Karen’s PR & Social Media Blog

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June 8, 2014

Tips and best practices for graduate students entering the 21st century of being professors

I think what is challenging for professors today with this perspective is that it is not just the field and profession of PR that needs to get a seat at the table for senior leadership and businesses. It’s about getting ourselves to the table as professors.

Yes, I said that right – professors. When you think about it, we are the ones who are educating future professionals in and out of the classroom in the field. We are responsible in connecting the foundation of the field in terms of research and theory with the application. We are overseeing the development and spark that emerges over time with students who are in our majors and evolve on their own as they enter graduation.

In order to get a seat at the table, we first have to look at benchmarks on where we stand as professors, but also where our graduate students are at in terms of preparation. We have lots of great and talented professors and graduate students out there in the PR field – which is very exciting to see. What we have to make sure to do is to help them adapt to both the changes we are seeing in the field, but the evolution we are seeing with the role of the professor in PR.

As I was traveling back from my conference in Miami to Louisville, I was thinking about the reactions I not only got at this conference, but others over  the years. The reactions I have gotten have ranged from – wow! You are doing great work in your research that contributes both to practice and to research. I’ve also gotten some feedback on my work ethic and how it seems like I have a go-go mentality when it comes to projects and research. Yes, this is true – but I blame a little of it on my love for coffee. :)

However, since I have been at Louisville as an assistant professor, I felt there were several lessons I learned with taking on the role.

First year on the job – it is all about getting to know your community. Making introductions, setting up networking sessions and appointments to meet fellow professionals, and becoming familiar with the landscape of the profession both locally as well as nationally and even globally. Second year  – all about displaying what you know. What makes you different and separates you from the rest of the professors out there.  What are you doing in terms or research and where are you presenting and publishing in? It’s about establishing your voice, perspective, and personal brand to the field of academia, research, practice, and teaching.

However, the third year of being a professor is all about one thing:

It’s not about who you know or what you know: It’s about who knows you.

What I mean by this is simply – you have to invest in making sure professionals – researchers, practitioners, brands, and agencies – know you. They need to know your voice and point of view as a professor – what makes you unique and memorable. It is also key to be present and engaged with the conversations – wherever these are at. These can be at conferences as well as research meetings and online.

Another factor here is – you want to branch out in terms of who you want to know you. Meaning, if we are in PR, why are we not going to marketing, consumer behavior, or psychology events and conferences? For every person I talked to about this – I have said, it is key to go where the conversations are happening outside the field as well as in the field. I’ve been to many more conferences that are not PR than I have been to PR conferences. Go to these conferences to generate ideas. Talk to practitioners and start the conversation – not focusing on “okay, what can our students do for you” – but more along the lines “what can we do together to bridge the gap between research and practice to help the profession?” It’s all about having this hybrid perspective.

These are a few things I would have wanted to hear when I was a doctoral student, so this is why I was inspired to write this blog post. I’ve had several doctoral students and graduate students (even newly minted PhDs) reach out to me over the years with advice about best practices and what they can do to be successful in the field. We need more professors who take the time out to share these stories and best practices – we are all on the same page here, so why don’t we help each other out?

I’d be interested in hearing what you all think about this. Hope you all are having a great day.

Best Wishes,

May 5, 2014

Being professional does not mean boring: Showcasing best practices for standing out for professors

I got inspired to write this post by my sister Kristin’s post on her blog about how you can be professional but not boring. Awesome insights on this, Kristin – because this is SO true. Being passionate about what you do professionally is something that makes everything work – if you are excited and like what you are doing in your work, it doesn’t get old. Plus, it is something you get inspired to share these insights and ideas with others.

I had a chance to give a presentation at the UT Social Media Week a month ago and I felt this one was all about showcasing personality and not being a “normal” presentation by a professor. Was this a “normal” presentation by a professor? Well, that depends on what your definition of normal is. :) I would say that I used a lot more humor and personality here than I have done in some of my presentations – especially when I was a graduate student.

