helping students increase their knowledge and confidence in using statistics. We believe you will gain both inspiration and guidance from the teaching briefs, as they explore multicultural training through writing assignments and building recognition of the connections within and across personal networks. Finally, the book reviews offer helpful insights into how these two books might fit into your classes.
The editorial team expanded in November 2019 to include Dr. Kelly Vibber. We are grateful to have her join us as Dr. Lucinda Austin transitions deeper into leadership within the AEJMC PR Division. Dr. Austin has been a great help these past 2 years and will be missed. I am thankful for this entire team, which invests countless hours into proofreading, formatting and preparing each issue. Their service to the field is greatly appreciated. I also want to express my gratitude to our reviewers who offer useful advice through the blind- review process and help us maintain a solid reputation. Thank you!
A publication of the Public Relations Division of AEJMC Copyright 2020 AEJMC Public Relations Division
The Journal of Public Relations Education (JPRE) is devoted to the presentation of research and commentary that advance the field of public relations education. JPRE invites submissions in the following three categories:
Learn more by visiting the About JPRE page and the Authors/Contributors page for submission guidelines. All submissions should follow the guidelines of the most recent edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA).
you didn’t know this already, prepare to be shocked. Teaching public relations
and strategic communication in this multimodal, multimedia world is a hard job.
Beyond grading and the actual physical act of teaching, those of us who profess
for a living also have to maintain a connection to industry, understand and
manage new trends and platforms (hello, virtual reality, Discord, and TikTok),
as well as attempt to make sure we cover the knowledge, skills, and abilities
that students will need in the “real world.” It feels like we can never bridge
the gap between what we can teach in our courses (which may be regulated
through curriculum committees, accreditation standards, and semester/quarter
time constraints) and what practitioners want. The Commission on Public
Relations Education’s most recent report (2018) noted that employers are
concerned about the skills and abilities of incoming practitioners and what
they can produce and do with (and without) those competencies. This sentiment echoes what other associations
have reported. Lum (2017), in the ANA’s Educational Foundation’s report on the
talent gap, wrote:
College and university curricula cannot keep pace with the rapid change going on in the industry. Course work and textbooks are out of date almost as soon as they’re published, and much that is taught about marketing and communications is outdated and unrelated to management expectations and students’ actual experience in the field. (p. 2)
media is one of those skill sets that many employers desire and professors must
teach. Several academics, such as Sandra Duhe, Karen Freberg, and Carolyn Mae
Kim, have written books that provide guidance on social media best practices,
campaign development, message development and theory. What has been lacking is
how instructors deploy these into a classroom environment. How should social
media be taught, and what content, strategies, and approaches can we use in the
classroom to not only teach social media but have students apply it? A new
addition to that crop of books is Matt Kushin’s Teach Social Media, a tome that doesn’t traverse the same material
as earlier books.
Contributions of the Book
to Kushin, we have a new book that fills the missing piece on classroom
deployment. For a long time, Kushin has generously shared his time and
expertise via his blog, and now this book fleshes out how to operate and manage
a social media class. Teach Social Media
builds a bridge between the university curricula and the demands of your
classroom. Teach Social Media is a
teaching preparation guidebook that offers a template for laddering students’
theoretical knowledge, application skills, and implementation capabilities. Few
academics learned how to teach emerging social media or how to develop a social
media class in an ever-evolving media environment. These factors collide when
we are asked to lead, take over, and develop a social media course. The genius
of this book is that Kushin walks you through the phases of the class from the
start when you, as the professor, are determining what you want your students
to learn through each week of the semester. Teach
Social Media is not focused on the how-to’s of social media, nor is it a
highly theoretical tome. It’s a book that offers the fundamentals for
scaffolding and implementing an introductory social media course. It provides
adaptable, ready-to-use class lectures and assignments on learning outcomes
focused on knowledge, skills, and abilities to guide the course and each
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Book
of the strengths of the book is the format of each chapter. Building a new
