Assistant Professor Jun Zhang, who teaches in the School of Journalism and Strategic Media, is known for her research in brand crisis, emerging media and technologies and preventive health behavior.
She earned her bachelor’s degree from Zhejiang Gongshang University and her M.P.A. and Ph.D. from Syracuse University, where she taught courses about social media and quantitative research methods.
She has published in Journal of Brand Management, Computers in Human Behavior, and Telematics and Informatics. She is a frequent presenter at the annual conferences of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) and the International Communication Association (ICA).
She also worked as a research analyst at the Center for Social Media Research at Peking University in China. She served as the key member of the Social Media Impact Measurement Project funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the lead project manager for the social listening projects for Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the International Organization for Migration.
She spoke to Beverly Keel about following in the footsteps of her father, who is also a college professor, planning for the new social media lab and recognizing the importance of diversity in higher education.
We are so delighted that you agreed to join MTSU’s School of Journalism & Strategic Media! Why did you decide to join our faculty?
It’s my great pleasure to be part of MTSU’s School of Journalism and Strategic Media! I believe that SoJSM is a terrific place to embark on my faculty career. During the job interview, I learned that SoJSM was about to launch a social media insights lab that would enable students to learn and hone digital skills while allowing faculty members to conduct their professional and scholarly projects using various analytic tools. As my expertise and research interests revolve around social media and other emerging technologies, this opportunity appealed to me greatly. I believe this lab has a lot of potential for growth. Furthermore, at that time, I was looking for a PR program that provides teaching opportunities in a specific area of interest. SoJSM is such a place: an ACEJMC-accredited school with a solid PR program that offers a variety of PR courses and provides faculty members with opportunities to develop new courses. I was also drawn to SoJSM’s supportive leadership and diversified faculty. After the first semester here, I can say with 100% confidence that I’ve made the right choice. SoJSM is a healthy work environment that is open, inclusive, and willing to invest in faculty development
How did you get interested in studying public relations? When and how did you decide to become a professor?
My father is a college professor, and I grew up dreaming of becoming a professor like my father one day. The life of a professor would be an uphill battle, but I knew this rigorous career path could reap many rewards. The first reward comes from the teacher-student relationship. Engaging with students and seeing them grow step by step is very fulfilling. The mentorship that a teacher provides can be life-changing. I have been so fortunate to have met several such teachers in my school career. Therefore, I hope that I can be one of those teachers one day. Another reward results from the consistent intellectual challenges in this career. It’s always good to stay curious, keep learning, and keep growing. I majored in public administration during my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and I dedicated myself to learning about nonprofit organization management and fundraising. After graduation, I started working at the Center for Social Media Research at Peking University, thereby gaining a closer look at the social media industry and the impact of social media on people's cognition, attitude, and behavior. I later realized that effective communication built the foundation for effective NPO's organizational management, fundraising, and relationship cultivation. So, I decided to study communication and public relations for my Ph.D.
: I know you faced some challenges moving here from Syracuse. What has the first semester been like for you? What have been some highlights or bright spot?
For me, it has been a semester of accepting and embracing change and challenges. Along with the transition from student to teacher, I am also building a new life in a new place. I have to admit that I felt overwhelmed at first. However, I was fortunate enough to receive a lot of help and support from my current and past colleagues and my students. This kindness allowed me to gradually adapt to the new environment and establish a new order in my life. During the semester, there was a moment when I was greatly inspired by one of my students. In an email, the student told me that she gets anxious when she feels that things are getting out of her control, but she won’t complain about them. She also wrote that all her difficulties are her own battles and that she must learn to deal with them and get over them. I was completely encouraged by the positivity in this email.
Tell me about your research in spillover crisis mitigation and the adoption of emerging media and technologies What got you interested in these areas? What are some things your research has uncovered?
