Monday, July 12, 2010

Looking for clients for my "PR for Nonprofits" class!

I'll be teaching "Public Relations for Nonprofit Organizations" this fall and am looking for two nonprofit organizations in the Austin area that would be interested in working with my students during the fall semester! This class is a service-learning course which allows students to gain valuable hands-on PR experience while simultaneously helping out a local nonprofit.

As part of the class, students will take on a local nonprofit as a client and provide PR counsel to that organization. Students will meet with representatives from the nonprofit to find out more about the organization and to identify a PR problem or opportunity (this could be any PR related issue such as increasing awareness among a particular public about what your organization does; attracting more volunteers, etc.). Based on their interactions with the client and on research conducted by the students, they then develop a comprehensive plan for a PR campaign which states their goals and objectives for the campaign, identifies key publics and messages, and describes the best strategies and tactics to reach their stated goal(s). At the end of the semester, students present their campaign proposal to the class and the client.

If you are interested in working with our class on this exciting project, or if you know of a nonprofit organization that could use our services, please contact me. I'm looking forward to hearing from you!

For further info on the class, I have attached the syllabus:

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Going on a social media fast

(Post crostposted to: A little bit of background on this project: I have always been intrigued by the Internet. I can still remember the exact day I first heard a friend utter the word email and explain what it meant. That was back in the summer of 1994. I got my first email account that same year and participated in a transatlantic text-based chat only a few months later. Needless to say, I was impressed. Until that moment, computers had seemed useless to me.

To my defense, my introduction to computers consisted of a class on Logo! To this day I can still see myself sitting in class, frustrated, punching in command after command in an effort to coax my Logo turtle into drawing that flower that would have guaranteed me an A in the class. My flower never took shape. Neither did the A. I later learned BASIC and PASCAL but never understood the point of either of those programming languages. All of that changed in an instant though when I discovered the beginnings of the Internet back in 94. I was mesmerized. So much so that I decided to pursue a Master's and later a Ph.D. in computer-mediated communication. But things didn't really get serious until 2005 - right around the time when I first heard people talk about "social media." At that time I wasn't real sure what they were referring to, but from the sheer volume of mentions I could tell it was something big.

As a communication professor, I quickly became convinced that we needed to incorporate the study of social media into our curriculum. So I proposed to design a class dedicated solely to social media. The class was scheduled to be taught for the first time in the fall of 2007, which meant I had a lot of social media catching up to do. I had to learn about RSS and feed readers, figure out wikis and social bookmarks, and start blogging and tweeting. All those things were new to me. And they were starting to eat up my time - a lot of my time. A couple of months into my first semester teaching the class, my husband jokingly declared himself a social media widower.

I assured him it was a temporary thing, that I needed to learn the ropes and that as soon as I had done so, my life would be back to normal. What I didn't realize then was the fact that social media doesn't work that way. Social media sites are more like a pack of ravenous wolves demanding to be fed constantly -- with new tweets, new status updates and new blog posts. And the rules of engagement dictate that a good social media user respond to other's comments. No rest for the weary here!

It's a catch 22 for social media professionals. Most of us realize that social media have taken over an excessively large part of our lives, but few perceive any viable alternatives. Sometimes I wonder if people (myself included) even want an escape route. I also worry about the long-term effects of excessive social media use. I'm not just talking about the relational effects here (a topic I addressed at this year's SXSWi conference). I'm also thinking about the effects on our behaviors and possibly our brains. As Nicholas Carr put it so elegantly:
"Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages."
Ever since reading Carr's article Is Google Making Us Stupid? a couple of years ago, I knew he was on to something. He described a phenomenon I had observed many times in my own behavior, something I had come to call hyperlinked thinking. Deep down I always suspected I knew the culprit... In this year's June edition of Wired Magazine, Carr provides further evidence of the Internet's ability to affect the way we think. He describes a study which found that a week of intensive Internet surfing is enough to rewire a novice's brain, changing the brain's activity to resemble that of veteran Internet surfers. Even if you don't believe social media usage can rewire your brain, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence of how it is changing our behaviors. This quote fromRoger Ebert's blog post on the topic is one I can relate to all too well:
For years I would read during breakfast, the coffee stirring my pleasure in the prose. You can't surf during breakfast. Well, maybe you can. Now I don't have coffee and I don't eat breakfast. I get up and check my e-mail, blog comments and Twitter.
Ebert's post made me curious. I already know that social media has had a tremendous effect on my life - from the way I teach, to the way I interact with friends and family, to smaller behavior changes that might pass below the radar unless we stop to think about them. And that's exactly what I am proposing to do: Taking a social media time-out and recording the effects. For one full week I will renounce all social media. I will challenge myself to stay off Facebook and Twitter, ignore my blogs and emails, and turn off the Internet altogether. In essence, I'm sending my computer on vacation! Instead of my laptop, I will carry a notebook (one made of paper) to record my thoughts on the experiment. After the end of the experiment, I will publish my findings on this blog. By removing social media from my life for a week, I'm hoping to learn how these new technologies are impacting my daily life.  After all, if a week of intense web training can alter a novice's brain, imagine what a week off the grid could do to an Internet addict!