Friday, December 29, 2017

Proud Moments: Rotary Rebranding

Student presenting at Rotary
This semester students in my public relations course helped a local Rotary Club with a rebrand. The Rotary Club of Fort Worth South even invited them to present as the featured speakers at a lunch meeting. Some students were so nervous they could not even eat!

Three groups competed as mini-agencies presenting solutions. #JoinConnectStay was the winning campaign, and the club is already implementing ideas presented.

What impressed me most was how diligently our students worked on this project for weeks. They experienced the strategic campaign process and rocked their 4-minute pitches. Our client would like to make our involvement an annual event. Our students also garnered a bit of publicity for their efforts. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

#NCA17 Poster Share

"Would you care to dress our professor?" At #NCA17, my co-presenters and I tried something a bit different with our #ILookLikeaProfessor presentation. We asked passersby to "dress" our professor.

Our research, More than Tweed Jackets and Beards, looked at tweets from the #ILookLikeaProfessor hashtag campaign from 2015. Participants posted about their frustrations, diversity, appearance and themselves, in an effort to broaden the concept of what a professor looks like, and open a larger conversation about the professoriate.

While people decorated our professor with pink high heels, tattoos, and clothing options (mentioned by real profs in the tweets), we were able to chat about our research. The interactive element was a plus, and one I'd like to try again in future poster presentations.

A big thank you to Dr. Tracey Holley for her mad paper doll clothes designing skills and Doug Hanna at Tarleton's CII for his gracious poster printing service.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Squeezing into a 250-word abstract

Serving as a reviewer for a journal or conference gives you a glimpse behind the curtain of decision-making. Recently, I served as a reviewer for a conference that required a short abstract submission. Yes, it's hard to squeeze everything into 250's also very hard to judge a paper's potential in that amount of words.

How authors handled the 250 words was illuminating. Some made great use of the space and others wasted too much time on introductions. This brings me to my list of tips/observations about submitting an abstract (especially a short one) for a conference's paper competition:
  • Don't waste too many words on an introduction. If you end up with words to spare, you can add a short sentence that introduces your topic. Have you ever been to a presentation where the "introducer" spends more time speaking than the speaker she is introducing?
  • Lit Review. Include some sense that you have reviewed the literature and have a strong understanding of where your study fits. Mass cites and "e.g." can help save you some words. Here's a sample: "This work adds to the foundations of framing theory (e.g. CITE) by expanding..." You can do this in 1-2 sentences.
  • Theory in a nutshell, a tiny one. Quickly mention the theoretical foundation for the study. You can weasel this in an introductory phrase like "Based on XYZ theory" or "Using ABC theory." That only takes 3-4 words from your 250 words.
  • Research question(s). This is a short-form way to get to the heart of your study/project.
  • METHODS. This is where I would spend a few more of your precious words. This particular reviewer (me) is looking for the strength of design. Were the methods suitable to address your research question(s). At the least, give reviewers words like "case study, experimental design, qualitative, quantitative or mixed method."
  • Use shorthand when possible. To explain your sample size, (N=124) does the trick.
  • Why it matters. End with what the study will offer to the public, readers, practitioners, academics, etc. 

So, my list is 243 words. It can be done. As always, read the instructions. Some writers neglected to hit the three questions the instructions specified. If it's a study in progress, you can say that.

How do you squeeze into a 250-word abstract?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Listening Online - What do you expect?

Image of ear
Dr. Chris Gearhart and I are working on a research project about how organizational social media accounts display listening traits online. This led us to questions about expectations of listening (and response) from corporate social media accounts.

We would love to have your input. You must be 18 or older to participate. Thank you in advance!

Survey Link

Official recruitment info from our IRB documentation: Researchers at Tarleton State University invite you to take a brief survey (less than 10 minutes) regarding your perceptions of appropriate listening behaviors and responses in a social media context. You will be asked to answer questions about your listening habits and demographic information. You will be provided with some hypothetical social media posts and are asked to rate how you would prefer to be responded to. Information concerning the study, such as any risks, benefits, and safeguards for your privacy and well-being, is presented on the first page of the survey. You must be 18 or older to participate. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Toddler Tips for Media Relations

If you have spent time with a toddler, you've practiced some key skills for media relations.

picture of toddlerNo, you can't have that toy, but you CAN have this one. You're a master at bridging. This is moving the conversation or interview to the messages you wish to convey.

Always be prepared. For the toddler, that might be an extra pair of pants in the trunk of your car or a coloring page in your bag. For the PR pro, that's a mental list of story ideas in case a reporter is on the prowl for a good article.

Think before you speak. Do you really want to bring up THAT topic? A toddler and a reporter ask a lot of why, why, why. Think your comments through to the follow-up question and its follow up.

