On my iPhone, the various social media apps YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, Instagram, etc. are nested together under a single tab innocently titled “Social”. Prior to beginning my Masters studies, I added most due to societal and/or psychological pressure, rather than a true desire to master any one of them. (After all, what would a fifty-something man do with an Instagram account?)
Of all of them, I have the most experience with Twitter. I established the feed several years ago when Twitter was fairly new. My goal was to use the channel as a way to help shape my identity by sharing information that would give followers some insight about how I think and what interests me personally and professionally. I try to stick to subjects dealing with community and civic affairs in Charlotte and North Carolina, political commentary, and of course, the Carolina Panthers and UNC Tarheels. A paltry 315 followers is testament to the viability of this social media experiment, if not my effort therein.
I also had a dalliance with WordPress for two years while president of my temple. The blog was a way to engage congregants in a new and dynamic way. I used it to provide context on board decisions, recognize volunteers, and sometimes to help diffuse controversy. The blog seemed to work pretty well, although it never drew the following that I had hoped. When I retired as president, the blog was essentially retired as well, for lack of use by my successors.
Although I have grown relatively comfortable with these two applications, the prospect of using digital media in my Masters studies makes me a tad queasy. Those of us born before the dawn of the digital age hold deep-seated anxiety about the reliability of these media, as well as the inherent threats to reputation, confidentiality, finances, etc. associated with them. We lectured our children about these risks to no avail, being poo-poo’ed for our archaic thinking.
Concerns aside, one of the main reasons that I’m in the Masters program is to understand digital and social media better, become more proficient in their use, and more fully integrate them into my professional practice.
Public relations, just as virtually every other field, has been profoundly affected by the evolution of these media. The discipline of news media relations is an example that most immediately comes to mind. For many clients, bloggers and websites have slowly supplanted newspapers and other traditional outlets as the most important targets on their news media lists.
Perhaps more important, the news gathering process itself has been fundamentally changed (some would say perverted), lending credence to the concept in our text that “communications constitutes reality”. (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, p. 8). More than ever, how the information is conveyed is affecting understanding by viewers or readers. Viewers only watch channels that are in line with their political leanings, and these channels report with little regard for traditional journalistic standards of non-bias. Real-time coverage of events without the benefit of appropriate context, such as footage of police shooting at a seemingly unarmed citizen, has the potential to damage lives and communities.
The challenges of mastering digital media are both daunting and intriguing. To succeed in my Masters studies and career, there is no choice but to take the dive.