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Student Affairs Leadership Online | 8 Guidelines for #SApro Social Media Use

Every Thursday at 10am PST a Twitter chat called #SAchat takes place.  This conversation is an interactive medium, allowing student affairs colleagues to connect across the country.  Each week it has a different topic and is moderated by @The_SA_Blog with six or so questions.  This past week topic was called ‘Social Media conduct as a SA professional.’
To no surprise I was excited to be part of this conversation.  The discussion was fruitful and inspired this post today.  Many others also responded with reflections, which I have listed at the end of this post.  I have found that most student affairs professionals, including aspiring leaders such as graduate students, are left on their own to figure out what a healthy and productive online presence looks like.
Looking to the leaders in our field, one can find many Senior Student Affairs Officers (SSAO’s) blogging about leadership, student affairs management, book reviews and other topics related to education.  Many others have labeling their Twitter accounts as “Dean of Students” or “Associate Vice President.”  This purposeful branding provides a means for students, colleagues and possibly even parents to connect online.  Eric Stoller provides a healthy list  of these senior level administrators ‘leading’ the way online, providing stellar examples of usage within their leadership positions on Twitter.
But beyond observing these leaders, leading by example, how do rising Student Affairs Professionals ensure their activity online is on the right track?
Research on Higher Education Faculty Using Social Media
To date, no research exists on student affairs professionals using social media in their leadership roles with any constituent group, especially not with their students.  What can be found is faculty usage with students in the classroom.  Countless studies confirm college students are using SNSs not only daily, but multiple times of day (Junco, 2011; Junco, Heighberger, & Loken 2011; Steinfield, Ellison & Lampe, 2008).  Looking beyond the category of young adult social media use, the fastest growing Facebook demographic is 35 and older (Malesk & Peters, 2012).  The gap of younger and older adults using social media is decreasing, especially in the last two years, 25% in 2009 to 51% in 2011 (Tess, 2013).
So what can Student Affairs professionals learn from these studies?

  • Social media has also proven its’ weight with classroom usage.  Twitter has produced many positive results such as higher student GPA’s, creation of study groups, increased faculty and student interaction, and students feeling more equip for the future (Cheung, Chiu, & Lee, 2011; Junco, Heighberger, & Loken 2011; Laverie, Rinaldo & Tapp, 2011).  Hickman and Techlehaimanot (2011) conducted a study, exploring faculty and students interactions online.  As a result, faculty was observed active on Facebook and that it was allowing opportunities for student-faculty interaction.  This made students feel engaged.
  •  Student feelings about being online with Faculty.  Junco (2011) study showed that only 15% students felt that faculty use on Facebook for educational purposes was invading their privacy.  However another study showed less support, as the researched stated “One of the most surprising findings of this study was the fact that nearly 40% of the students and 30% of the faculty believe that it is inappropriate for professors to have accounts on SNSs” (Malesk & Peters, 2012, p. 143).
  • Platform Presence.  The types of usage most commonly seen in the classrooms are blogs and wikis (Tinti-Kane, 2013).  A more passive use of technology is sharing videos, with 80% of the faculty surveyed using sites such as YouTube for teaching (2013).
  • Faculty Branding & Relationship Building Online.  Veletsianos (2013) study asked what activities and practices arise when researchers and educators use social media, finding that usage includes both in class and professional (non-class) use.   This study found that even personal sharing was valuable in the academic community, such as things in their personal lives.  This was observed through Twitter, where author Veletsianos claims that “It appears that engagement with and sharing about issues unrelated to the profession is a value that is celebrated by this community” (2013, p. 646).

Application for Student Affairs Leaders | The Need for A Research Study
Collectively, these studies give insight and direction for professionals leading outside of the classroom in Higher Education.  Everyday, more professional are making a presence online through such platforms as Twitter, Blogs and even YouTube.  With the support of a research grant through NASPA, in the next year I will be pursuing a study called ‘Exploring the Social Media Usage of Senior Level Student Affairs Leaders.’  I will be interviewing 10-15 campus leaders, who hold senior-level titles within Student Affairs.  The criterion for this study is four categories:

  1. Holds a position as a Dean of Student and/or Associate Vice President and higher level
  2. Uses social network sites daily
  3. Interacts online at least once per week with students from their campus, and
  4. Has more than one social media site utilized.

