As the Fall 2015 semester begins, there are a number of new opportunities to engage students using social media and digital technology. For many professionals in student affairs, there are a number of potential partners and stakeholders who are ready to initiate social media strategies. There are also limitations to implementing social media plans such as limited funding, reticence to embrace social media as an educational tool, and lack of partners among staff and faculty.
In his book Engaging Students through Social Media: Evidence Based Practices for Use in Student Affairs, Dr. Rey Junco discusses the challenges student affairs professionals face when implementing social media-focused programming. Junco describes “social media skeptics” as faculty or upper-level professionals in the field whose attitudes are rooted in limited exposure and familiarity with social media as tools for learning and engagement. Junco also discusses “social media crusaders” as professionals who have maintained social media as an active part of their development, career, and life experiences. The dichotomy described by Junco may apply to many of our campus colleagues who could fall on either end of the spectrum or somewhere in between. To help mitigate this challenge, I offer a five-step model that is framed by collaboration, strategy, branding, and value for student learning.
Meriwether Collaborative Student Affairs Social Media Model 2015
Articulate our Philosophy
My first ever Socialnomics column, Social Media’s Rise from College Outsider to Campus All Star, discussed the fear, reticence, and outright negativity I experienced when conducting a session about social media at a 2009 conference. In that session, I realized how important a clearly articulated philosophy would be if digital engagement was to remain significant in my student affairs work. As such, an important outcome of articulating our philosophy is the ability to mitigate roadblocks by colleagues who are resistant to social media or afraid of scaling an aggressive digital agenda. Framing our philosophy in a manner that is rooted in scholarship, best practices, and the ability to measure learning and engagement is the best method of assuaging concerns and removing barriers to our social media strategic plan. Discussing the potential gains from our social media and digital education philosophy can also help to energize colleagues who are invested in digital engagement and can support our initiatives.
Establish our Implementation Strategy
Establishing an implementation strategy requires front-end collaboration with many stakeholders, especially marketing and branding officers. An important element of strategy implementation is to be mindful of fair use and how we curate digital content. Dr. Laura Pasquini, digital education scholar and University of North Texas faculty member, provides a phenomenal student resource titled Content Curation: Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons. Any student affairs professional planning to implement a robust strategy could equally benefit from this content. In the Inside Higher Ed article Conversations, Clicks, Community, and Content, Eric Stoller discusses the impact of restrictive university social media policies. While many universities have progressed to more social media-friendly policies, an effective implementation strategy relies on a design that is within the scope of campus policy and infrastructure. TJ Logan also discusses how student affairs professionals can leverage social media to engage online communities in his post titled, Social Media: the Key to Online Student Services. Data yielded from our student affairs strategies may also be helpful in influencing decision-makers to review and revise antiquated social media policies.
Engage our Experts
Social media collaboration requires student affairs professionals to engage experts on campus and across the field to provide our campus communities with the best and most effective models. There are many faculty who use digital media as part of their teaching modalities who would be dynamic partners. Other potential partnerships exist by collaborating with campus leaders who embrace social media. For example, my student affairs division is currently revising our learning outcomes and strategic plan, while giving considerable focus to applying digital engagement and social media as tools to enhance student learning. In order to strengthen our final product and enhance our communication with our most important constituency, our students, scholar and social media strategist Ed Cabellon will lead a day-long workshop with our student affairs team. Centered on his Student Affairs Integrated Communication Model, Ed will share his expertise with our team and guide our strategy to more effectively engage our campus community.
Contribute to our Campus Community
Once our philosophy is clearly articulated and the collaboration strategy is in place, student affairs professionals are positioned to initiate programs and activities that leverage digital tools and social media. Through student affairs services, the entire campus community can benefit from robust social media engagement. Over the last year and a half, I have shared a number of best practice examples of digital engagement through my Socialnomics columns across an array of student affairs and enrollment management services. Resources from my posts are filled with helpful ideas and strategies that have been successfully leveraged using social media and digital tools in a myriad of student affairs areas such as:
- Career Development Resources
- Engaging Student Athletes
- Financial Literacy and Scholarship Information
- Supporting #LGBT Student Connectedness
- Leveraging digital media as an #SAgrad
- Fraternity & Sorority Life
- Hazing Prevention & Education
- Innovative Housing & Residence Life Practices
- Cyberbullying Education & Prevention
- Creating Social Media Road Maps for New Students
Communicate our Metrics
In her blog Student Affairs Leadership Online | 8 Guidelines for #SApro Social Media Use, Dr. Josie Ahlquist’s advice to student affairs leaders is to, “consider your activity online contributing to a conversation and not just adding to the noise.” Communicating about social media and digital education must include expression of measurable outcomes such as impact on learning, increased student engagement or activity, and measures of student responsiveness.
Another important element of communicating digital outcomes is the idea that simplicity works. Paul Gordon Brown, explains, “rather than trying to load my presentations with bells, whistles, and animations that are more likely to distract, I have to remember to takeaway” in his recent blog Simpler is Better in Presentation Slides. In this post, Paul uses SlideShare to demonstrate how to apply his message about simplicity.
In summary, the collaboration model above will help student affairs professionals design plans that are measurable and realistic. To ensure the implementation is effective, it is valuable to collaborate with campus stakeholders, maintain familiarity with policies, connect the philosophy to the university branding model, and center all activities on student learning and engagement. The collaboration model and resources provided above can help design successful initiatives and digital tools that can be adapted to create a dynamic social media plan that yields the most important outcomes of all: improved student learning and success.