course is challenging. Luckily, Kushin lays out a 15-week semester plan for the
reader. The first chapter acclimates the reader. Each subsequent chapter
follows a pattern; also, each chapter has a full appendix. Applying theory and
practice into courses is what many of us claim to do. Kushin offers a framework
that encapsulates contemplation, reflection, and action. The WWHDR framework
presented with each unit provides the professor with a way to plan his or her
lessons. Some teaching books drown you in theory and case. This book encourages
interactivity with the text. The goal with the book and Kushin’s overall
philosophy is not to just acquire knowledge but to put that knowledge into
constructive and beneficial use. The strategy chapter (Chapter 5) and the
onboarding chapter (Chapter 1) were eye-openers. Rarely does one get the chance
to see how others assimilate the students to a course or teach strategy. It was
refreshing to see how his thinking takes the first days of class away from the
standard “introduce yourself and review the syllabus” into substantive
discussions about the structure of the course and the overarching “why” guiding
of the book’s weaknesses is accessibility. What I liked about the book (and I
bought the hard copy edition via Amazon) is you have ebook access, which
includes all assignments mentioned in the book. However, only Kindle users will
have access to the ebook, which is great for Amazon book users but
frustratingly terrible for others. The book does not have an index, which makes
it difficult if you need to zoom to a particular place. For several years there
have been broader discussions about trolling (#yourslipisshowing as an early
example that is still relevant today), race and diversity in Web 2.0, and
digital blackface. Given the issues with memes from a branding and a diversity
aspect, I do wish that these matters had been covered in the course materials.
Our students will act as brand ambassadors and communicators, and these matters
are real-life, real-time situations they will need to diagnose, manage, or
extinguish. Giving students and ourselves more room to work through these
issues while in praxis is undeniably vital to the enterprises of teaching and
Who Would Benefit from Reading this Book?
lot of books overpromise and under-deliver. Kushin’s work is the reverse: he
under-promises and over-delivers in a concise volume that should be on every
public relations professor’s shelf. This is a teaching text with an abundance
of resources, templates, and classroom strategies. Matt Kushin’s book is a
godsend for seasoned social media professors redeveloping their social media
courses or newbie academics who are incorporating social and digital projects
into their classes. The book is a step-by-step course plan for anyone teaching
a social media class, and I would argue that some of the assignments can be
reconfigured for a writing or research class. Even the most adept professor can
learn new things from this text. I know I have, and I cannot wait to put them
into practice in my own (non-social media) classes.
Editorial Record: Original draft submitted to JPRE June 13, 2019. Revision submitted August 13, 2019. Manuscript accepted for publication September 23, 2019. First published online January 21, 2020.
Studies and reports from public relations scholars,
educators, and practitioners have shown that public relations students should
gain intercultural competencies and multicultural perspectives before they
enter the public relations industry. This article explains how a blog calendar
and social media assignment for specific global markets can help students
acquire international and multicultural competencies in the area of writing for
the public relations classroom.
Keywords: writing, blog, social media,
In today’s increasingly
multicultural and globalized world, public relations professionals and students
alike need to develop skills to communicate with diverse communities within
their own country and abroad. In addition, communicators must create verbal and
visual content to reach multicultural and international audiences, particularly
with the increasing use of online platforms around the globe.
The author developed an assignment
for students in a public relations writing class to create social media content
and an editorial calendar for a blog on behalf of a fictitious retailer seeking
to connect with diverse audiences in a specific international market. This
assignment not only provided students with greater challenge and creativity but
also required them to research and learn about multicultural populations and
cultural traditions abroad.
Economic Reality and Shifting Demographics
U.S. public relations practitioners, regardless of where they work, most likely
will communicate with global markets. For example, foreign sales based on a
percentage of total Standard & Poor’s 500 sales exceeded 40%—43.6% in 2017, 43.2% in 2016, 44.3% in 2015, and 47.8% in
2014 (Silverblatt, 2018). The U.S. Small Business Association (Glaccum,
2019) touts on its website that “nearly 96 percent of consumers live outside
the U.S., and two-thirds of the world’s purchasing power is in foreign
countries” (para. 2).
