Age, Ethics and the Job Search

The PRSA expects its members to adhere to the core values of the public relations profession. Rightfully so, for advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty and fairness are all things a profession should hold as fundamental tenants to guide behavior and practice. However provision in conduct can vary through professionals, especially now that the average professional works with five generations in the workplace.
At the PRSA Dallas Communications Summit today, Alison Freeman of WPNT & Associates noticed all generations in the session room. The topic was communication crisis plans in the digital age, and she was quick to point out that generations communicate differently. While this was a tangential comment to the conversation at hand- she did tie it back in by advising that in crisis communication, the younger members in the group had to “put on their big kid pants,” and get rid of the aging vocabulary to be taken seriously and present their message calmly and authoritatively in a crisis.

Like, um, so like, what does that have to do with ethics and junk? Well like, my teach totes mentioned people, like ask for your Facebook passwords in interviews. That’s so not cool.

In non-Beiber speak, what Alison’s mention prompted me to think about was the ethics of employers when asking for Facebook passwords during background checks. Clearly, Alison was giving well received and much appreciated advice on the importance of professionalism in the workplace. But it got me thinking about the Facebook problem seen at an increasing rate that affects several young professionals. Here is Facebook’s official policy on password sharing.

What is alarming about the request from employers to review Facebook profiles has little to do with a need to hide weekend activities and countless cat photographs and a lot to do with your right to privacy. While the right to privacy on the public internet (or Internet for all the generations reading) is still a topic of debate, one thing that is very real is the protection of employees by the government acts such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the American Disabilities Act and other litigation from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

How this is a violation of these acts is not a discussion point I have seen in this debate for privacy on the internet. Most employers, perhaps engaging in the “shoulder surfing” as online activity has become to be known, think this is a harmless way of asking to get to know a candidate more in order to make a more sound decision. An employer certainly wants to make sure their decision is grounded and the candidate fits in with the culture and is an upstanding professional worthy of representing the company. This argument should be countered with the competition that multiple generations in the workforce has created. In recent years, the trend in the economy has shown that people stay in the workforce longer and younger generations jump jobs at a faster turnover rate than older generations. According to this HR consultant- AARP has made advances in research: older people work harder and better. There are many myths that are being propelled even further of younger generations that seem to be founded by information found on social media profiles.
Without bringing the underlying issue of ageism in the workplace into account, there is still a level of legal protection of privacy to which professionals are entitled. From signing into a personal profile such as Facebook, even by browsing a person’s friends list, some topics that are unethical and unenforceable by law such as asking age or marital status become readily apparent. One should be aware of these rights and also, be prepared if any feelings of coercion in a background check. The has an excellent article on what to say if you do not feel comfortable sharing passwords found here.

This blog post is meant to spark an interest in rights as a job seeker, and a very real issue with managing generations in the workplace. I try to keep my personal life separate from my professional life, but anyone that meets me knows that I am an open book. If you want more access to my Facebook account, you just might see too many cat jokes and memes to take me seriously. 

What Do You Meme?

This week’s #socialchat topic was the use of social media during the presidential debates. Both candidates to be featured in this week’s debate have spent some time creating online content to be circulated and used by followers, reporters, bloggers, and anyone else who wants to engage with politics. The White House itself has embraced social media and has invested in more social engagement during this election year, releasing memes and content via Twitter and Tumblr. It is certainly entertaining to see photos of the Commander in Chief sporting “momma jeans,” Romney look-a-likes carrying binders, and et cetera. But is the content being created necessarily relevant to the political debates, or does it change anyone’s opinion on the topics?

My opinion on Monday night during the chat event was that yes, they’re funny, but not necessarily appropriate for serious opinions. According to Michelle Stinson Ross, the host, there was certainly an air of doubt that memes and content of that sort on Tumblr would lead to a more serious connection. It seems that the public following the political campaign online certainly likes to laugh along, but on Election Day, “honey badger don’t care.”

So why are people focused on online content, come to be known as memes? The truth is similar to anything that takes a company’s message viral, the images become famous virtually overnight, and seem to fizzle out almost as quickly. But, this cultural element in the digital age does ensure one thing in public relations, you will get noticed.

Companies such as Old Spice are getting it right with their content. The “Old Spice Guy” continues to capture consumers online and on TV with his over the top masculinity, and virility increases sales for the company. They captured the audience’s sense of humor to make content that is relevant and will keep those engaging. If used correctly, memes can create a following but also drive mentions and social clout, maybe even press mentions. 

MemeQuotient :  A scientific formula to calculate the success of your content, divided by the number of cats, multiplied by the LOLs…
• Random
• immediately recognizable
• Stupidly funny

The power behind these cultural phenomena however, is to increase the amount of interactivity between your followers and your company. Recently, I have been experimenting with messaging for a Facebook campaign. What I found out was that things happen randomly, in the true essence of memes. I created buttons for an event on campus that was focused on Geek culture. Students could pick from bow ties, robots, or silly cats and wear the button around to promote the “Geek Week” events at UNT. You might be thinking “Cats? How will we promote with cats?” Realize one thing about our student body, they live online, where cats come from (Best Cat Memes) One of our students did us the ultimate favor and posted this photo on her Instagram page. Ten minutes later, I had a phone call asking about the event, over forty new Facebook likes, and a cheezburger (I bought one; it was lunch time). What is great about memes and the digital culture of today is that any small insignificant thing that you put out there has the potential to go viral. We wanted a cute button for students to be proud of, and what turned out was a small glimpse of what memes do today. As a PR professional however, you must be aware to not force interactivity, just let it happen. Tough to do, but that is the power of memes- the randomness and humor may or may not work. So let your audience know you’re listening, and you can laugh with them. Have fun with memes this week!

