Musings of a PR Professional

Journal Entry 2 (Written on 3/8)

One of the things I am very excited about regarding the promotion of this event is the opportunity it gives myself and my group members to utilize social media. I consider this symposium, at least in part, an opportunity to put into effect everything I have learned from my previous public relations courses and Public Relations Student Society of America meetings. I have learned a lot about the role of social media in the public relations field and believe that it is the way of the future. Event promotion especially, can benefit from the immediacy and personalization of social media, so I am glad that we are using it for the symposium.

Another reason why I feel that it is appropriate to use social media to promote our project and event is that social media are very relevant to our target audience. The largest group that we are targeting for this event is students. Young adults are huge social media users. I know more people with a Facebook than without one. Of the people that I know who are on Twitter, each is an avid user that is constantly connected to the site. If I have learned anything from PR classes and meetings, it is that the best way to contact someone is to do so through the medium they wish to be contacted/that they most frequently use. Because social media is such an integral part of almost every student’s life, I think it is best way to promote this event to the people we want to come.

The two social media sites that we have chosen to use for this project are Facebook and Twitter. We chose these first, because they are currently the most prevalent social networking sites, and second, because they are easy to use. We chose two people within our group, one for Facebook and one for Twitter, to monitor the sites. However, each one of us has access to each account and is free to update and add things as we wish. I believe that it is very important for us to closely monitor these two accounts because we are dealing with a potentially volatile issue. Because we are asking people to share very personal and oftentimes confrontational beliefs about identity, there is the chance that conversations on these sites may become less than productive. In order to make sure that doesn’t happen, we are committed to not only updating consistently to keep the sites alive, but also to making sure things stay calm, constructive, and inoffensive.

Overall, we have two goals for utilizing these sites. The first is to provide people with a place that they can always turn to, to find out pertinent and accurate information about our event. It is extremely important to be useful to people and give them the information they need in order to participate in our project. Social media is an effective way to do so for our particular audience, as discussed above. The second goal is to create conversations. We want to post things on our Facebook page and Twitter account that make people really think and want to respond. I think a good way to do this is to look at current events and pop culture and see what is going on right now that has to do with identity issues. For example, I showed the class something I tweeted that I think is a good example of this. It reads, “I am a woman but not a sandwich-maker RT @CharlieSheen Allow your woman to be creative, there is more than 1 way to wash a dish.” By piggy-backing on what people are already talking about, such a Charlie Sheen, it will be easier for us to get people interested in our project and it gives us the opportunity to create conversation before the event even starts.

Hopefully I will be able to use what I have learned about social media in the past few years to make this event successful. Personally, I consider this project a test of my abilities before I go out into the “real world” to put these skills to the test in a professional setting. I know it won’t be easy, as people aren’t generally compelled to become involved with seemingly random projects on Facebook and Twitter. But, if we follow the best practices I have learned over the past few years and are committed to pushing the envelope to get people interested in what we are doing, I think we will do well and be able to generate a lot of interest.

One of the shirts we made from an anonymous student suggestion.

Journal Entry 1 (Written on 3/7)

Last Thursday when we took the class period to decide on our “I am… but not…” phrases and decorate our t-shirts, I had a lot of fun. Although we were not working specifically on the logistics of the events we are planning, I still felt that it was one of the most productive days we had. Deciding on our phrases and actually putting them on our t-shirts made everything finally seem very real and it got us thinking about what we are asking others to do. It was exciting to start seeing things coming together for the symposium, but also unexpectedly nerve-wracking. We discussed this a bit in class, but I would like to offer my own thoughts on it here.

Confronted with having to define myself and the stereotypes attached to my identity was very difficult. This difficulty was only exacerbated by the thought of having to walk around on with the statement on our bodies. For example, Molly C. came up with the statement, “I am beautiful but not skinny,” which I love. The statement is confrontational, yet positive, and I think it is a very good example of the conversations we are attempting to facilitate. However, she was hesitant about putting it on her shirt, because it calls attention to her own insecurities. These statements are essentially an invitation into our deep thoughts and feelings about others and ourselves: some of them are hard to share, unfounded, or even inappropriate. Ultimately, I chose “I am blonde but not dumb” because I like the way it strikes a blow at a stereotype that is deeply engrained in society and therefore not taken seriously.

