The university’s public relations club, PRSSA, invited Heather Read, a professional in the field, to speak at its first meeting of the semester held in 413 Main Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 18th at 7:00 pm.
Read was invited to West Chester University by the board members of PRSSA to speak about her duties and responsibilities as a career woman involved in public relations. PRSSA, or the Public Relations Student Society of America, is a student run organization that exists on over 300 college campuses across the nation and consists of more than 10,000 student members.
The main focus of the group is to enlighten students who are interested in the field of various career opportunities available to those who pursue public relations as well as offer them connections to professionals. The official website for the organization avows that the “foundation is committed to investing in and providing support for the next generation of professionals.” One of the ways the West Chester chapter attempts to provide its members with such support is by inviting professionals with careers in diverse areas of the field to campus.
With hopes of luring new students to join, the board members of PRSSA-WCU decided that hosting a guest speaker at the first informational meeting of the semester would be a great way to demonstrate the overall goals of the group. If that was not enticing enough, a large display of doughnuts, candy, and soda positioned by the room entrance may have been another reason for the impressive audience turnout.
The elected speaker of the evening, Heather Read, is the current Public Affairs Program Manager at DuPont. DuPont is a science-based products company that is constantly searching for ways to improve the lives of others by developing safer, healthier, and more sustainable products. It is a 210-year-old company originated in DuPont, France that Read described as having “a reputation of being very ethical.”
Although she was only allotted 30 minutes to speak, Read was able to seize the attention of the eager students as she delivered her presentation entitled Social Media Crisis Management. When she opened with the question “What is social media?” nearly every member of the crowd surrendered an arm to the sky, a clear indication of ability to answer.
Read, who was anticipating this reaction, continued, “While you have all grown up with social media, is it considered relatively new still.” She informed her audience, all of whom she expected to be present on one or more forms of social media, that uses of these media are “hard for even the Nike brand to figure out.”
She reiterated the already known fact that topics discussed on Facebook or Twitter can reach mass audiences in mere seconds due to their ‘in real time’ design. However, most of the students in the room that use such media do so to chat with friends or follow the every move of their favorite celebrities.
“Did you think that someone like me is sitting on the other side of the computer everyday watching what you’re posting?” she asked, causing some students to shift uncomfortably in their seats. In an attempt to ease the noticeable anxiety she had just instilled in some of her listeners, she referenced a study conducted at the University of Iowa on the use Twitter. Without going into great detail, she explained that by monitoring trends of tweets, as those involved in the study reported, crisis’ can be identified faster than over any other media.
“Most significant commentary happens in the first 1-2 hours,” she makes the connection, “and dies within 5 unless it is continuously fueled.” This is important to any company that provides any product or service to a consumer. Read’s job is to monitor these online conversations about DuPont (and its products) and try to dissect what she called the baseline. Put simply, the baseline is the answer to the question: What do people/customers think about us?
She laid out a two-step model to simplify what it is that she does on a daily basis. The first step is to monitor the conversations on social media in order to “understand the discussion.” Ideally, customers would be expressing satisfaction or joy.
If she finds there is a negative trend towards a product or service, she takes the next step, which is to engage. The engagement step consists of trying to manage or change perceptions, followed by demonstrating company responsiveness. “We want to tell our customers that we are people, we are there, and we care.”
She stressed the fact that emphasizing the organizations core values is of upmost importance. “Whatever company you work for, make sure they have that,” she insisted, adding that this will determine the ‘voice’ of the company which must stay consistent. “Don’t change your voice for a crisis,” Read educated, “try to make the best of what you know to be true.”
Read revealed that her nightmare crisis would “really be more the aftermath then the start of it.” Having so much pride in the ethical values that DuPont stands for, she fears “ruining a 210-year reputation.”
A student in the crowd, who seemed to be overwhelmed with the plethora of important things to remember, asked Read if her job was stressful. Read smiled and responded sweetly, “All PR jobs are stressful, but it’s very rewarding.”
Kelly Ratka is a fifth-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at KR email@example.com.