The world is also experiencing shifting populations, geographical distribution
of the middle class, and religious adherents. Demographic trends show a
significant rise in global migration—among a population of 7.3 billion people, one
out of every 30 residents resides outside his or her country of birth
(International Organization for Migration, 2018)—bringing increasing diversity
to countries with existing generations of multicultural people. In 2015, half
of the 3 billion people classified as the global middle class were from Asian
countries, while the proportion of the middle class is estimated to increase to
two-thirds from Asia by 2030 (Kharas, 2017). Predictions also indicate that the
world’s religious populations will continue to shift by 2050, with Muslims
almost equaling Christians, the largest religious faith. The Buddhist
population is predicted to remain stable, while Hindu and Jewish populations,
various folk religions, and other religions (such as Baha’is, Jains, and
Sikhs) will grow in size (Pew Research Center, 2015).
Interconnectivity steadily rises
with more than half of the world online—56% of the world’s population are
active internet users (Statista, 2019a). In 2019, almost 3.5 billion people
used social media platforms, a 9% rise over the previous year (Chaffey,
2019). Facebook draws 1.47 billion
desktop daily active users and 1.57 billion mobile daily active users, with 85%
of daily active users coming from outside of North America (Omnicore, 2019a).
YouTube has over 2 billion logged-in visitors worldwide every month, with
content in 80 languages and local versions in over 100 countries (YouTube,
2019). Instagram has approximately 1 billion monthly active users (Omnicore,
2019b) with the United States leading, followed by Brazil and India (Statista,
2019b), while 79% of Twitter’s accounts are from outside the U.S. (Omnicore,
2019c). In addition, the blogosphere remains vibrant, with an estimated 505
million blogs (SoftwareFindr, 2018).
Need for Multicultural Perspectives in Public Relations
A number of scholars over the past few decades have recommended a greater emphasis on global perspectives, as well as multicultural, intercultural, and international skills for public relations students in the U.S.; they also recommend an integration of global and cultural diversity learning experiences in the classroom and overall curriculum (Bardhan, 2003; Creedon & Al-Khaja, 2005; Sriramesh, 2009; Zaharna, 2000). Taylor (2001) called for “internationalization” in undergraduate education to enable students to become competent and culturally sophisticated public relations professionals in the global arena. Over the past decade, studies have examined other dimensions of global public relations education. Tsetsura (2011) recommended that students learn multidimensional diversity, with an analysis of master characteristics and interactional identities, to prepare for communicating within a global marketplace. Azionya et al. (2019) addressed the benefits of a value-based education approach that fosters an ethical and poly-contextual examination of diverse societies in public relations education. Wolf and Archer (2016) looked at successful learning outcomes for communicators to effectively manage in a global and digital era, which acknowledges not only technological skills, but “more importantly [demands] excellent on- and offline communication skills, tolerance, empathy and diplomacy” (p. 9).
Connection to Practice
The Commission on Public Relations
Education 2017 Report on Undergraduate Education (2018) ranked writing for all
platforms as a top skill for public relations. It addressed the desirability of
diverse multicultural perspectives for entry-level job candidates in public
relations. The report included diversity and inclusion results from the 2016
omnibus survey and found that public relations practitioners and professors
rated diversity and inclusion as important KSAs (Knowledge, Skills, and
Abilities) for new hires to have; for practitioners, the concept of diversity
and inclusion was one of the top three ranked areas of knowledge needed by new
hires. Practitioners “value candidates who demonstrate a multicultural
perspective, but also indicated that they are not seeing that perspective” (p.
143-144). Not surprising, writing ranked as the most desirable skill (4.88 out
of 5), followed by communication (4.76) and social media management (4.33). The
report also examined preferred characteristics for new employees, which again
pointed to writing performance as highly desired by practitioners (4.88), but
not found as frequently as desired (2.90).
The Global Communications Report
(USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, 2019) surveyed both public
relations practitioners and students about their views on the future impact of
technology in the field. Following the PESO model (paid, earned, shared, and
owned media), CEOs selected shared media (social media and online influencers)
as the most valuable media for the future at 38%, whereas students ranked shared
media as even more important at 70%. Another finding was the importance of the
storytelling characteristics of imagery in the future: “YouTube and Instagram,
whose popularity are based on photographs and videos, are projected to be the
big winners in an era of decreasing attention span” (USC Annenberg Center for
Public Relations, 2019, p. 30).
