Q&A with Melanie James

Australian educator/PR pro Melanie James kindly agreed to work late into the night in order to join Connect’s first session via Skype. We asked her a few questions to help you get to know her.

Question: Your session is called, “Is Social Media Transformational?” Is this, in your opinion, an important question to ask?

Answer: It is an important question to ask. It’s playing out on several levels – from how will it change the way public relations is practiced, taught and researched (macro) to the question of whether it will it change what individual practitioners have to do in their day to day work (micro). So both levels of questioning are happening simultaneously – is it transforming the field in which I work and is it transforming my job?

Question: What do you expect your session to do in terms of answering this question?

Answer: These questions raise issues of change and take people out of what might have been their comfort zone. They bring to the fore the challenges of keeping abreast of new technologies personally but then also having to be able to think strategically about them – what role would they play in a public relations context for the organisation you’re working for. They bring to into play the insecurities of perhaps fearing younger staff may be more up to date with social media and perhaps older practitioners might be seen as “old hat” in a tight employment market. However, it also brings opportunities for public relations in terms of working creatively to deliver client outcomes. I think excellence in strategic communication planning, implementation and evaluation will remain at the fore of the public relations field – now more than ever. The ability to think clearly about what is to be achieved and how social media may or may not help in meeting that goal will remain paramount. I’ll be stressing the importance of thinking through why an organisation might use social media and what negatives and positives there might be for organisations that “move into the space”. I’d also like the session to touch on what evidence the field should be gathering in terms of building knowledge and theory and what research methods would be most useful in gathering and analysing such evidence.

Question: You’re both a practitioner and an educator. How has social media affected your work in each area?

Answer: As a practitioner it’s made me realize that you can spend (and possibly waste) a lot of valuable time on:

* deciding whether social media should be part of your program or campaign
* defending whatever decision you’ve made
* implementing the social media aspect of your activities
* evaluating what if any impact it’s had

As an educator it has:

* made me engage with different areas of theory that I may not normally have pursued
* forced me use social media personally so I could “get across” what the technologies and the environments in which they operated were about
* encouraged me to integrate social media aspects into assessment tasks to drive learning and research (my own and my students’) into this evolving area of praxis
* opened opportunities for networking that have not been previously possible

Question: Are there any good Australian PR blogs that we might not know about?

Answer: mUmBRELLA

Question: What’s your personal favorite social tool to use?

Answer: I like Twitter in terms of the immediacy and the fantastic avenues of information it opens up for my work. In a nonprofessional capacity I like blogging in terms of the sense of community that it can foster, as an outlet for my creative side and for the flexibility of the operating environment.

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