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Special Issue Call for Papers | Leadership, Mentorship and DEI in the Post-Pandemic Public Relations Classroom

Special Issue – Volume 8 (4), Journal of Public Relations Education

Full manuscript submission deadline: June 1, 2022

Special Issue Co-Editors:

Juan Meng, Ph.D.  Department of Advertising & Public Relations, University of Georgia, jmeng@uga.edu

Nilanjana Bardhan, Ph.D. Department of Communication Studies, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, bardhan@siu.edu


The combined effects of COVID-19 and racial unrest following the killing of George Floyd have significantly changed how we teach, and the PR classroom is no exception. Numerous webinars have been hosted by the Public Relations Society of America, the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and the Institute for Public Relations, to name some, to discuss race and diversity/inclusion/equity (DEI) in the classroom and industry. This special issue will add the topics of leadership and mentorship to the mix, and specifically focus on the intersections of leadership and mentorship in fostering DE&I in public relations education. Leadership and mentorship are especially important during times of upheaval, uncertainty and radical change. Educators and students are grappling with new pedagogical challenges, and we need scholarship that can aid in navigating these challenges and discovering opportunities (Bardhan & Gower, 2020).

The Commission on Public Relations Education (CPRE) has unequivocally emphasized the pressing need to make DE&I an integral part of public relations education, especially the undergraduate curriculum, for the purpose of “creating a more diverse school-to-industry pipeline” (Mundy et al., 2018, p. 144). This work requires proactive leadership and mentorship. Research over the decades shows a clear link between leadership engagement and DE&I. Educators play a critical and instructive role in enhancing students’ competitive advantage by incorporating leadership content and training into undergraduate curriculum (Meng, 2013, 2015).

The purpose of this special issue call is to invite research articles, teaching briefs, scholarly and critical essays, and case studies, and we are especially interested in articles that explore BOTH the challenges and opportunities for public relations pedagogy focusing on leadership and mentorship and how the mix could foster a more diverse, equal and inclusive environment in public relations classroom.  Submissions that offer practical knowledge and guidance for undergraduate and graduate public relations education are encouraged as are articles that enhance our theoretical understanding of this topic. We invite original submissions, and areas of focus could include but are not limited to:

  • Pedagogical, theoretical and practical implications of jointly engaging leadership and mentorship to foster DE&I in undergraduate and/or graduate public relations education
  • Current challenges associated with teaching PR at the intersections of leadership/mentorship/DE&I
  • Resources that aid in teaching PR at the intersections of leadership/mentorship/DE&I
  • Best practices ranging from experiential learning, activities and cases for teaching PR at the intersections of leadership/mentorship/DE&I
  • PRSSA and other PR student organizations and extracurricular activities as a site for learning and teaching PR at the intersections of leadership/mentorship/DE&I
  • The role of leadership and mentorship in cultivating a diverse generation of future leaders
  • The role of student leaders in advancing DE&I
  • Creation of platforms and networks to connect educators, practitioner and students for enhancing leadership/mentorship/DE&I in PR pedagogy
  • Curricular issues related to teaching PR at the intersections of leadership/mentorship/DEI
  • Faculty preparation/training and peer mentoring for teaching PR to advance DE&I in this time of great uncertainty
  • Structural issues for teaching PR at the intersections of leadership/mentorship/DE&I (e.g., how to recruit more diverse students and faculty)

Contributions that provide insights with robust pedagogical, practical and theoretical implications and recommendations on leadership, mentorship and DE&I in post-pandemic public relations education will be given the highest consideration.

Submission Guidelines:

Submissions should follow the Author Guidelines on the JPRE website. Authors should include the special call name in parentheses after their manuscript title to indicate the submission is for this particular special call. Authors should submit their manuscript through Scholastica, the online submission system for JPRE. All submissions will be anonymously reviewed, following the guidelines of JPRE. Authors must use APA style for citations, references, tables and figures caption. All identifying information must be deleted before full paper submissions.

Timeline with Key Dates:

  • Deadline for full manuscript submission to JPRE’s Scholastica submission portal: https://jpre.scholasticahq.com/ June 1, 2022
  • Notification of review results, including invitations for revision and resubmission (R&R): August 1, 2022
  • Deadline for R&R submission: September 1, 2022
  • Scheduled Publication: Volume 8 Issue 4 (November/December 2022)

Selected References:

Bardhan, N., & Gower, K. (2020). Student and faculty/educator views on diversity and inclusion in public relations: The role of leaders in bringing about change. Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(2), 102-141. Available at https://journalofpreducation.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/d7c44-pdf-of-bardhan-and-gower-2020-from-jpre-6.2-1.pdf

Meng, J. (2013). Learning by leading: Integrating leadership in public relations education for an enhanced value. Public Relations Review, 39(5), 609-611.

Meng, J. (2015). Integrating leadership in public relations education to develop future leaders. Journal of Public Relations Education, 1(1), 31-37. Available at https://aejmc.us/jpre/2015/08/04/integrating-leadership-in-public-relations-education-to-develop-future-leaders/

Mundy, D., Lewton, K., Hicks, A., & Neptune, T. (2018). Diversity: An imperative commitment for educators and practitioners. In Fast Forward: The 2017 Report on undergraduate public relations education (pp. 139-148). Commission on Public Relations Education. Available at: http://www.commissionpred.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/report6-full.pdf

Any questions or inquiries about the special issue?

Please contact guest editors by email: Dr. Juan Meng at jmeng@uga.edu and/or Dr. Nilanjana Bardhan at bardhan@siu.edu

Captioning Social Media Video

Editorial Record: Original draft submitted June 29, 2020. Revision submitted August 9, 2020. Manuscript accepted for publication September 11, 2020. First published online May 2021.


Lakshmi N. Tirumala
Assistant Professor
Digital Media Production
Drake University
Des Moines, IA
Email: lakshmi.tirumala@drake.edu

Ed Youngblood
Professor and Associate Director
Media Studies Auburn University 
Auburn, AL
Email: ney0002@auburn.edu


Research suggests that the majority of Facebook users typically watch videos with the audio off and often skip over videos that require them to turn on audio, particularly when users are on a mobile device. To counter this tendency, content creators need to caption their social media videos. In many cases, content creators should also be captioning their video because of legal accessibility requirements, particularly if they are producing content for educational institutions or government agencies. In the U.S., these laws might include the Americans with Disabilities Act and Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. This article offers instructions for preparing captions for videos distributed on social media, including guidance on writing quality captions, using captioning tools, and suggested classroom activities. 

Keywords: accessibility, captions, ethics, public relations education, teaching

Ethics is a critical component of public relations (PR) education and interviews with leading PR professionals suggest there are gaps in the ethical components of PR education (Bortree, 2019). While there is little discussion in the PR education literature about making content accessible to people with disabilities, accessibility fits into the Commission on Public Relations Education’s call for incorporating ethics across the curriculum, including the need for students to be knowledgeable in making information accessible, respect for others, and acting in the public interest (Bortree et al., 2019). Accessibility is important to the general public. The presence of website accessibility credentials can positively affect public perceptions of company corporate responsibility (Katerattanakul et al. 2018). There have also been broader calls for incorporating accessibility, including captioning, into the mass communication and PR curricula (Youngblood et al., 2018). 

Why Teach Captioning?

Social media (SM) is a critical PR element and PR students need skills in SM tools and practices that help them effectively reach their target audience (Kinsky et al., 2016). Video is an important part of the PR SM toolbox and students should understand how to make video accessible. Captioning, onscreen-text describing a video’s audio component (Federal Communication Commission [FCC], 2018), is an important element of that process. Captioning makes sense from an ethical perspective because messaging needs to be inclusive. Almost 8 million Americans are deaf or hard of hearing (DHoH) (Brault, 2012) and captioning allows DHoH audience members to participate in the video culture. In silent films, dialogue appeared as on-screen text, so DHoH only missed music played along with the film. Sound-based movies, introduced in 1927, disenfranchised DHoH and captioned films in the US did not appear until 1951. US television captioning began with WGBH’s 1972 captioned version of Julia Child’s The French Chef, which relied on open captions—text that is an integral part of the film/video and viewers cannot turn off (Downey, 2008). Broadcasters soon switched to closed captions, captions viewers can turn on and off, a technique that can also be used for SM video.

Captioning SM video prevents disenfranchising DHoH SM users and also makes sense based on how many people use SM video. Around 85% of users consume SM video with the audio muted, (Patel, 2016), and SM platforms, particularly Facebook, stress captioning’s importance in meeting audience expectations (Facebook for Business, n.d., 2016). Captioning offers benefits when the audio is not muted as well. Dual-coding theory argues people absorb information better when presented simultaneously in multiple modalities, (Paivio, 1990), and captioned video has broad societal benefits among the non-DHoH population, including promoting language acquisition and increasing literacy. Captioning helps with recall. Students retain information better when they watch videos with captions and, more importantly from a PR perspective, people have better brand recall when watching captioned material (Gernsbacher, 2015). Closed captioning improves search engine optimizations (SEO) as search engines can crawl the caption files. Search engines cannot read open captions (3Play Media, n.d.).

Many organizations fall under online-accessibility mandates, particularly government agencies and schools (Youngblood et al., 2018). Federal laws addressing captioning include 

  • Television Decoder Circuity Act (1990): requiring televisions have closed caption Circuitry Act;
  • Telecommunications Act of 1996: established broadcast caption requirements;
  • Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act: required government and education electronic media accessibility;
  • Twenty-First Century Communication and Video Accessibility Act (2010): required increased online video captioning. 

While the 1990 Americans with Disability Act (ADA) was designed for the brick-and-mortar world, in 2012, federal judge Michael Ponsor extended it to the virtual world in the National Association for the Deaf’s captioning lawsuit against Netflix, making it all the more important that PR students understand captioning (Youngblood et al., 2018). 

This combination of ethical and legal imperatives, coupled with user preferences, argues that understanding captioning should be an integral part of teaching PR students about SM video. This article provides background material to help set up an introductory lesson in captioning, including captioning best practices, multiple approaches to creating captions, and outlining a captioning assignment and how to assess it. The article assumes students already have a basic understanding of working with timeline-based media.

