PR and Social Media Blog

Public Relations in 140 characters or less? It’s #Comm399

by Suzanne Mims

PR and Social Media Blog
Tweets from the #Comm399 campaign

Technology and social media have altered public relations as it has been practiced for the past 100 years, but teaching public relations at Mason is keeping pace. Students enrolled in fall semester's Contemporary Public Relations and Social Media are exploring the new world of PR, one tweet at a time.

"Using Twitter strategically is not as easy as you might think," said Jasmine Smith, who is slated to graduate in December. "You can tweet all day but if you don't have the right followers or the right content, you are just wasting your time."

Students created a Twitter account expressly for use in the course and were challenged to attract a network of communication students, local public relations professionals and related resource providers and test messages for “virality.” For the communication department's annual career forum #AllThingsSocial, students mounted a Twitter campaign #Comm399 that helped publicize the event but it also connected them to guest speakers and their networks through retweets and favorites. 

“Millennials don’t need to be taught how to use social media. How to use social media strategically to meet specific objectives is what this course is about,” said course instructor Suzanne Lowery Mims @mimsPR.    

Students are also creating content for the course blog to practice writing "compelling content that is evidence-based and provides practical value," according to Mims. "The Internet now has a voracious appetite for well-written, well-constructed content that addresses the public's searches on Google. These students are preparing to meet that demand."  

"Knowing that our blog is public and searchable raises the bar on our work," said Hussain Al-Mutawakil.  Hussain, who will graduate in December, currently works 20 hours a week managing social media and public relations for an insurance company, while attending school full-time.  He says the course has helped him to understand that "there is a science to sharing."

Students studied research on viral messaging through "Contagious: Why Things Catch On" by Wharton Professor Jonah Berger @j1berger. Students analyze why certain public relations campaigns are more effective, using Berger's STEPPS paradigm of social currency, triggers, emotions, public, practical value and storytelling.   

As a final course assignment, students are addressing "challenges" from the university's Wellness, Alcohol, Violence Education and Services by creating an integrated, digital public relations and social media plan.