Building an Army of Digital Leadership Educators

IMG_4986Over the last four months I have been privileged to speak at ten colleges campuses.  Many bring me in for a full day on social media consulting.  Others purely to spread a message to college students about leadership, social media and post college awesomeness.  I call this session #TrendingNow: Digital Student Leadership.  

At the same time I’ve been collecting data for my dissertation.  Forty college student leaders from two institutions.  Six focus groups and pulling over 2,000 social media posts from Facebook and Instagram.   I’m also putting the final touches on a journal article from a six month study, researching 16 SSAOs who use Twitter in their leadership roles.  I’ll be presenting both study results at NASPA and ACPA national conferences this spring!

All of these projects are grounded in my desire to serve college students, higher education administrators and faculty to be better equipped, living in a quickly shifting and often misunderstood digital-social space.   Sometimes I feel like a soldier, marching through uncharted ground, always on the move.

My favorite audience to engage with is college students.  Sometimes the hardest audience to win over, but once engaged is quickly responsive to my call to elevate one’s passions into a digital purpose.  That being said, attempting to rally a theater full of greek student leaders the day after Halloween was a very unique challenge.  Once I told them we would be checking Yik Yak they sure did pay attention!

Pay Attention Leadership Educators!

Leadership successes and failures are happening online.  Many of my research participants (from college students to senior vice presidents) have received little to no formal education on social media and fittingly have learned through trial and error.  As a professional you may also relate to this.  Even if we don’t have all the perfect answers, we need to be exploring leadership education through a digital lens.  

As you consider crafting your own conversation or formal training with your students, there are a few pieces of advice I’d like to pass on.  This is coupled from personal experience training students, as well as what the participants in my dissertation are telling me.  As leadership educators we can not wait for formal research or a published book to direct us.  Take what I have offered and please give your additions in the comments below!

Make it real.  

Share real case studies, ideally younger professionals and students.  A quick google search will give you examples for days, especially of those ‘epic fails.’ Use your campus or local community as an example.  Pull out tweets that shine positively, as well as poorly on the community.

Hint: Students love it when they see one of their tweets or instagram pics displayed on the screen!

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Temper your scare tactics. 

My research participants (college student leaders) have confirmed being raised in a culture of fear, especially about the internet.  They are already scared of what is on the other side of the screen and what may happen, giving examples such as the TV show “To Catch a Predator.”  Case studies and news stories are great, but how can you educate students through positive messaging about social media possibilities too?  

Look for examples of those using social media to help elevate their careers and causes that need support.  One example I have included is a recent graduate and entrepreneur Hannah Brencher.  She used social media to take her personal passions to the global level, creating the organization “The World Needs More Love Letters.”  Her success was aided using digital community tools.  Click on the image below to check out her cause.

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Use video and experiences.

Typically ten minutes into a talk I will use an engaging video.  I find Erik Qualman’s yearly YouTube video called #Socialnomics an engaging option. Especially with students I also look for relatable ‘youtubers’ that may add educational humor.  

Further I have student attendees ‘do something’ such as give their phones to their neighbor for a few minutes or look through their last two weeks of Instagram pictures.  The first gets them laughing, realizing how nervous they get when not having their phone.  The second helps start social media reflection and awareness as it relates to digital identity, privacy and overall behavior.

Be an example.  

I use myself as an example in my trainings.  At the very start I have students Google me (results seen below).  Just from an image search they get to know me and I can fully explain my real as well as digital story.  This includes answering why images and articles of Epic Rap Battles of History would show up.  I also give personal examples such as when I felt violated by the internet through Twitter trolls and my success story in blogging.  

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Address the gray areas. 

Some of the challenges of being a leader today means not having clear answers as it relates to digital spaces.  Many participants in my study express difficulties in how to transition their social media use from being a student to a student leader and then as a working professional.  Supervisors told them what NOT to do, placing even more fear to their usage.  So, many times their answer was to limit or stop posting, creating private or multiple accounts. What are the DO’s supervisors can give students instead of all the do-nots?  Right now students are left explore that gray area on their own.

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As educators and students we need to further grapple with many questions.  What does it mean to have a professionalized twitter?  What are the ethical dilemmas involved by having a leader use multiple accounts to hide certain activity?  How open do you need to be online to be seen as authentic and accessible?  Should colleges and employers be able to make decisions based upon past social media activity?  To what extent should supervisors be involved in monitoring social media activity — how accountable should you be held to?  How do you confront someone online that has said something racists or offensive?  What does role modeling online?

One day we will elect a President that grew up with social media.  From Zanga, AIM, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Instragram and so on.  There will be a digital footprint, a mark of their activity as far back as 13 (if not before from their parents activity).

What will this mean during the election, to grow up to be a national leader when everything has been documented for the world on social media?  Will voters be more accepting to see their stumbles online?  Right now our future president is probably figuring it out on their own, through trial and error.  Leadership educators need to fill the gap.

My #TrendingNow Training Recipe

Along with these pieces of advice, I offer five tenants typically covered in my #TrendingNow talks.  I use the Social Change Model as my guide, exploring self then as it relates to the community, and the responsibility we have to the world as digital citizens.  

Spoiler alert, leadership online is not a trend.  It is leadership and a space that we must educate current and future leaders on.

Be Aware of your Digital Identity

Privacy in the Digital Age

Responsibility to your Digital Campus Community

Digital Reputation and Branding

Global Digital Dialogue for Collective Action

Speaking to college student about social media and leadership isn’t a one person job.  We need to build an army of digital leadership educators with me.  You should know the weird realities of the internet, but show your students the potential to use it for good – for themselves, their communities and the entire globe.  

To further prepare this ‘army of digital educators’ I offer my session at the NASPA Western Regional Conference below.  This was built off of my recent publication in the Journal of Leadership Education, fittingly called Trending Now: Digital Leadership Education using Social Media and the Social Change Model.  

In my session I propose how we can remix current student leadership theories and work collaboratively to crowdsource content for digital leadership resources. I will be sharing these contributions on this blog over the next four months.


Building a Digital Leadership Educator Army

541264_987454032318_1556365774_nAre you interested in being a Digital Leadership Educator?  Want to collectively contribute to new knowledge and resources from remixing leadership theories for the digital age?  Already doing amazing things on your campus and beyond that should be shared?

Share your ideas in the comments below, tweet me at @josieahlquist or reach out through my contact page!

But don’t wait for me, start doing.  Find others on your campus willing to work through the gray areas of leadership online.  Many of the challenges we are facing as professionals our students are too.

And most importantly, create a space to hear the stories of students.  Listen to how they are experiencing college life online.  Their answers might surprise you and re-direct your education efforts.

For more resources on teaching students about digital identity and leadership, check out my other posts below:

A Holistic Framework to Train Student Leaders on Social Media

A Leaders Guide to Emotional Intelligence Online

What is a Digital Student Leader?

Social (Media) Change Model

Developing Digital Change Agents

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2 Responses to Building an Army of Digital Leadership Educators

  1. paulgordonbrown November 22, 2014 at 10:49 am #

    She’s back!

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  2. ericakthompson November 24, 2014 at 11:21 am #

    You rock, Josie! Thanks for sharing your awesome wisdom. I’m looking forward to hearing you speak at ACPA 🙂

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