Cautiously Optimistic

Social media for better communication and a better life

Posts Tagged ‘social media

Relationships vs. Rhetoric in Public Relations

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Relationships vs. Rhetoric - two sides of the same coin? Image Courtesy of iStockPhotoOne of the more interesting classes I have taken in my pursuit of a master’s degree in public relations has been a look at the theoretical underpinnings of the industry.

Normally we don’t think of what we do as having a basis in theory. You can’t just pick up a theory and hold it toward the light. It’s an abstract concept. But it is helpful to ponder some of the competing ideas that try to explain what public relations is, why people and organizations engage in it, and why it works (or doesn’t work).

In that class, we spent a great deal of time discussing whether “relationships” are at the heart of public relations, or whether “rhetoric” is the basis of all that we do.

I was reminded of that discussion by a recent article by John Trader in PR Daily, which listed the “5 key traits of a successful PR professional.”

The article outlined the following must-have traits for anyone wanting to “make it” in public relations:

  • Thick skin;
  • Resiliency;
  • Attention to detail;
  • Creativity; and
  • Relationship building.

In my experience, all five of these traits really are “must-haves,” but the final item intrigued me. There it was, plain as day: support for “relationships” as the bedrock of PR success. But reading deeper in the article, Trader described “relationship building” as the ability to “bridge communication chasms through quality conversations.”

That’s the point at which my PR professors would say “A-ha! And what are quality conversations made of? Rhetoric. The ability to communicate with others in such way as to persuade them of the rightness of your position, while being open to being persuaded if their arguments have greater merit.”

That is what a “quality conversation” is. Anything else is just a monologue.

As public relations practitioners continue to learn how to use social media to create and improve relationships with their publics, using the tools of effective rhetoric, it might be safe to say that instead of being in conflict with each other, relationships and rhetoric are actually the two sides of the same coin.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 17, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Time is Money, and Vice Versa

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Among the many catchphrases attributed to inventor, publisher, diplomat and Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, one of my favorites is “time is money.”

The basic idea is that even though time is an abstract concept, it still has a real, concrete value. Usually, so the thinking goes, the more time you have, the better off you are.

Whole industries have arisen around time-saving products. The Franklin Planner time management system was reportedly based on Benjamin Franklin’s own personal system of keeping track of his days and his to-do lists. Smartphones now have time-management “apps,” and bloggers discuss topics such as the “5 simple web apps for saving time at work” and the “top 7 ways to save time on Twitter.”

Since humans do not (as of yet) have the power to lengthen the day, we all have the same 24 hours. So can we really “save” time? No. We are just shifting things around, doing less of one thing so that we can do more of another thing.

This is actually a wonderful development, because some actions are worth taking, while it is really, really nice to not have to do other things.

There is a great op-ed piece by Jon Barocas on that discusses the end of QR codes, the little black squares that you can scan with a smartphone and automatically navigate to a website or download other information.

The best part of the article is a YouTube video demonstration of Google Goggles, a potential successor to QR codes. Google Goggles is the search engine’s method of looking for information by taking pictures of something.

The reason I like the video is not so much because of the product demonstration, but because it illustrates how much of a time-saver the ubiquitous Web has become. Walking the streets of San Francisco, the narrator is able to access information that would have required the nearby presence of street maps, printed telephone books, library card catalogues, and old copies of Wine Speculator magazine. Yet he was able to get all of the relevant information streamed to his smartphone in time to have lunch.

So if “time is money,” the reverse is also true: “money is time.” If you have the money to afford a smartphone, you can use it to “buy” time that is then spent on lunch at some out-of-the-way Italian restaurant, rather than at the nearest library.

I am cautiously optimistic that Benjamin Franklin would approve.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 16, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Audio Podcast: Social Media and the Newspaper Industry

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Click here to listen to a podcast interview with Kevin Slimp, director of the Institute for Newspaper Technology in Knoxville. Slimp discusses the impact of social media on the newspaper business, and some surprising ways that social media usage is changing our lives. Download the file here.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 12, 2012 at 5:19 pm

The View from Nowhere

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I recently attended a convention of my state’s newspaper association, and one of the highlights of the convention was a series of training sessions on all aspects of the newspaper business.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that social media was the topic of around half of all of the training sessions. Social media is something that all communicators are grappling with, and newspapers are no exception.