Captions and Creating Quality Captions

Captioning is not just repeating on-screen dialogue. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) offers a captioning framework: captions should be accurate, synchronized with the video, complete (all voices and important sounds captioned), and well placed—not obscuring important information (FCC, 2018). If you watch captioned video, you will find that captioning practices vary. For this article, we are drawing on The Described and Captioned Media Program’s (n.d.) Captioning Key. If only one person is speaking, captioning can be relatively easy—make sure that the captions match exactly what is said, typically including grammatical errors and ‘errs’ and ‘ums.’ With the exception of live television captions, most closed-captioned text should be sentence case, with all uppercase indicating someone is speaking loudly. When additional voices are added, captioners may need to add identifiers to clarify who is speaking, putting the name in parentheses and the spoken text on the next line:


Aunt Linda, how great to hear from you.

Again, conventions vary, as it would not be uncommon to see this caption written on a single line. Important background sounds may need to be captioned, typically setting the sound inside brackets, such as an engine revving up being [engine revving]. Off screen sounds can also be important. If a person looks up when an off-camera door is heard closing, the sound should be captioned [door closes]. Music should be captioned. Examples include [music] and captioning the music’s tone [relaxing music]. In the captions shown in Figure 3, the lyrics for the background music were included because they were important to the video’s content. The captions identify the artist and the song [The Newbeats play “Bread and Butter”] and mark the lyrics with a musical note—♪—at the beginning and end. The key is making sure captions convey all important audio information. Viewers also need to know when there is not any audio for the video [no audio] or unexpected quiet [silence] (Described and Captioned Media Program, n.d.). Captioners need to be careful how they format caption text, and the readability section of Table 1 provides some highlights based on Captioning Key (Described and Captioned Media Program, n.d.)—an article that can be used as a reading assignment. Readers interested in a deeper dive into captioning should read Reading Sounds (Zdenek, 2015) and Closed Captioning (Downey, 2008).

Closed captions work by pairing a video file with a text-based caption file. There are over 30 closed captioning formats (3Play Media, n.d.). U.S. students will most likely use SubRip (.SRT) and the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Video Text Tracks (WebVTT or .VTT) and  need to be aware of which format a given SM platform supports. These text files provide media players with caption text and how long to display the captions. The captions below are from an .SRT for a documentary on the first Apollo moon landing. The number at the beginning of each section identifies the order of the captioning segment. The paired set of numbers on the next line tells the player when to display the caption that follows. These numbers are written in hours: minutes: seconds: milliseconds. 


00:00:10,500 –> 00:00:12,900


We copy you down Eagle.


00:00:13,000 –> 00:00:16,700

(Tranquility Base) 

Houston, Tranquility Base here.


00:00:16,800 –> 00:00:18,400

The Eagle has landed.

In some cases, the final set of time code digits may indicate a frame number and set off by a semi-colon rather than comma. As an example, 00:00:04;18 describes the 18th frame after the four-second mark. Be careful when editing captioning files in a text editor to make sure the correct number of digits are present or the media player may not render the caption correctly. .VTT code is similar, but uses a period rather than comma to separate seconds and milliseconds, e.g., 00:00:47.564 –> 00:00:49.49 and has the option to include formatting and placement information (W3C, 2019). As .VTT and .SRT are text documents, they can be created in a basic text editor such as Notepad. The process is easier with a captioning tool, whether built into the platform like Facebook’s or a stand-alone tool, like Kapwing’s. 

Bringing captioning into the classroom

This captioning assignment was used in an upper-level video production class that included PR majors. The students responded well to the assignment and reported gaining an appreciation of what captions bring to audience members and the effort it takes to create quality captions. The assignments objectives are 1) to understand the ethical responsibility of making media content accessible, 2) to learn the importance of captioning video content, 3) to understand captioning best practices, and 4) to acquire the skills to use captioning tools. Students should learn to include captions as soon as they begin planning and producing SM video and need to understand which captioning type to use. Facebook and Twitter support closed captioning, while Instagram does not and needs open captions. Captioning is particularly important to integrate into client-based projects where students have the opportunity to serve as captioning advocates, helping educate clients about best practices. When setting up the captioning assignment, students need to understand why captioning is important. In addressing this issue, the instructor should discuss

  • Ethical imperatives for inclusive design and meeting the all users’ needs;
  • Legal requirements for inclusive design and captioning, particularly for government and educational institutions (Sections 504 and 508) and the federal court’s 2012 application of ADA to the virtual world; 
  • Meeting user captioning expectations, particularly for mobile devices; 
  • Added PR benefits, particularly SEO and increased brand recognition when captions are used alongside audio. 

Next, the instructor should discuss captioning best practices (see Table 1), including FCC guidelines, and have students watch a muted video and discuss what information they are missing without captions. Crisis/emergency communication is particularly suited for this exercise and encourages discussing ethical and legal concerns. The instructor should then introduce a captioning tool and discuss how to use the tool. We provide discussions of Facebook’s captioning tool and Kapwing’s Subtitler below (see Table 2 for additional tools). Drawing on captioning best practices, the students should caption 30-seconds of video provided by the instructor. The video should have important background sounds and music, as well as off-camera voices. Depending on time, students can begin with auto-generated captions or be given a script. The instructor should stress that copy-and-pasting the scripted lines is not effective caption. Evaluate student captions using the rubric in Table 1. As an alternative, faculty can use this first attempt at captioning as an opportunity for discussion and have students compare their captioning choices, either in small groups or as a class, and discuss their decisions. 

Facebook’s Captioning Tool

Facebook auto-plays muted videos as users scroll through their feeds (Constine, 2017), and having a text-version of dialogue helps draw user attention. The captioning tool is not available for personal feeds, so students need to choose their distribution methods carefully. This tutorial covers captioning during upload, but the process is similar when captioning existing video and when adding second-language subtitles. To add video content find the “Video” option in the left-hand menu—you may need to click “See more.” On the Video page, upload the video by clicking “Upload Video” and locating your video in the file browser. On the left side of the Upload Video page (see Figure 1), add a title, description, appropriate tags, and the video’s spoken language. Select “Subtitles & Captions (CC)” on the page’s right-hand side to begin captioning and confirm the video’s main spoken language. Facebook offers three options: uploading an .SRT, auto-generating captions, and writing captions. In all three cases, you will probably use the caption editing tool. 

You have to use the correct file naming convention when uploading an .SRT: filename.[language code)_[country code].srt. As an example, the filename for Fred and the voice of food safety (Food and Drug Administration [FDA], n.d.) might be “fredFoodSafety.en_US.srt,” identifying the SRT as encoded in English as spoken in the U.S. Facebook provides a list of supported language and country codes (Facebook, n.d.). Once you upload the .SRT (see Figure 2), a “Captions Added” box with the text “English:Uploaded” appears with a pencil (edit) and x (delete). Underneath select the default captioning language, which sets a default caption version to show if the user’s preference is not available. You can add additional captions/subtitles in other languages. Watch the video to confirm the captions imported correctly by selecting the pencil (edit). Watch for timing and for encoding problems, such as an apostrophe appearing as ’. Use the editor to fix any errors.

You can have Facebook auto-generate captions by clicking the Auto-Generate button. The “Captions Added” option will show “English:Autogenerated.” The captions will need editing, which you can do by selecting the pencil (edit) option. In addition to fixing mis-transcribed words, add identifiers to show who is speaking and caption important background sounds. 

The last option is to create captions from scratch by clicking “Write.” This process is easier if you have a script to cut-and-paste text from. When you open the caption editor, it will ask you to select what language the captions are written in. Once you select the language, you will see a list of time markers on the right side of the editor (see Figure 3), including predefined time ranges. The numbers are measured in minutes:seconds:thousandths-of-a-second. You can adjust the numbers by clicking on them, but time spans cannot overlap between clips. To start captioning at the beginning of the video, enter captions in the first time-block, usually starting a half-second into the video. Each time-block represents a single captioning line. As you add lines of text, you will need to adjust the times for each box accordingly. You can adjust a caption’s time on screen in the editor underneath the video, clicking on the beginning or end of the blue captioning box and dragging it to the desired time. You can also drag captions around on the timeline, though at the time of this writing, the drag option does not always work correctly. 

If you need to add captions after you upload or edit captions, you will need to open your Video Library to get to the caption editor. To get to the editor, follow the Publishing Tools link in the top page navigation bar and then look for the Video Library link in the left-hand navigation. When you hover over a video title, there will be a pencil icon that will let you edit the video. Select the Subtitles & Captions (CC) button to get to the captioning options. 

Facebook does not provide an easy way to retrieve the caption file it creates, making it difficult to reuse captions in other applications. Getting the caption file requires opening up the Facebook video in a web browser, using inspect code to find the caption file, opening the file in the browser, copying the text into a text editor, saving it as a .VTT, and converting the .VTT to an .SRT (Mbugua, 2020). Students planning to distribute captioned material on multiple platforms may want to do their initial captioning outside of Facebook, particularly if the videos are more than a few minutes long. 

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3

Kapwing’s Subtitler: A dedicated captioning tool

Not all SM platforms provide a built-in captioning tool. Twitter allows for closed captioning and subtitles but requires you upload an SRT. To add an .SRT, go to your Media Studio library, find the Subtitles tab, select the subtitle language, upload, find your .SRT, and select “update file.” Some SM platforms, such as Instagram, do not support closed captions, meaning you have to create open captions that are an integral part of the video. 

Kapwing’s online Subtitle Maker (see Figure 4) lets you create both .SRT and open-caption versions of your video. The free version limits you to projects under seven minutes. As with Facebook, you can upload an .SRT, auto-generate captions, or manually enter captions. This example uses auto-generated captions to create an open-captioned video. Once the source video loads, click the green Auto-generate button and select the video language (see Figure 5). After captions are generated, they need to be edited and timed (see Figure 6). You can edit caption text by clicking into it. You can adjust caption timing by moving the white start and stop circles above the caption text. Be careful that captioning timing between sections do not overlap. Under Text Options on the interface’s left side, you can adjust font type, size, color, background, and alignment. Video format depends on your target platform and the Video Options menu can help with the decision making (see Figure 7). Changing the video proportions while using the Fit option, may result in a black border below the video. Using this border space is a popular way to create open captions (see Figure 8). To export an open-captioned video, click the red “CREATE >” button, which will create an open-caption .MP4. If you have a paid account, you can also download the .SRT.

Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 6
Figure 7
Figure 8


Teaching PR students to create usable captions for SM videos prepares them to meet viewer captioning expectations, meaning their message will more likely reach its audience, particularly on mobile devices. Closed captions improve SEO, making closed captioned videos more findable than non-captioned or open captioned videos. Most importantly, teaching captioning emphasizes ethical best-practices in content accessibility and prepares students to be accessibility advocates. While this article focuses specifically on captioning SM video, faculty should consider including accessibility more broadly in their teaching—audio podcasting courses might include having students produce transcripts, web design classes should teach students to build accessible websites, and document design courses should include how to create accessible PDFs. 


3Play Media. (n.d.). The ultimate guide to closed captioning. Retrieved June 2, 2020, from https://www.3playmedia.com/resources/popular-topics/closed-captioning/

Bortree, D. (2019). Ethics education in public relations: State of student preparation and agency training in ethical decision-making. Journal of Public Relations Education, 5(3). https://aejmc.us/jpre/2019/11/20/ethics-education-in-public-relations-state-of-student-preparation-and-agency-training-in-ethical-decision-making/

Bortree, D. S., Bowen, S. A., Gower, K., Larsen, N. Neill, M., Silverman, D., & Sriramesh, K. (2019). Ethics education report. Commission on Public Relations Education. http://www.commissionpred.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Ethics-Education-Report-to-Toth-Phair-10-14-19.pdf

Brault, M. W. (2012). Americans With Disabilities: 2010. United States Census Bureau. https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/2012/demo/p70-131.pdf

Constine, J. (2017, January 4). Facebook adds automatic subtitling for Page videos. TechCrunch. https://techcrunch.com/2017/01/04/facebook-video-captions/

Described and Captioned Media Program. (n.d.). Captioning key. Guidelines and best practices for captioning educational video. Retrieved June 2, 2020, from https://dcmp.org/learn/captioningkey

Downey, G. (2008). Closed captioning: Subtitling, stenography, and the digital convergence of text with television. The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Facebook. (n.d.). What is the naming convention for SubRip (.srt) files? Facebook Help Center. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://www.facebook.com/help/1528795707381162

Facebook for Business. (n.d.). Best practices for mobile video. Facebook Business Help Center. Retrieved July 27, 2020, from https://www.facebook.com/business/help/144240239372256?id=603833089963720

Facebook for Business. (2016, February 10). Capture attention with updated features for video ads. Retrieved July 27, 2020, from https://www.facebook.com/business/news/updated-features-for-video-ads

Federal Communication Commission. (2018). Closed captioning on television. Retrieved December 28, 2019, from https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/closed-captioning-television

Food and Drug Administration. (n.d.). Fred and the voice of food safety: How to avoid food-borne Illness. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://archive.org/details/gov.ntis.ava18185vnb1

Gernsbacher, M. A. (2015). Video captions benefit everyone. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2(1), 195–202. https://doi.org/10.1177/2372732215602130

Katerattanakul, P., Hong, S., Lee, H. M., & Kam, H. J. (2018). The effects of web accessibility certification on the perception of companies’ corporate social responsibility. Universal Access in the Information Society, 17, 161–173. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10209-017-0532-1

Kinsky, E. S., Freberg, K., Kim, C., Kushin, M., & Ward, W. (2016). Hootsuite University: Equipping academics and future PR professionals for social media success. Journal of Public Relations Education, 2(1), 1–8.

Mbugua, D. (2020, February 26). How to easily download Facebook captions or subtitles (Even if you don’t own the video). Freelancer Insights. https://freelancerinsights.com/how-to-easily-download-facebook-captions-or-subtitles-even-if-you-dont-own-the-video/

Paivio, A. (1990). Mental representations: A dual coding approach. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195066661.001.0001

Patel, S. (2016, May 17). 85 percent of Facebook video is watched without sound. Digiday. https://digiday.com/media/silent-world-facebook-video/

W3C. (2019, April 4). WebVTT: The web video text tracks format. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.w3.org/TR/webvtt1/

Youngblood, N. E., Tirumala, L. N., & Galvez, R. A. (2018). Accessible media: The need to prepare students for creating accessible content. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 73(3), 334–345. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077695817714379

Zdenek, S. (2015). Reading Sounds: Close-captioned media and popular culture. The University of Chicago Press.

© Copyright 2021 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Tirumala, L.N. & Youngblood, E. (2021). Captioning Social Media Video. Journal of Public Relations Education, 7(1), 169-187. https://aejmc.us/jpre/?p=2419

Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto

Matthew LeHew, Dalton State College

Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto
Author: Kevin M. Gannon
West Virginia University Press, 2020
ISBN: 978-1949199512

The curveballs thrown to us in 2020 have highlighted inequities in our culture and our need to harness adaptable pedagogy. The former is nothing new. The Working Group on Diversity & Inclusion for the Commission on Public Relations Education (2018) found that the demographics of the academy do not match the diversity found in PR practitioner communities. The working group made recommendations regarding forming a more diverse pipeline for PR higher education, but also acknowledged that work must be done in the classroom to provide a more equitable educational experience. How, then, are we to juggle both the call for equality in both our culture and classrooms alongside the need to reformat our courses to shift modalities at a moment’s notice? Many answers and suggestions can be found in Kevin M. Gannon’s Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto.

Gannon’s (2020) recommendation for grappling with these crises is to reject the act of teaching as a means for information transfer and embrace it as a more holistically transformative process. He urges the reader to reject the all-too-common “jaded detachment” (p. 3) found within the academic community and embrace the titular sense of “radical hope” that compels us to strive to create better futures for our students. At first, this process doesn’t seem particularly novel, since academe has long paid lip service to the liberal arts education as an educational process dedicated to educating the “whole person.” What is truly novel—and appropriate for our present circumstances—is Gannon’s insistence that we actually embody this notion in the classroom.

The property of “radical hope” is explained by Gannon (2020) in his introduction:

The very acts of trying to teach well, of adopting a critically reflective practice to improve our teaching and our students’ learning, are radical, in that word’s literal sense: they are endeavors aimed at fundamental, root-level transformation. And they are acts of hope because they imagine that process of transformation as one in which a better future takes shape out of our students’ critical refusal to abide the limitations of the present. (p. 5)

At the core of the “radical hope” paradigm of teaching is the concept of praxis. Gannon leans upon Paulo Freire’s conceptualization of praxis as a blend of reflection and action. We should be continuously reflecting on our teaching practices and using our observations to update how we engage with our students. Driving home the point that “treating all students equally was not the same thing as treating all students equitably” (p. 30), Gannon (2020) pushes faculty to take a more active role in education, one in which the educator abandons the false idol of neutrality—“Neutrality is a luxury of the comfortable,” he says (p. 21)—and intentionally prioritizes compassion and inclusion.

Dr. Gannon isn’t new to these concepts. As a professor of history and director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, Gannon has long been sounding a clarion call for an increased critical and inclusive pedagogy, making him distinctly suited to address the needs of higher education in the current moment. He has traveled to campuses across North America as a consultant and speaker and was interviewed as part of Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated documentary 13th. As COVID-19 forces us to reconsider long-entrenched teaching paradigms, and nationwide protests against systemic racism drive us to seek justice in how we serve our students, the principles Gannon lays out in his manifesto can play a big role in guiding us to these objectives.

Structure and Organization

Gannon (2020) starts his work by listing the woes of higher education, such as suffering from financial struggles that are “the fruit of a neoliberal, market-driven ideology with little room for the notion of a public good” (p. 1). While he provides an array of examples to support this characterization, any reader who remains skeptical need only examine the scattershot “plans” to reopen campuses during a pandemic, the product of an optimism that can only come from willful ignorance.

After his introduction, Gannon devotes 10 chapters to exploring 10 specific educational principles or concepts that can be upheld as either aspirational beliefs or examples of a status quo begging to be torn down. The first chapter, “Classrooms of Death,” modernizes a phrase coined by N. F. S. Grundtvig to describe schools that offered an education irrelevant to the lives of most students. How then, Gannon asks, are we supposed to ensure that the education we offer contributes to the “life” of society, turning out individuals with not only knowledge but also a sense of civic responsibility and efficacy? Using the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville as a key example, Gannon charges educators to assert the incompatibility between white nationalism and the successful navigation of the academic sphere of higher education. Knowledge creation, Gannon argues, is insufficient for valuable higher education. The subsequent processes of analyzing and internalizing learned knowledge must also be guided by the professor. As Gannon (2020) states, “simply introducing knowledge into the public sphere and then abdicating any role in what happens to it afterward is at best highly problematic; at worst, it’s wildly irresponsible” (p. 16). This emphasis on actively investing in both the student and the learning process is also manifest in the next chapter, which focuses on communication of expectations in everyday teaching practice. It is in this chapter that Gannon begins to craft his argument that the idealized form of the professor as wise orator must give way to a more compassionate figure. Proudly exclaiming that a course requires a certain caliber of student— especially in blind devotion to the idea of “rigor”—does not represent an earnest investment in students’ futures.

In each subsequent chapter, Gannon continues the case for actively sowing the seeds for transformative learning. He takes special care to urge the reader toward inclusivity by actively challenging them to consider how even widely-accepted teaching practices may exclude students with disabilities or those who come from nontraditional backgrounds. The text also challenges the reader to avoid some of the cultural pitfalls found in teaching higher education. For example, while venting about students in closed-door meetings may have a cathartic benefit, it can spiral out of control and cement the notion of an adversarial relationship between professor and student. On that note, Gannon points out the current trend of faculty members subtweeting their students by pointing out their more absurd behavior in a virtual public space. While it may promote a foxhole camaraderie amongst educators, what does it communicate to the students who stumble across these objects of ridicule—especially the students whose work or confusion is being displayed for all to mock?

