On January 13, the #PRStudChat was on social media in the PR classroom.  Deidre Breakenridge (@dbreakenridge) and Valerie Simon (@valeriesimon) co-hosted the live Twitter chat. The discussion among students and PR educators was lively and interesting. Here are some of the thoughts I came away with:

Not everyone is doing it.  The educators who participated were clearly involved with social media and incorporating it into their classrooms.  But it was also clear from the students’ comments that not all of them were receiving the exposure to social media in class that they should.  Those students will be expected to know how to use social media to build and leverage relationships on the job.  We must prepare them for that.  Having a Facebook account does not mean that you know how an organization can use Facebook or that you know how to blog or tweet or tell compelling stories.  It is up to us as educators to ensure they understand social media from a public relations perspective.

Social media shouldn’t be a stand-alone course.  I strongly believe social media should be integrated into all of our PR courses from writing to management to campaigns.  First, it is integrated in the “real world.”  Most campaigns combine traditional and social media.  Students need to understand how traditional and social media work together and how each are used depending on an organization’s publics.  Second, when students are taught a subject in a separate class or in a separate section or lecture, they tend not to think holistically.  They don’t see the pieces of the puzzle fitting together.

You learn by doing.  There really is something experiential about social media.  You can’t read about blogs in a text and understand them.  You have to read them, comment on them, and write them.  You can’t understand the phenomenon of Twitter and how it has altered the power relationship between consumer and producer without being part of the conversation.  One could argue of course that PR has always been that way; that’s why we have our students practice writing news releases.  But there is something fundamentally different about social media.  It is “social.”  It is done in public.  You have to put yourself out there and become part of the conversation to learn how to do it.

It’s not the technology, stupid.  As Karen Miller Russell ably noted in the chat and after on her blog, it isn’t the technology that is important.  Something better, bigger, more efficient will eventually replace Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Learning only the technology is like learning only the format of a news release.  It’s not the channel that is important.  The technology will change, but the drivers behind social media will continue.  Once information becomes democratized, once people become accustomed to generating their own content, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.  As educators, we need to focus on the principles of public relations, not the latest and greatest technology.

It’s an exciting time to be in PR and in PR education.