Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Welcome to Our New PR Community

Community.  Tara Hunt talks about the importance of community for building whuffie, or social capital.  Seth Godin says that tribes matter, Sean Moffitt and Mike Dover dedicate a chapter of their new book Wikibrands to a discussion about community development, describing communities as “vibrant pools of individuals who aggregate around interests, aspirations and hobbies”.

As PR practitioners, it is our job to identify these communities, interact with them, and, hopefully, build whuffie within them.  It may even be our job to build these communities ourselves.  

But what does community really mean?  How deeply does it matter?  I have my school community, work community, church community, tennis community, maybe even a social media community.  But I don’t think I ever appreciated the concept more than when I visited Kenya this summer with my son and a group of youth from our church.

Walking through Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum, our guides pointed to a cluster of apartment buildings which bordered the seemingly endless rows of shacks. They noted that the government-built housing was intended to upgrade the living conditions of Kibera’s poorest residents.  Although many have migrated to the housing development, some actually returned to their shacks.  Why?   They cite their need for community.   One of our guides, a volunteer for the Caroliner group, explained that, for example, when someone doesn’t have enough money to cook their dinner, they’ll go to a neighbour’s shack and use their fire that night.  They have easy access to each other.  They help each other. They grow to rely on each other.

My Kenyan experience showed me that simply believing that “if you build it, (they) will come” doesn’t necessarily work.  Real communities are founded on more resilient stuff.  I recognized that strong communities often emerge organically, and are joined by members with an authentic interest, and investment, in the group.  As a result, communities can be a powerful force.  Online communities are no different.

And that’s why so many leading social media thinkers, such as Hunt, Godin, Moffitt and Dover, are talking about them, and the businesses that are building brand communities that are accessible and helpful, and where members can rely on one another.

And, that’s why I’ll be sharing these thoughts in social media class this fall. 

Speaking of communities, a new community has just formed at Humber College  – the inaugural group of over 80 bachelor of PR students!  We anticipate that this group of aspiring PR practitioners, embarking on their four-year educational journey, will be joined by the extended Humber PR family that includes a couple of decades of grads and industry partners across the GTA and beyond.

We hope this blog will be an organic place where authentic conversations take place about practicing PR but also about growing into PR practitioners.

Welcome to our new community.  Hope you'll join us.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Unmask the Virtual You

Sitting in the pew late on Christmas Eve, I heard the minister say in her sermon “…help us to know ourselves, the walls and barriers we erect, the masks we wear…”, and, at the risk of sacrilege, my mind turned to social media.
I reflected on the barriers and masks, and wondered whether social media perpetuates, or impedes, this behaviour.  Are we our authentic selves online?  Or do we hide behind avatars, fictional names, pictures of our cats? 
I recently read an ethnography of Second Life by Tom Boellstorff, where he researched the social development of the virtual world through his own avatar, Tom Bukowski.  Boellstorff distinguished between a virtual world, like Second Life, and a virtual space, like Facebook or MySpace.  He described the former as a world where participants could create an alternate reality for themselves.  The latter, according to Boellstorff, is a social networking space, meant to foster connections between ‘real’ people in the ‘real’ world through virtual means. 
So, in social media, the bottom line is to be yourself.  You can’t network, make ‘friends’ or impress a future employer behind Fluffy’s fuzzy face. 
A new cohort of over 70 students have started the post-grad certificate PR program at Humber College this month.  Some of them will be social media aficionados, with lots of Facebook friends, prolific tweets and maybe even an established blog.  Others will approach their social media journey differently.  Fearfully. Cautiously. Skeptically.
My job will be to show them how social media is the answer to a public relations practitioner’s prayers — interactive conversations with their target audience.  But to do so they need to be transparent, authentic, real.  A recent Globe and Mail article makes the point nicely. 
Based on my research of prominent social media thinkers and on PR industry feedback, here are some ways our future PR practitioners can keep it real online:
  1. Use your real name.  Be easy to find online.
  2. Use your real photo.  Replace the photo of your pet with your own pic, take off the sunglasses, and try a close up.  You may even want to invest in a professional head shot.
  3. Manage your online identity.  Address issues that matter to you. 
  4. Unlock your Twitter site.  A colleague warned me that if I put security features on Twitter, I won’t have any followers. 
  5. Use the privacy settings on Facebook.  Facebook can be a private space limited to friends and family, as long as there are other places where you engage online.  
Do you show the ‘real’ you online?