The areas ripe for praxis are numerous, and Gannon identifies them in the elements of our profession both technical and traditional. By pointing out how the digital platforms we use may isolate certain students, he encourages faculty to develop curricula that utilize the platforms to their full extent, offering different types of learning experiences for students to utilize and minimizing technical issues that may exclude certain students. To accomplish this, he advocates implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. Additionally, Gannon devotes an entire chapter to the syllabus and how it communicates a host of expectations to students beyond its text. The current emphasis on syllabus-as-legal-document is counterproductive, he insists, advocating for the “promising syllabus” approach pioneered by Ken Bain instead. “The promising syllabus has student learning, not instructors or institutions, firmly at its center. This is a subtle, seemingly simple shift, but one that has extraordinary consequences” (Gannon, 2020, p. 99).

Gannon’s final chapter focuses on three specific words that can dramatically change the classroom: “I don’t know.” Pointing out the pandemic of imposter syndrome found in the academy, he argues that admitting the lack of knowledge on a particular subject fosters a more collaborative relationship between professors and students, demonstrating that not knowing an answer—and subsequently finding it—is healthier than pretending to know it all along. Removing the academic pomp and circumstance and sense of detachment encourages us to wield our pedagogy as a gift, not a weapon.

Contribution to Higher Education, Especially in Public Relations

Written in a tone that is startlingly succinct, yet resonant with raw emotion, Gannon’s points are amplified by his tone of strong, even forceful, optimism. He takes care to encourage the reader as he goes through his points, chipping away at the calcified resentment and despair that is all too common among educators. Even when challenging the reader, Gannon’s focus on edification and a mutual goal with the reader discourages any defensive objections from taking hold.

The work is further aided by the timing of its release. Shortly after publication, COVID-19 upended everything we thought we could expect from a semester. Suddenly, many of us were faced with a teaching modality we had never planned to use. All of us had to make decisions regarding the balance of rigor and compassion in the midst of circumstances we hadn’t anticipated. Shortly after that, the nationwide protests against systemic racism elevated a conversation long overdue in every discipline, including and especially public relations. Gannon’s work provides elements of a blueprint that can help us avoid simply using the present events as case study fodder and move toward an educational paradigm pointed at intentional inclusivity. It has certainly encouraged this reviewer to abandon the false pretense of “neutrality” when teaching PR and work to form students who will be most likely to make positive, significant contributions to our world’s social health.

The impact of Gannon’s points are assisted by the work’s length. He describes it as a “manifesto,” and the term proves accurate, as Radical Hope is a short work that many could complete in a day. The book avoids wasting pages working up to a point too slowly. Instead, the reader is welcomed with rapidly developing arguments that build on the core calls for inclusivity, compassion, and praxis in pedagogy.

The brevity is a double-edged sword, however, as Gannon can move on to the next point while leaving the reader wanting to explore the previous argument in more detail. This is most apparent when discussing UDL, as Gannon only provides one concrete example of a UDL practice: formatting material to be easily parsed by screen readers for the blind. While a fantastic example of something readily accomplishable before the next semester, this reviewer was left curious for more examples, even as far as to pause reading the book to go seek out more avenues for UDL. Even brief mentions of techniques to accommodate spectrums other than those involving people with disabilities would have strengthened the argument. For example, Gannon could have explored UDL techniques meant to accommodate students without reliable access to the internet, which would have been remarkably prescient given the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is no shortage of prescriptive works aiming to improve either the performance or lives of those serving in higher education, making it all the more rare when a book stands out to the degree that Radical Hope does. The book could not have been released at a more ideal time, making it required reading for those of us struggling to figure out how to adjust and balance our work this fall. At times both challenging and affirming, Radical Hope provides a clear path to helping us tackle the present and adapt to the future.


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/

© Copyright 2020 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: LeHew, M. (2020). Radical hope: A teaching manifesto. [Review of the book Radical hope: A teaching manifesto, by K. Gannon].  Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(2), 193-199. http://aejmc.us/jpre/2020/08/13/radical-hope-a-teaching-manifesto/

Social Media for Strategic Communication: Creative Strategies and Research-Based Applications

Geah Pressgrove, West Virginia University

Social Media for Strategic Communication: Creative Strategies and Research-Based Applications
Author: Karen Freberg 
Sage, 2018
ISBN: 9781506387109

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/

© Copyright 2020 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Pressgrove, G. (2020). Social media for strategic communication: Creative strategies and research-based applications.  Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(2), 200-204. http://aejmc.us/jpre/2020/08/13/social-media-for-strategic-communication-creative-strategies-and-research-based-applications/

Journal of Public Relations Education, Volume 6, Issue 2

Emily Kinsky

Emily S. Kinsky, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
West Texas A&M University
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Public Relations Education
Email: jpre@wtamu.edu

Note from the Editor-in-Chief:

Below you will find the table of contents for our latest issue, which includes four research articles, six teaching briefs (top ranking Great Ideas For Teaching from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication-PR Division competition this year), and three book reviews. This issue is filled with valuable information for public relations educators.

We are pleased to welcome several new JPRE board members this summer, who are listed on the Editorial Board and Staff page along with the entire board. We thank all our board members for their service as reviewers, supporters, and problem solvers.

The editorial team, which gained a new member in Dr. Eaddy, donated countless hours of effort into this issue. Their assistance is priceless, and I am grateful for their brilliant minds, their willingness to serve, and their incredible work ethic.

Thank you to those of you who have reviewed manuscripts for JPRE this year. You each completed a valuable service to the field, and it is appreciated.

Thank you to Gini Dietrich, author of Spin Sucks, for allowing us to use her PESO model graphic in this issue. We are appreciative of that permission. I gain so much from her podcasts, so I was pleased to see her work featured in a GIFT teaching brief in this issue.

This fall, we look forward to publishing a special issue on the topic of ethics education in collaboration with the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication with guest editor Denise Bortree.

This is my final regular issue to publish while serving as editor-in-chief. It has been an honor.

cover Journal of Public Relations Education Volume 6, Issue 2

Current Issue

Table of Contents

Research Articles

Media Literacy Among Public Relations Students: An Analysis of Future PR Professionals in the Post-Truth Era
by Jami A. Fullerton, Oklahoma State University; Lori Melton McKinnon, Oklahoma State University; & Alice Kendrick, Southern Methodist University

Perceptions of Mindfulness Among Public Relations Professionals and Students: Similarities, Differences, and Implications for Undergraduate Career Preparation
by Doug Swanson, California State University – Fullerton

A Simulation as a Pedagogical Tool for Teaching Competencies in Public Relations Education
by Aoife O’Donnell, Griffith College, Dublin, Ireland

Student and Faculty/Educator Views on Diversity and Inclusion in Public Relations: The Role of Leaders in Bringing About Change
by Nilanjana Bardhan, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, & Karla Gower, University of Alabama

Teaching Briefs: Top PRD GIFTs from AEJMC 2020

Synthesizing Primary and Secondary Research to Drive Strategy: A Final Project for a Strategic Communication Research Course
by Danielle LaGree, Kansas State University

Diverse Voices in the History of Public Relations
by Arien Rozelle, St. John Fisher College 

Graph Interpretation Exercises for the Public Relations Classroom: An Environmental Scanning Approach
by Lauren Bayliss, Georgia Southern University

From Acronym to Application: PESO Comes to Life
by Arien Rozelle, St. John Fisher College

Who’s Out There? Using Google Analytics and Social Media Data to Research Online Publics 
by Melissa Adams, Appalachian State University

Evaluating Organizational Culture and Courageous Communication
by Melanie Formentin, Towson University

Book Reviews

Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto
Reviewed by Matthew LeHew, Dalton State College

Social Media for Strategic Communication: Creative Strategies and Research-Based Applications
Reviewed by Geah Pressgrove, West Virginia University

Lifescale: How to Live a More Creative, Productive, and Happy Life
Reviewed by Amanda J. Weed, Kennesaw State University

Read the full issue here:

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:

  • Research Articles
  • Teaching Briefs
  • Book/Software Reviews

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).

Questions? Contact the Editorial Staff.

Journal of Public Relations Education, Volume 6, Issue 1

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!

Emily S. Kinsky

Current Issue

Research Articles

Training International Public Relations Teams: Active Learning in a Multinational Context
by Bond Benton, Montclair State University

Curriculum Rebuilding in Public Relations: Understanding what Early Career, Mid-Career, and Senior PR/Communications Professionals Expect from PR Graduates
by Arunima Krishna, Donald K. Wright, & Raymond L. Kotcher, Boston University

Demystifying Data: A Constructivist Approach to Teaching Statistical Concepts Using SPSS
by Lauren Bayliss, Georgia Southern University

Teaching Briefs

Learning about Diversity Worldwide: How a Social Media Writing Assignment Provides Students with Multicultural Perspectives
by Arhlene A. Flowers, Ithaca College

Implementation of Active Learning Techniques in an Undergraduate Public Relations Course: Comparing Individual Social Networks and Brand Communities
by Corrie A. Wilder, Washington State University

Book Reviews

Public Relations Campaigns: An Integrated Approach
Reviewed by Brandi Watkins, Virginia Tech University

Teach Social Media: A Plan for Creating a Course Your Students Will Love
Reviewed by Natalie T. J. Tindall, Lamar University

Read the full issue here:

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:

  • Research Articles
  • Teaching Briefs
  • Book/Software Reviews

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).

Questions? Contact the Editorial Staff.

Learning about Diversity Worldwide: How a Social Media Writing Assignment Provides Students with Multicultural Perspectives

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.


Arhlene A. Flowers
Associate Professor
Integrated Marketing Communications
Department of Strategic Communication
Roy H. Park School of Communications
Ithaca College
Email: aflowers@ithaca.edu


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, diversity, teaching

Introduction and Rationale

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

Today’s 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).

Global Interconnectivity

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 imagery.

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 community.

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 grade.


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 approaches.

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 country. 


