Ease your student supervision speed bumps.

A Holistic Framework to Train Student Leaders on Social Media

For almost seven years I worked in Jesuit higher education.  I love how much the university lives its’ mission in every piece of campus.  I include one element of Jesuit education into this post.  I approach training, especially of student leaders holistically.  Webster dictionary explains the term holistic as “relating to or concerned with complete systems rather than with individual parts.”  But what does this have to do with social media training?  

In order to develop student leaders to be competent on social media, we need to go deeper.

As included in the Loyola Marymount University Mission, one of the three parts of the mission includes the Education of the Whole Person.  This includes moving students through the process of information, formation and transformation.

“It encourages personal integration of the student’s thinking, feeling, choosing, evolving self. It does this by fostering not only academic and professional development but also physical, social, psychological, moral, cultural, and religious/spiritual growth.  It promotes formation of character and values, meaning and purpose. As students learn to “read” what is going on in their own lives and in the larger world, they are encouraged to grow in the skills of personal and social literacy needed for responsible citizenship.

21985515_sCan you image if we applied this philosophy and belief system into student leadership education, especially as it relates to digital communication tool training?!

Many programs geared for students in Student Affairs could not be possible without the efforts of students themselves.  Student leaders hold various positions on campus that are crucial to the success of events, facilities and services.  While many students come in with previous work experience, many still need development on various skill sets such as customer service, programming or crisis management.

As the evolving nature of campuses change, so do leadership positions and responsibilities.  As digital technologies advance, many tasks and responsibilities have been shifted, even resulting in student leadership positions that manage social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.  One might assume since college-aged students are the number one users of social media, they would have experience in expertise in these platforms, but I would urge you not assume.

In this post I will propose a framework for training your student leaders on social media.  I believe this is education all students need, not just the ones that have the responsible of the department/organization twitter account.

This type of development is about the whole person, elevating a student leaders’ social media activity to reflect one striving to a be a digital leader.

Considering this philosophy, we build a base.  One of self reflection and awareness that builds to a connection to the university and global community.  There are five parts to this curriculum, based around the following 10 competencies I believe a Student Leaders should strive for in the digital age:

10 Digital Student Leader Competencies

1.     Awareness of Emerging Technology Tools and Platforms

2.     Digital Content Analysis, Sorting Accuracy and Quality from False or Misinterpreted Information

3.     Online Self-Awareness and Reflection of Digital Profile 

4.     Establishing Personal Virtual Boundaries including Privacy, Time Management and Overall Wellness 

5.     Cultivating Professional, Strategic and Career-Oriented Online Branding

6.     Building a Personal Learning Network 

7.     Integration of Digital Technologies into Leadership Presence 

8.     Cyber Conflict Resolution and Mediation 

9.     Digital Decision Making Strategies based in Positive, Authentic and Constructive Activity 

10. Using Social Media for Social Good 

I will give a number of concepts to guide your own training development, as well as background on the topic.  You will notice that I do not even bring up ‘technical skills’ of social media until last in the framework.  I believe knowing how to use the tools is not enough for being empower to lead through digital communication tools.   Develop a strong digital citizen first.


Part I: Digital Identity 

Research and formal theory on digital identity is a growing field, with even less on college students.  Digital Identity development should hit on self-awareness of what students currently have online about themselves, their framework for what and why they post on social media and the impact is all has on their identity (intended and unintended).  Digital identity training can start as small as 1-1 conversations, with you as a professional simply asking exploratory questions.  As a group, students can be challenged on digital decision-making, having students reflect how/if they are living congruent online as well as off.

Digital Identity training works very well with peers serving as guides in the conversation.  Allow ’seniored’ student leaders share stories or reflections to allow for open and honest conversations.  You may even want to consider removing yourself (as the professional) out of the room for part of the training.  I believe by allowing this open dialogue will empower students.

In this component, consider introducing the term Digital Citizenship.  The ability to be a positive citizen in a digital world aligns with character education, (Hollandsworth, Dowdy & Donovan, 2011), which is many times an element of college student leadership development programs.  Education should include methods for decision-making, ethical and legal activities, safety and security, and “becoming an effective member of digital communities” (2011, p. 38).

Part II: Digital Literacy Skills

An area that has received some research is on Digital Literacy skills for teens and young adults.  Mackey and Jacobsen (2011) proposed a definition of digital literacy called metaliteracy, which “promotes critical thinking and collaboration in a digital age, providing a comprehensive framework to effectively participate in social media and online communities” (p. 62).  This term is proposed as an umbrella framework for a number of other literacies including digital literacy, media literacy, visual literacy, cyberliteracy and information literacy.

Some means to teach college students on digital literacy include examples such as:

  • How to critically consume content
  • Use media to express views (political, social, creative)
  • Understand ethical issues
  • Diversity online
  • Privacy
  • Accessibility

This process should also empower students in their digital decision-making process, how they can engage authentically online and tools to produce positive interactions.

One specific activity I would like to share is asking students to follow and report on a hashtag rooted in social justice.  Have them approach this through an ethical framework, as well as reflecting on what their role is as a student leader and digital citizen.  Here is a website that provides a number of hashtags to consider for this activity: https://www.socialbrite.org/2010/09/08/40-hashtags-for-social-good/.

Part III: Leadership Skills

I have written extensively on this topic.  I encourage you to check out such posts for specifics using a number of leadership theories.

