Wrapping up: what UGA students learned at Connect

October 16, 2009

Lizzy Nephew, a member of the Connect social media team, is also the editor of PRecedent, the newsletter for UGA’s PRSSA chapter. She solicited quotes from some of the students who attended Connect that really captured the day. Here’s her PRecedent article, reprinted with her permission.

Connect 2009: Integrating Social Media and Traditional PR

Connect ‘09 brought together PR professionals and students to discuss social media and its effect on traditional public relations. Check out what students learned at Connect ‘09:

Before engaging with your publics through social media, know your audience, have a specific goal in mind and build a strategy to execute that goal. You should not join social media just because it exists. You need to know how you can best use it to engage your publics and foster two-way communication.

As the PR professional, you are the spokesperson for your organization and need to know 100 percent about your brand. You have to live and breathe the brand and be fluent in the brand’s culture.

– Lesley Anne Dickerson

  • Not everyone is connected within all of the social media networks including people our age. Young adults around the world are not as “connected” as UGA students.
  • Online buzz is influencing offline buzz such as the growth of business by Naked Pizza, a restaurant in New Orleans, due to its Twitter account. The customer base grew tremendously. 
  • Gripe sites came before Facebook and Twitter. These gripe sites include Murder King, Wicked Wendy’s and other sites that bash companies. I didn’t even know it existed.

– Erica Holland

Connect taught me to look at social media in a strategic way. It is not about having the tools, it is about knowing how to use the tools. I encourage everyone to delve past the surface of social media. Look at how it can help the overall goal.

– Debbie Ebalobo

When it comes to social media, each organization must first decide why they need to have a presence and then how to best utilize the various platforms. These two considerations vary from organization to organization; however, there are certain guidelines that remain constant across the board:

1) People are talking about your brand in the social media space, whether you engage them or not.

2) Authenticity and transparency are essential for successful engagement.

3) Social media tactics should not serve as a replacement for traditional communication methods. Social media platforms should have a complementary role, not a supplementary one.

4) The same basic communication rules apply to social media. It’s not about changing public relations principles; it just provides new tools.

– Allison Brill


John Tedesco explains government cookies and politicians on Twitter

September 28, 2009

Jason Davis asked Dr. John Tedesco a couple of burning questions about government social media. Here’s how he answered:

Blog posts about Connect

September 28, 2009

Read what Toby Bloomberg, Dan Greenfield, Bert DuMars, Tom Watson, and Karen Russell had to say about Connect.


Jeremy Pepper on “social media experts”

September 28, 2009

Calling yourself a social media expert is not only limiting but pointless. Here’s why:

A word about our photographer

September 21, 2009

Many thanks to Debbie Ebalobo, who took almost all of the fabulous Connect photos this year. She’s a senior, the president of UGA’s PRSSA chapter, and a two-year veteran of the Connect conference social media team. You can find her on the Web on her blog, Twitter, and Flickr pages. She’ll be missed when she graduates, but someone’s getting a fantastic young PR pro.


Peeking Behind the Curtain at Southwest – Paula Berg

September 20, 2009

After being introduced by Melissa Taylor from Porter Novelli as a little “wacky and off the wall” and heading the blog called “Nuts about Southwest,” we knew we were in for an interesting keynote. Paula Berg did not disappoint, providing the group with an entertaining look into how Southwest airlines integrates social media into their communication.

Berg started by providing us with the background of the “Nuts about Southwest” blog. Originally it started as a way to follow up the A&E series Airline featuring Southwest employees. The success of the show revealed increases in sales and job applications. The airline had no editorial control over the show and though at times there were some “cringe moments,” they trusted their employees to represent the company.

After a nine-month planning phase, the blog team had established the main goals and objectives and found those “people who oozed Southwest” to post to the blog. Their overall plan with social media was to connect with people they way they wanted to connect. In the process, they got to know their audience including those who wrote aviation blogs and participated in forums related to aviation.

Case Studies

Berg also discussed a few case studies featuring how Southwest has used social media in various situations. Each provided Southwest with valuable lessons to incorporate into their overall strategy. When they asked their customers to comment about their preferences between open and assigned seating, they got an overwhelming response to keep their open seating policy.  Southwest learned “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and more importantly to keep what makes them unique.

The airline has faced two major public relations situations in recent years, involving sensitive topics. In the first one, the received negative feedback in a situation regarding a woman wearing revealing clothes being asked to cover up by flight attendants, they chose to wait before responding. As a consequence, when Southwest again faced negative feedback dealing with the “too pretty to fly” story, Berg revealed they applied the lessons and created a three-pronged approach to respond. The plan provided an online spokesperson, create an official statement, and a YouTube video.

One of the biggest threats to the Southwest reputation happened in March 2008 when the FAA fined the airline $10.2 million for inspections. This situation was the first where the legal department stepped in to limit the conversation. Berg said that they could only repost information already posted, but not create any new content. Though the received much fewer comments during this situation, they learned to “take every situation seriously.”