Assignment and Implementation
A multicultural blog and social
media assignment was introduced in a 300-level Writing for Public Relations
course that requires students to create an editorial calendar for a new blog
and write content and select visual imagery for specific social media platforms
for a certain country. The author created a fictitious American-based retailer
of home accessories and food products (a blend of Williams Sonoma, Sur La
Table, and Pier 1), which was launching stores in a new international market.
The fictitious co-founders of the retailer are a man and woman, with one from
the U.S. and the other from another country. The retailer sells home décor,
kitchenware, dinnerware, serving dishes, seasonal decorations, and food
products from around the world. This context provides students with the ability
to draw upon rich opportunities for storytelling and visual imagery. Food, for
example, plays an important part in cultures of all kinds and continues to be a
tradition handed down from generation to generation, particularly during the
holidays and special occasions. Avid cooks of any background also enjoy trying
recipes from other cultures. Croatian-Italian-American celebrity chef Lidia
Bastianich (PBS, 2017) explains the cultural significance of food: “Food feeds
our souls. It is the single great unifier across all cultures. The table offers
a sanctuary and a place to come together for unity and understanding” (para.
1). In addition, the fictional retailer’s holiday decorations provide content
to illustrate diverse secular and non-secular celebrations on online platforms.
To date, the assignment has covered
Australia, Canada, England, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Africa. The
country or countries for new markets can vary by semester. Students are
required to reset the English language setting on Microsoft Word, which
currently offers 16 versions of English. Although the computerized English
language settings do not capture all nuances, they do help students grasp key
differences between American English and other versions of English.
Before students work on the
assignment, the instructor should cover the following topics:
Intercultural and multicultural writing considerations on editing U.S. idioms
and applying culturally sensitive verbal and visual content that avoids ethnocentrism
and othering (i.e., avoid language “used to
communicate instances of perpetuating prejudice, discrimination, and injustice
either through deliberate or ignorant means,”
MacQuarrie, 2010, p. 635);
An overview of social media strategies, such as establishing clear
communication goals and building brand awareness with relatable, shareable, and
interactive content appealing to specific audiences, and writing tactics to
attract a following;
Preferred terms (following the latest edition of The Associated Press Stylebook), ethics,
and decorum for blogs and social media platforms, along with real-world
examples of blogs, tweets, and posts with impactful and appropriate visual
Students are required to research a
specific country’s diverse population and religious preferences, as well as its
national, secular, and religious holidays, in order to create content that
makes the retailer’s products relatable with a soft-sell approach to the new
market. The first part of the assignment is preparing a 12-month editorial
calendar for a new blog. Students develop various story ideas (headline and
first few sentences) that address the opening dates of the new stores;
religious holidays celebrated by the diverse population; leading secular and
national holidays; and other special events that celebrate the country’s
diversity (a few examples in Canada could include National Indigenous Peoples
Day, Toronto Caribbean Carnival, Small World Music Festival, TD Mosaic Fest,
and Pride Toronto).
Drawing upon the topics in the blog
editorial calendar, students then create content for Twitter (three tweets with
proposed handle, hashtags and image), Facebook (three posts with images,
hashtag, and copy), Instagram (three posts with image, hashtag, and copy), and
YouTube (explanations for three different videos describing visuals, story
concept, and storytellers).
Students would require a minimum of
one week to work on the assignment, which can be completed on an individual
basis or in collaboration with one other student. Instructors should allocate
one class session for in-class writing, where instructors can review and
discuss drafts with students. A debriefing should take place after the
assignments are graded and returned. The professor can show examples of both
high- and lesser-quality student work (without identifying the students) on
PowerPoint and engage in a discussion on culturally appropriate and respectful
content with the entire class.
An assignment example with Canada as
the new market is included in the Appendix.