I faced another surprise when I took to walking around campus to hang the fliers that advertised the times people could go to the library bridge to fill out their “I am… but not…” cards. As I walked through buildings all over campus, I quickly noticed that I would become a little nervous and uncomfortable when I had to actually hang the flier. The flier that I was hanging was not necessarily provocative or controversial at first glance, but I think knowing what the flier stood for was what made hanging them difficult. It is one thing to think about the identities of others, to ask others to put themselves out there. But, when I was physically connecting myself with the event, it became a much more difficult image to face.

Thankfully, as the day went on I got used to the feeling of hanging up the fliers and became more confident doing so. In fact, I actually had a student come up to me as I was hanging one, and she asked me about the event and what we were trying to accomplish. I was very excited to have already generated interest in our symposium, just by hanging a piece of paper. I hope to continue feeling this confident on campus as I wear my t-shirt over the next month to promote the event. I also hope that wearing our t-shirts will continue what the fliers have started- creating awareness of our event. If we can continue to consistently create buzz surrounding our event, I know that it will be successful because I am very confident that the topic of our symposium is interesting and relevant to people’s lives today. So, as a member of the PR group, it is my job to make sure that Clemson students and faculty first, know that the event is going on, and second feel compelled to go.

The fliers and t-shirts are just the beginning of what we have planned, but I think that in order for this symposium to work- to truly facilitate thinking and conversations that push the envelope about identity- that we must be fearless. As the students putting on the event, we must be the ones to take that lead and be brave enough to face the uncomfortable issues that we are dealing with head on. By showing our peers and faculty that we are willing to step out of our comfort zone and that it is not only okay to do so, but also productive, because it is necessary to have these conversations. I believe that leading by example for this symposium is key to its success.

I am… but not…

I have been meaning to share with you my endeavors from last semester, but life kept getting in the way. Shame on me, but at least we are here now.

As a Communication Studies student at Clemson University, one is required to take COMM 495, a capstone course, during his or her senior year. Each semester there are about three or four different courses open, each with a different topic. My choice for this past semester was Public Discourse and Human Identity. The topic was right up my alley, sounded exciting (re: pushing boundaries), and I was to be working under my favorite professor in the department, Dr. Shannon Holland, an undeniable perk.

We had no rules. No guidelines. But we did have money.

We were given $1,000 from donor Maryalice Mayberry with a single simple instruction: Figure out an engaging way to facilitate difficult discussions about identity on Clemson’s campus. Long story short (and I mean long), we came up with the phrase “I am… but not…” with which we would invite students and faculty to anonymously fill in the blanks regarding their own identities. Ex: I am blonde but not dumb, I am shy but not voiceless etc.

We also loved the concept of “airing out your dirty laundry” of The Clothesline Project, so we decided to incorporate this into our project as well by taking the participants responses and writing them out on shirts. Ultimately these shirts would be hung on a clothesline display (designed by us, constructed by Dr. Holland’s partner out of the goodness of his heart)  in the library for everyone to see.

To wrap up our project we decided to host a symposium where students and faculty could come together to engage in these identity discussions, modeled after The World Cafe. Our goal was to have at least one person walk away at the end of our project thinking a little bit differently about who they are and who they come in contact with every day.

All makes perfect sense, right? No kinks at all? Yeah, we didn’t think so at the time either. But man, did we pull it off.

One of our assignments for the course was to write a series of six journal entires about almost anything relating to the project. My journals were at times insightful about our purpose, and at others they had a much more logistical focus. Either way, I think they paint a great picture of what myself and my classmates worked to create from January to the end of April during my last semester at Clemson. I will be posting these journal entries (with some modifications to make them more blog-friendly) here over the next few weeks. It is important to me to share with as many people as possible what we accomplished and how great of an experience it was.