Josie Ahlquist: Hello, and welcome to Josie and The Podcast. I am the Josie, and in this very Halloween special shorty episode, I’m going to be passing out some Halloween inspired social media sweetness and substance. Today, when you come to my podcast house to trick or treat, you’re going to get more than a fun sized Snickers bar. There may be a soap box involved, because by training and passion and by research, I’m a leadership educator.
And in my very first major research study, i.e. my dissertation, it was on college students and how they were really using and experiencing social media. A major finding that fueled all the work that I do, especially with teens and young adults, was this. Stop the scare tactics when educating students about social media.
But before I get stirring my witch’s brew, I’ve got to take a moment to tell you a little bit about my magical podcast sponsor, Campus Sonar. Are you a believer in social listening, somewhat familiar with social listening? Well, you may not have heard about it before, which is kind of wild, if you’ve been listening to this podcast for a couple of years. But regardless, you can stay on the pulse of the latest in social listening, especially in higher ed with Campus Sonar’s Brain Waves Newsletter.
Campus Sonar is a higher education social listening agency on a mission to help campuses find online conversations that give higher ed professionals the insights they need to support their institution’s goals. With every newsletter, you’re going to get access to all kinds of goodies. You’re going to get access to their latest writings and research and what the team’s been paying attention to in the field. Subscribe today at info.campussonar.com/subscribe.
All right, welcome to this Halloween themed shorty episode of Josie and The Podcast. And my spooky listeners, a couple of questions to get this sugar high going. What were the earliest messages you received about how to navigate and show up on the internet? What was the latest message you gave to a student, especially under 25? For those of you that have children or young family members, think about what was the latest message you gave to them? And if you had to average all these messages together, what would be the tone of these messages and education? Would you define it as positive, negative, neutral, or maybe more extreme, possibly spooky or scary?
Okay, I get it. The internet can be frightening. One wrong search term or misinterpreted tweet, and your night or life could be changed. But isn’t the same thing true if you get into a car, eat something you’re possibly allergic to, or lose your cool with a co-worker or someone you care about? Life is messy. So, of course, social media is too.
What if mistakes were actually the best learning experiences of all? It sure was for me, first moving to Los Angeles, before GPS. I was lost just about daily, but God darn it, today, if my GPS goes down, I’ll be good. But I also acknowledge how, unlike some life missteps in some contexts, hiccups or errors can be fixed, forgotten, or forgiven. But on social media, they may not be so flexible, especially when the judge and jury of the worldwide net have branded you as viral for all the wrong reasons.
However, as educators, parents, mentors to youth, I believe the scales are far from balanced about the messages, curriculum and interventions about social media education to young adults, teens, preteens, and even elementary school kids. Based on my research, the common theme for the message being amplified to them was this. Scary, almost creepy, even horrifying. You could mess up your entire life if you post one thing. You’ll lose your job, disappoint your family, ruin your life forever. Those were the types of messages in my research that young adults and teens have given me, that they received.
I’m terrified just reading and saying them out loud. Those are horrible things. It reminds me of the types of messages or one sided messages about sex education from decades ago, with the singular message of abstinence with the no other consideration or conversation met with actual realities. Simplifying social media to be good or bad, negative or positive, is too simplistic for this very nuanced, complicated and fastly changing platforms. Our youth and even adults, deserve digital education that is as complex, layered and networked as the tools we use, not only daily, but hourly.
So dear listeners, if you haven’t ghosted me yet on this episode, bibbidi-bobbidi-boo. This episode is meant to have a fresh perspective about digital education, one that I hope will empower youth to be pro-digital leaders, instead of anxious and afraid users. But you don’t have to take this spooky journey on your own. It’s because I am here.
After discovering these overwhelming and unhelpful messages that youth had been receiving from adults as early as they could even reflect back to, I knew what I needed to do. I was haunted by this discovery. So even in my doc program, I began piloting curriculum to educate college students realistically about social media. I found this path as a digital leadership educator that would produce positive, purposeful, and even problem solving interventions that would intentionally connect leadership and digital, just like this podcast.
Along with my research, I discovered common areas students needed some more work on. As a result, I created digital student leadership curriculum that includes six pillars, and I’m excited to dig into those with you today. These pillars include digital identity, digital wellness, decision-making, digital branding, digital community building, and of course, digital leadership. I’m going to go through each of these, give you some examples and reflections.