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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

Chaffey, D. (2019, February 12). Global social media research summary 2019. Smart Insights. https://www.smartinsights.com/social-media-marketing/social-media-strategy/new-global-social-media-research/

Commission on Public Relations Education. (2018, April). 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/

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

Glaccum, D. M. (2019, December 23). Take your business global in 2020. U.S. Small Business Administration. https://www.sba.gov/blog/take-your-business-global-2020

International Organization for Migration. (2018). World migration report 2018. https://www.iom.int/wmr/world-migration-report-2018

Kharas, H. (2017). The unprecedented expansion of the global middle class. The Brookings Institution. https://www.brookings.edu/wpcontent/uploads/2017/02/global_20170228_global-middle-class.pdf

MacQuarrie, C. (2010). Othering. In A. J. Mills, G. Durepos, & E. Wiebe (Eds.), Encyclopedia of case study research. Sage. https://sk.sagepub.com/reference/casestudy/n238.xml

Omnicore. (2019a). Facebook by the numbers: Stats, demographics & fun facts. https://www.omnicoreagency.com/facebook-statistics/

Omnicore. (2019b). Instagram by the numbers: Stats, demographics & fun facts. https://www.omnicoreagency.com/instagram-statistics/

Omnicore. (2019c). Twitter by the numbers: Stats, demographics & fun facts. https://www.omnicoreagency.com/twitter-statistics/

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Pew Research Center. (2015, April 2). The future of world religions: Population growth projections, 2010-2050. https://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious-projections-2010-2050/

Silverblatt, H. (2018, August). S&P 500® 2017: Global sales. S&P Dow Jones Indices. https://us.spindices.com/indexology/djia-and-sp-500/sp-500-global-sales

SoftwareFindr. (2018). Usage distribution. https://www.softwarefindr.com/how-many-blogs-are-there/

Sriramesh, K. (2009). Globalisation and public relations: An overview looking into the future. PRism, 6(2). http://praxis.massey.ac.nz/prism_on-line_journ.html

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Taylor, M. (2001). Internationalizing the public relations curriculum. Public Relations Review, 27(1), 73-88. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0363-8111(01)00071-6

Tsetsura, K. (2011). How understanding multidimensional diversity can benefit global public relations education. Public Relations Review, 37(5), 530-535. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2011.09.020

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YouTube. (2019). YouTube for press: YouTube in numbers. https://www.youtube.com/about/press/

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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.

It 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 international flair.

The 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 America.

Your “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.

Facts 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 storytellers/spokespeople)

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.).

Ethics Education in Public Relations: State of Student Preparation and Agency Training in Ethical Decision-making

Editorial Record: Original draft submitted November 13, 2018. Revision subitted April 19, 2019. Manuscript accepted May 20, 2019. First published online November 20, 2019.


Denise Bortree, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Communication
Penn State University
Director of the Arthur W. Page Center

As new public relations professionals move out of the classroom and into the work world, they face a range of ethical challenges in their positions. This study investigated how public relations agencies perceive the preparation of new college graduates to handle ethical situations and how agencies train new employees for ethical communication and behavior, shedding light on gaps in ethical education. Findings offer useful information for faculty and practitioners who wish to improve young people’s preparation to address ethical dilemmas.


After conducting an extensive survey of practitioners and academics in the public relations field, the Commission on Public Relations Education (2017) issued its report, “Fast Forward: Foundations and Future State, Educators and Practitioners,” and made an important recommendation. It called for public relations programs at colleges and universities to add a required ethics course to the public relations curriculum (Commission, 2017). The report argues that communication ethics have never been more important than they are today, given the increasing level of complexity in the digital world and the challenge of fake news and misinformation in the public sphere (Commission, 2017). Ethical behavior among public relations professionals is critical for continuing to build the reputation of the field. What the report does not address is how current public relations education prepares (or fails to prepare) young professionals to face ethical issues in the workforce and how training on ethics continues into a student’s first job. The current article helps address those topics by presenting the results of interviews with public relations agency leaders who identify gaps between ethical preparation and agency needs and offer insights into how agencies are continuing to educate young practitioners about ethical issues.

Ethics Education

Ethics education prepares students to address ethical dilemmas. In his seminal piece, Plaisance (2006) summarized what the best ethics education looks like. He wrote that it focuses on “students’ analytical abilities and critical thinking about stakeholders so that they can effectively deliberate through an ethical problem” (p. 380); it is focused on “the quality of this deliberation rather than on distribution of ‘right answers’” (p. 380); it focuses “students’ attention on how decisions in ethical quandaries are made rather than concentrating on what the decision turns out to be”; it emphasizes “the process of moral deliberation” (p. 380);  and it helps “students develop their own moral reasoning skills, grounded in philosophical concepts, and help increase their awareness of potential ethical issues” (p. 380).

In the public relations classroom, faculty work to apply these strategies while addressing professional topics. Recent work by Neill (2017) identified ethics topics that are taught in standalone public relations classes and across the curriculum in the public relations field. Overall, the most common ethics-related topics were Public Relations Society of America’s code of ethics (91%), corporate social responsibility (84%), current events (82%), media relations (65%), ethical decision-making models (60%), impact of organizational culture and values (60%), classical theories by philosophers (55%), other codes of ethics (other than PRSA) (54%), blogger/influencer relations (51%), global perspectives on ethics (46%), and how to raise ethical concerns/action plan (39%).

For years, educators have been calling for a greater focus on ethics in the public relations curriculum (Austin & Toth, 2011), suggesting that moral reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical skills should be prioritized in ethics education (Gale & Bunton, 2005). Case studies and group discussions were found to be the most effective methods in the public relations classroom (Silverman & Gower, 2014). However, more research is needed on the gaps between current instruction and expectations of new employees in the public relations field.

Developing skills in ethical decision-making does not end in the classroom, but rather it is a life-long pursuit, which means education should continue beyond the undergraduate curriculum and extend into the job setting.

Ethics Education in the Workforce

Research suggests a strong link between on-the-job ethics training and behavior (Gale & Bunton, 2005), and yet as few as 35% of public relations employees report on-the-job training (Neill, 2017). Historically, public relations agencies have provided very little training on ethics (Lee & Cheng, 2012), but with new ethical issues arising in an environment of disinformation, public relations practitioners need to improve their preparation (Commission, 2017). Millennial practitioners welcome ethics training, particularly discussion using real-world case studies (Gallicano & Matthews, 2016).

Instilling integrity comes with three levels of on-the-job training: initial entry training, reinforcement education, and sustainment education (Hipple & Olson, 2011). This may be seen in the public relations agency by first introducing employees to the code of conduct of the business, then conducting training to reinforce ethical-decision making, and finally, making sure management is prepared to create a culture of ethical decision-making. In an organizational context, an ethical climate and ethical leadership can lead to stronger ethical decision-making among employees (Wimbush & Shepard, 1994) and better organizational citizenship behaviors (Hipple & Olson, 2011).

The current study explores two important questions related to ethics education:

RQ1: How well (if at all) do public relations agency leaders perceive new college graduates to be prepared to face ethical dilemmas on the job?

RQ2: How (if at all) are public relations agencies training new employees about ethical communication and behaviors?


In-depth interviews were conducted with 12 leaders at top public relations agencies (see Table 1 for details). The interviews consisted of 15 questions (see Appendix A for sample questions), and each interview lasted between 30 and 60 minutes. Question topics included the preparation of new employees, training content, hours of ethics training, and recommendations for training.

Table 1: Position and gender of participants

Position Gender
Agency CEO Female
Vice President and Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer Male
Vice President of Learning & Development Male
Vice President Female
Senior Vice President, Learning & Development Male
Senior Vice President Male
Executive Vice President, Global Talent Female
President, US Region Female
Senior Vice President Male
Ethics Officer Male
CEO and Managing Partner Female
Senior Vice President Female


The primary investigator identified training managers and/or ethics leaders in the top 40 public relations agencies as ranked by the Holmes Report (2016) and invited them to participate in this study. Potential participants were asked if they were the most appropriate person at the agency to answer questions about ethics training, and if not, the investigator was redirected to a more appropriate person.

Data analysis

Interviews were transcribed word-for-word. Transcripts were coded both with pre-identified concepts of interest and with open codes. Iterative analysis of transcripts led to key themes and concepts. Below are the results of this analysis organized into key themes.


Gaps in PR Ethics Education

The first research question asked about the degree to which new professionals were prepared to address ethical dilemmas in the public relations agency. Professionals generally thought new graduates were ethical and exhibited honesty, and as one interviewee said, “When it comes to truthful business transactions . . . and being accurate, I think they learn that stuff pretty well in school.” None of the interviewees suggested that new graduates were woefully unprepared to address ethical issues. In fact, interviewees felt that young professionals were more passionate about the ethics of organizations than earlier generations. According to interviewees, young professionals held the organization to a high standard and preferred to work for an organization that engages in ethical behaviors. One interviewee said:

They care more about ethics and integrity than they might have 10 years ago. There’s much more of an interest in wanting to work for a place that’s ethical; that culture matters in some ways more than money, whereas I think 10 years ago it was like, “OK, show me the money.”

When asked to identify specific gaps in new graduates’ preparation to face ethical challenges in public relations agencies, interviewees frequently pointed to four topics: digital ethics, ethical media relations, confidentiality, and raising ethical issues. Regarding the first topic, digital ethics, interviewees felt that young professionals needed more education on how writing professional social media content differs from creating personal social media post:

I’ll tell you that the biggest thing . . . that they don’t come prepared in is ethics in digital communication, and disclosure. And that’s something that we have to teach them and say, “When you’re posting on behalf of a client, you need to say it’s on behalf of a client or that it’s a[n agency] client.”

This is not to suggest that new graduates lacked skills in digital communication, as the interviewee explained: “What’s interesting to me about that is . . . we’re bringing in people with incredible digital skills . . . . And yet we still [train on] ethics in digital communication that they lack or have not ever learned.”

The second significant gap, ethical media relations, emerged in several interviews as leaders felt younger employees lacked an understanding of how to ethically respond to media requests. Interviewees complained that new professionals had shared information that was unverified or unapproved, potentially misleading the media or putting their clients in a difficult position. New employees needed to better value accuracy in their media communication, according to leaders. 

The third gap can be classified as confidentiality. Agency professionals found that new employees sometimes discussed agency or client information in their personal social media, violating client confidentiality. This topic came up several times, suggesting that it was a widespread misunderstanding on the part of new graduates.

And, finally, nearly all interviewees brought up the fact that new employees needed to raise ethical issues to management, and that is a place where learning occurs. A few cited instances when that happened:

We’ve had . . . younger employees who have enough smarts to say, “What about this?” or, “Let’s start to talk about it,” in which case, they really didn’t understand the ethics behind it.