Here is the YouTube video of the presentation (I have my session around the 30 minute mark):

YouTube Preview Image

So, how do you make sure your work – both in research, practice, and in teaching – is not “boring” and making sure you are doing something you are passionate about? Here are some of my tips:

  • Got to showcase your personality: If you are trying to be someone else, you may not be as happy as you are if you are yourself. I noticed this as a professor – I realized I had to be myself and see what worked for me and how can I share this with others. See what works for you and do take on best practices from professors you feel are doing well – but do put your own twist on it. First and foremost – be yourself.
  • Be bold, dramatic, heroic!: You got to take a page out from Edna Mode from “The Incredibles” – set the tone and say – I am not going to be doing what everyone else is doing in research or teaching. I am going to go where no professor/researcher has gone before. Is this scary at times where you feel you are alone in the process? Sometimes this is true, but other times it is exciting. You’ve got to experiment around and see what works!
  • Being different is a good thing: Why would you want to be like everyone else out there? If you are like everyone else, how will you stand out? Consider doing a SWOT analysis of yourself in the profession. What makes YOU different from others, and how can you market and showcase this in your field? It may be hard to think about this, but every single professor, researcher, practitioner has unique qualities, stories, experiences, and point of views to share. It’s all about finding them and packaging them up in the brand you want to share.
  • If you feel like at any time your work is “boring” – you need to see WHY this is the case: What you do should be enjoyable and fun. There are always tasks that we may not enjoy more than others, that is the case in all aspects of work. However, if you see that most of the time you are like – I’m bored with what I am doing – you need to reevaluate what is going on and see what you can do to change this.
  • Take time to be creative: Do activities that help inspire your creativity. If you are doing work 100% of the time – this may not be the best for you and you may get burned out. Take an hour to do something you enjoy – whether it is photography, playing video games, work out (this is what I do), or other activities. I have found taking the time out to do an activity you enjoy, you feel rejuvenated and you may actually come up with some good ideas for your work. In fact, most of the ideas I have gotten for research and in my class have come after I have gone out from a run, walking out of a spin or kickboxing class to name a few.

Overall, the key message here is to make sure you are happy with what you are doing and you have a passion for it. However, liking what you do is only half the battle. There is hard work and dedication involved in the process as well. Yet – if you add the hard work and passion to the equation, you can become a very powerful force in the field where you can build and establish yourself as a person to note in your field. Special thanks again to Kristin for being the inspiration with her blog post for this one!

Hope you all are having a great day!

Best Wishes,

May 4, 2014

5 ways in translating Professor Slughorn’s shelf to showcasing students via social media for professors

I have been a Harry Potter fan for a long time – loved the books and really enjoyed the movies. Of course, whenever I am in Orlando, I have to make sure to stop by Universal Studios and visit the park – which automatically means I have to have some fabulous butter beer. :)

One character that struck a cord for me as a professor was not necessarily Professor Snape (even though I will one of these days enter class and say that there will be no foolish wand waving and silly incantations in this class!) It was actually Professor Horace Slughorn and the shelf he has showcasing his students over the years. He had a memory, a story, and reason for why he selected (or “collected” as he tried to do with Harry Potter) students from Hogwarts.

What struck me in particular is how professors do have these types of shelves for students they feel like they have been successful. I wouldn’t say they actually have physical shelves like Professor Slughorn, but their own social media platforms serve as these shelves in my opinion. Professors can showcase students who are doing well in their classes, internships, and succeed after graduation to do wonderful things out in the workplace. When I thought more about this, I realized I was creating a digital shelf like Professor Slughorn for showcasing the students in my classes on social media.

So, how do you go about in creating a digital shelf like Professor Slughorn to showcase your students on social media as a professor? Here are a few tips I have learned over the years on this topic:

  • Showcasing the students on platforms that can be seen by others in the business: I have found that Twitter has been the best tool for this for public relations and social media opportunities. However, if you have to connect the visual aspect (ex. video clips, photos, etc), I would say hosting this content on Instagram to share this with your other communities on Facebook and Twitter would be great. For example, one of my former students Diana is a huge Diet Coke enthusiast and wrote a blog post about them. I thought it was a great post and shared this with my friend and fellow Twitter colleague Scott Cuppari, who works for Coca-Cola. This was the tweet he shared with Diana and I last month. What a great connection for Diana!