What is Your Digital Emotional Intelligence? https://wp.me/p36xst-12o

A Leaders Guide to Emotional Intelligence Online https://wp.me/s36xst-eil

Developing Digital Change Agents https://wp.me/p36xst-UA.

Social Change Model https://wp.me/p36xst-U0

What is a Digital Student Leader https://wp.me/p36xst-Qx

This is where as Leadership Educators we can really shine.  Take the leadership theories and frameworks you already know and love, then remix them to reflect digital communication tools.  This works even better if student leaders are already familiar with a theory, so advanced conversations and activities can occur.

social change model editFor example, using the Social Change Model tenant of Common Purpose try the reflection questions and activity below to build competency around integration of Digital Technologies into their Campus Leadership Presence:

Reflection Questions:

•How can you use social media in your leadership role?  What methods do you use currently?

•What ways has your organization used social media, other than marketing events?  How can campus community be cultivated using social media?

•What other organizations and resources exist on-campus that foster community virtually for you, your organization and the entire campus.

Digital Activity: Work with three other students on proposing a social media strategy project.

•Step 1: Brainstorm ideas how student leaders can use their social media resources to not only advance their organizations, but to brand themselves going forward beyond college.

•Step 2: Develop together a social media strategy project, choosing one of the following topics to utilizing social media in building community: School Spirit, Academic Integrity or Community Service.

•Step 3: Implement strategy and track progress over two weeks time. (For example: for School spirit, create a hashtag to be used on twitter and Instagram, feature school athletes, coaches and staff, post throwback pictures from old games/events, highlight traditions or cool facts about the school)

Part IV: Technical Skills

21541014_sNow we are getting to the nitty-gritty.  I would suggest this be a hands-on and very interactive session.  Look at building your training from a big picture ‘best practices’ of social media, then move into specific platforms that you want the leaders to have advanced knowledge on.

The challenge here is that social media applications change nearly everyday.  Use tools that each platform provides, such as the YouTube Creators Playbook.  If you have a student leaders charged with your YouTube Presence, assign this as part of their training.  

Considering this, don’t feel like you need to re-create the wheel!  A simple google search will give you hundreds — no thousands of articles on social media best practices.

Here is an advanced look at Twitter in Higher Education: https://wp.me/p36xst-102.  While the post is written for higher education leaders, it can direct you to consider student management as well.

The last part of this skill is the development and goals, as well as a strategic plan for social media.  As part of workgroup at LMU, I created a blog to guide student affairs professionals and their students to run social media.  Check out that page (here).

Part V: You and the University Community

The last part of this training framework includes awareness and application of social media to the university community and beyond.  The university most likely already has policies in place, such as a Social Media or Computer Use policy that will apply to student leaders and their responsibilities with social media.  They need to know these.

20078290_sYour department may also have more policies or agreements based upon online activity, I see these a lot in departments such as Residence Life and Student Government.  Finally, as a professional, you should also be aware of other legal implications surround digital technologies, here are a few of those (here.  For example, in many states it is ILLEGAL to require your student leaders (or any student) to give you their social media accounts.  In California, this is called California SB 1349.

Looking back at the Social Change Model, this is another great place to bring up their responsibility to the local and global communities to which they serve.  Think about the campus impact, but also the potential for using social media for social good.  Leadership educators can use case studies where social media has gone ‘viral’ for positive as well as negative reasons.

Final Thoughts

To holistically train students on social media, whether they are in a leadership position or not, is long-term effort.  It begins with 1-1 conversations and can build to campus-wide initiatives year-long.  It is a framework to approach leadership development, preparing positive citizens in a digital age.  It takes into considerations the complexities of the digital space and the opportunities for in-person connections on campus.  We must prepare our students to be change agents, through all means possible including social media.

I would love to hear what you are doing on your campus to train students on social media.  What is working, what do you need help with?  Let’s build this curriculum collectively to better students, no matter their campus.

Best of luck with your August training!

Looking for more?  Check out these great resources:







Follow me on Twitter @josieahlquist
For all content cited on this post, explore {here} for all references used on this blog.

*All images purchased from https://www.123rf.com

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.

Share this post!

You may also like...

Hybrid Hype in Higher Ed, Is your campus ready?

Hybrid Hype in Higher Ed – Is your campus ready?

A hybrid campus is not attempting business as usual while adding online options. It is completely redefining and reshaping what is the campus experience.

Read More »

Building Online Community for College Students

Building Online Community for College Students Connection is more important than ever. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, what will become your campus digital living room or quad? Beyond the classroom, where will our students find each other to laugh, lead, and just be? How can student engagement professionals and social media professionals collaborate …

Read More »

Cultivating Faculty Partnerships: How Digital Marketers and Faculty Can Combine Forces

Josie Ahlquist, EdD, with Danielle Sewell, MFA “Marketing just makes me feel slimy.”  The faculty member who said this was a colleague I respected and the topic had come up during a committee meeting about campus-wide initiatives, including communications. She dropped it casually, with no intention of being malicious. It was just how she felt.  …

Read More »

Subscribe to my newsletter

For the latest on digital engagement and leadership and everywhere they intersect.

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.

Connect with Rebekah

Spark your mission on social media

Sign up for the Digital Leadership Download

The newsletter that brings the latest in digital engagement and leadership right to your inbox

Unsubscribe anytime. Read our Privacy Policy.

Sign up for the Digital Leadership Download

The newsletter that brings the latest in digital engagement and leadership right to your inbox

Unsubscribe anytime. Read our Privacy Policy.