Words matter. When talking with my toddler, I try to choose words carefully and select the word that best describes what I really mean. When I get lazy with word choice, I must do a LOT of explaining. Journalists appreciate precision, too.

Their vision may not be what you expected. When I think I know how my toddler might approach a toy or puzzle, she sometimes surprises me with an innovative approach. When you pitch a story idea to a reporter, he or she might take that story seed and grow it into something you didn't imagine. Not necessarily good or bad, just different.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Partnering on research

Partnering on research projects can be a way to maximize your time and efforts, learn new methods/approaches yourself, and add a layer of accountability. Some institutions and tenure/promotion committees want to see single-author publications, and others accept and value collaborative works. You can see from my vitae, the little girl who hated group work in grade school has learned how to co-author and co-present.

So if you're ready to partner up, let me offer these thoughts:
  1. Test run. Pick a small project to start. This could be a co-authored guest blog post or regional panel. You will be able to see how each other works. And it's OK if it's not a good fit.
  2. Consider your threshold for deadlines and procrastination. Before my little one arrived, I was up for late night writing sessions that pushed deadlines to within seconds. Now, I can't guarantee you that kind of window of work. I work much more in advance because I must.
  3. Find partners with complementary skills sets. Maybe you have a great network for survey solicitation, and your partner is a strong statistician. Find someone to strengthen your gaps and vice versa.
  4. Cross disciplines. Find ways to bridge the silos and connect with colleagues in different departments. This also opens your work to more publication options.
  5. Communicate. Discuss openly issues like order of authorship and timelines before beginning a project. 
  6. Going separate ways. You're kind of like a band. Play while it works. Strike out for a solo tour when you need, and be open to the reunion project. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Listening in social media

My colleague and I just published a piece on listening and social media. It was a fun collaboration because Dr. Chris Gearhart, Tarleton State University, is a listening guy and I'm a social media gal. We combined forces to apply listening principles to social media.

I have some free e-copies if you are interested:

Abstract: Researchers apply Bodie, St. Cyr, Pence, Rold, and Honeycutt’s (2012) model of listening competency to social media messaging for organizations. The article provides examples of how organizations and their social media managers, as de facto “listening agents,” can incorporate important verbal listening behaviors that represent active-empathic listening—pertinent responses, elaboration, offering advice and opinions, and answering and asking questions—into their social media profiles. In addition, guidance is provided to social media managers and organizations for how to adopt listening skills that will foster dialogue between organizations and their online publics. Potential areas for future research are also examined.

Citation: Sarah K. Maben & Christopher C. Gearhart (2017): Organizational Social
Media Accounts: Moving Toward Listening Competency, International Journal of Listening, DOI:

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Quilting Adventure Update

Two mini-quilts down and I'm learning what I like, and don't. I'm also remembering what it's like to be a new learner. After the initial excitement of a new challenge wore off, I put the project on the back burner. It's the same stall-out I see with our students who pitch a great story idea or research topic and then peter out in the middle.

Picture of quilt
Doll bed quilt: A reminder of being a new learner 

I used this quilt for doll bed as a way to test different techniques and supplies. For example, I learned that I needed a wider border and made the adjustment for the larger quilt. I tried machine quilting and hand quilting. Discovering my talents and likes was valuable and something we can offer students with low-stakes projects. In my classes, I encourage my students to experiment with a new writing style or design. We need to create the safe spaces in our courses for students to use trial and error to make discoveries.

How would I grade my quilt? Average. C. I met the learning objectives, but my technique could use some work....OK, a lot of work. But I learned along the way, and that's our main goal as teachers, right?!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A semester in review

In my classes, I typically ask students to reflect at the end of the semester. Sometimes I hand back the first-day assignment and other times I challenge them to list everything they learned in the semester. What did they learn about themselves and what inspiration did they find this semester? It could simply be the revelation that they didn't like a certain aspect of public relations. This goes beyond the course learning objectives and regular course evaluations. If I believe it's good for them, then I should follow my own advice.

Reflections from this semester

1) Nap time is a great time for writing. While the toddler sleeps, I feel the urgency to work as efficiently as I can. I worked on two new research projects and three revise and resubmits. So far in 2017, I have added three publications to the vitae. I should have been doing this before the kiddo came along!!!

2) Class size makes a difference. In retrospect, I should have changed how I handle our graduate ethics class when it moved beyond the 10 students I had last time. Each night, we had so many peer presentations to jam into our time together that I fear class became predictable and routine.

3) Expect a lot. I'm a believer in setting expectations high and helping our students get there. And they will. Our grad students submitted to NCA, a call for book chapters, and a PRSA conference. The ethics case studies they wrote this semester were exceptional and I hope to see them present and publish soon.