Preparing them for this kind of action may be an area where faculty can make the most contribution to their students’ future ethical toolbox.

Ethics Education in the Public Relations Agency

The second research question asked about ongoing training in public relations agencies. Regarding hours, the agencies represented in this study consistently reported spending approximately 24 hours per year on training, but ethics training consists of fewer than one of these hours. In other words, approximately two hours per month (for 12 months) is spent training employees on a job-related topic, but fewer than one hour per year is spent on ethics training. Because agency employees’ hours are billable, more hours of training mean less revenue, and this creates a conflict for agencies. One interviewee described it this way:

The conundrum that we in the agency world face is that we make our money on billable hours. So, it’s finding a happy medium where it’s enough training so that you can obviously be developing your staff, and not so much that you’re taking away from your billable hours. Require more [than 24 hours per year], and it doesn’t get done.

Most interviewees expressed concern that more ethics training was not being done at the time of the interviews (most hoped to increase training in the future); however, a few agencies pointed to their culture of ethics as a reason for not needing training. They felt that the culture provided guidance for employees on what is acceptable. Agencies pointed out that accountability (management review of employee work) acted as an ethics check. They felt that employees rarely acted autonomously, so there was little room for unethical communication. However, they did not address the issue of preparing management to take on the role of creating an ethical culture and how this occurs without ethics training at the management level.

Ethics training often involved reviewing the code of ethics or a list of best practices during the hiring process. Some agencies followed this with other ethics training, but unfortunately not all, meaning that, for some agencies, the only ethics training provided to employees was a review of a code of conduct. Referring to the employee handbook, one interviewee said:

There are like two or three pages on ethics in there. And then in terms of how I would teach it and have people learn, like if you’re a new employee on my team, it’s just learning through me handling it and us talking about it and me overly explaining things.

When asked about the topics of the ethics training, agencies that conduct training mentioned ethical decision-making and telling the truth. Others cited conflict of interest, transparency, and reports of unethical behavior. However, given the limited amount of time dedicated to ethics training, these were covered briefly, if at all. Reflecting on gaps in their ethics training, agency executives wished they could add additional topics, including diversity and inclusion and social media use. They believed that the most effective mode of training for ethical decision-making is through case studies and discussions (as supported in research by Silverman & Gower, 2014; Gallicano & Matthews, 2016), but leaders are hesitant to invest the time in this kind of training because of revenue sacrifices. Case studies that are highly relevant to practice were most effective, in their opinions, but few employed this kind of training.

Implications and Recommendations

This study offered insights into the way public relations agency executives perceive the preparation of new graduates to address ethical dilemmas, and it sheds light on the way agencies are continuing (or not continuing) ethics training on the job. The interviews suggested that new graduates come to agencies reasonably prepared to address entry-level ethical issues with several issues needing additional attention, particularly digital ethics, ethical media relations, confidentiality, and raising ethical issues. According to Neill (2017), some of these issues are covered in public relations programs, including media relations (65%) and raising ethical concerns/action plan (39%). This suggests that faculty understand the importance of these issues, but more attention is needed in all four areas to fully prepare students for work in public relations agencies.

Agency leaders do not feel they have time to conduct additional ethics training, so employees learn on the job and absorb ethical lessons through the culture and through modeling. Agencies’ reliance on their culture to educate employees skips important steps in the ethics education process; particularly, it leaves young people without foundational knowledge about ethics topics and leaves little space for safe deliberation and development of moral reasoning skills, as recommended by Plaisance (2006). The topics covered in agency training are limited, and, due to financial restraints, training rarely includes meaningful and time-consuming ethical discussions that are brought on by case studies.

These findings lead to several important recommendations for public relations ethics education.

Recommendations for improving ethics education in the public relations classroom.

  • Build digital ethics topics and topics related to confidentiality into the public relations curriculum. These topics were not among the most common topics covered by educators, as found by Neill (2017). Helping students understand the differences between personal and professional communication on social media, as well as learning what to disclose and to whom will prepare them for the professional environment.
  • Strengthen the focus on understanding ethical media relations and raising ethical issues in the workplace. Neill (2017) noted that these topics are commonly taught in the PR classroom, yet young professionals need even more preparation in these areas. Students need better training in how to handle media in an ethical manner. Helping students build confidence in their ability to identify and raise ethical concerns will prepare them for the challenges they will face on the job.

Recommendations for improving ethics education in public relations agencies.

  • Commit time to reinforcement and sustainment education. Few agencies conduct regular ethics training with their employees (after initial trainings). Instead, agencies rely on their culture to drive behavior, and they overlook the steps of reinforcing learning and sustaining learning. Ethical culture can lead to greater ethical decision-making among employees, but education is needed to build that culture.
  • Embed case studies into ethics training. Most agencies indicated that their ethics training consisted either of a “list of best practices” or a review of the code of ethics. Ethical development comes through deliberation and perspective taking. This works best in the context of case study discussions (Plaisance, 2006; Silverman & Gower, 2014).
  • Reinforce an ethical culture. Most agencies pointed to their culture as the best guide for new employees. Without training for management on ethics and ethical culture, it is unclear how an ethical culture is created or maintained. More research is needed in this area.

As young professionals launch their careers in public relations, they will face increasingly complex ethical issues. Faculty members’ and managers’ efforts to prepare them for these challenges not only protect young employees but also help protect agencies and the organizations they serve to avoid consequences brought on by ethical missteps. Filling the gap between current ethical education and expectations should be the responsibility of both faculty and professionals who train and educate new employees. This study offers recommendations that should help fill that gap.

This study has a number of limitations, including the small sample size and the narrow list of questions from which the conclusions were drawn. Future research should explore the type of training conducted by agencies and trends that may be emerging in ethics training as new issues such as social media disinformation and fake news crises create more challenges for public relations professionals. The current study can act as a baseline for assessing the gaps between ethics preparation of new professionals and the current needs in the field.


Austin, L. L., & Toth, E. L. (2011). Exploring ethics education in global public relations curricula: Analysis of international curricula descriptions and interviews with public relations educators. Public Relations Review, 37(5), 506-512. doi: 10.1016/j.pubrev.2011.09.007

Commission for Public Relations Education (2017). Fast forward: Foundations + future state. Educators + practitioners. Retrieved from http://www.commissionpred.org/commission-reports/fast-forward-foundations-future-state-educators-practitioners/

Gale, K., & Bunton, K. (2005). Assessing the impact of ethics instruction on advertising and public relations graduates. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator60(3), 272-285. doi: 10.1177/107769580506000306

Gallicano, T.D., & Matthews, K. (2016). Hope for the future: Millennial PR agency practitioners’ discussion of ethical issues. In B. Brunner (Ed.), The moral compass of public relations (pp. 91-109). New York, NY: Routledge.

Hipple, J., & Olson, S. (2011, April 1). Values-based leadership isn’t for wimps: What every organization can learn from Marine Corps ethics training. The Public Relations Strategist. Retrieved from http://apps.prsa.org/intelligence/TheStrategist/Articles/view/6K-021101/1028/Values_Based_Leadership_Isn_t_for_Wimps_What_Every#.W-dA1JNKjIU.

Holmes Report. (2016). Global 250 top PR agency ranking. Retrieved from https://www.holmesreport.com/ranking-and-data/global-communications-report/2016-pr-agency-rankings/top-250

Lee, S. T., & Cheng, I. H. (2012). Ethics management in public relations: Practitioner conceptualizations of ethical leadership, knowledge, training and compliance. Journal of Mass Media Ethics27(2), 80-96. doi: 10.1080/08900523.2012.694317

Neill, M. S. (2017). Ethics education in public relations: Differences between stand-alone ethics courses and an integrated approach. Journal of Media Ethics, 32(2), 118-131.

Plaisance, P. L. (2006). An assessment of media ethics education: Course content and the values and ethical ideologies of media ethics students. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator61(4), 378-396. doi: 10.1177/107769580606100404

Silverman, D., & Gower, K.K. (2017). Assessing the state of public relations ethics education. Public Relations Journal, 8(4). Retrieved from https://prjournal.instituteforpr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014SilvermanGowerNekmat.pdf

Wimbush, J. C., & Shepard, J. M. (1994). Toward an understanding of ethical climate: Its relationship to ethical behavior and supervisory influence. Journal of Business Ethics13(8), 637-647. doi: 10.1007/BF00871811

APPENDIX: Interview Questions

Training in public relations agencies:

1. Does your agency offer training for employees? If so, does the training include ethics elements?

2. Tell me about your ethics training.

a. What topics are covered in your training?

b. At what stages do you offer ethics training? (New employee, annual, monthly, quarterly, training, promotions)

3. What are the most important ethics topics that employees need to understand?

4. If you could add training modules to your current program, what would you cover in them?

Preparation of new college graduates:

5. How prepared are new college graduates to address ethical dilemmas that come up at your firm?

6. What ethical gaps have you seen between preparation and needs of your firm?

7. What ethical topics are young employees most (and least) prepared to address?

Building a Social Learning Flock: Using Twitter Chats to Enhance Experiential Learning Across Universities

Top GIFT from AEJMC-PRD 2018

Editorial Record: Submitted to AEJMC-PRD GIFT Competition by Feb. 5, 2018. A blind copy was peer reviewed by the PRD Teaching Committee, led by Chair Katie Place, and selected as a Top GIFT. First published online on August 17, 2018.


Amanda Weed Headshot

Amanda J. Weed, Ohio

Karen Freberg

Karen Freberg, Louisville

Emily Kinsky

Emily S. Kinsky, West Texas A&M University

Amber Hutchins Headshot

Amber L. Hutchins, Kennesaw State University

Building a Social Learning Flock: Using Twitter Chats to Enhance Experiential Learning Across Universities


A monthly Twitter chat focused on social media was created to engage students and professionals across the country, and assignments were created to use the chat content with various classes across PR programs. The chat created an online learning community in the same vein of industry chats such as #HootChat, #TwitterSmarter and #AdobeChat. The purpose was to supplement students’ classroom learning by offering themed conversations about relevant topics in social media. By featuring industry guest panelists, students were able to gain professional perspectives and ask questions to further their understanding. In addition, students were able to share the knowledge they gained through classroom learning with an outside audience, which may increase self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997) and development of professional networks to increase internship and job prospects.