And as I share these, I challenge you to think about what existing programs, trainings and even the most casual conversations that you have with students, as this curriculum was meant to be blended with all other topics. Because social media does not exist in a silo. The great news, you can find this curriculum in a couple publications, as well as in some blogs that I’ve written in the past, and those will all be sourced in the notes to the show.
So I’m going to kick us off first with digital decision-making. This skill that surrounds the entire set of digital student leadership pillars, because it is true, every choice and post you make does have an impact. I intentionally lead with it, because it is true. Your next post could change something or someone, and if we took it to the extreme, sure, maybe your next post could change your life.
But what we flipped the philosophy and tone on its head? Instead of just telling and teaching kids, teens and young adults, don’t post that, don’t do that, what if we started to inspire and transform them to imagine what could be possible? What do we want them to post about? Who do we want them connecting with, and what platforms may they not even realize how powerful they are in different settings?
Digital decision-making acknowledges the power of platforms and the power that each decision that is made, in the moment and over time, but with a twist. Again, I’m empowering students to be intentional, reflective and to make the internet a bit more awesome. So this is starting to teach them reflection skills about social, from small micro moments, to longer term impact. Longer term impact might be something like create an aspirational Instagram page. What would you want your Instagram page to look like in a year or 10 years?
Number two is digital identity. And this is a great pillar to teach on its own, or to start with. And it is the most common, as far as messaging goes, and existing education that you can find out there. I explain digital identity as everything that you post, public or private. It’s also what other people are posting and writing and videoing about you. Because collectively, digital identity is also, everything is searchable. It’s the collection, it’s your intentions of what you post, as well as maybe even unintentional.
And then this other layer, which can be hard to stomach, is the perception of all that content and the interpretation of that. And we have some control, and also no control of parts of that. And we as a society are still navigating that.
Researcher [inaudible 00:11:03], which I’ve used a lot in a lot of my own research and publications, he defined digital identity as the conscious or unconscious process by which people try to influence the perception of their image, typically through social interactions. I find this digital identity pillar tends to be focused on, in the past at least, through a negative lens, where I have seen curriculum like digital citizenship take on.
So again, the way I remixed this, was one of education, reflection and empowerment. I tried to get them to be self-aware on social media and reflecting about their digital profile, which did mean that they needed to go out and do their own research of their own internet impact. A very common thing is to go to Google yourself, but also to think back through our own digital timelines, to think if we’ve ever potentially regretted something that we’ve posted, but really why, or why not, or what did you learn, because of that post that maybe you do now regret? Not just with the shame behind it.
Using a leadership lens, I use theories like the social change model, emotionally intelligent leadership, and transformational leadership theories, like authentic leadership, to dig way into the sense of self and the interaction of social media. This, y’all, is an intervention that is prevention, not just reactionary. Digital identity. It’s the activity of what we’re posting, but it’s also cultivating the skills of self-awareness on social media. And knowledge of self has never been so valuable in all contexts.
All right, the next pillar is digital wellness, and this one I’m finding, I’m going in to do at colleges, to conferences, more and more, because goodness, don’t we all need a little bit more wellness in our lives? Especially when you tap on social media and digital into that.
There is a major piece of debate in conversation related to technology, mobile and social and wellness. What is the impact that these tools are having on us? Is it making kids more anxious, depressed or addicted? These are all critical to consider, and there is some research out there that’s showing a variety of impacts.
But again, I find the message tends to fall far into the fear section. We need tools and tactics to manage the tools. We need space to experiment, to dialogue and to reflect about the realities of what it means to be a human today. Even take, for example, working professionals. There are certain tools we have to use. Email, some messaging platforms, maybe Slack, Google Drive, your central drive, and then you add on social media platforms and other types of tools. Some of these have potentially gone above and beyond what may have first started as efficiency, has turned into an overwhelm and over production of tools.
I share about digital wellness as establishing personal boundaries, including privacy, time management, and just that overall sense of wellness. Because tech shows up from the moment we wake up, to the moment we go and try to go to bed. So I ask, especially students to reflect about their days. I ask them, what’s the very first thing that you do when you wake up and turn off your alarm?
There’s usually a pattern of behavior of certain platforms they go to first, how long they might stay in their bed, or when’s the next time that they might check their phone. And the same thing in the evening. What’s that process, and are they actually able to then shut down their brains to get some sleep?
