“The news made its way around town via Twitter. SDSU_NewsTeam posted at 10:09 am ….”
That’s the way a breaking news report from our local NBC affiliate started a story about San Diego State’s baseball team being selected to play in the College Baseball World Series. As corporate America jumps in and embraces all things social media, academic institutions, traditionally s…l….o….w to embrace change, are grappling with how to use all the new tools and techniques that the rest of the world is talking about.
I’m fortunate to have been put in a position at SDSU where I’ve been asked to spearhead this effort and have not had any old biases or fears getting in my way. Consequently, we’ve created a model that many in academia, and I think corporate America too, can learn from.
While our approach started much the way others are doing it, by getting on Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn, etc. and sharing news and information, engaging with our audiences, answering questions, posing questions, being fun and creative, it has evolved into much more than that. We have actually created a whole new way of conducting media relations at an academic institution – I call it, quite simply, New Media Relations.
You see, as public relations professionals, we still work very hard at pitching good stories to local, regional and national media. It’s still critically important to get that third party “endorsement” of the institution. We act as a resource when they need an expert to comment on the news of the day. And once those stories have been written, we share them with our various social networks, which are a much more powerful way of keeping your audiences informed. I like to tell people who haven’t quite grasped the value of social networks, “15 years ago when we got a front page story, we made photocopies and mailed it to people. Now I post it on Facebook.”
But what we’ve also done that I’m finding is so unique, is we’ve created our own news bureau – SDSU NewsCenter. I’m not talking about a page on our web site where we archive our press releases. Our team, instead (media relations and web development/editing combined), has become a news room. We work like reporters, looking for good stories on campus, and we come up with interesting ways to tell those stories, using video, slide shows and more. And we present them in SDSU NewsCenter as real news stories, including allowing comments at the end, just like any media outlet does now. When there is a topic that the country is talking about, we, like our media counterparts, seek out a faculty expert to comment on the issue. And when there is an event, program, interesting research or outstanding student or faculty member, we cover it, regardless if traditional media does or not.
In essence, because of shrinking news rooms and fewer opportunities to tell our good stories, we’ve taken the news into our own hands. And because of technology and an engaging, personal approach to social networks, we are able to distribute our news to a broader audience than ever before, whether or not it ever appeared in a traditional news outlet.
At SDSU there is now a group of social media communicators, from admissions, to the bookstore, to dining services and more, who have embraced what we are doing and taken their own angle on it. The culture at SDSU is still evolving. But the university, from the president on down, has embraced our New Media efforts and everyone is now looking for new ways to integrate these tools into our every day functions. It’s an exciting time to be a communicator at SDSU.
Greg Block is director of media relations and new media for San Diego State University. Having graduated from SDSU’s journalism program in 1995, Block returned to his alma mater in October 2008 to oversee communications and to incorporate new media strategies into the university’s marketing and communications programs.