Past literature within higher education technology and leadership does not provide a clear picture for best practices, specifically for the field of Student Affairs.  Our roles are becoming more blurred as services expand and positions evolve to meet student needs.  In addition, technology changes daily and it is easy to become overwhelmed by the ever-evolving nature of such tools.  To guide leaders through this web 2.0 revolution, this research study will produce a framework for student affairs leaders using social media.
Until the results of this study are painstakingly coded, analyzed and published, I leave you with what I believe are 8 guidelines Student Affairs professionals should consider in their social media presence.  As I outlined in a previous post, a Social Media Policy vs Guide Vs Best Practice,

A guideline directs a course of action.

I provide both a General Guideline, as well as a #SMBP (social media best practice) to build on to each guideline.  I used similar language in a earlier post, called 10 Social Media Best Practices in Higher Education.  You will see some cross over from that post.  The difference?  This post is written for the integration of professional/personal usage, the previous post had applications for professional use, but most likely department/programmatic social media usage.
These guidelines are specifically targeted to those in the field interested in branding themselves and/or blending both personal and professional usage through various platforms.  I make a special note that this list is not to place pressure on professionals, that they must have a social media presence professionally or part of their current personal accounts.  Social media communication tools can be purely for personal usage, as long as that professional has made that deceive decision to do so.
8 Guidelines for Student Affairs Professionals Using Social Media
1.  Adoption is Your Personal Choice.
Adoption of social media is a personal choice, as well as the amount of activity one produces.  It can be tempting as a ‘fan’ of certain platforms to yell it from the mountaintops.  I have found that the more convincing I had to do to get someone on a platform, especially Twitter or Instagram, the less likely they were to use it in the long run.
Being attracted to social media and integrating it into a personal/professional usage takes a certain type of person.  It is OK if you just happen to not have that blood type running through your veins.  It is better to be aware of this, figuring out what platform(s) may fit better with your personality, boundaries, etc and start exploring.  This must be stated, because online activity is personal.  It forces the online contributor to be connected, sometimes constantly.  Adding another notification from Facebook or Twitter may be the last thing that professional may want.
At the same time, that type of connection and communication may extend beyond your comfort level.  That is OK too.  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a platform or methods out there that might better suit your personal DNA a little better.
My suggestions, if you want to keep things strictly business: use Twitter, Blogging and YouTube platforms as possible options.  If your DNA includes a bit more adventure online, look into Instagram, Vine & Foursquare.

#SMBP #SApro Social Media professional/personal integration has to part of your DNA, not all will have this.  Those with different ‘blood types’ should not be shamed into usage, instead guided on what tools work best with their comfort level.

2.  At Minimum, Be Aware.
Working with young adults, Student Affairs professionals must, a minimum, be aware of what makes up the current Social Media Universe.  This includes knowing the popular platforms, terminology and possible positive and negative impacts of these tools.  The big ones include Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, Twitter and (declining quickly) Facebook.  Nearly all social media applications have privacy settings, allowing you to explore, experiment and listen to what is happening.  Some new ones to keep you eyes on include Vine, Google+, SnapChat & Pheed.

#SMBP Listen, Learn and Observe Social Media Platforms that Young Adults are Currently Attracted To.

3.  Work Toward a Holistic Social Media Practice.
I’m saying it, no more two profiles for professionals.  If you can’t be yourself through one account, both personally and professionally, then you may not want to use that platform.  The reality of the web 2.0 revolution is (like it or not) there is no separation.  This does not mean you should restrict who you are.  However, if there is messaging or photos you wouldn’t want a student to see, let’s say on Facebook, my suggestion would be that you should not friend students or maybe that picture isn’t the best choice to put out there.