Berg also discussed some of the tools Southwest uses outside of the blog. The airline uses YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. One of their most popular recent videos was of a rapping flight attendant. That video sparked popularity for others on their YouTube channel. He has since been dubbed the rhythmic ambassador for Southwest.

In all of the case studies discussed, Berg emphasized that the “micro interactions lead to lasting impressions,” providing organizations with a unique opportunity to connect with their audiences.

Berg left the group with four key takeaways:

1)      Establish channels before a crisis

2)      Don’t be afraid to join the conversation

3)      Act fast – don’t hesitate

4)      Build a strong team

Lieutenant Connie Braesch on the Coast Guard’s Social Media Participation

September 19, 2009


Lt. Braesch via Skype

Lt. Braesch via Skype

“When it comes to social media we are definitely in the lead” (relative to its service’s size) —a bold statement made by Lieutenant Connie Braesch, the Social Media Tactical Action Officer for Coast Guard Public Affairs.


And rightly so—even though the Coast Guard only composes 2% of the U.S. Armed Forces, they have an encompassing presence in the social media world. Among other platforms, the Coast Guard has a service-wide blog, the Coast Guard Compass, and official Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr accounts.

According to Lt. Braesch, the purpose of utilizing these platforms is to educate and inform the public about what the Coast Guard does every day, which includes more than just rescue missions. The Coast Guard is also responsible for navigations law enforcement, ice operations in the Arctic, homeland security roles, drug and immigrant interdiction and maritime law enforcement.

“Every Coast Guard member (Guardian) is a spokesperson for the service. Everybody is considered a voice,” Lt. Braesch said. As a result, the Coast Guard has roughly 100 separate official social media sites, and those are only the ones known to Lt. Braesch.

In order to establish a more collaborative voice among the separate voices representing the Coast Guard, Lt. Braesch shared with Connect participants the Coast Guard’s criteria for social media participation:

1. Full disclosure is required. Contributors to social media from within the Coast Guard must identify who they are, their position and for whom they work.

2. Always provide a short disclaimer. When engaging on unofficial Coast Guard sites, a disclaimer is included to establish that the Coast Guard does not endorse the site or any links on the site.

3. General comment policy. The Coast Guard does not allow anonymous comments.

For a one-stop shop for Coast Guard news, people can go to the Coast Guard Twitter, which is a live RSS feed of Coast Guard press releases. After measuring the click-through rate of this tactic, Lt. Braesch continues to employ this because she knows the Coast Guard’s publics use and enjoy it. Lt. Braesch is able to freely and quickly disseminate this information because the Coast Guard trusts her team to do their own social media without approvals. Since the blog is 100% her voice, it helps to build credibility and authenticity to the posts.

Social media also played a large role in how the Coast Guard responded to the recent 9/11/09 incident, where a Coast Guard training exercise was mistaken as a potential threat to the presidential motorcade crossing the Potomac River Bridge. The Coast Guard is now conducting a content analysis investigation of Twitter streams and blog comments to assess public opinion on the incident.

As for the future of the Coast Guard’s involvement in social media, they want to find the balance between more engagement and less security risks—and continue to be the leader in social media in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Lieutenant Connie L. Braesch assumed her duties as the Social Media Tactical Action Officer for Coast Guard Public Affairs on June 1, 2009.  In her current assignment, she is the voice behind the Coast Guard’s social media participation. She also produces and distributes Coast Guard policy and procedures for the use and application of social media as well as provides consultation for service communicators.

NOTE: The original post was edited for factual information.

John Tedesco: Integrating Social Media in Government

September 19, 2009

Dr. Tedesco speaking on government use of social media

Dr. Tedesco speaking on government use of social media

Notes on John Tedesco’s talk.
Dr. Tedesco worked on UVOTE – University Vote Outreach Through Education and speaks from the persecutive of someone trying to increase voter turnout. 

The cycle of neglect where young voters did not believe representatives were interested in them and representatives would not tailor messages to young non-voters. Barack Obama ended that cycle.

The Town Square project
Town Square still a hub for political and civic activity and looks to increase low turn-out voters, including minorities and young people. The use of a virtual town square to engage this audience.

Dr. Tedesco “There’s a large amount of cynicism when it comes to the public.” Individuals no longer interact with the government through the Town Square for a number of reasons

Electronic forms of information distribution, citizen discussion and government-to-citizen exchange all increase communication, but what is lost in the translation?

Who gets isolated?

UGA students taking notes at Connect

UGA students taking notes at Connect


Create a more informed citizenry, increase public engagement in various civil processes. E-government transactions including town tags, utility payments, public comment are all very efficient for governmental organizations. Doing these things attract broader and more diverse citizen engagement and boost the sense of political and community collective efficacy.

