In the old days, the only way to interact with a company or organization was to pick up the phone, or possibly send an email.
But in the past few years, social media has exploded, and now consumers can find just about any company or organization on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and even Pinterest. And Shepherd University is launching a program to help the next generation of public relations specialists how to better communicate with the public via social media.
"This was something that was driven by student interest, by a rising interest in the role that social media plays in society as well as careers, and the growing interest in careers such as public relations, and I think the department wanted to address that interest," said Matthew Kushin, an assistant professor in Shepherd's department of communications.
The program is composed of five courses that introduce students to social media and digital tools and teach them how to use those skills to promote a business or organization: principles of public relations, writing across platforms, social media, communication research and strategic campaigns.
Kushin said students learn in the writing across platforms class how to write for the digital age.
"That course provides students with writing in the digital age — how do we create compelling content online that can help further the mission of an organization by providing customers or the public with info about that organization?" Kushin said. "So, students will get an opportunity to write for blogs, social media, that sort of thing."
In the social media course, Kushin said, students will get an overview of what social media is and the role it plays in today's society. Students will study the theoretical aspects of social media, not necessarily use the course as an excuse to play on Twitter.
That's because the program is designed to help students develop critical thinking skills and learn how to use modern technology to communicate with the public.
"The first primary goal is for students to understand their process of communicating effectively — the skill sets and strategies and critical thinking skills behind that," Kushin said. "While today they might be learning about social media tools, I know the skills, knowledge and experiences they will have will be adaptable experiences that will get them thinking not only how to use technology but the role technology plays in their overall goal. My opinion is students will learn how to communicate effectively and what their communication goals are and use technology to achieve those goals."
Kushin said students are growing more and more interested in social media as more and more businesses and organizations become active on the sites.
"I think that more and more students understand that, just as they do understand with television, there are people working behind television and make television shows and news," Kushin said. "They understand there are people behind the organizations … on social media. I think there is a growing interest among students and they will continue to have that opportunity to represent a brand or organization they feel strongly about on social media."
The program recently was approved by the Shepherd University Board of Governors. Students can begin taking courses in the program this fall.