The attendees were a mixture of newspaper owners/publishers and reporters/editors, but the discussions tended to focus on the business side of social media.

The topics included the return on investment for hiring dedicated social media staffers versus giving the responsibility for social media to existing staffers, and the cost-benefit analysis of creating customized newspaper “apps” for smartphones and tablet computers versus spending money to revamp newspaper websites to maximize their viewability across a variety of platforms (PCs, tablets, smartphones).

I didn’t hear much about the impact of social media on the news gathering process itself, which was too bad, because this article from GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram highlighted a problem that the editorial side of newspapers are facing with social media: using it to promote reporters (and by extension, their newspapers) while at the same time preventing those reporters from letting their personalities shine through.

According to the article, the fear is that any hint of personality shining through a reporter’s social media activities could expose the person, and by proxy, the newspaper, of bias or <shudder> a personal opinion. Objective reporting is supposed to reflect “the view from nowhere,” meaning complete impartiality.

But, as the article points out, the whole point of social media is personal connection. So it seems to me that in addition to worrying about the impact of social media on a newspaper’s bottom line, publishers ought to consider its impact on their own reporters and editors.

No one is a robot. We all have opinions and personalities. So if reporters are going to be marketed via their social media output, they have to let their personality shine through. Their reporting has to be “the view from right here.”

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 10, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Audio Podcast: Social Media in the Classroom

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Click here to listen to a podcast interview with Lisa Fall, associate professor of public relations at the University of Tennessee. Fall discusses her experiences with social media in the classroom, both the brick-and-mortar kind and in online teaching. Download the file here.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 7, 2012 at 6:00 am

Facebook Backlash in 3…2…1…ding!

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Facebook logoIn elementary-school science class, we all learned about Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion. The one that stuck with me was the third law: “To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.”

Watching the mostly-positive news coverage of Facebook’s announcement that it would be selling stock in May, I wondered when the negative stories about Facebook would begin to trickle in.

The New York Times answered that question today, not with a trickle, but a torrent of negative coverage.

Their three-part series leads with an opinion piece, “Facebook Is Using You,” by Lori Andrews. This article reminds us that Facebook uses its users in two ways: first, it depends on its members to generate, for free, the content for the website; and second, the company then turns around and sells the information gleaned from that content to the highest-bidding advertisers.

This is nothing we haven’t heard before, but it is an unpleasant reminder of how much “free” actually costs us.

The second article, “The Death of the Cyberflâneur,” by Evgeny Morozov, uses a somewhat obscure word in its title to describe how we all used to explore the Internet before Facebook, Twitter and news aggregator sites like The Huffington Post and The Drudge Report did our “Internet Exploring” for us. We were lone hunter-gatherers, prowling the savannah in search of information and entertainment. Now we are moving toward a world where Facebook (or something like it) is our one-stop shop: no learning any other URLs, no thinking required. Everything we want to know is served up to us in one place, and automatically shared with all of our “friends.”

The third article, “Europe Moves to Protect Online Privacy,” by Somini Sengupta, shines a light through the darkness by offering a possible way to increase the protection of our online data here in the U.S.: do as the Romans (and Londoners and Parisians) do. European privacy protection laws are much stronger than in the U.S., and it would not take much political clout to do the same thing here.

Can this happen? I think so. Will it happen? Only if people pay attention to Newton’s law and start pushing back.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 5, 2012 at 1:57 pm

A Good Way to Break Bad News

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Being a better communicator means sometimes having to break bad news, in a sensitive but direct way.

Public relations practitioners sometimes find themselves in no-win situations, explaining or justifying their organization in the face of criticism from external audiences and their own internal stakeholders.

We sometimes find ourselves in no-win situations in our personal lives as well, when we must share something that we really, really wish we didn’t have to. It reminds me of the title of the Harlan Ellison short-story collection “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” when we discover that we are simultaneously torn between having to say something and being unwilling or unable to say it.

Writer Adam Dachis of the Lifehacker blog recently posted some good advice on how to break out of that “can’t say it/must say it” trap. It sounds simple, but is quite powerful: instead of beating around the bush, you must phrase the bad news in as simple a message as possible, and then go ahead and deliver the message.

Putting things off or minimizing the impact of your words will not make a situation better. It’s like only partially removing a splinter from your finger. It may not hurt as much, but the pain is still there.