Many government agencies have blogs, but there are many challenges when communicating over this new form. Podcasts can be used for message delivery, accessible tone, human voice and builds trust. Wikis are great for public collaboration. Photo and video sharing is used by Nasa, the library of congress and US Geological Survey.

Mash-ups are great for integrating information. Cancer rates can come from the CDC, reports regarding toxic waste from the EPA and links to political representative emails. However, one of the largest issues with putting information on the web is it must be accessible.

Resources, resistance from governmental employees along with constituents, and legal concerns all create barriers that the government must think about before pursuing social media.

Legal Issues with Employee Blogging: Perry Binder, J.D.

September 19, 2009

Perry Binder, J.D. is a legal studies professor at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business, where he teaches law. While Perry speaks often about the legal pitfalls of social media, he is one of the leading proponents of social media as a means to connect businesses to each other, and for public relations professionals to manage and promote a company’s message.


Mr. Binder begins his presentation by showcasing the Pepsi Harrier Jet Commercial. The advertisement addressed Pepsi Points and prizes you can win. However, an individual in Seattle wanted a jet from Pepsi Points and rounded some investors, BUT Pepsi couldn’t deliver the jet. A lawsuit was filed against Pepsi.

According to Binder, this story showcases that lawsuits are a part of any campaign and practitioners need to look at the law side of things. It doesn’t matter if you are trying to be funny, Binder says that law is still an integral part of a campaign.

Flash-forward to 2009, where we, as practitioners, are constantly selling and promoting. Moreover, it brings us to employees blogging (promoting) about a product or a service and the implications associated with blogging.

Perry Binder calls upon the following examples for success and failures in social networking:

Social Networking:PR Success Stories

  • Dell (Twitter): 1.1 million followers on Dell twitter page. Dell also gives away coupons.
  • JetBlue (Twitter): Puts flight delays, flight info on twitter.
  • Starbucks (Twitter): Will take customer feedback
  • Ford (Twitter): Gave away cars for bloggers who blog about Ford.

PR Blunders:

  • Attorney: A judge found out that the attorney was lying by looking at her facebook.
  • Target: A UGA student found out that Target wasn’t being transparent. Target gave away coupons for people that blog about them.

Questions to think about: What happens when employees control the message or non-employees pass the messages along? The internet is creating new challegens–daily. So how do you deal with the reality?


Blogs makes griping much easier.

  • Photo Blog: Flight attendant Ellen Simonetti posted provocative photos of herself in uniform on her blog. She was fired.
  • Not Funny Blog: Microsoft worker Michael Hanscom thought the photo on his blog of competitor computers sitting on his company loading dock was funny. His employer called it a security violation. He was fired.
  • Trade Secret Blog: Google employee Mark Jen did a blog on life at his new job, including talks on potential products. He was fired.

But blogging is still a valuable marketing tool.

Blog Policy At Work:

  • Trade Secrets: Cannot put propriety information about company.
  • Negative Reflection of Company: Cannot say anything negative that reflects poorly of the company.
  • Harrasment: Cannot put anything related to gender, race, etc about employee cannot be posted.
  • Discrimination
  • Defamatory Statements: Cannot put any lies about service, etc

“PR is NOT Social Media” and more words to tweet by from Lauren Fernandez

September 19, 2009

Flying in all the way from Dallas, Texas, Lauren Fernandez educated the Connect attendees with her rules on social media, or what she calls “enhanced media,” and what PR pros can bring to the table. Using examples from her position at the American Mensa and even an activity that brought the pros back to the classroom, Fernandez suggested that a brand’s social media execution should not be left up to the external PR team alone.

Within the company, the execution of a brand’s social media presence needs to be done by someone who knows the brand 100 percent and who has the all the information at all times, or someone who is fluent in the brand’s culture. This internal person, therefore, can provide the authentic voice while simultaneously controlling the message. Social media is about engaging stakeholders and an internal voice can provide the realism and passion essential to engagement.

If the external PR team isn’t responsible for execution of social media, what can they do for the online conversation? As outsiders, external pros can provide the checks and balances needed for effective brand building by educating the executors about the strategy behind the message and monitoring the client’s online activity. It should be a system of working together towards a common image.

In addition to her ideas about social media execution, Fernandez also outlines the keys to engagement:

  • Learning: Seek out those with common interests to gain understanding or a new perspective.
  • Listening: People like to talk about themselves and their interests or problems so to start a conversation, make it first about them. Find common goals.
  • Advocating: When people see the passion about a brand, they will listen to the message

Bottom line, PR and social media are about one thing: opening the dialogue and having a conversation. It’s how a brand does this that sets them apart.


Dr. Natalie Tindall, Georgia State University, takes it all in.

Dr. Natalie Tindall, Georgia State University, takes it all in.