The key learning objectives for the
multicultural blog and social media assignment are as follows: 1) to identify
cultural traditions and holidays that showcase the diversity of the population
in other countries; 2) to compose visual and verbal content for the blog
calendar and social media platforms; and 3) to develop intercultural writing
skills in communicating with specific global audiences and their diverse
populations, as well as skills for communicating online with the LGBTQ
Assignments are evaluated on the
students’ ability to accomplish the following: 1) to demonstrate knowledge of a
range of holidays and cultural traditions covering diverse religions and populations
in a specific country; 2) to write culturally respectful copy and select
supporting imagery; 3) to incorporate the retailer’s founders and types of food
and home accessory products in the blog’s editorial calendar and social media
platforms as appropriate by using a tasteful, soft-sell approach; and 4) to
edit and proofread copy thoroughly. This assignment counts for 10% of the total
The author has observed that
students seem to enjoy learning about cultural traditions in other countries
and find the assignment engaging yet rigorous. One challenge has been helping
the students learn how to write with an authentic voice, not one that sounds
like hard-sell advertisements. Other students may need help learning how to
avoid American idiomatic expressions. The solution can be to show examples of
real-world tweets and posts that highlight various respectful, soft-sell
Although this assignment was
designed for the Writing for PR course, it could be used in an International
Public Relations course. With technology constantly evolving, the social media
platforms could be adjusted to apply the most popular social media platforms
worldwide. In addition, the instructor could change the “client” from a
retailer of home accessories and food products to another type of organization.
As noted earlier, the country selection could vary and include more than one
Azionya, C., Oksiutycz, A., & Benecke, D. R. (2019). A model for value based public relations education in a diverse and poly-contextual society. Public Relations Review, 45(3), 101767. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2019.04.001
Bardhan, N. (2003). Creating spaces for international and multi(inter)cultural perspectives in undergraduate public relations education. Communication Education, 52(2), 164-172. https://doi.org/10.1080/03634520302473
Creedon, P., & Al-Khaja, M. (2005). Public relations and globalization: Building a case for cultural competency in public relations education. Public Relations Review, 31(3), 344–354. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2005.05.021
EDITORIAL CALENDAR FOR BLOG AND SOCIAL MEDIA CONTENT
Assignment Guidelines: Your new “client,” Home Decor & Celebrations (a fictitious company like a blend of Pier 1, Sur La Table, and Williams Sonoma), is a retail chain based in Chicago, with 10 stores across the U.S., with new stores opening in Toronto, Ontario, in September 20XX and in Vancouver, British Columbia, in March 20XX. The company sells home accessories, such as rugs, lighting, and window treatments; decorations for the holiday indoors and outdoors; dinnerware sets, cutlery, serving dishes, cookware, table linens, glasses, and barware; and coffees, teas, sauces, rubs, spices, oils, vinegars, pastas, condiments, baking mixes, cocktail mixes, and food gift sets. The company focuses on selling distinctive decorative, culinary, and utilitarian products from around the world.
also has hired a team of experts to prepare tips on how to decorate and
entertain for various holidays and celebrations; how to use spices and sauces
to liven up dishes; and how to decorate your home or apartment with
founders are James Chandler, who was a chef at one of Chicago’s most celebrated
steakhouses, and Amanda Chang, who is from Vancouver and an award-winning
interior designer in North America. They both have traveled to all continents
and started an online business selling cookware, spices, and home decor from
their journeys, and they later set up retail outlets in major cities in North
“client” needs your help in creating an editorial calendar for a new blog and
social media content that announces the opening of the new stores and
celebrates different holidays and religions in its new market, which reflect
the multicultural diversity of the country’s population. The company wants to
appeal to diverse consumers at different stages of life—young professionals
setting up their first home, newlyweds, and parents. The retailer sells low
budget to higher-end products, many of which would be hard to find elsewhere.
of interest on ethnicity, religion, holidays, and special events in Canada:
1. Create a 12-month Editorial Calendar for the Canadian Market.
Develop content for a new blog that
provides how-to advice and tips on decorating one’s home and celebrating
holidays and special events in Canada, as outlined in required topics. Give the
blog a creative name and prepare an editorial calendar for a 12-month period,
with three different story ideas for every month of appeal to this market. You
can make up guest bloggers and add expert advice from the founders for some of
the topics. Think about tips, fun trivia, and top ways to make things better or
simpler.Write a headline for each
story idea and a brief description (using full sentences) of two to four lines.