I also ask them, thinking about in the moment, how they feel on different applications. How do you feel when you’re on Pinterest versus Instagram, Reddit versus YouTube? And more than not, these platforms evoke different emotions that impact our spirits, and even our sense of self differently than the other.
And I don’t direct them on what to do or not to do, but I do give them the tools of reflection to think, if every time that you go onto Twitter, you log off a little lower, a little sadder, a little more anxious than you did when you logged on, is that the tool that you need to maybe take a bit more management around? Or, if it’s even further extremes, is that a platform that you really need in your life at all?
So I give them messages, like take tools back to work for you, not against you. We build out things like their terms and conditions for tech, even down to the details of, if they ever run into any kind of incivility or conflict or cyber bullying. What they will, and will not stand for.
I also give them tools how to track their technology and make conscious choices moving forward. I would love to hear if there’s other digital wellness initiatives, interventions and programs out there. I do find this is a topic that’s top of mind for a lot of my higher ed colleagues, and even parents out there.
The next pillar is digital branding, and I find students are very much interested and eager to talk about branding or whatever you want to call it. If you caught my last shorty episode about authentic branding, I pun packed the definitions, meetings and strategies of branding. I recognized how emotion, intent and awareness and purpose are just as important as other tactics and practices get talked about so much first with branding.
Many adults push back on branding. If we think about it, it’s much more surface level. However, again, I’m finding youth and young adults are very interested and eager in this topic. So this pillar might be the way that we get students to show up to the workshop or to the program or to the keynote, when they will also get much further development on things like digital decision-making, identity and what I’ll talk about soon, is community building and leadership.
In what happens on campus stays on YouTube, my colleague Eric Coleman wrote that digital reputation is an asset that needs to be preserved, and stated that the number one purpose of digital reputation is to brand one’s self, which puts the power of reputation management in your own hands, by providing tools for a do it yourself digital reputation audit. And as I explained earlier with digital identity, the way that you could go through and google yourself and having that awareness, digital reputation takes this up a notch and potentially even expands it out even further.
The curriculum that I teach gets them thinking about their beliefs and values and the message in their reputation, that then is sending out in digital platforms. I also get them thinking about their reputation on, or offline, and how that fits in different contexts, which I find young adults are very eager to explore. Such as how do I navigate my identities and roles within my employer, my family, my community, and my Instagram account? And there are not clear and defined ways to do that. It may depend on industries.
So, I teach them ways to look for role models, find other folks who have their dream job or that serve in their field, that they can learn from. If you want to be a lawyer, what platforms are they on? What’s some common practices they do or do not do? And try them on to see if that would fit into your choices.
I do suggest you go and check out that shorty episode about authentic branding. I give an exercise that I think students would be very interested in. I wouldn’t be surprised if all adults maybe would be interested in, to help you think about authentic ways to brand, that talk about values, purpose, mission.
And then finally, the last piece is the presentation of that. I think that’s where we get resistance as we first think about, this is all for a show. But my lens of digital leadership is that, no, this is all for the impact and the positive influence.
Within digital reputation, it’s also an opportunity for me to wake up students to be active content creators. The more that we put out our own original content relating back to digital identity, the higher those results go in our Google searches or other types of reputation platforms. So, even if you have an active or quasi active Twitter or LinkedIn page, those are probably going to be the first two, three or four things that show up on your search of your name. And that’s a really quick, easy win for students.
I get them thinking related to being content creators, about what are their natural skills of communications, the methods that they enjoy communicating the most, or they may have a very special set of skills in? For example, if it is writing in a text form, photography, video, drawing or illustration, or even if that means stick figures, each of these formats are wonderful for the internet. And it could help start picking a platform that would serve that type of medium, to get them documenting and telling their story.
The next pillar, we’ve got two more, is digital community building. This is one that I think we have the most opportunity in, in the need for teaching these skills, but also the one that I think collectively, we haven’t quite figured out even how to approach it. I see the digital landscape calls for leaders to have a new set of skills. I’m not saying that every major now needs a new course, but there does need to be an integration and an awareness of context.
No longer can you just flourish in face-to-face meetings, or create teams with just traditional physical office spaces. Even related to career, are students getting virtual work skills beyond email and platforms, but project management, communication skills, that might happen completely all via digital, and advanced platforms for data management?