To that, I would add the thought that you must be prepared for the consequences of the bad news you have just shared. You can choose what to tell someone, but you cannot choose how they react to it. Only they get to decide how they want to react to it. It’s like un-ringing a bell: you can’t do it. Once you have said something, it’s out of your control.

It’s the same way with social media, only faster. If you give a person bad news in a direct, face-to-face conversation, it may not go much farther than that. But if you post bad news to your social media sites, it’s instantly shared with everyone you know, and archived for all time in The Great Internet Cloud.

That loss of control is one reason why I don’t think social media are an appropriate place for sharing bad news. More than one person I know has accidently informed all of their Facebook friends of a breakup by allowing their change of relationship status to be posted to their news feed.

So even if it is not possible to avoid being the bearer of bad tidings, there certainly are better ways to do it.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 2, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Social Media, for Good and for Evil

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Image by Mona - Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It was around this time last year that a popular uprising began in Tunisia, followed by unrest in Libya and Egypt, ultimately leading to the “Arab Spring” movement that resulted in the fall of decades-old Middle Eastern dictatorships.

Social media has received a lot of the credit for helping keep these movements going, of providing the oxygen to fuel the fires of revolution. But the Internet, the backbone upon which social media rests, also is being used by corporations and governments to oppress the people.

That’s the theme of author Rebecca MacKinnon’s new book, “Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom,” excerpted here at MacKinnon describes how Egyptian protesters used social media such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook to keep each other and the world informed of their struggle.

But as the protesters began investigating the Egyptian state security apparatus, they discovered that their government had used the Internet and the latest surveillance equipment to monitor their e-mail, track down their friends and contacts via their social-media profiles, and follow their whereabouts and activities over time.

People all over the world face a similar threat, MacKinnon writes, as Hollywood studios attempt to use legislation like SOPA and PIPA to stifle innovation and force individuals to consume media the way Hollywood wants them to.

Similarly, Twitter announced last week that it would start censoring its own content on a country-by-country basis.

Imagine if that rule had been in place just a year ago. Imagine the Egyptian protesters, desperately tweeting eyewitness accounts of police brutality in Tahrir Square, while in a bunker somewhere in Cairo, a government official was requesting that Twitter censor all traffic coming into or out of Egypt.

Scary to imagine, but don’t be surprised if the next revolution fails because governments shut down the Internet, rendering social media a silent bystander to political repression.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

January 31, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Information Subsidies or Just Good Stories?

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When public relations professors and researchers talk about news releases and tip sheets, they don’t call them news releases, they call them “information subsidies.”

I am about to finish my master’s degree in public relations, so I have taken my fair share of classes on public relations theory and practice.

When I first encountered the phrase in one of my classes, I experienced an “aha” moment: I had never thought about it before, but I knew instantly that it was exactly correct.

A big part of what we do as public relations professionals is produce information subsidies, or content that helps journalists do their jobs easily and more quickly. With layoffs and hiring freezes in newsrooms, the remaining staffers are squeezed as never before, so the assistance we provide in tracking down good stories can be very helpful to the working media.

Standard stuff for a PR practitioner, right? Yes. But as social media accelerates change in all forms of communication, practitioners will need to expand their own definition of what qualifies as an “information subsidy.”

The PR Daily blog recently posted a great roundup of how changes in media content delivery will impact public relations.

For me, the takeaway points were:

1) remember that journalists are not just looking for text anymore, they are looking for multimedia opportunities,

2) don’t try to pitch reporters using social media, but

3) do get to know the reporters via their social media profiles.

Building and maintaining good relationships with journalists is a must for PR professionals, and social media is one more way of doing just that.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

January 29, 2012 at 8:26 pm

Look on the Bright Side!

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Welcome to the first entry for my first blog, “Cautiously Optimistic.” True to its title, this blog is not going to break any dishes, shatter any paradigms, bloody any noses, or get too carried away. At least not too often.

What I hope it will do is set a tone of hopefulness, wisdom, and, yes, optimism about the future.

My professional background is in journalism and public relations. I will share what I have learned over the years, both in school and in the School of Hard Knocks, as well as my thoughts and opinions of current events and future trends, to explore how we can improve ourselves and each other, how we communicate, and how social media can play a role in that process of discovery and improvement.

My goal is to use this forum to persuade you that improvement is possible in all areas of our lives. Will I achieve that goal? As you might have guessed, I remain cautiously optimistic.


Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

January 24, 2012 at 8:00 pm