It was the fall of 1996 and as a senior at Stonehill College, I was excited to begin my final year of undergraduate education.  As a communication major, I had been taught, in part, how to prepare speeches, executive summaries, and press releases.  Then, everything changed as I had been assigned my first university “electronic mail” address: “123456789 at stonehill dot edu” (I actually don’t remember the string of numbers I was assigned).  The idea that I could send these electronic messages to others at a bulky computer in the college’s only computer lab seemed so odd.  Why would I do that when I could just pick up the analog phone, walk over and visit, or send an inter-office memo? 🙂

Indeed, the communication paradigms I had been taught in school were already outdated, and would continue to evolve over the coming years with the building of my first “geocities” website in 1997 on the Yahoo platform at my first job at the University of New Hampshire; using my first cell phone while working a late shift in the Student Center in 1999 as a second year graduate student at Central Connecticut State University; and connecting on my first social networks, Friendster, MySpace and Facebook while working at Tufts University.  With the evolution of the internet, the ubiquity of social media use, and access to multiple mobile devices, senior student affairs and higher education administrators must recognize that social media communication tools are no longer “fads”, but rather… important and worth the investment in time and resources.

Using Simon Sinek’s (2009) “Golden Circle” theory, today’s post will share evidence why social media communication use among SSAOs is important, how to get started, and suggest content on what to post and what tools to get started on.  As Student Affairs functions shift in the “Digital Age”, the consistent use and engagement on social media communication tools becomes central to our mission.

Why Is It Important?
As the landscape of Higher Education continues to shift due to the extraordinary rise in costs, increased options to earn credentials and skills, and the changing college student demographic (Selingo, 2013), student affairs professionals find themselves at a crossroads.  Do we continue to only communicate in a 20th century paradigm (1 to 1 or 1 to many) or include the 21st century “many to many” paradigm as part of our work?  Certainly, when you factor high rates of social networking (86%) and cell phone (96%) use (Smith, Rainie, & Zickuhr, 2011), one can argue that our students are engaging, connecting, and learning on mobile technologies through social networks (Wankel & Wankel, 2011).   If the core of our work is communication and connections, including “meeting students where they are”, professional and educational social media communication use through department and individual accounts should be part of our communication plans. Whether its academic research findings or various practitioner examples of success (e.g. Housing, Residence Life, Student Unions, Student Involvement, or a fellow SSAO), there is a plethora of evidence to support why student affairs units and their senior officers need to be engaging with students, faculty, and staff over social media communication tools.

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How To Get Started
After choosing a social network to try out, there are two perspectives to consider:

1. Social Media for Professional / Educational Use: Consider some of the most important parts of networking in-person, whether it be at conference, workshop, or event: meeting new colleagues and reconnecting with current ones, sharing and debating ideas, as well as exchanging educational and professional recommendations for programs, services or policies. When you are ready to explore, it is important to keep this mindset in place.

First, connect online with those you know in real life. Have them help you navigate the social network you are part of, including its lexicon and nuances. Encourage them to connect you with those whom they believe you would want to engage with.  Second, actively read your social network’s main feed for information and conversation you think you can contribute to.  Keep in mind, that what you read is based on who you have connected with. As you become more comfortable with your chosen social network, contribute to existing conversations taking place with your own ideas and include links to online resources when appropriate.  Finally, when you are ready, share your own thoughts and ideas based on your interests, current events, or anything you may have questions on. Asking questions is an easy way to engage with folks as you get acclimated.

2. Supporting Your Division’s Efforts: While it is my hope that you choose to engage on social networks, it may not be yours. Either way, your division needs leadership in social media communication tools to fully see its potential.  Thus, develop a social media (or technology) committee for your division, chaired by a division leader who may be knowledgeable in the area to help lead those who have been deemed responsible for their department’s social media efforts. Next, have the social media committee develop your division’s “Social Media Handbook“, complete with guidelines and tutorials to help unify your division’s efforts. Finally, provide social media training for your staff whenever possible. Include additional topics as: creating their department’s social media plan, how to incorporate video, technology budget planning, achieving technology balance, using google plus to deliver training content, etc.  By charging your social media committee with these tasks, you may see social media used in ways you never thought possible to benefit students, staff, and faculty.

What Tools and What To Post
1. Recommended Social Media Communication Tools: With the plethora of options out there, consider these as part of your overall approach:

Twitter: Most of my colleagues who engage professionally on social networks choose Twitter primarily. They do so because of the large number of student affairs and higher education professionals that regularly connect there. Certainly, when you consider the academic research of how Twitter can be used for collaboration and increased engagement (Junco, Elavsky, & Heiberger, 2012) as well as how scholars actively engage and connect (Chamberlin & Lehmann, 2011; Veletsianos, 2012), it is a great network to join, learn and engage in. Don’t let the mass media’s representation of Twitter shy you away! If you need a tutorial to get you started, let me help you 🙂

Of course, exploring ways to use Facebook (through groups and pages) and LinkedIn, and Google Plus are worth the time, especially if those you wish to connect with are also active on those networks. Creating accounts on all these platforms is easy enough, but if I only had time for one, focus first on Twitter.

2. What to Post: When engaging on any social network for professional or educational purposes, many folks wonder what they should be saying / sharing.  Here are a few ideas to get you started:
a. Ask and answer questions.
b. Share links to articles, resources, information, etc. that you read online. Other folks may also be interested it the information you are consuming.
c. Use hashtags (when appropriate) to help amplify the reach of your social media post.
d. When people ask you questions in person, consider sharing those answers/information with those online as well. When one person asks, often times, others have a similar question.

We are living through the largest communication revolution since the printing press (Shirky, 2008). The shift to a “many to many” communication paradigm in the connected age has caused challenges on many college campuses, built upon the more traditional “one to many” or “one to one” paradigms.  If our role in student affairs is to facilitate the co-curricular experience, communicating with students using social media can no longer be an afterthought.  As 2014 approaches, I encourage all SSAOs to join the conversation and lead by their example.

Are you an active CSAO on social media? If not, why not? If so, what advice do you have for CSAO’s just starting out? 

References

Chamberlin, L., & Lehmann. K. (2011). Twitter in higher education. In Charles Wankel (ed.) Educating Educators with Social Media (Cutting-edge Technologies in Higher Education, Vol. 1) (pp. 375-391). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing.

Junco, R., Elavsky, C. M., & Heiberger, G. (2012). Putting twitter to the test: Assessing outcomes for student collaboration, engagement and success. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(2), 273-287.

Selingo, J. (2013). College unbound. The future of higher education and what it means for students. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.

Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. London, UK: Penguin Books.

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Smith, A., Rainie, L., & Zickuhr, K. (2011). College students and technology. In Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/College-students-and-technology/Report.aspx

Veletsianos, G. (2012). Higher education scholars’ participation and practices on Twitter. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 28(4), 336-349.

Wankel, L.A., & Wankel, C. (2011). Higher Education Administration With Social Media. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing

One Comment

  • Great article (as always) Ed! My advice to SSAOs is to dive in to social media, but keep it simple. As Ed suggested, start with Twitter. Use a fake name for awhile if this will make you feel more comfortable exploring and learning the ropes, anonymously. Some people don’t understand that the stakes are higher for SSAOs and it can be scary to jump into an unknown enterprise that is so public. However, it is important to know that it is ok to have a learning curve in social media and and it is not a big deal if you don’t send the perfect tweets. This is one area where it definitely helps to learn while doing. Then next step, your own blog!

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