  • Facebook: Overtime this platform has developed ways to choose who can see what.  Each post, photo, video, etc can be edited so that only certain individuals can see them.  What I might suggest, instead of having two profiles (one as a ‘professional’ with students and one personal) would be to create a ‘fan’ page, where students can follow you.  This would be the case for someone labeling themselves within their leadership role, such as Dean of Students.  What might be even more ideal about this, is that you will not be ‘friending’ them on your personal account.  Again, this all a lot of work and keep in mind that Facebook is dropping fast with teens and young adults.
  • Twitter: Don’t set up a twitter account if you aren’t willing to make your posts public.  Hashtags will quickly connect you to professionals in education or related fields of your interest quickly.   Here are a few I would recommend to explore from time to time:  #NASPA, #sachat, #satech, #digcit, #edtech, #higheredtech, #edtechchat, #digitaled and #edusocmedia
  • Instagram: On this mobile application you can choose to make your photos private or open.  Private is a great option if you want to only be connected with those you follow.  With the public option, you can (and will) get any and all followers.  This later choice is for those very open to people they do not know.  Remember even in this option you can flag or delete users if behavior is not okay with you.
  • Blogging: This source is an advance tool for student affairs professionals, ready to share their wisdom to others.  Even in blogging you can add privacy, placing a password protection layer that readers must know to access it.  However, I feel this is against the point.
  • Google Alert:s Finally be aware what content is out there on you.  Set up a google search on your full name, so whenever you are mentioned in an article, YouTube video or news source you will be notified.

#SMBP No More #SAPros with 2 Profiles.  If you are open online, be you.  Be All of You.

4.     Establish Boundaries.
Be prepared for student requests, especially on Facebook and Instagram.  Have a personal plan for how you will respond to requests.  For example, for many years I notified my students at the beginning of each year what my social media presence was, but that on Facebook they’d have to wait to friend me until the week before graduation.  It turned into a fun event, all the seniors piling into my office as I added them one by one.  Another option could be to say you’ll only friend those students that are 21 and over, ensuring any photos they post that have alcohol included will not raise red flags.
However, you also have the option to never respond to a student request, ever.  The important thing is to be consistent and if you work with the same students during the year that you communicate this right away.  It keeps you from any awkward conversation or regrets down the line.
As stated in the guideline #4, you may have different boundaries for each social media platform.  For example, if your Twitter is public then anyone including students may be following you.  However your Instagram may be kept private.
If these options do not sit well with you, I offer one more suggestion which is LinkedIn.  This professional networking site keeps communication clear that all on this platform is for career activity.  In other words, it is not common or even appropriate to post personal pictures or information on LinkedIn.  These already established norms may make approving student connections more comfortable.
It is also important to reflect upon if you will become ‘friends’ with your full-time professional employees, or even your boss.

#SMBP Don’t go ‘friending’ or ‘following’ students.  Instead have a solid plan for how you will consistently respond. 

 5.    Develop an Online Code of Ethics.
Considering the action plan that guideline #4 challenged you to develop, in responding to a student or employee social media request, it is just as important to develop a personal/professional Online Code of Ethics.  This should include:

  • Boundaries with students, as well as your employees and co-workers.
  • Privacy settings decisions for each platform.
  • How you will go about responding to negative comments.
  • Overall etiquette, as it has to do with what you will/will not share.

Not thinking about these elements before you speed ahead integrating personal/professional presence may hurt you later, possibly regretting a post or decision to connect.

#SMBP Social Media is not your therapist, workout life’s challenges offline privately. 

6.     Provide Quality Content, Actively Contribute and Constantly Support Colleagues.
As Student Affairs professionals and those aspiring in the field as graduate students, we produce countless ‘works’ in our jobs and classes.  Student Affairs best practice sharing and borrowing is a welcome practice, as the betterment of department programs and operations will in the end help more students.  I encourage you to consider sharing these works with your colleagues online.  This can be done through blog posts, wiki’s or even posting a photo of a program that could spark direction for another professional.
Most importantly under this guideline, consider your activity online contributing to a conversation and not just adding to the noise.  Be active, not only with your posts, but in supporting others.  For example, be generous in re-tweeting, favoriting and/or replying when you see a post you like.

