Storytelling is an important part of who I am, both personally and professionally.  If you have worked with me (in any capacity) over the last few years, you probably heard me say that “Student Affairs professionals are not consistent storytellers” and I still think this is true to some extent.  While I see more and more colleagues ramping up their efforts, many of us still aren’t fully sharing our “student affairs story.”  Maybe its because we don’t like to draw attention to ourselves? Or perhaps it is that we don’t like to “toot our own horn?”  I believe that we simply have not made it a priority and assigned the time to make it a reality.

It wasn’t until last week that I had an “ah ha” moment around this topic.  It happened while reading Eric Olsen’s blogpost on HigherEdLive.com entitled, “Every Post Is a Selfie.”  While social media use is more ubiquitous and blended (personal AND professional) among my colleagues, what would be said about your “Student Affairs Selfie” if we were to do an assessment on what your social media channels said about your work.  I will admit that I have seen more and more complaining about student and staff shortcomings, as well as vague Facebook status updates about work problems and challenges with friends and colleagues alike (often referred to as “vaguebooking.”)  Perhaps its just a reflection of the time of the year we are all in, but we should take pause and consider the ripple effects our online actions take.

On Facebook:
Consider adding the following actions to your Facebook approach:

  • Share the best of your area’s efforts by “Checking-In” to events, service areas, buildings, etc. and tagging a co-worker and/or student in it and send a positive greeting. Engage them further by adding a picture or video.  Feel free to reshare posts from other department’s Facebook pages as well.
  • Connect with STUDENTS on Facebook. The term “Friend” on this social network is extremely misleading and outdated.  Facebook is no longer a reflection of your personal life only.  If you think about it, you’re not really “friends” with all those people, you’re connected. Learn how to modify your privacy settings and leverage the “lists” function to mirror the relationships you have with your Facebook CONNECTIONS in real life, online.
  • When you share anything related to your Higher Education work or anything classified as Professional, share it  publicly. By only sharing this content with your “friends”, you miss an opportunity to connect with more people.

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On Twitter:
Consider adding the following actions to your Twitter approach:

  • Share all the great articles (both in and outside of Higher Education) you are reading on Twitter. Add a hashtag or other Twitter users who you think might benefit from reading it as well, including your students (who I would start following if you haven’t already.)
  • Search out your University community’s tweets by doing an advanced Twitter search, using location as your primary anchor.  Beyond a hashtag or keywords, this is a great way to engage your students, faculty, staff, and local businesses.
  • Share useful Tweets with those of your colleagues who aren’t on Twitter by emailing it to them or by simply sending them the direct link to the tweet.  To do this, simply click on the date within the Tweet:

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When Sharing Images:
Consider adding the following actions to your image sharing approach:

  • Give credit to whomever took the picture you are sharing.  Even if they weren’t the first one to share it, credit them as the person (or group/organization) whom you saw it from first.
  • Know the audience and platform you intend to share the photo with. For example, a Facebook Cover Photo has much more space than an Instagram Photo.
  • When you share images/memes that have text on them, type out that text in your corresponding status update or Tweet.  Screen readers can’t read text on photos.
  • Instead of sharing one blurry camera phone picture live, upload a variety of high-quality images in an album later.  Remember, you’re telling the story… beyond the moment.

Overall, SHARE YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS online, especially those that involved your staff, students, and other divisional staff members.  Whether its a new program or service; publication; or honor bestowed upon, no one tells the Student Affairs story better than us.  When we are proactive in this cause, we help create conversation among those in our ecosystems to better understand the MEANING of our work and why it matters.  While we’ve been asked to collect data for YEARS in various assessment arenas, we need to tell better stories using the data.  As Kristian Hammond from Northwestern University recently wrote, “The value of the data isn’t the data itself, its the narrative.

Finally, please stop complaining and/or whining about your professional/work life online.  Pick up the phone, go down the hall or across campus… wherever you need to go to find a friend or colleague that serves as your “judgement free” 🙂 sounding board, and vent there.  If you still need to vent online, create a “Facebook Group” with your friends and colleagues, classify it as Secret, and feel free to let loose there.  We can’t have important digital identity conversations with students if we aren’t role modeling the behavior we expect of them.

Remember, we have a greater responsibility to use online communication tools because we have the privilege of working in Higher Education.  We need to share the best of what is happening on our campuses; ask each other for help around common challenges; and create connections for our students and fellow staff to facilitate learning and growth.  We all have stories to share… let’s spend more time on sharing them.

What does your “Student Affairs Selfie” look like? How else can we be better story tellers and advocates for own profession? 

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