Please use the template posted on Sakai.
Required Topics: The blog calendar must include the following events and holidays that tie in social gatherings, cooking, celebrations, holidays, decorating, and the seasons:
Acknowledgement of the opening dates of the two new stores in Canada;
Christian, Muslim, and Jewish holidays, as well as Lunar New Year, Vesak Day, and Diwali;
Secular holidays, such as Thanksgiving and National Indigenous Peoples Day;
National holidays celebrated in Canada, such as Victoria Day;
Special events in both cities that celebrate Canada’s culture and diversity, as well as the LGBTQ community.
2. Develop Examples of Social Media Content for the Canadian Market.
Create content for a variety of
social media that would position the retailer as the go-to source for advice on
home décor and recipes for special occasions and holidays for its multicultural
markets. You will have to use your imagination and find relevant images
online—and identify special occasions and holidays in the country. Remember the
retailer is trying to sell its products—but use a soft sell approach. Please
address the country’s diverse audiences and religions, as well as holidays and
special events. Refer to the blog calendar for ideas on topics.
Prepare content for each of the
following social media platforms targeted to the country:
Twitter (three tweets with a
maximum of 280 characters and proposed handle and hashtags plus image)
Facebook (three posts with
images, hashtag, and copy with full sentences)
Instagram (three posts with
image, hashtag, and copy with full sentences)
YouTube (concept for three
different videos; describe in full sentences—visuals, story concept, and
English: Reset the Review/Language setting to English (Canada). In the real world, the copy would be edited to Canadian English, which mostly uses Oxford English spelling, along with a French-language version. Apply such writing characteristics as culturally appropriate and respectful language; authentic and human tone, not institutionalized and hard sell; helpful and engaging tips and news; and relatable verbal and visual content for people to like, share, comment, or bookmark. See Sakai Resources/Social Media for links to articles about creating social media content for businesses and developing verbal and visual content for international audiences. Refer to your stylebook for usage of terms (gender, race, and religion, etc.).
At a time when an increased amount of reputational issues pop on social media platforms, and organizations’ constituents are more willing to take them to task publicly, the window for public relations professionals between getting it right and getting it right now continues to narrow. For many professionals, this calls for a need to reset leadership and constituent expectations while rethinking their approach to issues and crisis planning and online engagement strategy, especially as the two areas continue to merge.
In the book Social Media and Crisis Communication, book editors Lucinda Austin, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Yan Jin, associate professor at the University of Georgia, take a comprehensive look at the state of crisis communications research and the implications that the rise of social media has had on the field. This book couldn’t have come at a more important time as the quick and public nature of social media allows anyone with a handle to more easily challenge organizations, causing many public relations professionals to rethink their issues and crisis response strategies and approach to online reputation management.
This is the first book that explores the nexus of social media and crisis communications research and the new challenges that have emerged. For example, Chapter 2 author Timothy Coombs notes how social media has pushed many prevention and mitigation efforts by organizations in the traditionally private pre-crisis phrase into the public eye (p. 25). This public challenge by a stakeholder, organizational faux pas, or angry customer complaint is referred to as a paracrisis. In Chapter 4, Valentini et. al. note that “social media have become the milieu in which many crises are discussed, if not formed” (p. 57).
The book covers a large body of research and is divided into themed sections, including current and emerging issues of social media and crisis communication, overviews of dominant research streams, emerging theories and frameworks, areas for special consideration, future directions, and applications in specific areas of crisis. Additionally, the editors note that the book addresses some themes throughout different chapters, including the need for more dialogic approaches to crisis communication via social media and measurement of social media engagement in crisis communication response. These recurring ideas show a consistent need for implementation in public relations strategies and potential ideas for future crisis research.
The Dialogic Approach
Because of the interactivity and user-generated nature of social media, multiple chapter authors argue that crisis communication practices need to shift away from typical stakeholder-informing communications toward a more dialogic approach. For example, Valentini et al. say that little research currently exists, but it is needed to understand organizations’ potential use of dialogic communication with stakeholders via social media. They argue that two-way dialogic communication is an important step toward establishing credibility and trust and that stakeholder interactions can also be leveraged to add third-party voices to the mix.