  • Using appropriate hashtags and tag the students in your praise: If you are giving your students a shout out on social media, you want to make sure to 1) tag them in the picture or provide their handle on the social media platform in question (ex. Twitter and Instagram), and 2) make sure to also attach the link to their blog for future reference. As a professor, you want to provide your community with ways to connect with the student who is excelling in their internship, class, or job so they can reach out to them and congratulate them. It’s also key to note that this is not just for undergrads – but this can also be applied to graduate students as well! Share links to articles, slidedecks, blog posts, and other additional links to showcase their work to the community.

  • Be selective in who you showcase with a branded hashtag like #proudprof: I have been very fortunate to have some great students in all of my classes – they have been great. However, you want to showcase students you feel were extra motivated, determined, and inspired to excel both in and out of the classroom. This can be where you can establish a branded hashtag to show others this difference. For example, when I have particular praise for students who fell into this category, I would use the #proudprof hashtag on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

  • Explain WHY you feel as a professor this student deserves to be showcased: You want to share your point of view on why this student is excelling and making a difference in the field in your opinion. We always talk about how we have to be storytellers for brands and in our social media campaigns in class – but why are we not storytellers and advocates for our students on social media? This is key for professors to note and be able to say WHY these students are different and unique from others. Is it due to their work with a client for class? Producing a blog post that is featured on a premiere social media blog or website? Getting a huge internship with a big brand? This is where you as the professor you share your insights on social media. I did this a few weeks ago when I recommended three of my students (Lizelle, Diana, and Amanda) to be featured on Arik Hanson’s blog for 17 PR students to watch post. For each of these students, I shared why they were rising stars in the field and how to connect with them online and made sure to share this with my colleagues on my blog, FB, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts.

  • Bridge the digital shelf to the physical real world shelf: While showcasing excellent students on social media is great, what will make it even more stellar is if you are able to bring this forward in person as well. Most professors either do one or the other – but if you were able to showcase students both digitally AND in real-life, this  puts your praise and point of view as a professor to a stronger level. For example, I did this when former social media students Amanda and Diana came and participated in a radio interview for The Social Network show on Hootsuite University. This was a great opportunity for these two ladies that translated both offline and online as well.

In summary, I think social media allows professors the perfect platform and opportunity to showcase their students in a positive and energetic manner. It has been great to have so many great students and to feature them on social media. As professors, we want to serve as social connectors to help students make these connections with fellow professionals, businesses, and brands to get their foot in the door in the profession. More than ever, I think this is going to be come a key role for us to take on as professors. With that being said, bring it on!

Hope you all are having a great day!

Best Wishes,

February 20, 2014

Making a Difference in PR: One step at a time

It’s always good to have goals. I had many of them when I was a student-athlete back in the day and it really helped me keep focused on what I want to accomplish as well as having a sustainable mindset for what I needed to get done each day. Whether it was making a certain mark in the shot put or winning the state meet  in high school or making the All-American team for college or placing at the Olympic Trials, all of these activities helped me overcome challenges and obstacles while keeping my eye on the prize.

Fast forward a few years after I retired – I started setting goals for myself in my new chapter of life in the field of public relations. One of my goals ever since I started the PhD program at the University of Tennessee in 2007 (has it been almost seven years?!) was to make a difference.

Making a difference can be interpreted in a variety of ways I suppose, but I wanted to aim high for what I could potentially do in the profession I was entering into as a professor, scholar, researcher, and consultant. This meant taking each student that walked into my door under my wing and showing them all that PR and social media had to offer them. This meant helping others in research and teaching so they can become a better professor by sharing resources and best practices. This meant always looking ahead and setting goals for myself for publication numbers, conference papers, and consulting opportunities professionally.

However, when you are faced with the fact you have reached one aspect of your goal in making a difference, the feeling is overwhelming and truly humbling. I did not realize that I would see this now, but a friend and PR student (Caitlyn Johnson), let me know via Twitter that I was quoted in the well established and recognized PR textbook called THINK Public Relations latest edition. The quote in which was featured in the textbook was part of a blog post I did for PRSA a few years ago.

