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Going Greek in Digital Leadership Education

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Whenever there’s a negative headline associated with a Greek-affiliated student, chapter, or organization – one theme seems constant. Social media and/or digital communication tools are almost always part of that incident. From screenshots on Snapchat and documented text messages to private Facebook groups and YouTube videos, sorority and fraternity members and their posts are often going viral for the wrong reasons.

It is no wonder why so many campuses and national organizations have quickly responded with policies, curriculum, and programs. They are attempting to ensure that members make appropriate posts on social media and represent the brand of the chapter. However, the themes that I have found with most of these interventions that they are short-term, reactive, and place restrictions. In other words, Greeks are clearly being told what not to do, but nobody is stepping up and telling them what TO do on social media.

This post is a kick off to an ongoing series about Digital Leadership Education in Greek Life. To start the series, I wanted to address the core and competing philosophies of social media guidelines in Greek Life. I’ll be sharing how some of these interventions have a negative philosophy behind them. I’ve also discovered a paradigm shift that will help make discussions about Greek Life and social media more productive and genuinely positive (not just produced). I also offer a very basic digital decision-making framework that is built off of empowerment, calling on your members to be owners of their content, their communities and their impact on the world.

Rules, and Regulations, and Restrictions (Oh my!)

Let’s start with the most common approaches to social media in Greek Life after a digital reputation crisis. I’ve noticed that many organizations take a similar approach, so I dove a little deeper to find some unifying themes and practices:

  1. Detailed policies that dictate what members cannot post about (ie: alcohol in photos, body parts, chapter letters).
  2. Requiring chapter member social media accounts to be clearly branded, including their bio and ongoing posts that promote the organization.
  3. The creation of an executive board position or a committee that is tasked with monitoring all members social media pages.
  4. All members are required to follow a chapter account, which will comment on members posts if they need to be deleted/they have violated a policy.

There’s an overarching theme of intense monitoring and restrictions, which I totally get. One member’s behavior at one campus chapter impacts the entire national organization, as well as the university they attend. The stakes are high; after all, Greek Life is under a microscope in the media.
Crowd of media pros
I didn’t just want to focus on the policies put in place though. I was curious to see how students and members reacted to them. Through my research, I found that these policies weren’t necessarily having the desired outcomes. Instead, I saw the following behaviors tended to emerge:

  • Members create finsta accounts to hide their Instagram accounts from executive members, still displaying similar behaviors has before
  • Blocking sisters/brothers on Snapchat so they can’t see their content
  • Members reporting each other with screenshots that they send to executive members but never approaching the sister/brother directly
  • Posting fewer experiences and reflections on all platforms because they report being watched resulted in anxiety and frustration.

Even with specific and stringent social policies, the headlines and heartbreaking member missteps continue to happen on campus and online. I believe the current philosophy of policing and restricting greek leaders social media isn’t solving the root causes of these issues. Though it may give users a public platform for their missteps, social media itself isn’t what’s causing the problem. The real issue is a human one.

We need to create better humans in Greek Life, not just better Instagram feeds or get rid of finstas.
The goal should be to connect sisters and brothers whose personal values are congruent with values of their organizations.

Nick Altwies, the founder of Society Advocating Fraternal Excellence, writes about Greek students and social media. “Students don’t want to be controlled,” Altwies notes. “They need someone to guide them like a coach leads a team.” Negative reinforcement is usually the first step in developing social media guidelines, but it shouldn’t be. Instead of just telling members what not to post, we need to coach them through a new approach to social media.

Woman on PhoneNegative messaging about social media education is not just a Greek Life problem though. Throughout my research on college students and social media, students have told me over and over they get the ‘what not to-do’s online’ and even plenty of scare tactics but very little of what “adults” actually want them posting about. In digital leadership education, we need to empathetically prepare young adults who are armed with digital communication tools every second of the day.

Do the negatives of social outweigh the positives? What would your students say are the positives and negatives?

You should ask them, especially about how they consciously decide where, when, and why they post what they do. You’ll be surprised at the emotions, sometimes turmoil, and regrets they share.

Digital Decision Making as a Greek Student:

Overarching organizations should be approaching their social media policies as a call for pride rather than a collection of restrictions and regulations.

To empathetically prepare and empower Greek leaders to be leaders on and offline, we need to shift the dialogue from a lecture to a conversation. Deciding what to post isn’t always crystal clear, but when you layer on being part of a Greek organization there is more to consider. I’ve listed a number of questions that can be shared with students as they formulate a congruent, values-based social media presence.

How does this post represent your values? What about the chapter?

Be honest: are you being yourself? This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to sacrifice your own brand when you’re attempting to get more interactions on your post. Social media can be a great outlet to express yourself, but it’s easy to get lost in the glamour. In this article by DigitalGYD, they explain in-depth the importance of being yourself. Truth is, people want to connect with those they follow, even if you have never met in person. If people like your pages when you are being yourself, you will connect with them too.

Greek members join their organizations because that’s where they believe they belong. That means each member shares (or at least should share) values with their respective organizations. As Fran Panto mentions, the mission, goals, vision, and values are all important to you, your chapter, and your followers. Recognizing the relationship between members and their chapter may clear up some things about who they are and their beliefs. Asking your members why they joined the sorority or fraternity will help center the decision-making process around values, which should be the start of every conversation about social.

How does it make your community feel?

Greek members should empower each other on social media. Aim to have each post inspire members of your organization and other followers. Being in a sorority or fraternity means you’re often under a media microscope, so inspire your members to use it to their advantage. Invite members to show their online community what they want people to know about Greek Life through their posts. Members can change the stereotype of Greek Life by showing their younger followers the amazing things you do with your organization.

Does it showcase your personality?

Social media and your personality should be synonymous, no matter who you are. If we post something that doesn’t show who we are or something we love or care about, why would we post it? As noted in an article by FastWeb.com, our followers should get a glimpse of our character by looking at our social media pages. This also leads to creating a personal brand and digital footprint that will be connected to the organization for years to come. Take the time to teach your members about how to show off their personalities positively and build their personal brand.
We need to focus on education and empowering Greek members on social media to better themselves and their organization. Once they become better digital decision makers, they will improve themselves and their organizations as a whole.
Phone with Facebook app open

What’s Next?

I’ve outlined a simple process, but empowering Greek members to become better digital decision makers is going to be a long process. This is why over the next couple months I will be writing more about Going Greek in Digital Leadership Education. This will cover examples of digital leaders in Greek life, policies and practical leadership education.
If you want more information on digital leadership education especially for Greek students, reach out! I offer programs for college students to help them explore their digital impact and empower young adults on how to go viral for all the right reasons.
To learn more about my programs and coaching services, click here.

If you’re ready to connect with your campus, you’ll love this BRAND NEW resource that I’ve created called Get Connected: The Social Media Guide for Campus Leaders. This guide shares the latest usage of young adults of social media and how campus leaders can genuinely connect with their campus community.

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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Rebekah Tilley

Assistant Vice President, University of Iowa Center for Advancement

Rebekah Tilley is the assistant vice president of communication and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement (UICA). In that role she supports fundraising and alumni engagement efforts for the university, including its CASE Gold winning Iowa Magazine, and serves UICA in a variety of strategic communication efforts.

Previously she was the director of strategic communication for the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, and the director of communication for the University of Kentucky College of Law. She is a Kentucky native and a proud alum of the University of Kentucky.

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