I've spent a lot of time with students at Drake University, Simpson College, Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, UNI and Des Moines Area Community College the past two years. There are many bright students out there, for sure. Unfortunately, the classroom is not the best place to get to know these young people. But strike up a conversation on a social network, and you get a more accurate snapshot of the subjects they're interested in.
It's a paradox then, that these students, who live their lives on Facebook, don't really know much about the value of social networking in a business context, or its value in public relations, or its value in crisis communications. This bridge between the "social" nature of social media and the "media" aspect should be built during college. Once graduated and in the working world, these bright young people may not have the luxury of time to think about these connections again, until they're faced with writing a plan for a client or employer, who will expect them to know.
Unfortunately, most public relations programs still treat social media as an ancillary specialty, much like an appendix. There are many reasons for this. Sometimes it's because the professors don't know enough about social media in the context of a PR career to teach it. Sometimes, old school classes are taking up too much time on the required class list. So, I've come to the conclusion that students need not wait for a formal class to learn about social media. They should check the items off on this list themselves.
- Learn how to shoot, edit and post video: Buy an inexpensive Flip, or simply use the video function on your point and shoot camera. Look into free editing software such as Microsoft Movie Maker or Apple iMovie. The goal is not to become the next Steven Spielberg, but to just become comfortable with the general process. Post the video to YouTube and tag it.
- Learn how to record a podcast. With the free microphone that comes with most computers, and a free software program such as Audacity, you can create a simple audio file. Use this opportunity to hone your interviewing skills, which you will need when you become a PR professional.
- Create and write regularly on a blog: There are many good free blogging platforms out there, such as Typepad and Wordpress. I'd avoid Blogger just because I find it to be limited. Blogging teaches many things and hones writing skills. It also provides lots of practice in posting pictures and videos.
- Get on Twitter and learn how to use it. Follow your classmates and professors, your university, or anyone from the city you live in. You'll start to build your own following very soon.
- Collect internships like seashells. If no perfect position presents itself, market yourself as an intern to a local nonprofit and offer your services to get them up and running on social media for six months.
- Clean up your Facebook page and make it more adult-working-world acceptable. No need to scrub it clean, but use discretion in what pictures of you are tagged with your name.
- Join LinkedIn and use contacts you make during internships as your first connections.
- Figure out social media strategy: Write a paper on using social media in the business world and highlight some great case studies. Be sure to make a clear connection between strategy and tactics. Why was social media used? Did it help solve a problem? Did it produce measurable results?
- Take Internet Marketing. There are lots of old-school digital marketing classes that can teach you about CRM, email marketing and SEO. A lot of what you learn will apply to social media as well.
- Get involved. There are many opportunities to help your school, your local PRSSA chapter, as well as your community. Show initiative and get out there and do something. Put it on your resume as a volunteer position.