Chat participation offered an alternative to the traditional online discussion board, which is only available to members of a single class. Each monthly chat was dedicated to a different social media topic, which meant multiple learning goals could be achieved. As students shared class-based knowledge during the chat, faculty could assess student learning goals against a diverse landscape of courses across universities to address strengths and areas for improvement. In addition, students experienced professional development benefits that can come from engaging with influencers, industry practitioners, and brands. By engaging in proactive conversations, giving praise and acknowledgements, and integrating their own points of view, students learned the real-world benefits of social media networking and had the potential to serve as a strong advocate and social connector with their own community.


Twitter chats are commonly used in the public relations industry to facilitate knowledge-sharing and networking among practitioners. By building an audience that included classes at multiple universities, the chats allowed students to form positive habits that will foster continuing education to support their advancement in the public relations industry. The chats also allowed students to extend their education beyond their own class or institution. By expanding the audience to include panelists who were experts in the chat topic, students had an opportunity to make online connections with them, which widened students’ networks and their knowledge of the field—not just for that day but for as long as they follow those professionals on into the future. Participating in the chats also gave students the chance to impress these professionals with thoughtful questions and insightful responses.

Using the Twitter chats as source material provided experience for students to create various forms of assignments that may be applied to learning outcomes of different classes (see attached assignment guides). Content creation and measurement are two important areas within public relations that are highly valued, and these chats gave students the chance to do both. Through participation and follow-up assignments, students better understood best practices and results of a particular social media initiative with set key performance indicators.


With 303 participants and 2,180 total tweets (7.19 tweets/contributor) across the four chats, participation and engagement were high. Evidence of learning was demonstrated through the various products created, including graphics of favorite quotes from the chat, tweets posted, and summary paragraphs designed to be blogged. In the context of Bloom’s taxonomy, assignments addressed multiple levels of learning. Chat participation assessed comprehension by allowing students to demonstrate their understanding of topics through response to question prompts. Post-chat assignments integrated higher levels of learning taxonomy (application, synthesis, evaluation) through analysis of chat content and content creation that facilitated creativity and critical thinking.


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W H Freeman/Times Books/Henry Holt & Co.

Appendix A

General Assignments

Assignment #1

Chat Participation

Twitter chats are IRT (in real time) conversations that center around a unique topic. To participate in a Twitter chat, you will follow the conversation by following the chat hashtag. When viewing the chat, make sure you are using the “Latest” tab to view the tweets in real time. 

Chat questions are typically labeled as Q1, Q2, and so on. To respond to a question, begin your tweet with A1, A2, and so on to match that particular question. You may also retweet the question and add your response as a comment. Always include the chat hashtag in your tweet to ensure your response will be viewed by Twitter chat participants.

To receive credit for your chat responses, you will need to include your class hashtag in your chat tweets.

Assignment #2

Create a Twitter Moment

Twitter Moments allow users to curate content to share with their audience. For the assignment, you will create a “highlights reel” of the Twitter chat that features the most valuable insights that you gained from participant responses. Share your Moment on Twitter so your followers can also benefit from those insights. For an example of a Twitter Moment, see https://twitter.com/i/moments/958726169309958144

For guidance in creating a Twitter Moment, visit https://help.twitter.com/en/using-twitter/how-to-create-a-twitter-moment.

Twitter Moment Requirements

  • Cover Image
  • Title (5-9 words)
  • Description (30-50 words)
    • Write a paragraph-style description that includes the following information:
      • Date of Twitter chat
      • Featured guests
      • Chat topic
      • Hashtag the audience may search to view full chat
  • Chat Highlights
    • Add each chat question
      • Tip: Search the chat hashtag + Q1 (or Q2, Q3, and so on)
    • Add a minimum of three responses after each chat question that reflect the most valuable insights you gained
      • Tip: Search the chat hashtag + A1 (or A2, A3, and so on)
  • Publish your Moment
  • Tweet your Moment

Appendix B

Analysis/Measurement Assignments

Assignment #1

Social Media Listening

In this assignment, you will be asked to evaluate the Twitter chat by using a social media listening tool. The options are listed below:

  • Tweetdeck
  • Hootsuite
  • Buffer
  • Keyhole
  • TweetBinder
  • Hashtagify
  • Tagboard
  • Other

Provide an overview of the listening tool you will be using. Describe the tool’s features. What are its main advantages and disadvantages? What is the timeline when you will be conducting this listening procedure?

Discuss the key performance indicators (KPIs) from the chat. Make sure to report and discuss the following metrics from the Twitter chat:

  • Twitter Reach
  • Twitter Reach – Mention Type
  • Twitter Reach – Engagement Type
  • Twitter Reach – Authority Type
  • Sentiment
  • Mentions
  • Most Retweeted
  • Most Engaged Users
  • Top trending keywords that are being used in addition to the hashtag
  • Make sure to note the sentiment, mentions, users, and communities on Twitter for your analysis.
  • Additional findings worth noting

Recommendations + Strategic Insights

  • What are the main findings from the analysis of the Twitter chat?
  • What insights can you use to determine from this Twitter chat? What are three takeaways?
  • What are some recommendations for future Twitter chats?
  • Provide three resources (ex. guides, professionals, articles, etc.) on Twitter chats for how to evaluate and measure future chats.

Analysis/Measurement Assignments

Assignment #2

Chat Performance Executive Summary

Directions: You will monitor the hashtagged conversation from the Twitter chat, analyze the results, and produce an executive summary of the results for the chat sponsor.

Step 1: Collect data from Twitter.

  • You can use the Twitter.com search function to find posts using the chat hashtag. You are welcome to use other applications like Hootsuite or Meltwater, but keep in mind that even some top organizations monitor “by hand.”
  • Examine the posts. Take note of keywords and themes used by participants.  Are there other hashtags being used along with the main hashtag (other class hashtags, etc.)?
  • Count and categorize the data. Focus on one or two themes or topics.  

Step 2: Create a visual representation of your findings.

  • It’s up to you how you want to represent the data you found—pie chart, graph, etc., but make it easy for readers to understand the prominent topics, themes and sentiment from the chat. Use generators like Easel.ly, Excel to create pie graphs, or inserted photos of hand-drawn charts. It’s not necessary to be a graphics expert, just focus on providing a graphic of your results.

Step 3: Write a 3-paragraph executive summary to explain your results. 

Write your summary using concise, direct language. 

  • Para 1: Report your results.  Make sure to indicate the sample size (number of tweets you analyzed) in the key to the graphic.
  • Para 2: Interpret and analyze the results. What do the results mean? Go beyond positive and negative mentions and report on topics/themes, keyword mentions, or other data that can be useful.
  • Para 3: Make recommendations for future chats. What would you recommend to the chat sponsor in order to improve participation and engagement?

Appendix C

Design Assignments

Assignment #1

Create a Quote Illustration

Scan through the chat and find a “quotable quote” to illustrate using Canva or Spark. Be sure to cite the person who said the quote with both his/her full name and Twitter handle. Once it is illustrated, we will give peer feedback in class, make needed adjustments, and then each student will share his/her quote via Twitter, along with a sentence explaining why it was chosen. Tag the person who said it and use the chat hashtag to reach a wider audience.



Design Assignments

Assignment #2

Create an Infographic

Infographics are used to present data in a visually appealing way that makes a concept easier to understand at a glance. For this assignment, you will collect data and identify five unique statistics about the Twitter chat, such as the following statistics:

  • # of participants
  • # of likes, retweets
  • Most responses to a single chat question
  • Use of pictures/GIFs
  • # of tags
  • Top 5 tweets by likes
  • Top 5 tweets by RT

Once you have tabulated the statistics (by hand or with a program like Meltwater), create your infographic. You may use platforms like Infogr.amEasel.ly, Piktochart, Visme, or Canva.

Infographic Requirements

  • Headline
  • A brief description of the Twitter chat
  • Visual design that reflects the Twitter chat topic
  • 5 statistics: Include an “explainer” (description) for each statistic that provides additional detail
  • Provide a source credit (including hyperlink) at the bottom of the infographic that directs readers to the full Twitter chat source

Appendix D

Writing Assignments

Assignment #1

LinkedIn Article

One way to increase your LinkedIn connections is to start publishing articles through your account that can be read by the LinkedIn community. For additional information about LinkedIn publishing, visit  https://www.linkedin.com/learning/publishing-on-linkedin-for-college-students-and-young-professionals/publishing-best-practices

For this assignment, write a 200-300 word article about the three key insights you gained from the Twitter chat.  

To create an effective LinkedIn article, you should include the following elements, in addition to your writing:

  • Headline (5-9 words)
  • One header image
  • One embedded picture or video in the article
  • At least three hyperlinks to outside articles related to your key insights
    • Tip: Integrate hyperlinks into your article, not as add-ons at the end
  • At least two hashtags that make your article searchable on LinkedIn
    • Tip:  Integrate hashtags into your article, not as add-ons at the end
  • Optional: Tag relevant people in your article
    • Tip: Tag guest panelists from the Twitter chat or people you have quoted in the article

Additional Tips:

  • Include visual/multimedia elements (embed example tweets, relevant videos, etc.), in addition to the visual representation of the data.  
  • Embed your hyperlinks in the text; don’t simply paste a URL in the text. Test your links to make sure they work.
  • Separate into sections and label each section (you can create your own titles for each section). Each section should be approximately one short paragraph (two max). 
  • Give your blog post a title. This is different from a headline or an essay title. Use the title to highlight important findings from your report. For example: “#SMStudentChat Shows Growing Interest in Blogs for Professional Development.”
  • Make sure that the background does not obscure the text. 
  • Use a clean, professional theme/format.  
  • Be informative and professional, but use a conversational tone (natural human speech).  Avoid slang.
  • Use multimedia and line spaces to break up text.

Assignment #2

Promotional Post

Write a short promotional post for Twitter or LinkedIn with one teaser tip you learned from the Twitter chat. Direct your audience to read your article for more tips and insights. Include a hyperlink to the article, your class hashtag, and tag the chat sponsor.