The book also covers the shift over the past decade from organizational approaches to audience-oriented and public-centered approaches for crisis communications, focusing on dialogic communication and stakeholder engagement. In Chapter 19, Guidry and Messner acknowledge that social media opens up two-way communication opportunities, but many organizations have been hesitant to embrace the possibilities and continue to use the platforms ineffectively as a “one-way megaphone” (p. 270).
In Chapter 9, Fraustino and Liu surmise that in crisis scholarship and, to some extent, social media crisis scholarship, a focus on an audience’s perspective is on the rise, placing an emphasis on ethical communications. They add that some gaps remain as the scholarship shifts, including the need to consider publics and outcome measures that aren’t just focused on the organization’s short- and long-term survival, but more so on the social good—the audience response during a crisis as a whole. In Chapter 5, Hung-Baesecke and Bowen add that organizations need to consider the ethics of engaging with stakeholders on social media when planning crisis strategies, including the fact that being “authentic” helps organizations in the long-run (p. 74).
Measurement of Social Media Engagement in Crisis Communication Response
Along the theme of measurable goals, Austin and Jin suggest more research is needed to continue to assess the effectiveness of crisis communications messaging, especially on different social media platforms. In Chapter 3, Goodman, for example, explained that the quality of proactive issues management (monitoring for issues, building and maintaining relationships, and implementing an effective issues-response system) is “usually a direct result of how rigorously those efforts are measured” and how specific goals are defined, especially in the “issues mapping” process (p. 65). In other words, the more you can show the value, the more support organizational leadership will have for proactive prevention. Conversely, as evidenced by Fraustino and Liu, the value to the organization should not be the only consideration. Ethically, organizations should have a concern for the effectiveness of communications on directing audiences during a crisis, to create not only a good organizational image but also to benefit the public.
Social Media Crisis Communication Models
The book explores the development of different types of crisis communications models, including Coombs’ situational crisis communications theory (SCCT), Benoit’s image-repair theory, and Cameron and colleagues’ contingency theory of strategic conflict management, in conjunction with the role of social media in crisis communications. It also explores the only social-media specific crisis communications model, Austin and Jin’s social-mediated crisis communications (SMCC) model.
The authors did a nice job of explaining these models and showing examples of putting them into practice. Austin and Jin identify the need for a focus on developing better theories and frameworks specific to communicating a crisis on social media platforms, instead of attempting to adapt the existing theories. Austin and Jin suggest this approach for future research, citing the need for “prescribing strategic solutions and recommendations for crisis managers who look for science-based insights tailored for a relatively focused and specialized crisis communication arena” (p. 450).
Visual Elements and Social Media Crisis Communication
The book also addresses the visual nature of social media, including the potential benefits of integrating images and graphics into crisis responses. In Chapter 19, Guidry and Messner show how the more visually focused platform Pinterest contributes to pro- and anti-vaccination health communications. Janoske expands on the benefits of visuals in Chapter 22, writing about how natural disaster images help the public understand and emotionally cope in recovery. She shows how social media allows members of the public to form communities when sharing emergency information and photos during a crisis and how crisis communicators can use these online visual communities to better understand the situation and inform their communications strategies for the publics they serve.
Austin and Jin conclude the book by acknowledging new areas of research opportunities, noting the fact that social media technology is so rapidly changing calls for continued research as crisis communications adjusts to developing platforms.
This is an excellent, informative, and well-researched book with contributions from many well-established authors in both the crisis communications and social media research fields. The book gives a comprehensive overview of the current state of research and offers suggestions for the future as these two areas continue to overlap. It thoroughly covers the emergence of crisis communications theory and its increasingly common intersection with social media, and, I would argue, will serve as a bedrock resource for the next wave of research.
The book is valuable for academics and professional practitioners alike. The variety of examples of organizations and types of crises studied in the “application” section makes it a great tool for public relations practitioners, in particular. At 461 pages, this book is expansive, but its thoughtful organization and high-level approach lend it to easily be used as a textbook for a graduate course on the topic.