#SMBP Turn your written projects, especially #sagrads #sadoc, into shareable content

7.   Value Relationship Building, not Marketing Methods.
There are plenty of companies using social media as a means of marketing their products.  Especially on Facebook, these posts can become overwhelming, annoying and distracting.
As an educator, explore how you can contribute to the conversation and not add to the noise.  One significant way to do this is by prioritizing relationships over self-promotion or marketing.  This is especially true on Twitter, where this priceless tool can connect you with other Student Affairs professionals with a common hashtag (listed earlier), as well as twitter chats.
A few ongoing Twitter chats I would recommend would be the following:

  • #sachat: Every Thursday, 10am PST
  • #satech: Every Tuesday, 10am PST
  • #casesmc 2nd & 4th Tuesday, 11am PST
  • #emchat Thursday 6pm PST
  • #strategycar Every Friday, Noon PST

Finally, another great source for Twitter integration into a professional/personal use is at professional conferences.  Nearly every conference has at least a twitter account, if not also a common hashtag.  For example, the national conference for NASPA will use #NASPA14.  This way you can search this before, during and after the conference whether you actually attend or not!  Many #sapros discover Twitter this way and honestly may only use their accounts at conferences.  My message to them would be, the same learning and connection you felt at that conference can be experienced year-round.

#SMBP Social Media is like a boomerang, the amount of support & connection you put out there is the amount you’ll get back.

8.  Like it or Not, You are a Brand.
Not to say you are a product, but each of us have unique skills, personalities and experiences that make us into a trademark.  The more self-awareness you have about what you are all about: strengths/weaknesses, interests/dislikes, comfort zone, etc, the more your true self will shine through your profile.  Especially if you are going for a stronger professional presence, please ensure this is still personalized.  We don’t need to add another autobot to the Twitter stream with pre-developed posts or even worse having someone else tweet for you.
That is not to say you shouldn’t plan ahead and be intentional.  By going through these guidelines, you hopefully will have a stronger understanding of the reason(s) you are even on social media.  I urge you to always be yourself and do what you want to be known for.  If that is being a mother, a dean of students, a runner OR all three, then let that be known.  Just make a decision.
Being yourself and choosing not to share particular things about your life is not being fake.  Saying you are head over heels happily married with your husband, but living in separate houses IS.  Intentionality brings you right back to your code of ethics, being clear what you will and will not post in both your personal or professional worlds.  These boundaries are healthy and encouraged.
These boundaries are important as it has to do with possible employer social media, communication or branding policies at your university.  Take a moment in the next week to review these and ensure any activity you are presenting as an ‘agent’ of the university is in line with their guidelines.

#SMBP Use self-awareness when looking to apply leadership presence online as a #sapro

Final thoughts:
Through developing a solid foundation of personal and professional boundaries, Student Affairs professional can explore different social media platforms integrating connection with family, friends, colleagues, as well as, students.  Considering social media is a personal choice, each professional coming to social media has a different comfort level that must be respected.  Making decisions early on about the type of presence you will have will strengthen your online activity.  From my experience, pushing just a little further out of your comfort zone, being decisive about your online activity and honestly being willing to mess up will offer huge payoffs both personally and professionally.
Here are a few other blog responses from last week’s #Sachat

Additional resources to continue exploring your social media presence

Reference List
Cheung, C. M. K., Chiu, P., & Lee, M. K. O. (2011). Online social networks: why do students use Facebook?  Computers in Human Behavior, 27, 1337-1343.
Hickman, T. & Techlehaimanot, B. (2011).  Student-teacher interaction on facebook: what students find appropriate.  TechTrends, 55(3), 19-30.
Junco, R. (2011). The relationship between frequency of Facebook use, participation in Facebook activities and student engagement. Computers & Education, 58, 162-171.
Junco, R., Heiberger, G. & Loken, E. (2011). The effect of Twitter on college student engagement and grades. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (27), 119-132.
Laverie, D. A., Rinaldo, S. B., & Tapp, S.  (2011).  Learning by tweeting: using twitter as a pedagogical tool.  Journal of Marketing Education, 33(2) 193-203.
Malesk, L. A. & Peters, C. (2012) Defining appropriate professional behavior for faculty and university students on social networking websites.  High Educ, 63, 135-151.
Steinfield, C., Ellison, N. B., Lampe, C. (2008). Social capital, self-esteem, and use of online social network sites: a longitudinal analysis. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 29, 434-445.
Veletsianos, G. (2013).  Open practices and identity: evidence from researchers and educators’ social media participation.  British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(4) 639-651.

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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