As the semester winds down, what are your semester-in-review reflections?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Proud Moments: Ethics Panel

Tarleton communication graduate students Skyla Claxton, Elizabeth Lempeotis, and Keauno Perez, and Brandon Sermon, Tarleton outreach specialist, presented "Move over Utilitarianism: Incorporating and Valuing Additional Ethical Frameworks for Social Media and Public Relations" at PRSA's Educator Academy Mini-Friday on April 7 at Baylor University.

From left: Skyla Claxton, Keauno Perez, me, Elizabeth Lempeotis, and Brandon Sermon.
Each panelist presented a recent ethical situation and dissected how decision makers could have used other ethical philosophies to better inform their decisions. The peer-reviewed panel was a first for all four panelists and they rocked it! 

I was so excited when they decided to submit a panel for review, and doubly excited when it was accepted. I could not have been prouder of their effort and presentations. It's just icing on the cake that one of them told me, "Wow, this makes research fun!"

The PRSA Educators Academy Mini-Friday is a conference I would highly recommend. It was intimate enough to really connect with researchers, and is grad-student friendly. Now, we're looking ahead to Super Saturday.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A New Learner - Let the Quilting Adventure Begin

As part of my teaching philosophy, I write: "I want to forever remember what it feels like to be a new learner, and admit that I’ll never be in the exact position as my students."

I may not be able to hit rewind on my understanding of Intro to Mass Communication, but I can place myself in the vulnerable position of approaching an unfamiliar topic or task. So begins my quilting adventure.

Picture of a tiny quilt and quilter
My tiny helper and her quilt topper.
I'm immediately reminded that every topic has its own vocabulary. Have you ever "stitched in the ditch" or bought a "walking foot"? I had to look up so much just to understand what the online tutorials mentioned. I needed the online tutorial for the online tutorial. Our students feel this way when we start yammering on about any topic for the first exposure. This brings me to pacing.

Instead of zipping right along, I am having to move at a much slower pace. I read and re-read my instructions. Hesitation happens. The confidence I feel with well-known tasks and topics is not there. I struggle with the tools, too. Every bump in the road seems much larger than it might be for the experienced quilter. So imagine if our students are trying something new AND they are new to BlackBoard or a social media tool AND they experience setbacks.

Quilt topper
Quilt topper for Little One's doll crib.
As a beginning quilter, I want to see progress. Our students want the same kind of validation and assurance that they are on the right path. Maybe more checkpoints or self-checks are in order for brand new topics and tasks. And more self-help videos.

I would be lost without the quilters who have taken the time to post how-to's on YouTube. Some are better than others, but getting to see the process in action and being able to replay, replay and replay has helped me to understand quilting concepts. The take-away for me is to create more help videos of my own and develop curated lists of better videos for students.

How is the quilt, you ask? I'm starting small, a quilt for a doll crib. I have the topper complete and will now actually quilt (after I buy more supplies!). I'll let you know how it goes. What do you do to remind yourself of how our students might feel?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Why Dissertation Dilemmas are the Best

In retrospect, a messy dissertation process has been a blessing. The ups and downs and workarounds prepare you for the realities of academic research and the race to publish.

During my childhood, my Mom would say during times of distress, "it will make you a better person."At the time of my dissertation, it seemed that a hurdle await at every turn. If Mom's saying proved correct, I would be the best person, ever.

It's taken more than six years to come to this realization, but I am thankful. I find that most projects have some kind of setbacks and the storm before the calm — that moment where the thought of abandoning the project is appealing. If you can make it through the cloudy chaos, which for me normally means parking myself in a chair and setting a timer for a required work period, you will see progress.

So, if you're doing the dissertation dance, jump the hoops, leap over the hurdles and keep pressing. The battle scars will help you in the research part of your future faculty positions.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Research Graveyard

Have you ever taken a walk through your research graveyard, the projects that just never found a home? I know some believe there's a home for every paper/project, but I think there is a time to cut your losses and let it go.

Here's what I learned when taking a critical eye to my failed works. They shared some themes:
  1. Lacked focus. The paper may have been better as a brainstorming piece to get me to the bigger picture, and should have been the precursor only.
  2. Tried desperately to force something. At one conference, our entire panel sat in disbelief as NO ONE attended our presentation. So, we decided to make use of the time, and devised a project. It was forced and never found a home. This can also happen when you try to manufacture a concept to fit a conference theme or merge too many researchers' interests into one piece.
  3. Rushed. Not leaving enough time to properly conceive the research design and collect the data is a recipe for a failed project.
  4. Failed to answer the so-what question. Just because you want a publication on your vitae does not mean a project really matters. I try to ask, who would care? Who can this help? What will the research mean?
The goal would be to have a small research graveyard. As the semester kicks off once again, I use this list as a reminder to fully develop research projects on the front end, so they will find a home.