Related to social media and digital engagement platforms, I try to open a conversation up about online conflict management and resolution. I also address change management and movement momentum. For example, how do you get others behind your ideas, passions and projects in the posts that you put out? Knowing the intricacies of each platform, there are possibilities to already tap into, based on the unique tool.
And last but not least, is digital leadership. And this is the heart of technology, where we humanize tech, where we connect ourselves, our leadership, our identity and our lives, into platforms that we approach with a purpose. This is your why, for leading online. Ask yourself or get students asking, why are these platforms worth your time today and all of your tomorrows? What impact do you want to make, no matter the context?
Just like the very last question of every featured episode where I bring on guests, I ask college students the same question. What do you want your last post to be? Digital leadership is about the business of human relationships, not just the busyness of platforms in tech. And it’s with the aim for the betterment of self and others.
This takes conversations about digital identity, reputation and branding to a higher level, a global, and you could even call it, spiritual level. Get students thinking about, if they could go viral for one passion they have, what would it be? Teach them social media with the intent to make an impact, and to have ownership of all of their content, even their mistakes and hiccups.
I’ve also found peer education about digital, is very powerful. I also have students declare themselves as leaders in all places and spaces, public and private, anonymous and real. So you might be asking, well, what the heck does this look like in practice? And again, I would love to hear from you all, if you’ve got your own examples that you’re doing, and I’ll link them in the show notes. You can tweet at me @JosieAhlquist or email me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
But let me share a couple of things that I do. All of my speaking programs from keynotes to workshops, have elements of all of these pillars. For example, in #hired, we dig into digital identity and reputation using real examples of young adults who’ve leveraged tools to connect their careers and life goals. Digital leadership for college students, I’ll boost their digital decision-making skills along with community and digital leadership in action.
And then my program getting real about social media is all about digital wellness. It’s kind of like social media therapy, and I’ve found students really love it. I also have a three credit online course based on this digital leadership curriculum at Florida State University. I’ve included the syllabus of this in the show notes. You can read more about this class and the curriculum in a blog post that I wrote. Again, it’s all linked in the show notes.
Now, I know, not everyone who goes to Florida State can take the course, let alone check it out and audit it. So where could you start, if you couldn’t do a course, you can’t do a standalone program? Maybe you’ll try to do a workshop. Well, I have included a free resource for you again in the notes to this episode, leading you through the very first activity that I have my students complete, called your digital identity.
I have them go and do what I talked about within that digital identity pillar. I go have them track themselves, why they’re on platforms, why they aren’t, how they feel about them, who they’re connected with and their privacy settings. It’s like a big old audit of self.
I also get them thinking about their past, the timeline that they have followed since they were early, early on. And our current traditional age college students could have gotten on social media, early elementary school. There’s a number of different activities in this downloadable PDF. I welcome you to take that, remix it, make it work for you and your students and your programs that you’ve got. I really hope that it is helpful.
I hope that this episode hasn’t been too scary, that there wasn’t too much of my soapbox involved. These shorty episodes have definitely turned into a bit more of education and exercises to give you from Wyoming what we like to call some meat and potatoes. I really believe that it’s time to give our students positive and productive guidelines that can help them thrive online, instead of just the spooky scare tactics.
If your campus is ready for some evidence based strategies for students to define and express their real life values online, then drop me an email at email@example.com. I am booking out programs for 2020.
So in close, fear tactics, our youth have heard them since middle school, maybe even earlier than that, which continue to be presented by the media and our own universities today. A few years ago, at an SA Speaks presentation, kind of like a Ted Talk at NASPA, their annual conference, I charged attendees to kick the spooks to the curb. They’re not helping.
Instead, consider this, stop shaming tech and start asking questions. Check your own browser history and have a little bit more empathy, and shine the light on current student digital role models on your very own campus. So I am on a mission to develop digital student leaders. Even if one person out there is already or excited to get offering positive strategies and purposeful programming about leadership and digital, well, my job is done, at least for today.
I would love to hear if you are out there doing some really innovative things around both preventative and intervention types of programming. I know I covered a lot in this fun sized Snickers episode, but there’s still so much more I could talk about. Make sure you check out the show notes for this episode, where you’ll find a few more resources. I promise, there’s no scary surprises.