DrKaren2019What does it take to educate the next generation of communicators about social media? Find out in this week’s Communicator’s Corner with Dr Karen Sutherland from the University of the Sunshine Coast. When she’s not helping local businesses and non profits maximise their social media engagement, she’s educating students as the Lecturer, Program Coordinator and Discipline Lead – Social Media and Public Relations at USC.

Your elevator statement – who are you professionally and personally?

Helping others is my objective, professionally and personally. I aim to achieve this by educating and/or connecting others. I would describe myself as a Social Media Educator, Researcher and Consultant. My background is in marketing and PR. I began my career 20 years ago and have worked in a range of sectors and roles over the years. Currently, I am a Lecturer at the University of the Sunshine Coast where I lecture and coordinate the Bachelor of Communication (Social Media) (new for 2019) and lead public relations as a discipline. My research is focused on social media in the non-profit sector, in Higher Education pedagogy, as a tool for offline engagement, and explores its impact on employability. I love delivering social media workshops within my community and I also provide social media consulting and coaching services to businesses in Australia and overseas.

Tell us about your typical day in communications?

It always begins early. After my daily yoga practice, I catch up on the developments that I have missed while I have been asleep. I have some amazing contacts in the U.S. and U.K. so I like to see what they are up to and answer any emails. My days are usually spent working on research, course development, helping students and clients and doing pro bono work. I also create my own social media content. I am a firm believer in leading by example. I can’t expect my students to take my advice when I don’t follow it myself.

When did you first know you wanted to work in communications?

I have had a love of reading, writing and storytelling from a very young age. It was never a conscious decision to work in communications. I think it has always been part of who I am and it all unfolded for me naturally.

Who’s your communication hero/mentor?

I have a few: Dr Joy Chia, Assoc Prof Karen Freberg, Dennis Yu, Madalyn Sklar, and Gary Vaynerchuk. There are many others who have helped me over the years who I am deeply grateful to for their support.

Which tools can’t you live without?

The internet (of course), my iPhone, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, WordPress, WeVideo and Canva. These all make communication and content production so simple.

What are the biggest challenges in your role?

Most of my social media courses involve students working directly with real clients and with enrolment numbers growing steadily, managing these student/client relationships can be challenging. It adds a lot of extra work in terms of administration and liaison than the regular courses that I coordinate, but the results are worth it. The students can include practical work experience on their CVs and include real-world examples in their portfolios to show prospective employers. The clients receive fresh ideas, strategies, social media content and recommendations based on their social media performance data to assist their organisations. Some clients hire their assigned student as a freelancer at the end of the course, which is the best outcome possible.

Tell us about the best campaign you’ve ever worked on?

Every campaign that I worked on during my time at the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. These campaigns literally helped to save lives.

What’s been the biggest change to communication/marketing/public relations since you began your career?

Keeping up with technology and the increasing flow of and demand for information. The fundamental communication, PR and marketing principles will not really change, but how we facilitate them is constantly changing. Also, information (and misinformation) can spread around the globe in a matter of minutes. Being across this and ready to respond can be challenging. Social media does not sleep, so monitoring what is happening and being ready to manage any crises and issues 24 hours a day is definitely a challenge; so too, is the constant hunger for new content and producing high quality pieces to keep up with this demand.

If you had to cut/keep something in your communication budget, what would it be?

That’s a tough one. It would all depend on specific goals and objectives. Working in academia means that I don’t have a budget to cut. 🙂

What quality do you look for in your communication team members?

Highly developed interpersonal and writing skills, passion, enthusiasm and integrity.

What book/blog do you think every communicator should read?

Associate Professor Karen Freberg’s Social Media for Strategic Communication.

It’s a shameless plug but I’m currently writing a book called Strategic Social Media Management – Marketing, Advertising & PR, which should be released next year.

What tips do you wish you’d known starting out in communications?

Communication is rarely glamorous, but deeply rewarding.
Communication is a process not a product.
Clients can often tell you what they don’t want more easily than they can tell you what they really want.
Sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Finish this sentence: ‘Communication is…’

an ongoing respectful collaboration.