This is the first of the ‘Friendly Chat’ series in which I’ll be interviewing bloggers I read on a regular basis, most of whom you’ll find in the PR Friendly Index. They’ve very kindly given me some of their time to talk about how social media generally, and blogging in particular, affect their personal and professional lives, and how they see this changing in the near future.
First up is Heather Yaxley, who runs the Greenbanana blog. As well as consultancy work, she teaches the CIPR qualfications, lectures part-time at Bournemouth University and runs the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) Limited. She is developing www.greenbanana.biz as an educational resource, currently supporting those studying the CIPR Advanced Certificate and Diploma with Cambridge Marketing Colleges.
Her hot topics are public relations, especially in relation to automotive matters and educational issues.
How important do you think it is that PR students pick up on social media?
Social media is vitally important for PR students – indeed anyone who wants to develop their career in PR in the next decade. The way I see it, social media is an irresistible force and if student A doesn’t learn about it, student B will.
Do you see a difference in students’ attitudes to social media? For example, perhaps they’re more aware of it in their personal lives, but think less about how to employ it professionally?
At the moment, the undergraduates tend to be using social media only in terms of their own networking – so Facebook predominantly. They also watch YouTube videos and are happy with researching online (although Google and Wikipedia seem to be their main resources).
I feel the current 18-25 year olds are a mobile phone generation and as internet applications become easier to access via ordinary mobiles, this will probably be their major route rather than the PC. Those at University and younger practitioners aren’t generally using Blackberries and although this is the case with many of my PR contacts in jobs where they are out of the office a lot, that primarily seems to be for accessing email on the go.
There is undoubtedly interest among PR practitioners in the potential of social media and a belief that they need to “get it”. But I’m not seeing very many actually diving in and learning first hand. Of the CIPR Diploma and Adv Cert students I teach, about half seem to have been on some kind of training course, but haven’t really implemented campaigns themselves using social media.
The Uni guys tend to come up with ideas that will involve using websites, Youtube, and viral concepts – and I think when they start working in PR, they will want to implement such campaigns. So it is important that they are able to gain good multi-media skills rather than just having the ideas.
I am seeing students who go beyond purely personal use however. Some are already going about setting up their own blogs and active groups at Facebook. I get the feeling that we’re on the brink of seeing a new intake that really use these resources naturally.
There is, of course, an equal challenge for educational establishments to allow these skills to flourish. For example, in press release workshops we notice that people have difficulty composing text by hand because they’re so used to non-linear ways of working. If we’re going to make technology relevant to their professions we need to make resources available too.
You’ve offered good advice on managing your online reputation. Do you have anything to add to that advice? Have you changed your opinions on anything since?
Online reputation continues to be important and I think we’ll see more ways of companies being able to research candidates online as part of the recruitment process.
I do believe that we need to value our own reputations online (and in the real world) as a career asset. There is a lot PR practitioners can do to create a good resource where relevant information is available – an online CV – but bear in mind the importance for protecting personal information.
Being realistic however, if young people have been participating in networks such as MySpace for some years before entering the job market, there will be embarrassing photographs and other stories about them that they might not be able to erase. I’m sure that employers will be pragmatic about this however as pragmatically they know that most Uni students will have been drunk or taken their clothes off in public at some time.
Having said that, my rule would be not to upload anything you wouldn’t want your grandparents to see. Actually I know someone whose granddaughter friended him through Facebook and he was shocked by things she puts on her profile!
You advocate ‘fresh thinking’. How easy or difficult do you find this in daily blogging?
Regarding “fresh thinking”, I believe this is part of the creative approach required by everyone in PR. I don’t mean coming up with wacky ideas (although that might be appropriate), but being able to look at the world from different perspectives. We need to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of those with whom we might be engaging in our campaigns or everyday work.
What I try to do through Greenbanana is to give my take on issues that interest me. So I try not to simply report or repeat what people can read elsewhere (and maybe more quickly or thoroughly in the case of breaking news). I like to reflect on what something might mean in relation to PR, or make connections between different things going on, or look for different voices on a topic.
Really the best way to demonstrate “fresh thinking” in blogging is to be an individual and understand what your particular “brand” is about. That way, your perspective on an issue should be what makes your posts “fresh”.
What do you consider the biggest barriers to social media take-up?
I think the actual phrases put people off. The words are so strange to PR practitioners – ‘blogs’, ‘RSS’, ‘Digg’, ‘Pownce’. It’s difficult for people to understand what they mean and they sound so esoteric and mysterious, when really, the technology is extremely easy to use.
I would also say there’s an element of the emperor’s new clothes here. There is so much buzz that seems to die so quickly that people start to become cynical about the ‘next big thing’.
What do you see as the major trends for 2008?
I think the initial buzz is fading. Facebook is past the Early Adopters phase now and I liken it to, say, Friends Reunited in that respect. It seems to me that a lot of people have finally given up on blogging too. As a result, the people who stick with social media will find the tools and media that suit them. The critical measure is whether the tools they adopt are useful.
Mobility will increase too. I see the younger generation as extremely mobile so as we get smaller laptops and more powerful phones, perhaps we will see PRs out of the office more. Mobility is certainly very useful when organising venues and events.
How has blogging affected your life?
It opens doors. You get to ‘know’ people through blogging, and they get to know you back. In this way a little community forms even though it isn’t through a social media platform. That’s when blogging gets really interesting and where it becomes powerful.
Which blogger do you most admire?
Ellee Seymour is a political blogger who is very personal but, through blogging, is able to interact and stimulate conversation with actual politicans. This is another great aspect of blogging: it’s the ultimate democracy where anyone can play a part.