After seeing this article being retweeted on Twitter, I set right to writing a comment reply. However, when the reply started going beyond 600 words, I realised that not only would it probably not fit in the reply box, but it was worth writing my own blog about the topic and not completely overtaking the comment section of the article up!
The issue raised on Behind The Spin is one that I have been battling for a while now and this is a blog post that has long been on the back burner. It is that of teaching (or lack of) social media on PR courses at universities. The writer of the original article studies at Sunderland University, one of the first in the country to have a module on social media (and a good one by the sounds of it, giving that lectures are only ever planned out a few weeks in advance due to the ever changing nature of social media).
I study PR on the Leeds Metropolitan course. Now I intern at Wolfstar, a PR, social media and WOM agency. So you can understand why this topic is one I have a particular interest and involvement in.
Since my first year when my tutor (and editor of this site, Richard Bailey) encouraged us to set up our own blogs, I began to start thinking about building and maintaining my online profile and what this would mean for my future within this industry.
The PR course taught us much about theory, communication and even marketing, but there was and still is a huge gaping void in the social media department. It hasn’t been left out completely, but I do not think that a guest lecture everyone once in a while is really going to get PR students ready for the giant shake-up this industry is going through. As long as total emphasis on traditional media and AVEs is still being taught (despite being blasted at the European Summit ) PR students are not going to be ready to do this job or fight off the incredible amount of competition that affects every graduate.
For some employers, there has always been a ‘dark cloud’, if you will, around the idea of a PR degree. Some argue that it doesn’t really teach PR and only work experience is needed along with a ‘more academic’ degree. Indeed I have worked with and watched students in my class who do very little work and have poor attendance go on to make it through to the next year; something that a student studying subjects like English or Chemistry would not have been able to do. My colleague at Wolfstar, Jed Hallam, has even blogged about how a PR course is not needed to practice.
Not teaching what will soon become a core skill of anyone working within PR (social media and online communication) is just another crutch keeping up the PR course. There is already evidence that social media is a skill dominated by PR practitioners, so it doesn’t make sense not the teach it. I have spoken to employees and managers of a few PR agencies now and the general feeling from most is that though they understand how hard it would be to integrate into the course, it is a skill that we need to know.
For my final year electives, I have a choice of several topics. I feel this is the perfect opportunity to give my current student year a boost in their knowledge and understanding of social media before they graduate. However, the subjects include ‘Celebrity and The Media’ reinforcing the PR image that many frown on our industry for.
I haven’t chosen my electives yet as I feel a little let down on the choices. I would love a module delving into the theory and mechanisms of how social media and its participants work, really looking into the theories behind human behaviour and how this is reflected in our choice of networks and brands online. A module that explained what the semantic web is and what it could mean for both the future of PR and the internet as a whole would be incredibly useful. Perhaps a module that touched on topics like search engine optimizations and basic HTML and web design; all useful skills to add to any PR practitioners CV.
These are all things that I take it upon myself to learn if university won’t teach me them, and I am lucky enough to work in an office that supports us and encourages us to build these skills. It still frustrates me though that my university won’t help me out nor will it enlighten others who have not had the work experience opportunities that I have had.
I would love to know how other PR students feel about this issue, and also how practitioners within the industry feel. How much do you value a PR course? What is your experience with working with/employing PR degree graduates? Should social media become a module, and what should it include?