Why I Chose PR

Being a typical Type-A personality, when I chose to go back to school I created a spreadsheet with all the graduate schools that I was interested in and three majors: marketing, strategic communications, interdisciplinary studies. I projected graduation dates and weekly schedules. I created pro and con columns for each track. I was honestly excited about everything that integrated marketing professionals had to offer. I just didn’t know what major to pick.

I finally chose strategic communications after impressive discussions with faculty advisors, and two courses under my belt as an undecided major. Every time I am in a strategic communications class I am reminded of why I made the choice. Whether it’s a guest lecturer or a tangential conversation over the newest social media platform, ideas here are shine like a beacon for a fulfilling career. 

This week’s guest speaker, Bill Kula, APR and Director of Media Relations at Verizon provided a lot of food for thought related to career choices as well as media planning. I would like to think he is a great example of a UNT green light presenter. Bill spoke to our class this week about planning for media campaigns and why he chose his career path. He mentioned that from all the career placement tests he took, counseling or a helping profession always seemed to be the path. My ears perked up, and I sat at the edge of my seat the rest of the night.

Since I scored similarly on career assessment tests, I reflected a lot on his insights on a communicator’s roll in the business process. What I took away from the lecture was that strategic communicators may be “closet journalists” but at the end of the day, we are counselors first. Much like a good counselor can teach effective communication skills through behavioral modification, a PR professional communicates effectively through strategic activities. This means listening, and knowing where and when you can act to change a problem for a client. I was reminded of all the times I had heard professors say “people will turn to you. You’ll end up giving them solutions to problems that they haven’t yet identified for themselves.”

The perks of a Type-A personality include prioritizing organization, which fit the traits of a communicator. Bill presented media plans so detailed that they were really inspiring. There was a place for everything and for everything a place. Media plans help you achieve goals, with each element and hopeful outcome accounted for. For that kind of insight and projection, you really need to know your client and most importantly, your consumers. A listener’s ear, an unbiased opinion, and the ability to establish good relationships: all characteristics of an effective communicator.  

Digital Communications for Personal PR

This week, I was fortunate enough to meet with a great group of young women who are working towards engineering degrees. They are the UNT chapter of the Society for Women Engineers. They are a great group that has come together for an excellent series of workshops entitled “One Busy Girl.” These workshops teach networking, resume writing, interview skills, fitness, self-defense, professionalism, and anything a busy professional needs to know! 

My colleague Staci approached me earlier in the semester and asked if I would help her plan one of the workshops. “Sure.” I said, “But what does a journalism/computer education major have to offer a bunch of brilliant engineering women?” Then I thought about how hard it was to get a professional photograph taken for my LinkedIn profile. I ended up learning about self-portraits instead of hiring someone. I grabbed my DSLR and signed up for co-hosting: “First Impressions: Make Up For the Workplace.” 

All students need to know how to market themselves as professionals in the workplace. Staci is a pro, successfully completing her coursework in information science while running a beauty consulting business, a full house complete with every extracurricular activity known to man, a volunteer career, all while looking polished and pristine.

My eagerness to be involved on campus resulted in a digital communication campaign.
LinkedIn Profile Photo Shoot
  • Budget: $0.
  • Channels: Pinterest, Facebook, and email.
  • Goal: Provide newly made-over young professionals with LinkedIn headshots.
  • Success metrics: 
    • at least 25% of active members on campus in attendance.
    • at least 50% of members following Pinterest board.
  • Post-mortem project evaluation: whether or not the students found the tips useful.

I created a pin board where I bookmarked articles about the best way to introduce yourself, appropriate workplace attire, and fast hairstyle tutorials. My Facebook page became a billboard for the event; tagging the organizers, sharing the event, and posting fun tips on the importance of a neat appearance in the workplace.

I addressed about 16 young women, (less than 25% of the membership, but I will let the engineers stick to the math) most of who are new to the job search, on why having an appropriate photo on LinkedIn even mattered. It’s the same reason that dressing nicely for an interview matters: recruiters are trying to decide if you're a presentable candidate.

SWE members pick out work appropriate makeup

I had so much fun communicating the event that I hope to do so much more on campus. My next student seminar will be for the Research Friday events out at UNT’s Discovery Park, November 2nd. I plan to address how to use social media to share research news and create funding opportunities. 

Future of Journalism

Open publication -

This week, Mayborn students surveyed working professionals about the future of journalism. Great minds with great backgrounds chimed in on the profession and the changes that are yet to come.

Conversations flowed freely and what we learned is that journalism is the ultimate change game. Things have been changing for years, and there's no changing that now.