Math, Message Design and Assessment Data: A Strategic Approach to the Facebook Assignment


Tiffany Derville Gallicano, UNC Charlotte

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Math, Message Design and Assessment Data: A Strategic Approach to the Facebook Assignment

Math, Message Design and Assessment Data: A Strategic Approach to the Facebook Assignment

The purpose of this assignment is to adopt a strategic planning approach to the task of creating engaging social media content in a real-world context. For this assignment, students work as a class to set a weekly research-based objective and work in teams to plan the communication department’s Facebook fan page content for every day of a work week (Monday-Friday) during the semester. Other fan page account administrators can post important departmental content throughout the semester without disrupting the week-by-week student takeovers of the fan page. This assignment has been popular in social media and public relations strategy classes. This assignment provides an experiential way for students to apply basic statistical concepts, assessment data, and message design theories. In addition, it has the benefit of serving as a potential resume item and portfolio sample.

Application of the Assignment to ACEJMC Professional Values and Competencies

The fan page assignment contributes to the fulfillment of several professional values and competencies described by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (n.d.). It contributes to the professional value and competency about applying theories in how content and images are presented (ACEJMC, n.d.) because students are asked to apply message design concepts from Heath and Heath (2007), which include simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotional content, and stories. When reviewing initial drafts, the instructor commonly points to one or two message features that a team needs to improve upon for their final product.

In addition, the assignment contributes to ACEJMC’s (n.d.) professional value and competency about conducting research using appropriate methods adopted in the workplace because students use prior fan page performance data to set a weekly performance objective and determine qualities of successful and unsuccessful posts. Students also review the fan pages of comparison communication departments as part of their research (in accordance with the recommendation by Paine, 2011, about examining competitors’ performance). In addition, students review the metrics for the most popular and least popular posts from the prior semester and apply message design theory (i.e., Heath & Heath, 2007) and inductive logic to discuss best practices for engaging their key publics.

This assignment also contributes to three other communication-related professional values and competencies established by ACEJMC. Students gain practice in writing correctly and clearly in a format commonly used in the workplace through the text that accompanies their fan page posts (ACEJMC, n.d.). They are assigned a team grade, so they must critically assess their work and their teammates’ work “for accuracy and fairness,” as well as clear, grammatically correct writing (ACEJMC, n.d., para. 13). Another communication-related competency that is relevant to this assignment is the call for students to use current technologies used by professionals to understand the digital world (ACEJMC, n.d.). Students learn best practices for the digital world through their research about successful Facebook posts and draft their own digital content. Also, to earn an A, students must use their own images/videos for all posts and are encouraged to use resources such as Canva for images.

Finally, this assignment contributes to the ACEJMC (n.d.) competency about applying basic math and statistics. Students apply the mean, mode, median and standard deviation based on data from the prior semester to set the weekly performance objective that will apply to all teams. They use basic percentage calculations to determine how many interactions would be needed to achieve particular percentage increases. Students are encouraged to also report the percentage by which they surpassed the weekly class objective on their resumes/LinkedIn profiles if relevant.

Connection to Best Measurement Practices

To contextualize the strengths and limitations of the assignment as they apply to the professional practice of public relations, students are taught the Barcelona Principles 2.0 in conjunction with the assignment (see the Institute for Public Relations, 2015). Students are told that the best objectives are tied to business results, and the number of interactions to a post is merely an output measure about whether a campaign is on the right track (in conjunction with an analysis of comments, which is another mid-campaign output measure). Questions about measuring social media and the Barcelona Principles also appear on the class study guide and exam to ensure that students are not confused about using an interaction count as an ultimate measure of a campaign’s success. The instructor explains to students that the assignment is designed in a truncated way to focus the class efforts on the course objectives. Additional survey and qualitative research could be added for a research methods class to tie the social media performance to business results. In conjunction with the assignment, students also share experiences with how they measure the success of their social media in their internships and compare these measures (or lack of any measure) to the Barcelona Principles. Students are shown an award-winning video about a Facebook campaign received from a PR agency, which is paused periodically to identify key terms (output, outcome), recognize message design strategies summarized by Heath and Heath (2007), and apply the Barcelona Principles to the campaign measurement.

Assignment Details

In addition to teaching the Barcelona Principles, additional best practices for measurement, and message design theory, the assignment introduction also involves a discussion about what makes public relations strategic. Ultimately, the assignment addresses the importance of goals, objectives, research about key publics, research-tested message design strategies, tactics that are appropriate to key publics, and assessment, which should occur during the campaign and at the end of the campaign.

Goals and Objectives

The class discusses the goal and sets the objective for weekly performance. The following goal is shared with them as the assignment: “Enhance the sense of community surrounding the UNC Charlotte Department of Communication Studies.” Next, the class is led through basic statistics to set an objective. Students examine the total number of weekly interactions for each week of the prior semester, which are included on the assignment handout. Students calculate the median, mode, and mean on their assignment handout. Next, they use a standard deviation website to automatically calculate this number to determine whether their distribution of weekly fan page interactions is normal (see EasyCalculation.com, n.d.). Kernler’s (2014) visual helps students understand the concept of standard deviation. Once students have figured out whether the weekly distribution of fan page interactions is normal based on the data’s standard deviation (extensive instructions are in the handout, which is walked through together), they decide whether they can use the previous semester’s mean as an anchor for setting their objective or whether the median or mode might be better choices. Once they have made their decision, as a class, they complete the following framework for the class objective: “To increase interaction on the fan page for the week (i.e., defined as the combined total of reactions, comments and shares) among members of any of our key publics by ________________, as compared with _________________________.” They calculate what a 10% increase would be from their anchoring metric and decide whether they think the increase is both meaningful and attainable. If the increase is not meaningful, they calculate what a 20% increase would be and so forth. The class also acknowledges that with social media, a major limitation is that we do not necessarily know if the people interacting with the content represent the class’ key publics, which were defined as prospective, current, and graduated majors and the parents of all three groups; department faculty, staff, and administrators; and university administrators.

Due to the modest size of the department’s fan page subscribers, a second goal for the class was built into the assignment: “Increase awareness of the UNC Charlotte Department of Communication Studies fan page.” The predetermined objective for the class was “to increase page likes among members of any of our key publics by five people per team member.” Students recorded the names of the people they recruited and organized the list by key public. They were not allowed to recruit each other for the assignment. Fan page recruitment stretched some students in terms of their comfort zones with promoting fan page content and might have played an important role in most students’ ability to reach their objective for the number of weekly fan page interactions.

Student Privacy, Assignment Timeline, Content, Rubric, and Teamwork

Each team’s Monday post includes an introduction of the team with a group picture and a quote for #MotivationMonday. To be in compliance with FERPA, students are informed that they need to tell the instructor prior to the deadline of their initial draft if they have any privacy preferences regarding the use of their name or picture. Drafts are due on Tuesday prior to the team’s week, feedback is provided within 24 hours, and students’ final submission for a revised grade is due via email Friday afternoon of the same week. The timeline is feasible because only one Facebook assignment is graded each week. Content is posted a week in advance, and the instructor emails the team to remind them to promote the fan page during the week and email anyone they featured on the day the relevant content appears if tagging was not possible. Students often share the Monday post on their feeds, which helps them exceed the weekly objective. Other themes for posts include Teach It Tuesday, Working Wednesday, Thursday Thoughts, and Forty-Niner Friday (named for the university mascot). The instructor maintains a list of content covered in the prior semester and restricts students from focusing on it (with some exceptions). The rubric for the assignment can be found in the Appendix. The complete handout exceeds the page limit of this article and can be requested via email (tgallica@uncc.edu).


Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications [ACEJMC]. (n.d.). Nine accrediting standards. Retrieved from http://www.acejmc.org/policies-process/nine-standards

EasyCalculation.com. (n.d.). Standard deviation calculator. Retrieved from https://www.easycalculation.com/statistics/standard-deviation.php

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2007). Made to stick: Why some ideas survive and other die. New York: Random House.

Institute for Public Relations. (2015). Barcelona Principles 2.0 – updated 2015. Retrieved from http://www.instituteforpr.org/barcelona-principles-2-0-updated-2015

Kernler, D. (2014, October 30). A visual representation of the empirical (68-95-99.7) rule based on the normal distribution. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Empirical_Rule.PNG

Paine, K. D. (2011). Measure what matters: Online tools for understanding customers, social media, engagement, and key relationships. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.



Assignment Rubric

In nearly all cases, you and your team will share the same grade. Thus, you need to work together to brainstorm good content ideas and proof each other’s posts, which will help to ensure a consistently high quality.

An exception to sharing the same grade is if a team member is not making internal deadlines that the team sets. If a member of your team is not keeping up with your internal timeline after at least one reminder and is not responsive to you within 24 hours, please email me or meet with me. Possible options I might take include lowering the teammate’s individual score or removing the individual from the team. Individuals who are removed from a team have the option of completing an alternate assignment (such as anonymously creating content for May 1-5 and will earn an assignment grade no higher than a C). Also, if I see that a team member did not author any of the posts, I will drop this person from the group.

5 points: Engaging, inviting, professional, human tone, including word choice. Use of up to one exclamation point per post to avoid sounding giddy.

10 points: Interesting content that is strategic with regard to the information covered in this worksheet and in our class discussion.

10 points: Quality of pictures or videos (aesthetic quality, lighting, sharpness, sound, if relevant) and how interesting they are (candid pictures and videos taken by you are preferred).

  • Any picture taken from the Internet that is not free to use (or that is free to use with attribution but is lacking the attribution) will result in a 0 from the individual author’s score and a maximum of 7/10 on the other team members’ score. I will also file a plagiarism report with the university, even if I do not press charges.
  • For a score of 8-10, the Monday post picture must be taken of your group all together with sharp resolution and good lighting. The picture should enhance your professional footprint.
  • For a score of 9-10, high-quality original photos and videos must be included for every post. See me if you want to appeal for an exception. Remember that you can use Canva online to create free images for quotes.

10 points: Writing mechanics, factual accuracy, spelling (including the saved name of the document), AP style and brevity.

  • 10/10: Flawless
  • 9/10: 1-2 errors
  • 8/10: 3-4 errors
  • 7/10 5-6 errors
  • 6/10 7-8 errors

(and so forth)