When two brands are perceived as closely associated with each other, people’s negative perceptions and emotions towards the brand in crisis may transfer to the other brand, known as a spillover crisis. A high-profile case of a spillover crisis is the Volkswagen emission scandal dubbed “Dieselgate.” Due to the collective reputation of “German engineering,” the reputation and sales of other German automakers have been negatively affected by the Volkswagen scandal. The question of how a brand can protect itself from such unwarranted losses sparked my interest. I have conducted several studies on this topic. These studies examined the efficacy of response strategies (strategic silence, denial, bolstering, differentiation) in mitigating the negative spillover effects. In brief, the results suggest that proactive responses rather than strategic silence can help rival brands disassociate themselves from the brand in crisis, thereby mitigating the negative effects of a spillover crisis. The relative efficacy of proactive response strategies depends on a rival brand’s market position, product segment, attribute similarity with the brand in crisis, etc. Another research interest of mine revolves around emerging technologies and media experience. We are at a moment where artificial intelligence is coming to fruition, and the metaverse is already starting to take shape. It is an exciting area of research that how emerging technologies affect the way people interact with media, messages, brands, and people. One of my studies attempted to identify the factors that drive news audiences to adopt digital news platforms powered by artificial intelligence. The results suggest that along with perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use, perceived contingency (i.e., a user’s perceptions of the platform’s algorithmic capabilities in generating outputs that reflect the user’s inputs and the cumulative history of interactions with the system) plays a key role in predicting adoption of AI-powered news platforms through enhanced user engagement experiences and favorable attitudes.
What can you tell us about the project called “The Age of AI: Audience Segmentation and Predictive Audience Engagement” that was funded by a grant from Columbia University?
Continual advances in artificial intelligence have been transforming both the news industry and individuals’ news consumption behaviors. News outlets attempt to be more of a Netflix-style personalization engine for news, while news audiences explicitly or implicitly train algorithms in news apps to get news that is more relevant to them. In this context, this project, funded by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, aimed at understanding news consumption patterns of news audiences in the digital era and their perceptual and attitudinal differences regarding digital news platforms. I was very fortunate to be involved in this project as a research assistant. In the project, we conducted a national survey to segment today’s news audiences based on how they used and interacted with digital news platforms and understand audiences’ subjective perceptions of the role of AI in the news production and dissemination process. Specifically, using artificial neural network analysis and latent class analysis (i.e., a statistical method for identifying subgroups within a population on the basis of specific common characteristics), we identified three groups, each with distinct characteristics and behavioral tendencies. We discussed the significant differences between these groups and the implications for news organizations.
Q: Your research also explores the adoption of preventive behaviors against health risks. What can you tell us about your work entitled “The Interactive Effects of Campaign Sponsors and ‘Myths and Facts’ Message Variations on Correcting Misconceptions about Vaping and Preventing E-cigarette Use Among Young Adults?”
Yes, I am also interested in studying the adoption of preventive health behaviors. Previously, I conducted a study on adopting protective measures against health risks associated with air pollution (PM2.5). The e-cigarette project did not continue due to the outbreak of the pandemic. Since misinformation and conspiracy theories about the COVID19 vaccine greatly discouraged people from getting the vaccine, the principal investigator decided to use the grant to study people’s intentions to get the COVID19 vaccine and combat the related misinformation and conspiracy theories. In one ongoing study under this project, my co-author and I will examine gaps in people’s perceptions of the impact of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories on themselves and others (i.e., third-person perception) and how these perceptual differences affect their behavioral intentions to correct COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and support for content moderation regulation on social media.
Will you please tell me a little about your program called “Fake News and Misinformation, Social Sentiment, and Confidence in COVID-19 Vaccines” on Twitter?
Along with the COVID-19 outbreak, misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and the COVID vaccine are rampant on social media. As the COVID-19 vaccine was rolled out throughout 2021, research insights are needed to develop an effective public awareness campaign to encourage the adoption of COVID-19 vaccination amongst the U.S. population. The project extracts data from Twitter and uses content analysis to understand which sources people are most likely to reference when tweeting positively, negatively, or neutrally about the COVID-19 vaccine and which sources receive the most engagement. In addition, the project plans to use topic modeling (a text mining technique) to understand what public conversations concerning the COVID-19 vaccine are and how the conversations change across regions.
What can you tell us about the social media insight lab that SOJSM is about to launch? What will this mean for our students and program?