When I saw this, I was really excited and honored all at the same time. I remember writing this post for the Comprehension PRSA blog and wanted to share some best practices and tips on what professionals – both researchers and practitioners – can do to bridge the gap when it came to the growing expectations we have now in the field. This has been a point of view I have had ever since I started in the PhD program, and I am truly amazed that my quote is now featured in a textbook used not only around the US, but around the world as well.

Yes, I would definitely consider that making a difference. :) This motivates me even more to continue working hard, being dedicated to the profession that I enjoy being a part of, and mentoring and helping others both in research and in the classroom. Special thanks to Caitlyn for sharing this with me and thanks to the authors of the textbook for including this in their latest edition.

Hope you all are having a great day!

Best Wishes,

November 23, 2013

Personal takeaways from #NCA13 Conference

I have been to the NCA Conference before, but it has been a couple of years. The first time I went as a doctoral student at Tennessee, I just remember a couple things about the conference. It was busy, huge, and lots and lots of presentations. When I first came to the conference just a few years ago, I only knew a few people and my research line in social media and crisis communications was just starting. I was known as the PhD student from Tennessee who was studying PR. I was labeled as an “applied researcher” at times as well, which I was fine with.

Fast forward a few years. I did not attend NCA last year since I was presenting at the World PR Forum in Melbourne. So, I came back to DC (third time this year for a conference!) and was part of a great social media and PR panel. I was able to see some good presentations and panel sessions. While the research seemed to be along the same paths, something changed. However, this year, things were different – much different for me.  Compared to other times where I knew a few people who were in attendance, I was amazed this time to meet people who I have connected with both virtually and in person at previous conferences.

I have to admit, I was a bit amazed and honored to have the chance to talk to so many wonderful students and professionals in DC these past few days. I had people come to me and said “Wow! I follow you on social media and thank you for always sharing your resources!” and talking about my social media class with the hashtag #Freberg13. Whoa – that was pretty cool!

Here were a few things I learned from NCA which really went beyond the research and presentations covered at the conference (which were all good):

  • Your reputation as a scholar does change from a PhD Student to an Assistant Professor: I had the chance to talk with one of my good friends and colleagues (who also was one of my favorite professors in graduate school at SC) about this very issue, and he told me that as a PhD student, people are attributing their perception based on your potential as a scholar, but as a professor, they are basing this on what you have accomplished. This really hit a point with me and realized this is a key lesson for me to realize and it made sense to me. You are starting your career as a professor and you have to prove yourself with your research, teaching, and consulting.
  • Social media allows a window to showcase your brand to the world: I’ve been active with social media for years, but it was really at this conference where I was able to see how what I have shared online – from Twitter to my blog to even what I have done with the AEJMC PRD social media team – to professionals and students I have never met before the conference. I was honored and amazed at the same time – social media is all about being social, and if you take the time to share your resources and insights with others – they will appreciate it. It was wonderful to see this being acknowledged at the conference this past few days.
  • Being put into the research box: There are times where people and others put you into “research boxes” for what you do in the field and what your contribution is. Some are theorists, some are known for crisis communications, and there are others that are known for other fields. At tis conference, I was put into the “social media box.” This has taken several years to get acknowledged in the field for this work, but I was amazed with the level of respect and enthusiasm displayed from others in attendance with my work. It was both exciting and amazing at the same time – truly honored by this.
  • Paying it forward is crucial: I was EXTREMELY impressed with the level of professionalism, commitment, and creativity with research and ideas from the PhD students I ran into this past week at NCA. They are the future for the field, and it wasn’t long ago where I was one of them. I’ve tried to give them the advice I either got or wished I got as a PhD student myself. Mentorship is absolutely a key duty we have in the profession, so it is important to make sure to pay it forward.

As you can see, you get a chance to learn much more at conferences than just the presentations and research being shared. I found that this conference in many senses opened a new chapter and mindset for me as a professional. One of my goals for my work as a professor/researcher has been to make a difference in the field – I just didn’t realize how quickly this could happen or how rewarding it is to hear others share their stories, insights, and comments about the work as well.

I had a wonderful time catching up with everyone at NCA. Thanks to all who came to my panel session and met with me for coffee, talked with me at the conference and at the business meeting, and reached out to me at the PR social. Hope you all enjoy the rest of the conference and safe travels!

Have a great day!

Best Wishes,


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