Just now there is a flurry of tweeting (#ciprsm) about the CIPR's announcement of a social media panel, ranging from great enthusiasm to considerable scepticism. My view is that it should be encouraged on the grounds that although it is too little, and is certainly rather too late, it is also a lot, lot better than continuing to plod along with the 1980s mindset that still prevails in some senior circles.
As co-author with David Phillips of a book that seems to have been quite well received by academics in the UK and beyond, it is hard to appear to be objective in such a debate but I do think it is time for universitiies and the PR industry jointly to address what are significant changes in the very nature of public relations.
In a way, the very title of our book crystallises the problem; for very practical reasons, we called it Online Public Relations, when both of us felt that somehow pretending to distinguish "online" from the broader elements of PR was ridiculous.
In 2010 it is impossible to do PR without it being online. It is like doing PR without people.
To make things worse, at the University of Sunderland, we pioneered some of the first modules in the UK, indeed, some of the very first in Europe, to teach social media in a PR context. They were very popular with students, and many of those students have gone on to be very popular with employers.
The question now is whether it makes sense to run such dedicated modules at all?
This was one of the themes hotly contested at the Euprera Spring Symposium 2010 in Ghent, when I led a workshop that suggested topics that a social media module might contain.
It is clear that in the UK, and in every other European country of which I have knowledge, there are a lot of people who are trying hard to catch up with developments in social media. They know they are behind the curve and they are rightly trying to catch up with a fast-changing environment.
This is not an easy process, not least in that redesigning and refocusing a university programme is far from being a swift (or enjoyable!) process.
But it has to be done.
The PR degree courses are a mess. All too many are not much more than a course in spamming 'press releases' and having a 'creative idea' to fly a barrage balloon over the Houses of Parliament. ...
Practitioners in-house and in agencies are finding internet mediated civilisation a tough call...
The whole idea that there should be a 'digital' module in a PR course is not just quaint, it is a cruel joke to play on innocent practitioners.
But I do think there is a need for academics and educators to comprehensively rethink conceptions of Public Relations as it will be practiced over the next decade and beyond.
We could start by having even one basic textbook that deals with 21st Century PR...