I’m so thrilled about the social media insight lab that SOJSM is about to launch. The lab will be equipped with advanced social analytics and management tools as well as other media technology devices. We aim to establish the lab as an active teaching environment for students to learn and practice digital analytics and play with emerging media and technologies. The lab will also be an interdisciplinary research lab for students and faculty to conduct research on social and digital media. Hands-on or research projects related to social media will be designed to provide opportunities for students to work with faculty members. In addition, the lab will serve as an open forum for professionals, experts, and students to share their ideas, opinions, and experiences about the fast-changing social media landscape and advance the understanding of social media and emerging technologies. The lab also aims to be established as a social media clinic for local organizations, allowing students to apply their knowledge of digital analytics, social media management and more to solve real-world problems faced by organizations.
Tell us about your work experience in Beijing, most notably The Social Media Impact Measurement Program funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the social media listening and campaigns for advocating Beijing and Shanghai in-door smoke-free policy.
From 2014 to 2017, I worked at the Center for Social Media Research (CMSR), affiliated with the School of New Media, Peking University. There, I was involved in the Social Media Impact Measurement Program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. At that time, it was not easy for nonprofit organizations to monitor and measure their social media performance, especially with most nonprofit advocacy campaigns aimed to influence people’s behavior. In addition, nonprofits lack the financial resources to purchase social media measurement tools and hire specialists to analyze social media data. With these concerns, the project attempted to identify key indicators of social media impact by using case studies and big data analysis and develop a measurement framework that contains valid metrics that go beyond the vanity metrics (e.g., # of followers, # of likes) for nonprofit organizations. As a result, we produced several academic papers, built a case studies dataset, and held two capacity-building workshops for nonprofit organizations. Furthermore, we collaborated with the computer science department at Peking University to develop a social media listening and measurement tool for nonprofits. I also led the social media project for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. At the time, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids was actively advocating for the implementation of the smoke-free policy in all indoor public places in Beijing and Shanghai. My team conducted a year-long social media listening project and advised them on their social media campaigns. The work at CSMR provided me with substantial interaction with numerous Chinese nonprofits. I gained insight into their difficulties with social media campaigns, which sparked my interest in communications and public relations.
I know you have some opinions about the importance of diversity and inclusion in higher ed. What would you like us to know?
I left my hometown at 18 to pursue higher education and have never stayed in one city for more than four years. Going to different places and meeting different people has made me a cosmopolitan. I believe that all people are entitled to equal respect and consideration, regardless of their political affiliation, race, nationality, religion. My experience has taught me that it is when one embraces diversity and equality, one’s horizons open up. This allows them to be brave enough to think about opposing viewpoints, to understand and appreciate people who are different from them, and not just to echo those who hold the same views as they do. Diversity and inclusion bring many educational benefits, including increased racial and cultural awareness and enhanced critical thinking, which help develop students into strong and independent individuals. I appreciate our college’s efforts in building a diverse faculty community. It is vital for all members of the campus community, especially for historically underrepresented and marginalized populations. Based on my own experience, I am sure that both faculty members and students will benefit from greater exposure to a wide range of cultures, beliefs, cases, stories, and experiences. I also want to point out that diversity, equity, and inclusion are everybody’s responsibility. Valuing and respecting the voices of others and giving a sense of belonging to the diverse groups on campus is essential to the success of our education.
How are you able to get so much research done while maintaining a solid teaching load. Are there any tips you can share?
Once I came across David Romer’s Rules for Making it Through Graduate School and Finishing Your Dissertation online. The core of the rule was not getting sidetracked and just write. I always kept that rule in mind. Sometimes, I have to spend more time preparing a course or writing a manuscript than others. But I tell myself that’s ok. Just write. I’ll be one step closer to achieving my goals.
What do you do when you aren’t working? What are some of your favorite TV shows, movies or books?
When I’m not working, I enjoy doing sports. I play basketball pretty well, lol. I used to go to kick-boxing every week. However, it has been interrupted for a while due to the pandemic. As for movies and books, let me tell you the movie and the book that I always watch or read over and over again. The movie is titled The Grandmaster directed by Wong Kar Wai, and the book is Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.